To acquire wisdom, one must observe

75 years of connections: an interview with Jon Schlesinger, director of Hiatt

The 75th Anniversary celebrations were a great success last weekend. In three days, a plethora of activities were held around campus, featuring current students, parents and alumni, with multiple divisions involved in the planning. The Brandeis Hoot is doing a series of interviews with different departments and planning teams for the 75th Anniversary weekend. Today, we sat down with Jon Schlesinger, the director of the Hiatt Career Center, talking with him about how Hiatt utilized the past weekend to connect alumni with current students, as well as the rapid development of the Rise Together Program.

Hiatt has hosted three major events in the 75th Anniversary weekend. On Friday, Hiatt coordinated an alumni-to-student networking event, which brought together a handful of alums from a variety of different class years to meet with current students. They had various backgrounds and were from different fields. They were able to talk about their own industries and help students explore possibilities beyond Brandeis. Most of the alums who attended have been out in the work field for several years, providing a different perspective for current students.

Schlesinger told The Hoot that Hiatt has worked closely with the Alumni Association, as well as the departments that were promoting the 75th, inviting alums and connecting with them. Besides, the Rise Together program has been helpful in building those connections to young and older alumni.

On Saturday, Hiatt organized two events. One was a session for parents and families to talk about the career office and how they have helped students connect their academic interests to professional pursuits. Another event was a career closet pop up on the lawn, which Schlesinger thought was the most successful part of the weekend. “The career closet is a program that we started a number of years ago to provide students free access to professional attire, ” he explained to The Hoot. “It is right next to the Linkedin photo booth on the second floor of our office. So if you want to come in for a photo, but you don’t have a professional jacket, you can also just grab a jacket for the photo booth.” The clothes were mainly donated by alumni, but also other community members, so students can select from a variety of different sizes and options. Schlesinger thought the best part of it was that students don’t have to borrow anything, instead they get to keep it. “Some places actually have you return the clothing like a library loan. We don’t work that way, which is nice, so you can come if you need,” he said.

Since the location of the closet has been a bit inaccessible that many students barely know Hiatt has this resource available, Schlesinger was happy that they could physically bring it out this time. It was their first time doing it, and it was a great success. Around 100 students participated in this pop-up, which was beyond his expectations. Although Hiatt did not receive a lot of donations, the success of the event gave them an opportunity to ask for more donations, and recycle and refresh the clothing they already have.

With all of these different things on their plate, Hiatt has started the planning of the weekend way back since the middle of the summer. They collaborated with the alumni office, the 75th planning office and student engagement office to organize from the events to the marketing. Looking at the future, Schlesinger hoped to incorporate more social features to future activities, getting to connect with people through the students’ eyes.

Schlesinger also introduced Hiatt’s Rise Together program. It is a relatively new program that was just launched around two years ago. Through donors and alumni who were able to help out, Rise Together became a virtual space for Brandeis students to connect with alumni. Within Rise Together, there are many different groups based on industries, interests and affiliations, so students can even narrow down a bit more to find a specific cohort of alumni that they can reach out to.

“It works similar to Linkedin, except this is just for Brandeis students, ” he explained, “and what makes it really unique is these are alums who’ve raised their hand and said, ‘I want to help,’ so it’s much more likely that they’re going to respond and get back to you … What’s nice is you can find someone that you can talk to once, or you can find someone you can keep talking to over time to build a relationship with.”

The dedication of Brandeis alumni played a big role in helping the program run smoothly. Given their great interests of coming back and supporting current students, the program has around 20 alumni champions, who are the mentors within the program and help Hiatt to recruit other alumni to come help out the students. They are those who are the most active and engaged in their field of expertise, being the point person in their area and promoting the program to others. 

In terms of finding internships or jobs, Schlesinger thought the biggest challenge for students was to identify what they are looking for, and figuring out a strategy that they could use and being connected with the desired resource, given the variety of job boards and opportunities available. “And so, having someone like a career counselor in our office, somebody you can talk to to brainstorm, to create a personalized plan … [will be helpful.]” He added.

Given the nature of Brandeis, Schlesinger thought the specific challenge for Brandeis students was that a lot of them were double or triple majors—which means they had so many options and interests that sometimes they just didn’t know where to start. Whenever a student comes to him, he would let them talk about their areas of interests—and most importantly—finding the connection between their areas of interests. “If you start in one direction or one pathway, it doesn’t eliminate these other interests from your life … ” he explained, “there are different ways to incorporate them, and so helping to look at the options and the opportunities that are out there is very important.”

Besides finding a specific area of interest, another common problem that Brandeis students find in job search is that Brandeis does not have a strong pre-professional vibe compared to some bigger universities, so a lot of students have been having a hard time finding resources that are available to them. To address this problem, Schlesinger addressed that the timeline for each industry is different. Some industries do a lot of campus recruitment and start recruiting early, while other industries don’t recruit on campus or start recruiting much later. Therefore, it is essential that students understand the landscape and timeline. He also recommended students to look for opportunities online since sometimes they are not as visible as in person opportunities. Hiatt has tried their best to promote those virtual career fairs on Handshake by sending emails to students, but they have noticed a pattern that virtual events are not always as well attended. However, the engagement rate is going up, which was a positive phenomenon for them to see. 

The Hoot asked Schlesinger to give a piece of advice to those who are trying to find an internship or a full time job: “The first thing that you can do is make sure that you have your handshake profile completed. The more you tell Handshake about what you’re looking for, the more personalized results you’re gonna get. The second thing that you can do is come in. Visit with one of our staff at Hiatt. Talk about what you’re interested in. We can help you with a plan and a strategy. And the third thing that you should do is take a deep breath. There are lots of opportunities that are out there, and there’s a lot of time to still look for them.”

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