Coming into college as an international student in 2011 majoring in Management and Accounting, I had almost no real world experience. Oddly enough, I had it in my head that I would somehow float through four years of classes and land a job at the end of it. It wasn’t until the second semester of sophomore year that I realized good grades alone wouldn’t even come close to cutting it.
In an effort to fill a blank resume, I scrabbled to join clubs I had little interest in and volunteer at one time events. I felt proactive. It wasn’t until I started overhearing people talking about their own experiences and internships that I realized a club meeting here and a couple hours volunteering there wasn’t enough. I had walked into college pretty clueless.
And then I heard about the CCO. It was in a MGMT 301 class where I listened to Tim Luzader, the Director of the Purdue Center for Career Opportunities talk about his own life experiences and some of the services offered by the CCO. In that session, CCO Handbooks were handed given to students. The CCO handbook is a great guide for students looking to create a resume or cover letter, search for a job, and apply to grad school. Inside the book I found an advertisement for a position at the CCO called ‘CCO Ambassador’. The job of the CCO Ambassador is to: 1) Help students with resumes, cover letters, and job search and 2) give presentations on those topics around campus. I didn’t apply immediately. I came up with a million reasons why I shouldn’t: I had no real experience, I needed to focus on classes, I needed to do homework instead.
Tim Luzader the the CCO’s awesome Director!
As luck would have it, I was taking a Organizational Behavior class with a then CCO Ambassador. We ended up in the same team for our semester project. The dude was super competent, and a pretty awesome team leader. We worked pretty well as a team and he suggested I apply to the CCO Ambassador position. So I did. I wrote a terrible, empty resume and composed an ornate but substance-less cover letter. I knew my resume was terrible but I didn’t know what to do about it. So I went to the CCO.
Back in the day, the CCO was located in the Stewart Center. The offices were organized in cubicles and the waiting area was pretty small. After signing in, I sat down with a CCO Ambassador to re-do my resume. She helped me format my resume to make it clearer and helped me think through some of my limited experiences and figure out some of the skills I applied in those positions. It may have been then that I realized the importance of transferable skills. Simply telling an employer what you did for someone else gives them very little indication of what you can do for the current job you’re applying for. To build a strong professional profile, I would have to chase down experiences that would give me the skills I wanted to present to an employer.
After about a week of compiling my application, I finally submitted my resume and cover letter to the CCO Ambassador position.
Feeling motivated, I decided to look around and find ways to build my resume. As chance would have it, I was invited by a friend to start a case competition team for the LCC Case Competition, a case competition hosted by the Learning and Communication Center in Krannert. With a team of six, we entered the competition and tackled a case exploring the issues of introducing a Thai coffee chain worldwide. This was the first time I had ever had the chance to apply the knowledge I had learned in class. It was exciting to see the practical application of the classes I had taken. Our team submitted our proposal and got into the finals. We ended up in third place. While we only ended up in third by the fact that a team had been docked points for breaking a rule, I was ecstatic. This was my first victory at college. I put my first real college experience on my resume. I was excited to get back to classes the next week and see what other handy knowledge I could pick up.
Team 2! Guy in the center is me.
Let’s get back to the CCO Ambassador application. Long story short, I didn’t get the job. I got the standard ‘thank you but no thank you’ email in my inbox. I promptly deleted the email and tried hard to brush it off. It was OK, there were probably a ton of other candidates and I knew my resume wasn’t as strong as it should be. I still needed a job though. I applied for a summer job receiving packages in the Food Sciences building and got it. Turns out that there were only two positions open and only two people applied. Still…I was pumped. I knew other students in my year had summer internships in big cities lined up but for me, this was a huge first step.
As chance would have it, on the same day I landed the Food Sciences position, I got an email from the supervisor for the CCO Ambassador Program. It turned out that they needed two more Ambassadors (a total of 12) for the upcoming semester and I had been selected to interview. In another turn of events, the CCO Ambassador I had worked with in my Organizational Behavior class had been selected to be the ‘Ambassador Coordinator’ for the upcoming year. According to my interviewer, he had thrown my name into the mix. After a scary 45 minute interview, I left the CCO with sweaty palms feeling unsure about how I did. The next day I got an email from the CCO informing me that I had landed the job. It felt like I was on a roll.
The summer before I started at the CCO, I toiled in the Food Sciences building signing for and delivering lab equipment around the Food Sciences building. I was terrible at the job. I misplaced documents, and delivered packages to the wrong places almost every week. At the time, I was convinced that I was incompetent. However, towards the end of my stint in the Food Sciences building I realized what was wrong: 1) I did not handle responsibility well, 2) I was bad at communication. Before college, I always had some sort of safety net. This time, it was all on me. If I didn’t do it, it wasn’t getting done. In terms of communication, I had to learn how to follow detailed instructions and ask questions when things became unclear. The summer became an exercise of identifying weaknesses and fixing them (I walked into work once with marker pen on my hands so I wouldn’t forget a weakness I was trying to fix). Towards the end of the summer, I started to become comfortable with my duties and ability to communicate with my supervisor. While it wasn’t the most enjoyable summer, it did teach me how to pinpoint the causes of bad performance and quickly fix them.
