Cornell University

Office of Career Services

201 Ives Hall, 607-255-7816

Advice from Alumni

ILR Career Services is featuring career advice from ILR alum in various fields and industries, in the form of helpful and insightful quotes for the current student body. Alums were invited to include career advice from their ILR experience that they would like to pass along and what advice would they give to students who are aspiring to pursue a career path similar to theirs. Here are the responses.


Advice:

I think it's important to broaden your knowledge and experiences to the greatest extent possible early in your career.  For example, you may know that you have an interest in Compensation, but you will be well served by taking courses in finance, statistics, marketing or information systems while you have the opportunity.  Similarly, it would help to have early work experiences as a generalist, and possibly working across business areas and geographies.  It is easier to start with a broad base and then develop a more narrow area of expertise than it is to do the reverse.

Steve West
MILR, 1995
Senior Vice President
Citigroup


Advice:

Be sure to take time during your studies in ILR to learn more about yourself and your interests so that you can choose a field and company that fits for you. You want to strive to be “the right fish in the right pond.” If you have considered this, then you will be better prepared to sell your unique skills and experience to recruiters during an interview. You want to be able to articulate how you fit the organization that you are interested in with as many specific parallels as possible. Don’t forget that work experience doesn’t have to be a formal paid internship (especially in these tough times). Try to gain experience by working for a non-profit, volunteering for community projects/committees, etc.

Once you have joined a company (either full-time or internship), you should focus your efforts on networking with individuals from different functions and levels of the organization. This exposure will help you make a name for yourself as an energetic, motivated new hire. More specifically, you can do this by joining employee network groups, attending company functions or open meetings, joining company committees, or just logging onto the company blog.

Laura B Puga
BS, ILR 2000; Chicago Booth MBA 2007
Plate Mill Plant Manager
Alcoa, Inc.


Advice:

Kerry Korpi, MS ILR, 1980I was fortunate that my ILR degree landed me a job that I have believed in, enjoyed and been challenged by for over 25 years now. In recent years I have been in a position to hire other people and, from that vantage point, you learn certain things. A researcher for a labor union needs both good analytical skills and also a true commitment to the work we do. Plenty of people have one but not the other. The people I hire also need to be good writers and not afraid of numbers – another combination that’s not terribly common. Regardless of which side of the bargaining table you’re on, doing our work well means being honest and straightforward with one another. And, finally, working in my job means never forgetting that I’m accountable to AFSCME members – the people who make sure we have clean drinking water, respond to public health emergencies, protect abused children and do so many other jobs that we rarely think about but that we depend upon everyday.

Kerry Korpi
MS ILR, 1980
Director, Research and Collective Bargaining Services
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees


Advice:

Law can be a wonderful career choice, but there are so many possible areas of specialization that it is easy to get overwhelmed when you are first starting out.  I strongly recommend identifying a particular area of interest early in your career.  Ideally it will be something that you are passionate about.  You are never locked in to anything permanently, but the more expertise you can develop in a particular subject area the more valuable you will be to potential employers and clients. 

If you will be working for a law firm, try to put yourself in a position where you can get a lot of experience early in your career.  In my experience, young attorneys have done best at large firms when they have found a "home" in a small (or relatively small) practice group.  The fewer associates there are in your group, the more experience you are likely to get!  Learn as much as you can, and push to get as much experience as you can, early in your career.  Then if you decide, as I did, to make a change for lifestyle or other reasons, you will stand out to potential employers.  To the extent lifestyle is an issue for you (as it is for me!), consider a career as a government attorney.  Although not as lucrative as private sector jobs, government jobs can offer you exciting and meaningful work on a more predictable (and reasonable!) schedule.

And finally - although it is not always easy, try to keep in touch with old friends and colleagues as much as you can.  You never know who will be able to help you when you are looking for a client or need assistance making a career change.

Lauren Goodman Williams
BS, ILR, 1996; JD, Harvard, 1999
Senior Attorney
U.S. Department of Labor
Office of the Solicitor
Division of Occupational Safety and Health
Washington, D.C.


Advice:

If you are interested in a career in public policy, there are three things that I would recommend that you do while at Cornell:

  • First, take a class in the government department related to public policy to get a better feel for the subject.
  • Second, I highly recommend taking advantage of ILR’s credit internship program to do an internship in a public policy field that is of most interest to you. I was interested in international labor issues, so I did mine at the International Labor Organization, but others might include working on Capitol Hill for a Senate Committee or for a government agency, like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Finally, if you have the opportunity to write a thesis, make sure that your topic is public policy related. My thesis was a subject of discussion in several job interviews that I had, and it really helped to have written it on a public sector labor issue.

