What Employers Want: Our Graduates
Hawks learn the skills to excel in their first jobs and the savvy and versatility to adapt to whatever comes next...and the region’s top companies are taking notice.
by Katie Smith ’15
Allison DelGrippo ’17, a sales representative for Breakthru Beverage Group through E&J Gallo, remembers her third day on the job. She was still learning the tools of the trade and her boss had assigned her the company’s “starter accounts” — longtime, reliable clients who would help her through her first few months as a salesperson. Yet, even with the head start, she was uncertain of how one of her earliest meetings with a client would go.
“Don’t worry,” DelGrippo’s boss reassured her, “I can do all the talking.”
But DelGrippo, who received a bachelor’s degree in leadership, ethics and organizational sustainability, found her footing quickly.
“The buyer and I instantly hit it off,” she recalls, “and by the end of the meeting, I had learned all about his family and his vision for the restaurant, and we both left thrilled to be working together.”
When DelGrippo graduated from her “starter accounts” a few months later, instead of ending her relationship with this client, the buyer reached out to E&J Gallo and negotiated keeping her as his sales rep.
DelGrippo’s experience echoes what employers across the region and around the world learn when they hire Saint Joseph’s graduates: what the world has labeled as “soft skills” are actually critical traits that are valued on any résumé, and Hawks have them in spades. Alumni enter the workforce equipped not only with expertise that will help them accomplish their first job, but with a broad knowledge base, an appreciation for learning and interpersonal and leadership skills they can call on no matter what the marketplace throws at them.
“In our office, we are trying to help students and alumni develop careers, not just land a job after graduation,” says Panagiota Kokkalis, associate director of employer engagement at the University’s Career Development Center. “Our office takes a consultative approach that asks hiring managers and students alike what they need to succeed.”
By the Numbers
Each fall, Hawks from the most recent undergraduate class are asked about their post-graduation activity. The Class of 2018 reported the following:
Employed, pursuing graduate study or in full-time volunteer programs within six months of graduation.
Mean starting base salary, above the national average.*
* According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Completed at least one experiential learning opportunity at SJU.
As a two-time alumnus, former Hawk mascot and current member of the University’s Board of Trustees, Dan Gallagher ’94, ’99 (M.S.), vice president of talent acceleration at Comcast, knows what he is getting when he hires Saint Joseph’s graduates: hard workers, critical thinkers, deep empathizers and strong communicators. More than 250 alumni have found success at the media giant by espousing those qualities.
“Comcast values work ethic, collaboration, integrity and problem solving,” says Gallagher, who has worked at the company since 2000. “Hawks learn how, when and why to use their leadership voice, to be inclusive of others, and to get things done the right way for the right reason.”
Comcast is a significant contributor to the Philadelphia economy, employing about 9,000 workers at its campus in the city, which also serves as its global headquarters. Founded in Philadelphia more than 55 years ago, Comcast has grown to be one of the world’s largest media and technology companies with three primary businesses: Comcast Cable, NBCUniversal and Sky, one of Europe's leading media and entertainment companies.
Alumni represent the University in many of Comcast’s sectors, including data analytics and visualization, where Tom O’Hara ’16, a senior analyst for data visualization at Comcast Cable, says that the real-world data he was able to work with while studying business intelligence and analytics at Saint Joseph’s prepared him for the complexities of his job.
At work, data is complicated,” O’Hara says, “and having the experience of using complex data from other sources at SJU was a good first taste. In one of my classes, we mined a dataset from a Latin American school network, provided analysis and visualization, and had to tell a compelling story to drive insight. Having the chance to use real data — nothing altered or too perfect from a textbook — prepared me for the unpredictability of real-world data analysis.”
O’Hara’s story is not uncommon at Saint Joseph’s: 87 percent of students complete at least one experiential learning opportunity while on Hawk Hill, according to data collected by the Career Development Center. These experiences include internships, co-ops, lab work, classwork with real-world examples or even service. Roughly 30 Hawks of each graduating class pursue a service opportunity as part of their postgraduate plans by choosing a year of service with organizations like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and JVC Northwest. The lessons they learn while serving others prepare them for future opportunities.
