Each year at the Student Activities Fair, students man over 100 tables on Copley Lawn, each station decorated with sign-up sheets, giveaways and baked goods. Students have the opportunity to window shop for their favorite club, volunteer organization or sports team.
But for the fresh faces sifting through countless emails and planning nights around a slew of general interest meetings in these first weeks back to campus, some neon fliers seem to shine a bit brighter than the rest: Two organizations boast an average “acceptance” rate of less than 10 percent, making The Corp and the Georgetown University Alumni & Student Federal Credit Union more selective than Georgetown University itself.
GUASFCU, which wrapped up interviews and selection in the past week, accepted only 8 percent of applicants this fall. Vital Vittles, The Corp’s convenience store, hired only 11 of over 200 applicants in the most recent hiring cycle, which ended last Wednesday, Sept. 14.
Both organizations rival Harvard University’s 2011 acceptance rate of 6.7 percent. But when the goal is serving coffee at minimum wage or managing bank transactions without pay, what’s the point of enduring such a lengthy application process?
Something about the high standard that comes with low acceptance rates may have to do with it. To an outsider, this perceived exclusivity may seem a bit odd for a group of students who work as tellers andbaristas, but as hundreds of applications flood each organization during hiring season, it becomes clear that the appeal lies in something extra: a select community that extends beyond the confines of the bank counter or cash register.
Everyone Starts Somewhere
“I’m really not that cool,” admits Alex Pon (COL ’12), president and CEO of The Corp. A self-proclaimed huge nerd, Pon applied in the fall of his sophomore year to the IT department, not expecting much. “I thought, ‘OK, I’ll apply, if I get in that would be fantastic, but I’m not expecting too much.’ I realized that it’s pretty selective,” Pon said. Just two years later, Pon sits at the helm of a company that employs 240 proud students, reported a revenue of over $4.3 million last year and boasts one of the most notable names and logos on campus.
For GUASFCU CEO Katie Cohen (COL ’12), it was about the social connections. “I was trying to make friends,” Cohen said about applying to the credit union internship (GUAFSCU refers to their employees as interns since they are not paid) her sophomore year. Like Pon, Cohen now serves in the bank’s top leadership, balancing books with peak assets totaling over $16 million and a staff of over 100 students.
Learning to Work the Lingo
For GUASFCU, the interview process is modeled after a banking interview — Western business attire included. Candidates must submit a resume accompanied by essays explaining what they hope to gain and give back to the Credit Union, as well as an essay describing their problem solving skills. For the 223 potential interns this year, a little over 15 percent made it to a second-round interview. From that number, fewer than 20 freshmen and sophomores were up to snuff, receiving a final “offer” and joining the ranks of the student bank.
For The Corp, the initial online application includes questions for all applicants as well as prompts for students’ individual applications to any one of the nine Corp services, both internal and storefront. From the professional (“Tell us about a time you received perfect customer service.”) to the more lighthearted (“Tell us your most embarrassing story in all its grisly detail.”), the prompts target focus areas like work ethic and customer service skills, while touching on a potential employee’s ability to have fun, think creatively and keep a high energy level on the job.
Picking the Right People
In her role as The Corp’s director of human resources, Colleen Cacciabeve (COL ’12) oversees the hiring process for each of the company services. With hundreds of applications to review in a matter of days, the upper management of each service has to narrow down the field of applicants they will call back for an interview. “It depends on how competitive the applicants are and whether or not they seem qualified or would fit into store culture,” she said.
For Pon, interest and fit are driving factors in any decision to interview and eventually hire.
“We go to Georgetown — almost anybody can do a great job,” Pon said. “But we’re also looking for people who are just good people and who we want to be hanging out with. … Making coffee or taking out groceries is not a hard task, so there has to be some reason why students want to join The Corp.” He used the term “Corpfessional” to describe the ideal candidate: someone who can have fun on the job, but always keeps the customer as a first priority.
