Being a Voice, But Also a Learning Ear

Last week I had the opportunity to serve my alma mater and its Greek community (fraternities and sororities) as a member on the career panel for the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Greek Alumni Council’s Career Night Panel.  It was an honor to be asked to share my experience with the students, but truly an opportunity to be able to LISTEN to what other panelists had to say.  Three decades of graduates were represented, including two representatives of the Class of 1986 and a graduate as recent as 2015 (we were missing the 90s).

There were a few key takeaways for me that are worth sharing with a wider audience, and helpful for more than only college students to think about:

  • Be curious!  Ask lots of questions, always.
  • It is important to differentiate yourself. You can do this based on your activities, interests, and intellectual projects.
  • Confidence is important – even if you have to fake it.
  • Always follow up after interviews or meetings.  Handwritten notes are best; handwritten notes that accompany a timely email are best.  
  • Commutes matter – your ability to enjoy work and your life as a whole depends on it.
  • Expect that the career path you have in two, five, ten or more years later may be very different than you had at graduation, and that is okay.  It will continue to change over the course of your career. Plans are great, but stick to them hard at your own peril.
  • Take the opportunities that come to you that are interesting, exciting, and relevant to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities that might come to you – time is finite and not everything is truly important to you and your goals.
  • Networks are extremely valuable – and so are your network’s networks. Stay connected with people by sharing articles, congratulating on positive changes, and even asking some people for coffee.
  • Mentors and other “guiding” relationships (like those with professors, for students) are important for opening doors and helping you focus on aspects you haven’t been investigating or addressing. People who hold this type of role in your life are valuable at every stage, whether new or experienced professional.
  • First impressions matter.  From attire, to handshakes, to eye contact, to the ability to hold a conversation, it is hard to reverse someone’s negative (or less than 100% positive) first impression of you

I would have loved to have had the same guidance as an undergrad instead of fighting for my own path and finding out everything the hard way over time.  Even without having it, I love the chance to share my own life story and successes by volunteering a few hours with these students.

If you have the opportunity to speak at a career night, jump at it!  The opportunity to practice public speaking and engaging with an audience is hard to pass up, and you are also an audience to a set of peers who have sage advice to offer.  

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