As the economy nose-dived and unemployment skyrocketed, Robert Earl arrived as the College’s new director of the Office of Career Development (OCD). He brought with him uncommon experience in guiding people through a tough job market, along with ambitious ideas about expanding services for job-seeking Barnard students and alumnae. As the recipient of a master’s of divinity degree—earned years after he received the more earthbound bachelor’s and master’s degrees held by others in his field—he also brought Barnard his extraordinary powers of oratory, persuasion, and inspiration.
Earl is from upstate New York, where cities and campuses faced decades of economic decline while other regions were still enjoying booms and bubbles. At Erie Community College, he helped not only young adults, but also an older population that included laid-off factory workers and mothers re-entering the workforce. In that diverse community, and then on the more traditional campus of Ithaca College, he honed his skills at moving all kinds of people from an unproductive state he calls “the reflective abyss” to a concrete course of action.
Nothing could be more concrete than the programs Earl has initiated at Barnard. This semester, he and his staff are surveying Barnard’s 600-plus seniors and identifying those who want to find paying work immediately after graduation. All job seekers are being invited to participate in an intensive assessment and coaching program that begins with testing by such established guides as Meyer-Briggs, Strong Interest Inventory, and SixFigureStart. “For the liberal arts student unsure of how to promote herself and apply her degree to the work world,” he says, “it’s critical to engage in the process of assessing one’s strengths and interests, creating a polished and persuasive résumé, exploring both the hidden and open job markets, and creating a unique marketing plan.”
Students will be tutored in dressing for success, and videotaped and critiqued as they participate in mock job interviews. OCD will also guide each participant in developing an individual portfolio and an aggressive, comprehensive job-search plan. Further, in an unprecedented commitment to its advisees, OCD will serve as a job-search agent—calling prospective employers, tapping alumnae networks, sending out résumés, and teaching applicants how to effectively follow up by mail and phone.
Similar services will be offered to job-seeking alumnae of all ages, talents, and professional inclinations. Reflecting a rapidly changing world—where industries and technologies rise and recede at an unprecedented pace—OCD will work with Alumnae Affairs to assist any alumna who seeks help in deciding whether to stay in a familiar field or move to a new one.
For all Barnard women looking for jobs—students and graduates alike—the alumnae network is what Earl calls “the biggest tool we have.” Referring to every Barnard alumna as a potential “ambassador” to businesses and organizations, he says, “An alumna working at a company is a clear example of the creative, highly educated woman Barnard produces.” Earl adds that employers who fill one or more internships with Barnard undergraduates also learn how much Barnard women can contribute to their organization. “I take my hat off to Jane Celwyn for having the foresight and wisdom to develop a strong internship program,” he says of his predecessor, and of a program that brings eager first-year students through the doors of his office. “I love to work with first-years,” he says, “because by the time they’re seniors, they’re fully empowered.”
-Anne Schutzberger, photograph by Asiya Khaki