I am a 2008 graduate of both the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University for a Masters in Public Administration and the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University for a Masters in International Relations. My previous job was as a Research Associate for the Committee for Economic Development in Washington, DC. I am a 2004 graduate of the ILR School.

Rachel Dunsmoor
BS, ILR 2004; MA, Syracuse University 2008 and MA, Johns Hopkins University 2008
Analyst, Strategic Issues Team
U.S. Government Accountability Office


Advice:

In the 58 years since I graduated, I have had an interesting array of jobs – and  I know that the  multifaceted experience of my studies at the ILR school made it possible  for me to take advantage of these interesting opportunities. 

As a result  of the broad curriculum which covered the  spectrum of issues that impact organizations from accounting to engineering – and of course the dynamics of human relations - enabled me to serve as a Budget Officer of an air force base while my husband was stationed there, to head the Job Development Center for Westchester County - and for the last 23 years to be the Director of Client Services for Volunteer Consulting Group – a nonprofit organization which builds nonprofit boards by recruiting qualified trustees and helping them to function –where mediation is a critical skill.

Also, I got my present position as the result of a conversation at an ILR dinner -- so I certainly recommend participating in ILR events.

Rhoda Barr
BS, ILR 1951 
Director, Client Services
Volunteer Consulting Group


Advice:

Tina BevilacquaCurrently, I am employed by NYSUT: A Union of Professionals as a Labor Relations Specialist. I have been working as an advocate for educators and school-related personnel in NYS since 2001, with thirteen locals assigned to me. My responsibilities include providing training at various levels, contract negotiations, grievance handling, day to day contract interpretation, and member representation.

With a background in Personnel Administration, a Masters Degree in Education that led to nine years of teaching Fifth Grade, as well as my current employment as a union advocate, I believe that keeping options open is one of the best strategies for success. Although my career path was not a straight line, it has led me to do the advocacy work that I now enjoy. Every job that I have chosen has led me to where I am now. I have found that my experience at the ILR School has been extremely valuable, not just because the size of the school makes your education such a specialized one, but because the courses prepared me for the work that I do.

Tina Hughes Bevilacqua 
BS, ILR 1985
NYSUT Labor Relations Specialist 
Southern Tier Regional Office
Elmira, NY


Advice:

Heather NoftallI am a Managing Consultant with IBM Global Business Services, in their Organization and People Public Sector Practice. In this role, I focus on human resources and workforce strategies for government (federal, state, and local), healthcare, and education clients.  In my five years with IBM, I have supported projects across a range of human capital management areas, including: talent management strategy, competency design and assessment, workforce and staffing analyses, and organization change management; and a range of clients, including: Departments of Defense, Agriculture, and Veterans Affairs (VA). Recently, I’ve taken on a Project Manager role on a training development project with the VA.

In my field, I have been able to find many opportunities to apply the HR concepts learned during the MILR program.  If you are interested in a career (or even just a few years) in consulting, here are a few recommendations:

  • Seek out opportunities to ‘practice’ consulting – campus consulting clubs, courses with a consulting component, and internships with various consulting firms will give you the chance to experience the challenge of solving problems for a client and learn strategies for success, including how to define requirements clearly, gather data effectively, and socialize recommendations with a client.
  • Sharpen your analytical skills – these skills are crucial for a corporate HR or consulting career, and can be built through a number of statistics and analytics courses offered at Cornell.
  • Build self-awareness – deepening your self-awareness through internal reflection on your work experiences, personality inventories, and coaching/counseling from mentors, career services professionals, and friends will be invaluable in determining your career path. For consulting, one must consider that if you prefer knowing what you will be working on in the next month, including where it will be geographically, who will be on your team, and what you’ll be working on, then consulting may not be the career field for you. Alternatively, if you thrive in a fast paced environment of continual change, then consulting may be a great fit.

Heather Noftall
MILR 2005
Managing Consultant / Project Manager
IBM Global Business Services, Organization and People
Washington, DC


Advice:

Tanya AxensonAfter graduating from the ILR school, Tanya attended Harvard Law School.  She then practiced law as a labor & employment attorney for a large DC law firm for a number of years. In 2007, Tanya joined the legal team at Constellation Energy Group in Baltimore as Human Resources Counsel.  She advised the Human Resources team and other internal business clients on all facets of labor and employment law.  In March 2010, Tanya was asked to join the Human Resources Leadership Team as Constellation’s Executive Director of Talent Acquisition.  In that role, she oversees recruiting and staffing for Constellation and all of its subsidiaries and affiliates.  Her team also has responsibility for Diversity Outreach, Relocation Benefits, College Relations and Internship Programs, Immigration and OFCCP compliance.

Tanya Axenson
BS, ILR 1997
Executive Director, Talent Acquisition
Constellation Energy Group
Baltimore, Maryland