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Econ alums give post-grad advice

The economics department sponsored an event called “Life After Brandeis” on Wednesday, March 9. The event was held at the International Business School (IBS) and was led by Professor Mike Coiner and Professor George Hall. The panel featured alumni who spoke about the usefulness of their economics degrees after graduating Brandeis. After a brief overview of their career paths, students were encouraged to ask questions.

The panel consisted of relatively recent graduates: Elizabeth Sefren ’10, Eric Haavind-Berman ’15, Spencer Ackerman ’09, Anna Kaufman ’10 and Sam Stemper ’13. The discussion topics ranged from senior thesis experiences to interview advice. The panel shared their stories about finding economics-based job opportunities after what they termed ‘The Great Recession.’ “We should feel lucky that we are in a period of growth and that employers are excited to grow and hire more people,” said Ackerman.

In responding to student questions, the panelists focused on several key areas of advice. They began by emphasizing the importance of diversifying classes. According to panelists, employers aren’t only looking at applicable classes. They take a breadth of courses into account. Kaufman is a program manager for customer experience at Sun Life Financial. “Taking classes outside of your major is just as important as taking classes inside your major. You might discover something that you truly love,” said Kaufman. Fellow panelists agreed, stating that college was the time to expand one’s understanding of various topics.

Economics majors often have trouble deciding between graduate school or going straight into the job market. Panelist advice on this issue leaned towards the idea of having work experience prior to attending graduate school. Sefren is in her fourth year of a Labor and Public Economics PhD program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She spoke about spending four to five years trying to convince herself not to go to graduate school.

For Sefren, this indecision proved beneficial. “For anyone who is on the fence about going to grad school, I would recommend… working in an environment with people who have the job you think you want after grad school.” In the past when her program has felt difficult or too expensive, Sefren has looked back to her experience in that working environment to remind herself that graduate school is worth it.

Ackerman chose not to go to graduate school and now works as an actuary at Delaware Life Insurance. “For me it was important to try out the private sector and see what that is like. I think I’ve really benefitted from that,” said Ackerman.

If a student decides to enter the working world after graduation, the panelists stressed the importance of networking and using all available resources. “If you’re thinking about applying, go on LinkedIn and find people in your network that are working there. They’ll be really excited to talk to you about what they do,” said Ackerman. He added that he enjoys sharing his work experiences with job seekers that reach out to him.

Kaufman advised students to be prepared for rejection. According to Kaufman, the best way to counteract rejection is to limit it by taking advantage of all available options. “Apply everywhere early and often. If you apply to fifty jobs, you’re not going to get fifty interviews. Definitely use B.Hired and the resources that Hiatt has,” said Kaufman.

Networking may benefit job seekers in the way of referrals. “Referrals are the best shot you have. It doesn’t need to be a great connection, just find connections,” said Elizabeth.

The panelists gave tips to future interviewees who may feel unsure about how to handle a professional interview. “Know how to articulate your experiences. Know how to talk about your classes, your extra-curriculars, your leadership skills, in a way that fits the job you are applying for,” said Kaufman. Stemper, an analyst at Cornerstone Research, agreed with the importance of articulation. He feels that, “Experience that you can speak to coherently and narratively is really helpful in an interview. Think about them ahead of time.”

Haavind Berman is a research assistant at the Boston Fed. He spoke about what he looks for in an interview. “I’ve been interviewing for the Fed. One of the that things we value is saying I don’t know the answer to that problem… but the way I would go about it is ‘x’,” said Haavind-Berman. For him, trying to work through a problem in a creative way is an important trait to demonstrate in an interview.

The panel reflected on their educational experience at Brandeis as beneficial. The diversity of their education as well as the specificity of their courses has helped them feel comfortable in the positions they now hold. “I feel like at Brandeis I’ve learned how to learn,” said Kaufman.

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