October 1, 2010

I9, W2, U4: Employment Forms

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For seniors, “real life” (i.e. salaries, leased apartments outside a 14850 zip code and parking tickets that can’t be bursared) seems to be coming sooner than we hoped for. The business casual attire ubiquitous on campus during the last few weeks is a sign that for many, the job hunt is already underway.

Finally, a partial explanation for why during orientation week, Olin’s first floor desks were packed with seniors before class had even started. The answer is resumes and cover letters. Many seniors find themselves researching companies and writing letters advocating for why they are the best for the job even before they know what books they need for their classes. While perusing Cornell’s career site, CCNet, you will notice that the first application deadlines come weeks before prelim season has even started. Haven’t they realized wine tour season is not yet over?

However, for many this early application schedule is not indicative of their experience with the job search process. Right now, campus is populated with recruiters from banks and consulting and engineering firms. However, in reality, many industries do not recruit until the spring. Unlike firms who hire classes of new recruits, the majority of companies hire on a need-only basis. The two of us are familiar with the reality of this situation, as our combined job application list spans from banks and consulting firms, to non-profit organizations, and entertainment and broadcasting companies. Ever heard of Teach for America? They have our resumes too. Call it the Cornell tradition, but the free pens alone were reason enough to stop at every booth at the career fair.

There does appear to be a mentality around campus to apply to as many jobs as one can, regardless of the industry. That’s not to say that Cornell students do not know how to channel their talents into an organized job search. There are many that have taken on one specific direction in their career pursuits. Some people have always wanted to be a lawyer; others discover their passion in other ways. Maybe you were trying to get ILR internship credit so accepted a position working in Human Resources for the summer. To your surprise, you found yourself with an exciting new career path. Or perhaps you wanted to earn money over the summer, so you opted out of the unpaid internship phenomenon. While working as a waitress, you discovered that the restaurant industry is where your future is.

There are also those disaster summer jobs. Organizing filing cabinets, getting coffee for your superiors, or even staring blankly at a computer screen seem to be standard summer internship tasks. The work can be tedious, and typically there is no pay involved. Despite knowing this, somehow we have a hard time not looking for new work opportunities every summer. Whether it is to glean insight into a particular industry or to have something to add to you resume, many people consistently choose menial work in offices rather than going to the beach, relaxing at home, or taking a much-needed vacation during the summer.  To give you a sense of perspective, there are still those who value experiences not driven by resume-building. Maybe you were a hiking instructor based at Kilimanjaro, worked on a farm, or taught children how to swim last summer. These experiences should not be cast aside as wasted time. On the contrary, you’ve taken full advantage of the summer that was rightfully yours. We have all heard of the Cornell bubble. Here, name-dropping a top firm is as common as hearing an order for the Poor Man’s Pizza down on West Campus.  We tend to forget the poor state of the job market, and the mentality of the average college student.

So good luck on your interview tomorrow, but don’t worry if you can’t calculate how many beige washing machines were sold in the U.S. last year. And freshman externship applicant take note: though your ambition will hopefully be rewarded, Cornell life doesn’t end in the “real world.” You’ll be reminded of the Cornell slope as you trek to work in San Francisco and as you bite into that breakfast burrito at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. If you just need to be reminded of College Ave., there’s a Green Café on 57th and 6th in New York City (may it rest in peace). And seniors, before you learn the ABC’s of filling out your I-9’s and W-2’s, enjoy your last year of college. At least that’s what we’ll be doing.

Original Author: Hilary Oran