Monday, January 20, 2014

The Externship Hunt

by Connor White, AOS Culinary, from La Papillote

            Earlier this month, The Culinary Institute of America was flooded by over 100 perspective employers seeking out one thing: CIA students. The November Career Fair was an incredible affair for all that were involved. As a fairly new culinary student myself, I needed this opportunity to find an externship.

            I suppose I should give you a little bit of my back story. You see, before attending the CIA I was the person who had high goals and standards and I always reached them. I was more committed than any competitor, more knowledgeable, and in short worked to ensure that I was the overall best candidate for any endeavor that I set my mind to. Finding my dream externship then should have been a piece of cake right? Wrong.

            Throughout my first semester at The Culinary Institute of America, I have noticed myself becoming more career minded, adopting the overall feeling of the school itself. With our externships being such a large part of the school’s curriculum, it is essential for students to find their opportunity as soon as possible. I was not the student who procrastinated doing little to no prior research before the career fair. In fact I was the opposite. My second day at CIA, I found myself sitting in one of the offices at Career Services trying to educate myself on everything I would need to know to find a fitting externship opportunity. Before my first Career Fair, I had sent my resume and cover letter to nearly half a dozen approved externship opportunities.

            I began my search at Bon Appétit Magazine, an externship that would take place in test kitchens. This, I knew was my dream externship and I was sure that it would be mine. I found their contact information, refined my resume with Career Services, and wrote a cover letter. One of my brother’s friends works as a writer at Bon Appétit Magazine. I decided that I should meet up with her to discuss the company and the industry itself. Meeting with her was immensely helpful and she even sent a letter of recommendation on my behalf. At this point I felt like I had a leg up on my competition. About a week after sending my information, I had my response. This time it was bad news. Bon Appétit had changed the format of their internship, making it no longer an approved externship site. I was completely and utterly shocked. Never in my life had I received a denial like this. Needless to say I was crushed. First rejection check.

            After a moment of self-pity, and a night with old friends Ben and Jerry I decided that it was time to continue my search. This time I found an opportunity working for San Francisco Chronicle Food and Wine Section Test Kitchen. After revising my cover letter and resume, I sent it out. Shortly after I received their call and had an excellent phone interview. At the end of the interview, I was asked to submit a few letters of recommendation. Quickly, I asked for my letter and awaited their completion.

            At this point, the Career Fair was here. I was already in the process of setting up a seemingly perfect externship so I didn’t think that the Career Fair would be a great use for me. However, in the interest of finding a back up plan, I attended the fair with the thought that I wasn’t actually going to go to one of these sites. After wandering around I found an interesting product development externship in Chicago. After speaking with them, I couldn’t help but sign up for an interview with them the following day. After hitting it off with an incredible interview, I was unsure of what to do. The same Career Fair I had nearly pushed aside had presented me with an incredible opportunity. My only thought was to pursue both possibilities until I heard back with both answers.

            Finally after receiving my letters of recommendation for the San Francisco Chronicle, I emailed them to get their mailing address. The following day I checked my email and noticed their response. Expecting nothing more than an address, I was surprised when I found that they too had responded with bad news. Apparently their recipe column is being discontinued starting in the beginning of 2014. This means their test kitchens are being removed, thus removing them from the list of approved externship sites. Second rejection check.        

            After getting over the fact that I wouldn’t be spending my days off traveling the streets and beaches of California, I decided that it was time to do some soul searching. After a few months in my search since the beginning, a roller coaster of ups and downs, and countless calls home, these are some of the lessons that I have picked up along the way:
  1. Never underestimate the value of Career Services can provide you. They not only helped me create an exceptional cover letter and resume, but they also set up the Career Fair itself. Without their help, CIA students would nearly be hopeless in finding our externships, careers, and refining our professional skills.
  2. Understand that everything happens for a reason. Rejection is a reality. Yes, it sucks, but without it we would have never found the next opportunity. Those who are able to proceed with determination will not only find their intended opportunity, but will also realize their power over adversity.
  3.  Realize the power of a phone call home and don’t ever be too proud to make that call. Nothing is better at getting me back in gear that a pep talk from those who care about me… accompanied by the comfort of ice cream, of course!
I myself have yet to find my externship. While I know it is essential to find one, I refuse to let the hardships of the search break me. When life gives you lemons, you better find something better to make than lemonade. After all you’ll need to do far better than that to impress your potential employer. 

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