Last October Jen Mason Drolet ’97 and Alex Ridder ’05 made the trip to Mayflower Hill from Denver, where their company, a national market research firm called iModerate, is located. With the company growing quickly, Drolet, vice president for client and moderating services, and Ridder, a business analyst, had decided the time was right to tap Colby as a source of new talent.
Was it ever.
The pair gave an informational presentation, interviewed nine students, and eventually landed two Jan Plan interns. “We were both really impressed with the candidates who came across our desk,” Drolet said. “I felt that they interviewed well, better than what I see come across my plate day in and day out.”
Added Ridder, “They blew our minds, actually. … There wasn’t anybody who wasn’t great.”
Getting that message out to alumni and Colby parents and friends “is going to become increasingly critical,” said Career Center Director Roger Woolsey. “This is the model we’re going to have to really endorse and create programming around.” Why? An anemic economy that doesn’t show signs of turning around soon. Woolsey said he’s hearing that some companies won’t be recruiting at Maine colleges this year because they’ve cut back on hiring and that other firms are going to be hiring fewer new graduates.
Woolsey sees internships as the catalyst that sets the process in motion. Colby has brought back academic credit for internships (students can get one credit each for up to three internships), offers internship funding, and has seen an increase in mock interviews. Woolsey says these are symptoms of an upsurge in students preparing for the job market. “Once that intern steps into that organization and does a phenomenal job, they say, ‘Wow. Are all Colby students like that?’”
Woolsey, not surprisingly, is bullish on Colby students and their skill sets, including academic preparation, writing and analytic skills, and work ethic. The iModerate recruiters echoed that, saying students were engaged, asked good questions, and favorably impressed the non-Colby members of the hiring team. “People were surprised that somebody coming out of college—or who hadn’t graduated, in the case of the Jan Plan interns—was as polished as they were and ready to be in the workforce,” Drolet said.
One former Jan Plan intern, Emma Harrington ’11, joined iModerate as a junior project manager in August. Two weeks later she was helping manage multiple projects. “It’s just keeping up the communications between the internal factions, what we need to do to keep the product rolling and on time,” Harrington said.
Drolet and Ridder said the challenge in hiring Harrington was choosing from a field of excellent candidates. And when another position opened up months later, “Everyone said, ‘Can we hire that [Colby] guy?’” Ridder said. (That senior had taken another job.)
According to Ridder, the company gets 200 to 300 résumés for every job advertised. While there are strong candidates in that pile, finding them is time-consuming and costly, he said. A pipeline to a college like Colby is a tremendous benefit in terms of cost and efficiency.
“I think, as we grow, having a process for recruiting smart people—people who can think critically, can be taught, novices who are teachable—is really what we can get out of a process at Colby,” Ridder said. “They can write well, they think analytically, they’re critical thinkers. It really streamlines the process.”
Woolsey said his office is seeing a steady increase in the numbers of “alumni ambassadors”—alumni and parents interested in serving as a conduit to their employer or companies with which they are associated. While finance has traditionally used the ambassador model, similar connections are being made with international consulting firms, commercial real estate companies, advertising, and nonprofits.
Drolet and Ridder, meanwhile, were planning their second visit, with the intention of hiring one Colby student and perhaps more.
“I couldn’t have gone to Colby without the significant financial aid that I received,” Drolet said. “It was always my goal to be able to come back. I remember as a senior having Colby grads come to campus and recruit for their organizations. It was always something I wanted to do.”