“People often ask me how I went from a year of service to Google,” says Ryan Musso ’14, who served as an engagement coordinator at St. Andre Bessette Catholic Church in Oregon through JVC Northwest from 2014 to 2015. “And I tell them it is so important to have a wide variety of life experiences to help figure out what you value, what your skills are and how to best apply them in the roles you want to have. JVC Northwest gave me that space.”
Now Musso, a former leadership, ethics and organizational sustainability major, is an account strategist at Google, working with 120 clients who are currently spending with the company to optimize services and strategize how to improve the customer experience. It is a fast-paced, customer-driven role that Musso says requires one so-called “soft skill” above everything else: communication.
“Meeting people where they’re at is crucial in my current role, but it’s something I learned on Hawk Hill and in JVC Northwest,” he says. “Whether it was my senior year business policy presentation or giving myself to focusing solely on one client experiencing homelessness during a mental health crisis, I was learning how to focus on the individual in that moment. Having a multitude of experiences, learning different personality types and communication styles sets me apart from my coworkers in how I operate in this role.”
The University maintains strong relationships with dozens of companies who visit campus to interact with students, teach them about their industries and recruit new hires. Joe McDonald, who joined Saint Joseph’s in 2018 as director of corporate and industry partnerships, manages many of the relationships. He says that companies can hire SJU graduates with confidence that they’ll be ready for everything that they experience.
“The life cycle of a skill in the marketplace used to be three decades,” McDonald says. “You could enter an industry knowing how to do something and that wouldn’t change for your entire career. But now, new skills are needed all the time as job requirements shift. We’re teaching skills that will be relevant to jobs that don’t even exist yet.”
Paul Pritchett, sales operation manager for Printpack, Inc., a manufacturer of packaging for major food and beverage brands, first engaged with Saint Joseph’s when the company was starting a sales training program in 2015. Representatives for the company attended career fairs around the region, looking for qualified candidates.
“We weren’t sure what we were looking for initially,” Pritchett says. “But two schools’ students’ quickly stood out to us, and Saint Joseph’s was one of them. St. Joe’s students are well prepared and authentic. They have a deep intellectual curiosity and eagerness to learn that serves them well as they take on new jobs. Hawks also have a long-term approach to their career goals. They know that their first job won’t necessarily be their last, and they have the presence of mind to be ready for any changes in the road ahead.”
Working with McDonald’s office, Printpack continues to return to the University, visiting sales management classes taught within the Haub School of Business. Though the company is 3,500 employees strong, it only hires fewer than a half dozen new employees to the sales training program per year. Several have been Hawks.
McDonald recalls speaking with a hiring manager who had visited classes at Saint Joseph’s and was impressed with their advanced knowledge of data visualization software that would be crucial to jobs in the industry.
“He was in the process of searching for candidates to fill a position, but was having trouble finding anyone with the combination of knowledge and experience that the listing called for,” McDonald says. “They wanted three years’ experience, but he was finding students at St. Joe’s with more relevant knowledge. He convinced his supervisor to change the requirements so he could hire someone out of that class.”
Among graduates from 2015 through 2018, the following companies hired the most Hawks:
Across all industries, one factor that united the nearly two dozen alumni interviewed was the value of inherent human respect that they learned at Saint Joseph’s. That foundation — of treating people as people, instead of numbers — makes Hawks better teachers, sales people, social service providers, data analysts, doctors and managers.
Jim Multari ’06 (MBA), vice president of national sales strategy and insights at Comcast, reflects on the idea that a personal touch is just as important as business acumen.
“I always try and remember that every data point represents a person: customers or employees that are working hard to do the right thing to create better worlds for themselves and their families,” Multari says. “My SJU education reinforced that business success and community success aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Katie Smith is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.>