AUBURN, Ala.—When she graduates from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications May 3, Anna Leigh Peek will waste no time moving on to her next endeavor: a position in the guest relations department at Monsanto’s world headquarters in St. Louis, Mo.
After receiving multiple job offers, being able to choose the one that fit her best did not happen by chance. The motivated Elkmont native began setting the stage for that situation before she ever set foot on the Plains.
“I met Monsanto’s internship coordinator at an FFA event I attended when I was a junior in high school,” says Peek.
She held onto her acquaintance’s business card, and when it was time to find an internship during her junior year at Auburn, Peek simply emailed her and, a few phone calls later, had a summer position with the company. That internship in the summer of 2013 laid the groundwork for Peek to secure the job she will begin next month.
While this turn of events may seem serendipitous, it was actually the desired result of years of determination.
“When I came to Auburn as a freshman, I knew that I wanted to have a job when I graduated,” she says, and nearly everything she did from her first day as an Auburn student related in some way to that goal.
She shares some of the simple steps she took throughout her college years to ensure she would have a paycheck when she transitions to alum status.
When Peek arrived on campus, she was a poultry science major.
“I realized before I came to Auburn that poultry production is highly misunderstood, so I was determined to teach the world about chickens,” she says.
While she enjoyed her classes, it didn’t take her long to decide that the major that fit her career goals better was agricultural communications. She wasted no time changing majors, and she has never regretted the decision.
Peek began attending career fairs when she was a freshman, just to get the hang of the events and to prepare for the time when she would actually attend in search of a job.
“I was able to learn and make some of those rookie mistakes in job-seeking as a freshman and sophomore, when I really was not looking for a job,” she says, adding that the experiences allowed her to get to know professionals in her field of interest and learn about companies and positions which she had not previously known.
Throughout her college years, Peek managed to network with some impressive professionals in the agriculture industry.
“I found ways to attend conferences and conventions where agriculture professionals were present,” she says. “Networking is the single most important thing you can be doing if you want to have a job before you graduate.”
While Peek admits she has never had a problem carrying on a conversation with a stranger, she knows that this may not be the case for every student. Her best advice for those who find it difficult to interact in intimidating situations is to start working to conquer your bashfulness early.
“If you struggle with shyness or lack confidence, try going to a career fair that is not associated with your major, just for practice,” she advises. “You have nothing to lose in that situation, and it will help you feel more comfortable when the time comes to talk with professionals in your field.”
For her major, Peek was required to study marketing, and she took what she learned to heart, applying lessons she learned in the classroom to her own personal “brand.”
“I have sought to use the Internet to help ‘brand’ myself,” she says. “LinkedIn and Twitter are great ways to allow potential employers to get to know you and what you are capable of.”
The Internet can make or break a job hunter, she adds, reminding students to be very cautious when it comes to the kind of content they provide online.
Another way Peek takes advantage of the Internet to market her personal brand is through her blog, . For the past two years, she has used the site to establish her reputation as an agricultural communicator and to display her photography skills.
Peek spent four years working to get the job she will begin this June, but she realizes others may not have gotten the head start she did. She has encouraging words for those who are starting the search closer to graduation.
“It’s never too late to get started, because what matters is how you go about things,” she says. “Most of the time, if you work hard at something, that work will get you where you want to be.”