Armed with my summer experiences, I started my first semester as a CCO Ambassador. I was introduced to the world of job search and professional documentation. In the first few weeks the new class of CCO Ambassadors spend countless hours learning how to create great resumes and cover letters, how to build a LinkedIn profile, and how to use myCCO, the CCO’s job posting platform. We shadowed the CCO’s awesome Career Consultants during their drop-in sessions and workshops around campus. I was absolutely blown away by how great everyone at the CCO was. All my fellow Ambassadors were motivated, friendly, and exceptional. While I didn’t have much to compare to, this was my best job yet. It felt great to finally get around to helping students during drop-in hours and give solo presentations. To actually be in a position where you have the knowledge and ability to help your peers was a new experience. I could actually make a difference in a fellow student’s career. This is around the time where I realized my goal number 2: to be valuable, and acquire skills and knowledge that I could use to help others. That same semester, I joined the Krannert Leadership Development Program, where I had the opportunity to mentor two Freshmen to help them transition into college life.
The Fall 2013 CCO Ambassadors!
I honestly can’t say enough good things about the CCO. The breadth of services offered and the passion of the people who work there make it one of the best resources for students. If I could go back, I would make going to the CCO one of the first things on my list. The CCO offers everything from major choice to full-time job search approach. To students reading this who haven’t been yet, GO. You cannot figure things out in your head. Talking with someone who has seen every kind of student and career path is so important.
During my second semester at the CCO, I landed my first internship. It was a market research position at The Foundry, a startup incubator at the Discovery Park here on campus. During this semester, I continued working with students at the CCO while conducting market research for entrepreneurs at the Foundry. I highly recommend students looking for internships, especially freshmen and sophomores to apply to the programs offered for all majors at the Discovery Park.
Entrepreneurs with their awesome Entrepreneur in Residence
While working at the CCO the Ambassadors were allowed to spend time searching for and applying to jobs. I applied to upwards of 50 positions through myCCO and company websites and landed about 5 interviews. I ultimately landed a summer internship at Schlumberger in Houston as a Finance Intern. My summer internship did not play out as expected. I did not end up working on accounting or finance projects, instead I did IT related projects. I used information extracted from databases to generate systems that monitor employee workload and performance. I had a blast. I made up my mind that I wanted to pursue a career in IT instead. At the end of my internship, the hiring coordinator at my office, informed me that they would be creating a new position for me after graduation that would allow me to continue building IT systems that monitor workload and performance. I was over the moon. Not only did I have a job at the largest oilfield services company in the world after graduation, but one that was a career path of my choice!
The 1200 Club at the the Schlumberger Houston Financial Hub.
After the summer, I continued to send out applications to companies through myCCO and through career fairs. I applied to positions that had both IT and finance/accounting. With the internship under my belt, the job search process was completely different. Almost every application I submitted, I landed an interview. And then came Microsoft. Out of the blue, at the end of summer, I was contacted by a recruiter indicating that they would be interested in interviewing me sometime in the future. In the midst of recruiting season, the recruiter emailed me again to schedule a phone interview. The interview went surprisingly well and I got into the second round of interviewing. The position I was interviewing for was a Support Engineer position. There were two other Purdue students coming to the second round interview in North Dakota as well. Guess who one of those people was? Remember that guy I worked with in my Organizational Behavior Class? That dude. All three of the Purdue students interviewing got the offer and we all accepted.
I also took up a new role at the CCO during my final year at Purdue. I joined the CCO Marketing Team as a Marketing and Media Intern. It might seem like a strange choice to do something completely unrelated to my major or career path but I wanted to do something that I simply enjoyed. It was a great decision.
The CCO Marketing and Media Interns’ Office
Being part of this team allowed me to step beyond professionalism and learn how to be part of a friendly, casual work environment while still getting work done. My teammates showed me that it was possible to work hard and have a good time at the office at the same time. My supervisor was integral in proving that managers don’t have to stay abreast from employees to be effective. In fact, she would pop into the office from time to time just for a quick update or chat and would have an open door for us to present ideas or ask quick questions. It was a really fun job. This job proved that work doesn’t have to feel like work.
Perhaps the biggest lesson that I learned from my team at the Marketing office was not a lesson in professionalism, but a more personal one: let your guard down. My co-workers were some of the most open, expressive, and unfiltered people I had ever met. I tended to keep my feelings and personality to myself which resulted in expressions that often came out as fake, or at least insincere. Being around these people really encouraged me to loosen up and, honestly, just say stuff. I stopped trying to analyze everything before I said it and stopped expressing myself in a way I thought ‘appropriate’. Sure, being unfiltered can get you in trouble sometimes, but I’ve found it’s better than shutting people out. I think as a result, I’ve been able to connect with friends and family better, and build new relationships faster. As I write this I’m in the Marketing office. Just a quick shout out to my #homies: guys, you’re awesome, I could not have asked for a better group to work with.
It’s been a crazy ride these past few years at Purdue. I graduate this semester and will miss this wonderful university. My only regret is that I did not start this crazy ride sooner. Really, if there is any takeaway I could provide from my experience, it would be: start sooner. Look around you for opportunities to apply the work you do in class. Opportunities could be a job, internship, case competition, hackathon, or data dive.
Team Kranalysts winning the Kraft Data Dive!
Applying your education is the best way to stay motivated. My second takeaway would be to start obsessing over your professional profile now. Your dream job is not waiting for you. You’ve got to chase it down. In this competitive environment that means looking for an internship during freshman year and going to the CCO to build the strongest resume you can. I have been more than lucky during my time at Purdue. A combination of improbable events and a whole lot of people taking chances on me. For that I am incredibly grateful. Finally, I would say, surround yourself with the right kinds of people. Find the people with a passion for what they do, the ones who aren’t afraid of looking nerdy, the obsessed, the leaders, the communicators, and the activists. Find people who you can invest in and who will in turn, invest in you. So much of who you will become stems from who you surround yourself with.