Seniors learn survivor skills

By Max Loos

A handful of seniors were able to sleep easier after attending the first-ever Senior Networking Event, during which they were assured that, even in the midst of the economic crisis, there would be a place for them in the professional world.The event, put on by the Alumni Board, the Office of Alumni Relations and the Career Development Center the night of March 4 in Kagin Commons, was designed to give seniors advice about the social and networking skills required in the professional world.

“With Macalester seniors, we know they’re smart, we know they’re articulate, but can they present themselves in a business situation?” said event coordinator Stephen Sporer. “The idea is to give people some real-world skills.”

Around 50 students arrived for the event to a somewhat swanky and dimly lit Hill Ballroom in Kagin, complete with a group of cocktail tables covered with white tablecloths, each with a small candle in the middle.

After several minutes of seemingly mandatory mingling, the students were called to sit in front of the stage, where they heard several alumni from around the Twin Cities speak on a range of topics,from what kinds of standards to have for a suitable employer to what not to put on Facebook.

Jeremy Hanson ’95, who is the communications director for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s office, advised the seniors to be “sticky.” After a confused chuckle from the audience, he explained that he meant seniors should do everything they can to make sure that they will stick out in a potential employers mind, including sending two or three emails without receiving a reply.Emily Koller ’03 spoke on how to dress for different professional situations, bringing Eric Engstrom ’11, who was clad in a wrinkled, un-tucked button-down shirt with white cargo pants, to the front of the room as an example of how never to dress.

Engstrom, a member of the Alumni Board who helped plan the event, purposefully underdressed himself but was still embarrassed to be put in front of the seniors.

“I’m embarrassed to let them all know how I don’t have fashion sense,” he joked. Koller went on to stress that appropriate dress is crucial for business occasions.

“When you are in a networking situation, you want or are looking for something from someone else,” she said. “This is all about feeling confident. The better you look, the better you perform.”

While no formal definition of networking was offered to the attending seniors, John Van Hecke ’85, who spoke briefly during the event, had a simple way of explaining it.

“It’s meetin’ folks,” Van Hecke said. “It’s meetin’ folks with an eye toward professional advancement.” Van Hecke is a Democratic Farm Labor Party veteran who has managed several state-wide campaigns in Minnesota and currently holds a fellowship with Minnesota 2020, a progressive policy think-tank.

“Every job I’ve had has come from somebody I knew,” he said, “including the best ones.”

Van Hecke also had some tough encouragement for the seniors in attendance.

“You guys are going into the worst economic climate since World War II,” he told the audience. “But your skills will carry you through.” He then went on to assure the seniors that employers love entry level employees as much for their growth potential as for their willingness to take low salaries.

The event was not without its flaws. This was the first time such an event had been attempted by the alumni board, and at certain points in the night it showed, with transitions between speakers often feeling jerky and awkward. Macalester seniors, though, didn’t seem to mind.

Ian Boswell ’09 felt encouraged. “There is a temptation to feel like you’re jumping off a cliff into a world where you don’t have any bearings, but you do,” he said, standing at a cocktail table with a plate full of cheeses and snack vegetables.

Morgan Roe ’09, standing at the same table as Boswell, gave the event a thumbs up. “For one thing, the food is great,” she said of the hors d’oeuvres served after the alumni had spoken.

Moderately difficult food and drinks, like bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and hot cider served in an awkwardly shaped cup, were purposefully served to give the seniors a chance to practice their food etiquette.

At the same table as Boswell and Roe, Emily Paulson ’09 said that she would have preferred that the event had taken place in the fall semester. “It’s the sort of thing you wished occurred earlier,” she said. “Now you’re only six weeks away.”

“Don’t use those numbers,” responded Katelyn Ballard ’09.