By ALYSSA BEST
Thousands of smart young women are are settling into their final semester at America’s top colleges and universities without a clue of how to get a job after graduation.
Six years ago, I was one of them.
I entered my senior year after a semester studying abroad in England and a summer interning at a local magazine. That year, I became actively involved as a staff writer for the Bullet and a passionate student in my film studies and creative writing courses. I was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
But, I had no idea how those academic skills and accomplishments would help me land a job in my field.
As an English major, I didn’t even know what field I was in.
Talented female college students today face similar challenges of how to turn their college education into a career. They are doing amazing things on their campuses and in their communities, but still struggle with how to translate their academic and work activities into concrete, marketable job skills.
During my senior year, I had wonderful college professors who supported my interests and offered me advice on career paths. I sought tips on how to perfect my resume from my college career center.
However, I later found out that I also really needed a mentor or two with similar interests who worked in the “real world,” outside of academia. I lacked contact with alumni from liberal arts programs who could paint a real picture of what jobs are out there and what skills I needed to acquire to be a competitive job candidate.
I urge college women to start seeking mentors in a variety of fields and positions to help them navigate the process of identifying career paths and finding the right job. These mentors will become invaluable sources of information on how to search and apply for jobs, how to write a memorable cover letter, how to conduct a great job interview and how to negotiate salary and benefits.
Mentors are necessary for young women and men, but I emphasize the importance these key individuals can play in the lives of young college women, especially because they will earn, on average, $0.74 for every $1 that their male counterparts earn.
According to a 2007 report by the American Association of University Women, “one year out of college, women working full time earn only 80 percent as much as their male colleagues earn. Ten years after graduation, women fall farther behind, earning only 69 percent as much as men earn.”
Unfortunately, for most women of color, the pay gap is even larger, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity. It is therefore critical that young women are coached on how to confront the additional obstacles they may face in the workplace.
Numerous studies point to the fact that mentoring young women plays a key role in their success. In particular, mentoring young college women will produce better candidates to enter a variety of professions after graduation.
These young female jobseekers will be better equipped to advance in their careers and, in turn, more prepared to serve as effective leaders. I know that mentoring has made that difference for me.
Alyssa Best is a 2002 MWC graduate with a B.A. in English. She also earned a M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University. She currently works in a non-profit organization focused on women’s employment and economic issues in Washington, DC.