How I Got the Job: Transforming Passion for Policy into Agricultural Innovation

Via Land O’Lakes internship, senior Alexander Fried turned an interest in politics toward advocacy for domestic and international farmers.

Alexander Fried
Alexander Fried (Image: Land O'Lakes)
October 23, 2017

By Ruth Steinhardt

Alexander Fried knew he was interested in food security as a political concern. A politics buff, the George Washington University student had interned on Capitol Hill for U.S. Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and in his home state of Pennsylvania for the reelection campaign of Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

But Mr. Fried never thought he’d find himself in rural Iowa, learning firsthand about domestic farming and agricultural machinery.

“I was shocked by all the technology that goes into farming,” said Mr. Fried, who will graduate early from the Elliott School of International Affairs in December 2018. “Speaking to farmers about everything they're doing to make their operations as efficient as possible was a dream for an economics major who loves sustainability like myself.”

Mr. Fried was in Iowa this summer as part of the Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge Emerging Leaders for Food Security internship program. The internship is one of several opportunities made possible by the corporation’s broader partnership with Planet Forward and with the Center for Career Services.

With 10 other “emerging leaders,” Mr. Fried traveled to Iowa, to agencies in Washington, D.C., and to Land O’Lakes international development sites in South Africa and Tanzania. The goal: developing innovative pitches for how large companies like Land O’Lakes can help feed 9 billion people by 2050.

Mr. Fried learned about the program through an email from the Center for Career Services, and it drew his attention thanks to the food security policy work he’d done for Mr. Marino.

“The application process was pretty rigorous,” Mr. Fried said. Besides the expected resume and cover letter, he had to create a YouTube video highlighting his skills and communication abilities in under 60 seconds. After passing that first round, he had to interview with high-level executives at Land O’Lakes, an experience Mr. Fried called “nerve-wracking.”

But it was also a type of communication for which he was prepared. Besides his legislative experience, Mr. Fried had organized protests and led student advocacy movements as a high school student in Scranton, Pa., where he had to learn to express himself effectively.

“I wasn’t too nervous regarding the video—I was just myself,” Mr. Fried said. “I got a room in Gelman and answered the questions honestly in my own words. The nontraditional nature of both the job and the interview process forced me to pay extra attention to the job description, and then mesh my skill set and personality with the qualities they were seeking in a candidate.”

Mr. Fried had another secret weapon: before the interview round, he and other candidates met with Kelly Lawton at the Center for Career Services, who prepared them to impress.

“First we talked about Land O’Lakes, to make sure students had a good handle on the company as well as the specific opportunity,” Ms. Lawton said. “Then, since students knew the specific Land O’Lakes representatives they would be meeting with, we discussed how to do research about the people they would be interviewing with and how to tailor questions and responses that would align with the interviewers’ backgrounds. Finally, since the interview itself was a virtual Skype interview, I coached students on best practices—professional dress, timeliness and so on—so they would feel comfortable with the process.”

She encouraged students to reach out to the center to find opportunities that might fit their own passions.

And those passions might not be expected. Though a policy wonk, Mr. Fried said he “didn’t know much about agriculture” before participating in the program. But for him, that was less a drawback than an opportunity—one he says he will apply to other jobs in the future.

“I was faced with a steep learning curve and trained myself to overcome it,” Mr. Fried said. “Having an experience where I was forced to recognize I needed to innovate and adapt and then succeed is something I'll always be grateful for.”

This year’s Land O’Lakes Emerging Leaders program is open exclusively to college sophomores and will offer travel to Land O’Lakes headquarters in Minnesota and to a to-be-determined international destination. Applications for the program are due Oct. 30. Learn more about this and other programs via the career services website, including how to meet with a career coach to develop a personal job-hunting strategy

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