“How many ping-pong balls can fit in the cabin of a 747 airplane?” and “How many Starbucks franchises are in San Diego?”
Such topics are seldom if ever addressed in the Socratic discussions that take place in Thomas Aquinas College’s classrooms. Yet the College’s students — by virtue of having developed their analytical skills through a rigorous, classical curriculum — are well prepared to answer them and other hypothetical queries that come up in job interviews.
That was the experience of three recruiters from WellPoint, the 37,000-employee health-insurance giant, who came to campus to interview four seniors this past December. “We were impressed by the candidates. We found them to be very bright people who have a very highly developed sense of critical thinking,” says Gregory Antoniono, a strategic sourcing manager. “They were articulate and engaging.”
“We are always looking for talent,” says Shane O’Reilly, WellPoint staff vice president for corporate sourcing and a member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 1995. Working out of the company’s Thousand Oaks, Calif., office, Mr. O’Reilly has long conducted recruiting trips at prestigious business schools, both undergraduate and graduate, but experience has led him to expand his company’s outreach to Thomas Aquinas College.
“When our new hires come in, we have to orient them to what we do,” says Mr. O’Reilly. “Choosing the right candidate is about speeding up that process,” because those who are better prepared will acclimate more quickly to the demands of the job. Thus, he explains, his “off-thewall” questions to applicants about ping-pong balls and coffee shops. “It’s not about having a specific answer. It’s about how they handle an unexpected question in a pressure situation, and seeing how they respond. That’s what the real world is like.”
At the College, he says, students learn to identify a problem, discern a solution, and then explain that solution to others. “What is different about the students here is their ability to listen and come up with thoughtful answers,” he says. “You can tell that they are used to being intellectually challenged in a group setting.”
Upon graduating from the College in 1995, Mr. O’Reilly worked in a number of business jobs before coming to WellPoint in 2003. His success there, he says, as well as that of a WellPoint colleague and fellow alumnus, Michael Hodgins (’08), gave him a greater appreciation of how valuable the College’s academic program can be in equipping workers for an idea-driven economy. “From day one as a student at the College, thinking my way through Euclid, the program had an impact on me. It forced me to think logically about every step, and that ability is something that translates directly into the business world. It is far more important than knowing the latest theory relative to macro- or microeconomics.”
He also found that the give and take of the College’s Socratic discussions was an excellent rehearsal for the workplace. “That whole exchange of views is very similar to what ends up happening in business meetings and conference calls,” he says. “You find yourself leading groups in those sessions, trying to take them in a certain direction. The interplay you get in the classrooms at the College definitely prepares you for that.”
fter soliciting résumés from Mark Kretschmer, director of the College’s Office of Career Advisement, Mr. O’Reilly selected four seniors to participate in interviews that he and two colleagues conducted on campus. The interviews ran slightly less than an hour each.
“Even though our academic program is ordered toward wisdom, and not training for any particular line of work per se, recruiters always seem pleased with our students,” says Mr. Kretschmer. “In a tight job market where employers’ needs are constantly changing, companies value candidates who are intellectually nimble, who can quickly learn new skills as needed.”
The College’s students “all seem very bright and analytical, which is a huge part of the job,” says Roopa Radhakrishnan, a WellPoint business process consultant, adding that “their communication style is great.” The four Thomas Aquinas College students who interviewed for WellPoint this year were among scores from numerous colleges and universities, all vying for just three openings — one of which will be filled by a member of the Thomas Aquinas College Class of 2012.
After multiple rounds of follow-up interviews and testing, WellPoint has offered a position to Kayla Kermode, a senior from Maple City, Mich. Miss Kermode will join the company after her graduation.
Reprinted from the Winter 2012 edition of the Thomas Aquinas College Newsletter