How do you prepare for a job interview? What’s the best way to advance a career – continuing on for a master’s degree or getting professional experience first? How do you manage your personal brand in the workplace? How do you regain your footing after a making a mistake on the job?
Those were some of the questions Manning School of Business undergraduates posed to panelists from the Young Professionals of Greater Lowell (YPGL) at a recent seminar focusing on entering the professional workforce.
More than 100 students attended the event, which provided insight into early-career challenges and suggestions for overcoming them. Three board members from the YPGL, a networking organization that promotes Lowell as a top destination to live and work, shared their experiences and offered strategies for navigating the professional world.
“You are going to make mistakes,” said Bryan Shanley, executive vice president of PrideStar EMS, who earned his bachelor’s degree from UMass Lowell in 2000. “It’s how you deal with those mistakes. You have to get out in front of them.”
Assoc. Prof. Martin Moser, who organized the event, wanted students to hear about the world beyond the classroom from professionals to whom they could relate.
“The purpose was to provide our students with the opportunity to learn about the real world from accomplished individuals who are close in age and have similar educational backgrounds,” said Moser. “Getting their advice about things like the importance of continuing their education or having a strong work ethic carries a lot of credibility.”
The panelists agreed that working for a while before going back to school for an advanced degree is generally a smart idea. Still, professionals need to constantly read and learn to keep up with what’s going on in their industry and in the world. News-oriented web sites, business publications and biographies of public figures are all good sources for keeping up, they said.
“You have to have a good sense of current events,” advised Craig MacKenzie, a senior vice president at the Lowell Five Cents Savings Bank, who earned an MBA from UMass Lowell in 2006. “Make your [computer’s] home page a news site.”
Acing an interview is a matter of thorough preparation, Shanley told the students.
“Do research. Know the company’s business and understand their culture. Know your industry well.”
One way young employees can distinguish themselves in the workplace is by getting involved in the community and devoting hours to volunteer work, said Jamie O’Hearn, a financial advisor with Enterprise Bank who earned a business degree from UMass Amherst in 2006.
“Go beyond the job. Stepping outside the business bubble will make you stand out from your peers,” O’Hearn suggested.
As students transition into professional roles, the panelists advised them of the importance of managing their social media profile on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Careless postings can damage reputations and put career opportunities at risk, they said. And etiquette is critical – whether it’s mastering table manners or drinking responsibly at a business event.
“Know when to call it a night and go home,” said Shanley.
The panelists stressed the important role that mentors can play in helping young workers develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. Although MacKenzie only worked with his first boss for 10 months, the understanding of the bank’s culture and leadership that he developed as a result of that mentoring relationship has had long-term impact, he said.
“Find someone who can show you information that’s not published in any documents,” he counseled.
Breaking into the business world may be challenging, but students should be bear in mind that their skills and expertise in technology, social media and other cutting edge business tools are in high demand, O’Hearn said.
“Young people are a hot commodity. Don’t feel like you don’t know anything,” he said.