“I want to give students the best tools to start their careers, because my professors and mentors gave that to me,” says alumnus Jon Heideman. (Photo courtesy of Jon Heideman)

From Student, to Graduate, to Mentor:
Carson Alumni Share Why They Give Back

By Becky Kramer

New graduates are facing a challenging job market, with many employers delaying hiring amid uncertainties about COVID-19 and the timing of an economic recovery.

But being a Coug means that you’re never going it alone, says Michelle Snyder, interim lead director of development for the Carson College of Business.

“You’re part of a greater community that’s invested in your success,” Snyder says. “Cougs help Cougs, and at the Carson College, our alumni are known for mentoring and volunteering their time to help the next generation of business professionals start their careers.”

Giving back to the college through gifts of time can take many forms, including being a guest speaker in classes, serving on advisory boards, and mentoring students. Two Carson alumni recently talked about why they invest in students and offered tips for recent grads.

History says there will be a recovery

Jon Heideman (’08 Acc.) graduated at the peak of the Great Recession, so he feels for recent grads.

“I started my career in accounting literally the day Bear Stearns filed for bankruptcy and Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch,” says Heideman, audit director at BDO USA in Spokane.

It was a turbulent time in the financial industry, but a mentor encouraged him to be strategic about finding opportunities.

Economic downturns are an inevitable part of working life, Heideman says, noting that a major shock rattles the U.S. economy about once every decade. Before the 2008 housing crisis, there was the dot.com bubble of 2000 and the 1987 Black Monday stock market crash.

“If you’d told me 10 years ago that a pandemic would disrupt the global economy, I’d be like ‘Yeah right,’” Heideman says.

While opportunities for immediate advancement might dry up during a downturn, “history says there will be a recovery,” Heideman says. In the meantime, he encourages workers in entry-level professional jobs to invest in themselves and plan for the future.

“Hard times are when you learn the most,” he says. “You can build your character, your reputation, and your network, so when an uptick in the economy occurs, you’re on the right path to take advantage of it.”

Heideman is a guest speaker in the college’s accounting classes. He also serves on the Department of Accounting’s advisory board and the college’s National Board of Advisors. Volunteering takes time, but it’s worthwhile to invest in the next generation of graduates, he says.

“I want to give students the best tools to start their careers, because my professors and mentors gave that to me,” Heideman says. “My longest WSU relationships are from the classroom. To still have those relationships with my professors is pretty amazing.”

Being a resilient, deliberate job seeker

Leslee Graves (Photo courtesy of Leslee Graves)

Leslee Graves (’16 HBM) encourages new grads to be resilient and deliberate in their job searches.

“You might have to take the job you don’t want,” says Graves, a recruiter for Starbucks. “There will be disappointment if your dream job doesn’t come through initially. But dreams can change, and if you keep working, it’s going to happen.”

Since she graduated, Graves has talked to classes, taken part in panel discussions, and advised Carson College students about job hunting.

“I’ve had so many entities—whether it’s WSU, Starbucks, or my family—invest in my career and well-being,” she says. “It’s my duty to share that insight by investing in others.”

Graves draws on her own experience as a young professional when she talks to students. By her senior year, Graves realized her passion was in helping people develop their potential, and she started looking for recruiting jobs.

She spent five months working at Nordstrom before taking a job at a commercial staffing agency. “It may very well be the hardest job I’ll ever have,” Graves says of the staffing agency. “It was commission-based, high stress, and sales-focused.”

But that experience helped her get hired at Starbucks’s corporate headquarters in Seattle, where she is currently on assignment as a recruiter for the company’s manufacturing and distribution side.

Graves encourages job seekers to research company brands and focus on firms with values they support. In addition, “Be deliberate about what jobs you apply for,” she says. “If a candidate applies to every open job at a company, I’d hesitate to hire them. It doesn’t feel like they know what they want.”

She also encourages new grads to build their professional networks and to be bold about asking contacts for recommendations and advice. If you interview for a job but don’t get hired, it’s OK to ask for feedback, she says.

“It shows humility and a desire to learn,” Graves says. “Next time there’s an opening, you can ask the hiring manager, ‘Do you think I could be a good fit for this role at this time?’”