Good grades, a valuable internship, even an eye-catching resume are all vital to finding a job upon graduation. Nevertheless, for recent Redbird alumna Natassia Dunlap ’17, her success came from those ideas and more.

“I’m big on networking. I think that is something students need to work on,” said Dunlap, who majored in human resources. “I have found truth in the statement that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. So I am always connecting with people.” In fact, networking was the key to her landing a position at American Family Insurance before she graduated in December.

Dunlap photo

Natassia Dunlap ’17

Networking through academics

When arriving at Illinois State as a freshman, Dunlap’s goal was to study music business. However, after an internship in the financial sector during her sophomore year, she decided to switch majors to human resources (HR). According to Dunlap, one of the reasons she knew it was an area of interest to her was because her internship allowed her to explore her interests and skill sets. “HR is a career that has a lot of opportunities and sectors. People in HR are good at problem-solving, leadership and separating their emotions from their business practices.”

Another reason Dunlap decided to pursue HR was due to the strong impact the professors at Illinois State’s College of Business had on her. The fact that professors have professional experience outside of the classroom was impressive. “Their outside expertise went beyond textbook concepts. Because I believe that to become a leader you have to have been led, (their experience) made an impact on my decision,” said Dunlap. She learned not only from their knowledge but also from the lessons they shared.

College of Business Assistant Professor Tina Thompson had a strong influence on Dunlap because she taught about the realities of human resources, which ultimately led to Dunlap’s major selection. Dunlap was reassured of her decision after many conversations with Instructional Assistant Professor Terry Lowe, who also taught human resource management and development. These professional relationships with educators, who have real-world experience in Dunlap’s field of interest, helped her to form realistic expectations about working in the industry.

Networking through student involvement

Another way Dunlap networked during her academic journey at Illinois State was by participating in the National Association of Colored Women’s Club, Women of Enlightenment chapter. The registered student organization (RSO) aims to seek campus unity as well as uplift the African-American community at Illinois State. As the internal relations chair, she learned how to problem solve and discover solutions to issues that came up throughout the year. She found that developing a connection with others and finding common ground between individuals allows necessary conversations to take place, so solutions can be found, and agreements may occur.

In fact, Career Advisor Mark Fauble shares the importance that involvement in student organizations and networking plays into the career development of students: “Student involvement helps individuals make connections with others who have interest in the same fields. RSO’s are a great way for students to develop networking skills throughout their college journey. You never know when those connections could be useful in the future.”

Networking through internships

In her junior year, Dunlap worked part time at the Career Center. Career Center Director Pamela Cooper noticed her skills and began to mentor her. During that time she challenged Dunlap to push herself a little more and encouraged her to apply for a career ambassador position. (Career ambassadors are Career Center student employees who are highly trained to assist students with their career development.) Dunlap took the charge, and later became the Career Center’s Employer Relations intern. In this role, she utilized the skills she developed as an ambassador to connect with employers who recruit at Illinois State. As she helped coordinate their visits on campus, connected with them, and learned about the skills they were seeking in candidates.

“Natassia took the necessary steps to meet her goals and was very serious about the job search. She made a point to get to know employers, research their organizations, and get face time with recruiters by showcasing her skills at Career Center events,” said Andrea Radliff, Career Center assistant director for Employer Relations. Dunlap knew the value networking had as she experienced it firsthand.

Networking through engagement

During her senior year, Dunlap began searching for full-time employment and applied for job openings before her December 2017 graduation. Having worked with American Family Insurance many times before in her role at the Career Center, she confidently connected with them at the Career Center’s events, like job fairs and InstaCareer. She spoke boldly with representatives about how her goals aligned with the company’s.

“I knew I wanted (to work for) a company that would invest in me. American Family has a culture that allows for you to ask questions and not be overlooked,” said Dunlap. She liked what she saw in the organization through her research of the company and the connections she had with their staff when they came to campus. It wasn’t long before her networking efforts paid off. In just six months, American Family offered her a position.

Networking online

The Career Center also encourages students to utilize online tools to network with alumni and other professionals. “The single most effective way to find a job or internship is through networking,” Fauble said. “LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional networking site, allows students the opportunity to contact professionals in any career field. They can also find Redbird alumni to help them get started in their career journey. In fact, there are currently over 120,000 individuals from Illinois State alone on LinkedIn.” The digital network can also help to process referrals and job applications quickly and provides opportunities to meet professionals in locations one may not have otherwise met.

Dunlap on networking

Dunlap encourages students to avoid waiting for the perfect role to land in their lap. “Don’t sit around and hope for things; start early, get involved, utilize your peers, and find the best in everyone.”

Today, Dunlap gives back to Illinois State as she interacts with Redbirds when she comes to campus as a recruiter at job fairs. “You never know who you will meet and how you might be able to help one another in the future,” she said.

The Career Center assists all Illinois State University students with developing, evaluating, and implementing career decisions.