Peer Advisors Share Experience
By Khan Shoieb '13
As recruiters from the educational, financial service and not-for-profit sectors descend upon campus this fall, one of the College’s most prized institutions, the Career Center’s Peer Career Advising System, once again finds itself kicking into high gear. The anemic state of the overall job market has failed to hinder many employers, both old and new, from seeking out Amherst students, and this year’s impressive group of Peer Career Advisors has proven itself up to the task of helping the student body navigate complex job and internship searches.

These Peer Career Advisors (PCAs) represent a program that has thrived at Amherst for nearly three decades. Indeed, Amherst was one of the very first liberal arts colleges to establish such a resource, sending out some of its smartest and most career-savvy seniors to assist fellow students in developing the skills necessary to translate their Amherst experience into careers.

Granted, the employment landscape has changed since the inception of the program, but fortunately this year’s PCAs bring with them a diversity and depth of experience particularly suited for the demands of leading firms and organizations. Together they have taught in China, worked at a technology consulting firm, led social justice campaigns and even interned for the American Civil Liberties Union. They are athletes, have studied abroad at Oxford, are involved with numerous on-campus organizations and have spent time in Costa Rica. Most importantly, however, they are, in Dean Allyson Moore’s words, “incredibly proactive, filled with wonderful ideas, and valuable members of our team — they know how their peers think.”

Peer Career Advisors are trained to do much more than help students perfect resumes and cover letters. Taylor Perkins ’11, one of the five PCAs, recalls the “rigorous, comprehensive” weeklong orientation program — on top of the highly competitive selection process — that renders them qualified to help peers with anything from beginning their job and internship searches to interviewing tips to finding networking paths. Yet what Amherst students find most valuable about their PCAs, beyond the sound advice they provide on technical matters, is their ability to empathize and guide their peers through frustrating situations.

“My PCA was very helpful — he had a lot of insightful commentary on my resume,” said Ben Gold ’11. “He had a definite skill set that I was able to learn from and it was always clear that he was acting in my best interest.”

Rachel Hamalainen ’11, another of this year’s PCAs, agrees that they can play the role well. “We are students, after all, so we’ve been through it — we’ve written resumes and cover letters, studied abroad [and] applied to internships,” Hamalainen said. “I think we can relate to students on that level because we’re on the same playing field.”

The peer-to-peer support is valuable for its accessibility as well. Few students know that, aside from the PCAs’ daily drop-in hours at Career Center, one of the advantages of their being students is they can also be approached on campus. Indeed, the PCAs are essentially “fellow staff” at the Career Center, said Perkins.

“We’re always kept abreast of the goings-on at the Career Center, [and] in general we help shape all of the Career Center’s services beyond just our own to be more student-friendly,” Hamalainen added.

Thus, as job and internship searches pick up steam, Amherst students can rely on their PCAs to facilitate a smoother process. And while the PCAs know quite a bit, they also know what they don’t know — which is why Deans will always be there to help with questions of the broader, more philosophical sort.

Students’ best opportunity to see their PCAs is to drop in at the Career Center between the hours of 2 and 4 p.m. on any weekday.

Issue 06, Submitted 2010-10-20 01:30:26