A Foot in the Door

May 16, 2011

GW grad blogs for Wall Street Journal about the search for a job after college.

By Laura Donnelly-Smith

Recent GW graduate Ashley Starks knew the process of finding her first post-college job wouldn’t be easy. She knew there would be challenges and that she would face rejections. But these reservations didn’t stop her from sharing her job search progress with the wider world. Starks decided to blog about her job search—for the Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Starks is one of nine regular contributors to Hire Education, a Wall Street Journal blog about the transition from college to employment. Since last fall, the bloggers—college seniors of various backgrounds, majors and geographic locations—agreed to share the triumphs and setbacks on the way to their first post-college jobs.

Ms. Starks already had a lot on her plate for her final year of college: on top of her coursework as a business economics and public policy major, she was a co-captain of the GW women’s soccer team and Student Association vice president of student affairs. She had been a regular reader of Hire Education during the 2009-10 academic year, and last spring, she contacted the blog’s editor, Krishnan Anantharaman, to find out how she might become a blogger herself. After an exchange of e-mails, resumes and writing samples with Mr. Anantharaman, Ms. Starks received notice that she’d been selected.

“I was excited but also hesitant about putting my story out there and thinking people would care about it,” Ms. Starks said. “The Wall Street Journal is very professional, but blogs are more casual, and I was concerned about how to strike the right balance.” As it turned out, she didn’t have to worry—her own voice hit exactly the right tone, said Mr. Anantharaman.

“These kids have found exactly what we needed: something personal and meaningful, with the right mix of composed thoughts,” he said.

Ms. Starks has contributed blog posts about once a month since the beginning of the school year. She’s chronicled how she learned to overcome a feeling of paralysis in the face of daunting tasks by making a list and working through it methodically. She’s written about the support she gets from her soccer teammates. And she’s written about how an externship at Deloitte Federal Consulting helped her build connections and cemented her desire to work at the intersection of business and government.

In early 2011, Ms. Starks got some good news—she’d been offered a position as a federal analyst in strategy and operations at Deloitte. She accepted the offer. “I’m fascinated by the relationship between government and business, and how to make situations win-win for both,” she said.

So did the blog help her land the position? “I think it was luck,” she joked. “But my job search actually started a lot earlier than senior year. I did a spring break project with Deloitte and Teach for America in April 2010. And I did a lot of informational interviews, which are a lower-pressure way to get information about a job.”

Mr. Anantharaman, who is also editor of the WSJ classroom edition, says he thinks the act of blogging has helped the students to articulate their thoughts about the job search, as well as provided a bit of friendly pressure and competition. “Just following the blog and the others’ posts makes a difference,” he said. “It’s a process of discovery.”

Ms. Starks found that there were a lot of unexpected benefits of her blogging experience. “Blogging has dramatically improved my written and oral communication skills—I learned to be a lot more concise in my writing, and to speak more slowly and think more about what I say,” she said. “The blog gave me a structured way to reflect on my life and my experiences.” She also enjoyed the informal community she and the other Hire Education bloggers built, using an e-mail chain to stay connected and trade ideas for blog posts.

Ms. Starks has a June trip to Sweden planned before she starts her new job, and because she’ll be staying in D.C., she knows she’ll remain connected to GW. She’ll also remain connected through the “Finest Fifteen,” a group of 15 female GW seniors she brought together to share experiences and provide support during their transitional year.

The women, most of whom hadn’t known each other previously, have already had several dinners together, and Ms. Starks says they’ll stay in touch as they begin new careers, move to new cities, and eventually take on new challenges. “We plan to get together once every year, forever,” she explained. “From an alumni standpoint, it will keep us engaged and connected to GW, and we can learn from each other about balancing careers and marriage and life. The idea is that we’re all going to be going through these experiences, but never again will we all be together in one place like at GW.”

For now, though, Ms. Starks has one final assignment: keep her Hire Education readers up to date about her first days on the job. Mr. Anantharaman hopes she and the other bloggers will continue posting for at least a few more months.

“They’re putting themselves out there for tens or hundreds of thousands of readers, taking the risk and seeing the rewards. They’re learning that how you say things matters,” he said.

Read Hire Education at blogs.wsj.com/hire-education/.

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