SPRING CONVOCATION: Job-finding success is a family affair

By Adela Talbot
June 06, 2013

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Mustang family - AllisonAdela Talbot, Western News
Allison Pilon, the youngest of the Graham children, says it took a bit of time and effort, and getting her foot in the door of her desired employer, to find a job in London. Pilon, who was hired to be branch librarian at the Westmount location of the London Public Library, graduates next week with an MLIS.

As the Graham family will tell you, the doors are there. They’re open and it’s up to you to find them and walk through.

While the Forest City is often criticized for failing to provide sufficient job opportunities to its postsecondary graduates, opportunities do exist, Ross Graham said.

“It seems to be in the paper all the time that all the grads seem to leave London, that it’s tough for grads to find jobs. But the three of us came out with little trouble,” he said.

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Graham is the eldest in a family of Western grads who all found themselves gainfully employed in London, immediately after leaving the classroom.

All three Graham siblings – Ross, Kate and Allison – landed public managerial positions immediately after graduating from Western. Allison, the youngest, is the new branch librarian at London Public Library (Westmount Branch). She is set to officially graduate next week, with an MLIS.

“This is about celebrating the value of an education at Western. For us, Western has a great reputation, it’s in London and it was very well recognized. It gave us great connections and each of us worked (during school) for the institutions we wanted to be in (after graduation),” said Ross, manager of special projects for the Middlesex London Health Unit.

The 27-year-old completed his BA in Music in 2007 and then a master’s in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, crediting his volunteering at hospitals in the city for helping him get experience and establish connections that would prepare him for the workforce.

“For me, it started with making cold calls and sending emails. You hear about a job title and you hear about something you’d want to do. I went down to Parkwood (Hospital) and that worked out. I graduated from pushing wheelchairs and being a therapy aide to a research assistant and then to management stuff. There was a lot of great networking,” he said.

“Western presented us with so many opportunities and London has that as well. But if you think someone’s going to hand something to you, it won’t happen.”

Allison, 24, followed in her brother’s footsteps, seeking out involvement and employment opportunities long before she was set to graduate. She also completed a Music degree at Western, enrolled part-time in the MLIS program after spending a summer working at the public library.

“That was a good move on my part because at the same time (I was in school) I continued to work at the library as a casual assistant. You start as a casual employee, and you just work wherever they want you to. I worked as casual for two years, was hired permanently last year. I put in quite a bit of time,” she said.

Her strategy was to get a foot in the door of the library while she was still in school. By doing this, Allison started in circulation and worked her way up from the stacks into management. Had she completed her MLIS degree before stepping into the library, she wouldn’t have been able to do casual assistant work.

“I finished classes in April, a posting came up, I applied, interviewed and I got the job.”

She knows the job market looks grim for all graduates, but believes it takes a little extra work to find the opportunities that will lead to success.

“The best thing you can do is try to figure out or understand the organization you want to work with. Try to get in the door before you graduate. Get in the door while you don’t have the degree. Get in the door and make connections; start on the lower end of the totem pole and work your way up. You put in the time, and you get the reward.”

As for Kate, 28, the eldest of the siblings, she completed a Fine Arts undergraduate degree and went on to complete a Master of Public Administration (MPA). Today, she is the manager of corporate initiatives for the City of London.

“Western has the only MPA program specific to local government; I went into it specifically because I wanted to work in local government,” she said.

An internship for MPA students, weighted heavily to Western’s program, allowed her to get in the door at city hall while she was still in school. She is now working towards a PhD in local government.

The trio’s parents – Ric, BA'71, DiplEd'73, MEd’81, and Susan, MEd'82 – are also Western alumni, having met on campus and later worked as teachers in the city. Two of the kids also married Western grads – Jon Pilon, BA'09 (King's) and Matthew Wilson, BA'07 (King's), LLB'10.

“It’s interesting that we all kind of started in arts and moved into something very different. At one point, (dad) had three kids doing arts degrees, wondering if we’d be living with him for the rest of his life,” Ross said with a laugh. “They don’t throw career fairs for music students.

“There’s nothing special about the three of us. The best analogy I’ve heard for grad school is ‘choose your own adventure.’ There are 20 doors and you have to choose to walk through them. Anybody can do this.”

Mustang familyContributed photo
Western is a family tradition for the Graham family. Pictured are, front row, from left, parents Ric and Susan Graham; middle row, from left, Allison Pilon, Patty Graham and Kate Graham; and back row, Jon Pilon, Ross Graham and Matthew Wilson. The family holds more than 10 Western degrees, all of which led to gainful employment in the Forest City.


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