Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Brianna Earl attended an internship fair at the beginning of her freshman year at Virginia Commonwealth University. She met representatives from several companies, including Altria, the tobacco and wine giant and one of Richmond’s largest employers.
“I knew that I wasn’t really qualified yet for any position but I wanted to get a feel for the internship environment at VCU,” Earl said. “When I met [with Altria] I noticed how happy their employees seemed. I wanted to do some more research into the company.”
That first meeting, nearly four years ago, put Earl on a path to her first job. Today, the School of Business graduate is an associate compensation analyst in the department of human resources at Altria, a position that — among other things — is allowing her to learn about how the company operates.
“I love it,” said Earl, who just finished her second month on the job. “I’m able to see what goes on within the company, even if it’s not related to my position. It’s a lot of great early exposure and it’s setting the foundation for me to see what I want to move into further on in my career.”
Earl, who graduated with a degree in human resource management last spring, took a proactive approach to get the job. She began connecting with employees at Altria not long after that first internship fair. She attended a VCU career fair during her sophomore year and again spoke with representatives from the company. Later that year, she toured Altria’s corporate headquarters in Henrico County.
“I really paid attention to how much they invested in their employees,” she said. “It wasn’t just about creating a workspace. The amenities are amazing — a hair salon, a full gym with a yoga studio, the cafeteria was amazing and the food was good. I was blown away with what I saw.”
Altria’s HR department offered a summer undergraduate internship for rising seniors. Earl knew she wanted that internship. She also believed there would be a lot of competition and set out to strengthen her credentials over the next two years.
“I wanted to be the frontrunner,” Earl said.
She joined the VCU chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management and won an election to serve as treasurer. She also secured an HR internship with Estes Express Lines, a Richmond-based freight transportation company. And she continued to stay connected with Altria, setting up a panel event co-hosted by the company and SHRM.
Earl also sought professional advice from the School of Business career services office. Darlene Ward Thompson, associate director of career services, assisted Earl with her resume and cover letter, and helped her prepare for interviews.
It was all tying together behind the scenes.
Earl, Thompson said, came prepared.
“She’s such a great example of what you are supposed to do,” Thompson said. “When she set her heart on Altria, she was at everything — getting her name out there, getting her resume out there and connecting [Altria] with her student organization. It was all tying together behind the scenes.”
Then, during her junior year, Earl’s plan went awry. Altria offered the summer internship to a graduate student.
“It was disappointing, just because I had been in contact with them for so long,” Earl said. “But I always thought, ‘If something is for me, it will be for me.’ I never try to force anything. I just knew that even though I didn’t get that opportunity, I wanted to keep in contact with them because you never know what’s going to pop up later.”
Earl maintained her connections at Altria. She kept her Estes internship (she wound up working there for nearly two years). And she remained involved in SHRM, serving as president during her senior year.
Then, in early March, she received a message from Altria: the company had a full-time opening in its human resources department. Earl jumped at the opportunity. She interviewed for the position and received an offer in April. Thompson believes Earl got the job largely because she was a familiar candidate and had an impressive resume — and because she was persistent.
“That’s what makes her story so strong, because she didn’t get [the internship] initially, and then she ended up getting the job,” Thompson said. “They sort of continued to pursue her and she sort of continued to pursue them, until it actually worked out.”
The job, Earl said, was worth the effort.
“When I got the position I was speechless — just to be a salaried employee coming out of college is an absolute blessing,” she said. “I think I’m able to celebrate this a little bit more than if I had been an intern [there] and then moved into a co-op and then received a full-time offer. This was more of a surprise to me, almost like a graduation gift. I think I appreciate this a lot more.”
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