Junior Laura Gomez got an internship at the World Bank by taking advantage of networking opportunities.
By Ruth Steinhardt
Like many international students, Laura Gomez faced difficulties job-hunting. Sometimes at career fairs she would approach an agency or firm, only to be told late in the conversation that they only hired U.S. citizens.
“It could be an awkward conversation for both the employers and the potential employees,” said Ms. Gomez, who was born and raised in Colombia and is now a junior in the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
So Ms. Gomez, then assistant director of international students in the GW Student Association, teamed up with other international students and the Center for Career Services to create more informal opportunities for international students to interact with employers.
At one of those activities, Ms. Gomez struck up a conversation with a Brazilian woman who worked at the World Bank, the two bonding over their experiences as South American students who had attended American universities. “It didn’t seem like she was there to recruit,” Ms. Gomez said. “It was very casual.”
But a few weeks later, Ms. Gomez received an email from Staci Fowler, managing director for employer services. The World Bank employee wanted to see her resume.
Ms. Gomez sent it along. “I was not expecting anything,” she said, even after the two encountered each other again at an international student networking event.
Then Ms. Gomez’s acquaintance called her in to the World Bank for an interview.
The drawback? There was no specific position on the table.
“They didn’t have an exact description of what they wanted, so I just did a lot of research on the World Bank and prepared for everything,” Ms. Gomez said.
Since she couldn’t show her potential employer that she was a good fit for an internship whose specifications she didn’t know, she tried to show that she had the skills to adapt to any position.
Specifically, Ms. Gomez stressed her leadership experience in the Student Association and as vice president of GW Por Colombia; her depth of knowledge in her two majors, international affairs and economics; and, most of all, her flexibility and adaptability.
“Whatever I don’t know how to do, I’ll make sure to work hard and learn those new skills,” Ms. Gomez remembered telling her interviewers.
She even used her personal interests. A compulsive scheduler, she seized an opportunity to show her interviewers one of her meticulous agendas. She didn’t shy away from a conversation about the Colombian peace process, then ongoing. And she mentioned her athletic hobbies to demonstrate that she wasn’t afraid to work hard and take risks.
“I told them I was learning to kite surf and doing Crossfit—all those hobbies you’re afraid of putting on your resume because you’re afraid of seeming silly,” she said. “But I believe that showing I had organizational skills, that I stayed aware of world events, that I was an active person who could work with a team—all of that made me a strong candidate,” she said.
The technique paid off: The World Bank hired Ms. Gomez as an intern in its IT service department for the summer and fall of 2016.
“The most important aspect of everything I’ve done is networking,” Ms. Gomez said, adding that a connection, extracurricular activity or hobby need not be directly linked to a career goal to provide a job-seeker with opportunities. She cited her own work with the SA: “It wasn’t a paid job, but when I took initiative and brought results, it showed [people] I was organized and serious about my interests,” she said.
“I think even more than hard skills, for students, it’s relationships that are important,” Ms. Gomez said. “They end up having a bigger impact then you might think.”