As far as the application process goes, leaders of both organizations emphasized the need for a good personality. “You just have to be a fun, social person. … We’re going to be working in close quarters; we want to be working next to people who want to have a good time,” Cohen said of potential credit union interns.
“Part of working for the credit union is about being part of a team,” Cohen said. “So we’re definitely looking for people who are aware of what that means and are looking to add that aspect to their college career.”
Try, Try Again
For Lucius Lee’s (SFS ’15) friends, getting a “no” fromGUASFCU dealt a blow. “They said it was really tough. Most of my friends didn’t get in.”
Although Aramide Alaka (MSB ’15) said she did not get an interview after applying for The Corp, she said she would definitely consider giving it another shot.
“There’s always next semester, or next year,” she said.
But for some freshmen, the allure of telling behind the credit union counter or serving up a latte at a Corp coffee shop only becomes apparent once they’ve settled in after the first few weeks — past the fall semester application deadlines.
“I didn’t consider applying for the Corp. I thought I would go over and just brew coffee for people. I didn’t want to just brew coffee,” Phil Seiler (COL ’15) said. “I didn’t know that the Corp does much more, because I would have applied, but now it’s too late.”
Need for Friendly Connections
Although The Corp starts its application process with a name-blind form before hiring teams decide interviewees, Pon said that it can be beneficial to know who you’ll be working with once the identities are revealed at the interview stage.
“We’re balancing avoiding looking at names and playing favoritism … however, if you have somebody’s best friend applying then you know more about their character,” Pon said. “It’s not fun being rejected from anything … but at the same time we have an obligation to pick the right people,” Pon said. After all, it’s more fun to be working with friends, he admitted, adding that he had many Corpie friends prior to applying.
For some students, a perception of a possible who-to-know culture prevails in GUASFCU as well. “I heard it’s really hard to get into and people inside the credit union only give jobs to their friends,” saidSeiler. “So for me, going in not knowing anyone and as a freshman, it would be hard to get in.”
Making it Social
For those students not on the invite list to the credit union’s annual holiday gala or The Corp’ssemesterly employee appreciation event commonly referred to as “Holiday Inn,” overhearing chatter from the night before at a Leo’s Sunday brunch can serve to fill them in.
“They have a lot of fun,” James said about The Corp. “But basically all my friends got rejected.” Sitting with a cup of Corp coffee in hand, it did not seem to deter her from visiting their services, which she describes as “great.”
With the absence of an on-campus Greek life, students tend to seek out other social outlets — and for many, The Corp and GUASFCU may fill this void. Perhaps for this reason, The Corp has gained a reputation of being the “unofficial frat,” says Pon. “Right now I think it’s kind of upsetting that The Corp still has this reputation.”
For Cohen, the social perks should be thought of as customary for on-campus groups, no matter their acceptance rate or if they ask for an application at all.
“There’s an entire social component that comes along with the internship, which I think tends to happen with nearly every organization on campus because we don’t have a Greek system,” Cohen said. “It’s a very natural flow for social life to come from where people gather in groups, whether that’s a sports team or a club or The Corp or GUASFCU,” she added.
While these organizations may come off as highly social entities, Pon emphasized that not all members opt in to that part of the culture. “Being a part of The Corp’s social aspect is a choice. … We have fantastic employees who never show up to a single social gathering.”
Finding a Niche
Seeing members sporting their Corposaurus shirt or GUASFCU pullover may create an in-group, out-group dynamic for non-members — but for some it becomes a defining part of their Georgetown experience. For those cashing checks to toasting bagels, being a part of these two organizations becomes more than your typical job or internship.
For Cacciabeve, who transferred to Georgetown as a sophomore, the organization helped her find her place on campus. Breaking through the transfer bubble was difficult in her first months on campus, but after applying to Vital Vittles and becoming a cashier the next semester, Cacciabeve is now in charge of overseeing personnel for all services, as well as alumni relations.
“I don’t think I would have met half the people I know right now if I hadn’t joined The Corp,” she said.
Hoya Staff Writer Peter Brigham contributed to this report.