How they got jobs: Graduating seniors give us the scoop

Photo Credit: Rachel Lau

After four years of college, your main goal is to get a job, right? But with the competitive job market, many current students will graduate sans a job offer. Not to fret: A degree from The University of Texas at Austin speaks volumes; you just have to market yourself. When applying for positions, remember that it is your job to prove why you are the perfect candidate. While it may seem difficult to stand out, a few graduating seniors who’ve already landed great jobs told us just how they did it.

Priscilla Thompson, broadcast journalism | will work for: Teach For America
“I am really looking forward to stepping outside of my comfort zone, because I can’t grow without stepping outside of my element.”

Changing her major three times during her four years on the Forty Acres, Thompson opted to take a break from broadcast journalism and accept a teaching position through Teach For America. TFA especially stands out to college grads because it forgives $5,000 in student loans per year for up to three years while also offering a graduate school education for a reduced tuition rate. TFA searches across the nation for individuals dedicated to making a difference in the education system, which is why the organization’s process is competitive: They only accept the best. “They never fill all the spots they want because the program looks for quality candidates,” Thompson said.

Thompson began her trek for TFA in February with an online application and a 500-word letter of interest. “Typically, the next step is phone interviews, but I was skipped to the finals,” she said. During the final round, Thompson had both group and individual interviews followed by a short sample lesson, in which she taught a 6th grade English class about similes and metaphors.

After a month of checking her emails around the clock, she finally received her acceptance email. “I was nervous, but I was positive that I would get the job because I spoke with the recruiter. Talk to on-campus recruiters and people that have been through the program because if you’re faking it, they will know.”

Thompson will begin training this summer and will start teaching this August at a middle school in Houston, near her hometown of Texas City. “[Where they place you to teach] depends on your major. I preferred middle school because I wanted to work with older kids. Either way, working with kids won’t be easy,” Thompson said.  

After her two-year commitment to TFA, Thompson plans to either climb the ladder within the organization to become communications director or open her own production business specializing in videos for engagements, weddings and birthdays. Whichever route she takes, “I am working to change my community,” she said.

Jessica Pham, retail merchandising | will work for: Stage Stores
“I regret not getting internships because I wanted to focus on school, [so] intern in the summer or make time in the school year to figure out what you want to do.”

Pham’s employment at Swoozie’s gift store years ago taught her how to communicate with customers and initially piqued her interest in retail. “I immediately saw myself in the retail world,” she said. After a few years at UT, Pham interned at Nordstrom, delving a little deeper into the retail industry and learning the importance of both the market and the economy.

Planning for life after graduation, one of Pham’s textiles and apparel professors informed her of a position at Stage Stores. Stage Stores caters to Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal, Peebles and Stage retail companies. It has more than 800 stores nationwide with plans to open 40 more within the year. Pham will assist the buyer throughout the day in the merchandising division to maximize the efficiency of the buying process while developing relationships between vendors and the buyer.

Pham applied for the position last fall and after a series of interviews and an orientation in Houston, she received a job offer in February. Although she had interviews lined up with a series of companies, Pham quickly cancelled them when she received the news she anticipated. “My assertiveness allowed me to stand out against the others. A lot of UT people made it to the second round but didn’t get the job. I did because assertiveness gets results,” she said.

She begins working in Houston shortly after graduation. The job begins as a three-month training period before working as an assistant buyer. She plans to remain a Stage Stores employee for at least five years and possibly move up in the company. Pham’s advice: “Focus on your goal and always make progress. Don’t stray away from your goal; finish. Then see what kind of job you can find.”

Reggie Wilson, corporate finance | will work for: VMG Health
“I’m excited to get my feet wet in a skill I’ve wanted to acquire. The opportunity I have in my hands is unbelievable, and I’m in my hometown.”

Wilson will take his skills to the office of VMG Health as a Financial Analyst, working on emergency acquisitions. “Companies like to see people that take risks, [have] good communication skills and personality. A lot of the small things make a big difference,” Wilson said. VMG Health is known worldwide as providing leading financial advisers to serve the healthcare system. Financial analysts work on a variety of healthcare engagements and spend their first year in financial modeling and supporting senior level staff.

Looking forward to returning to his hometown of Dallas, Wilson is excited to give back to his community by serving as a role model to students at his former high school. “They think they can’t make it, so students go to community colleges and don’t go off to school. I want to be the voice that they can go off,” he said.  

Wilson began applying for his position in mid-November, after the job was posted on the McCombs School of Business job database On-Campus Recruiting. He accepted the job offer in early April after interviewing with top executives, partners and entry-level analysts. “The business school taught me how to dress, speak, work with teams, proficiency in Microsoft programs and how to join organizations to build my personal brand and networks. A lot of kids don’t do those things,” Wilson said.  

He advises students to exercise leadership and communication skills throughout the interviewing processes. Also, “it pays to be persistent,” he said. “Email immediately after meeting with an employer and remind them of what you can bring to the company and communicate what you want in a non-aggressive manner,.”

Hannah Wu, marketing and English | will work for: General Mills
“UT has thrown a lot of challenges at me and it made me tough. I was placed in an environment and had to build myself from the ground up”.

Torn between her loves for both marketing and English, Wu chose to double major, further diversifying her skills. The Kansas native branched out to the eclectic city of Austin initially for the McCombs Business School, but quickly fell in love with indie music and the city.

Wu accepted her position as Business Management Associate with General Mills in Minneapolis over spring break after a series of interviews, an assessment, a paid-for trip to Minneapolis for two days and weeks of anxiously checking her email for the “we gladly welcome you to the company,” or “we regret to inform you” notes. “They sent me an email saying that they were having a really hard time making a decision and they would be in touch soon. So, I sent them an email telling them how much I wanted this job and reiterating why I was right for the job. They replied that they really appreciated my email, and I believe that helped me get the job,” Wu said. Wu looks forward to being immersed in the global company specifically dealing with foods in demographics.

In an attempt to stand out against other candidates, Wu highlighted her leadership skills gained through several executive boards and positions of power. “I was really passionate about all of my positions and they forced me to consistently use trouble shooting skills,” she said.

Each of these grads worked diligently to get the job they wanted. It took networking, persistence in following up and confidence throughout the interview. Go after your dream job and continue to apply until you’ve found a great fit for yourself. In case you are lacking communication skills, enroll in a communication studies class to learn the ins and outs of public speaking, interviewing and how to market yourself. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to leave the great state of Texas — there are many opportunities outside the state lines.