Alumni Assist with CCI’s Annual Career Fair
It was an internship that led to Pam Schmidt’s current job at MP&F, where she’s worked for a total of 25 years since she graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. It’s no wonder that, as director of human resources and talent development, she’s an avid proponent of students getting internship experience before they graduate.
“There’s only so much you can learn in school. The best way to learn what this industry is really like is by getting out there and getting hands-on experience in real-world settings, which is why I feel so strongly about internships and about our intern program in particular,” she said.
Schmidt will have a table at the Communication and Information Career Fair 1-4 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Student Union Ballroom, room 272. It’s the only communication and information career fair on campus and occurs just one time a year, so any UT student interested in a career in either of those fields are welcome to attend, said Devan Lane, CCI director of career development.
Having alumni at these events really helps students network and connect to a friendly face, Lane said.
“Students usually connect first with an individual before they connect with a company, so the chance to talk to an alum who has had the same or similar experiences can build an easy rapport,” Lane said. “It’s so fun, too, because when the alums check in they get an alumni ribbon and they love wearing those. The alumni ribbons are like beacons that students look for.”
It was UT connections that helped Schmidt land her MP&F internship in the summer of 1993; her friend had completed the same internship the summer prior, and one of the company’s founding partners, Mark McNeely, was an actively involved UT alumnus. She felt very lucky to get the internship without much prior experience, but the company was young at the time and willing to take on interns who were prepared to get tangible hands-on experience in the industry.
“They took a chance and hired me, and I loved it. I worked on all kinds of cool stuff that summer. It was a robust internship; we got to really build a portfolio, which I had to do and turn in for a grade at the end of the summer. I just loved the work and loved the people,” she said.
Schmidt felt she got lucky again after she graduated in December 1993 with a degree in journalism with a concentration in public relations and started job hunting. She called MP&F up and they called her in for an interview and hired her on the spot. She went on to work there for more than a decade and rose through the ranks to senior management. She took a break from the agency to try something new and sold real estate for five years before returning and settling into her current role.
Now, she gets to oversee the very internship program that kicked off her own career. She said the MP&F internship program is very active and they have several openings year-round for interns. Though she called it a “sink or swim” internship because those who get the roles are expected to hit the ground running, Schmidt said the interns are provided with plenty of support and guidance as they navigate what it is like to work at a busy public relations, marketing, and advertising firm.
She likes staying connected to CCI, not just because it’s where she went to school, but because she’s consistently hired great interns and entry-level employees who have graduated from the college. Schmidt said the interns who see the most success at her company often have previous hands-on experience, whether that is writing for the Daily Beacon or running social media for a student organization. If students would take one bit of advice from her, she said that it would be to get hands-on experience on their resumes before they start vying for competitive internships.
That’s one reason why Lane said her office has been heavily encouraging students at all levels to engage with employers at the work fair. There, students can find out exactly what they need to do to boost their skills and round out their resumes so they can be successful in finding internships and jobs.
“We made a list of freshman-friendly companies this year and circulated it in our first-year seminar courses. We want them to come and get an idea of the opportunities that are out there, and to ask, ‘How can I get prepared for this field?’ The emphasis isn’t just on jobs, but also on networking and learning about internships so they can be prepared,” Lane said.