Starting Out with a Set of Skills and a Way of Thinking
It’s daunting being a young person about to enter the working world.
While I don’t believe for a second that becoming an adult with full-fledged commitments and responsibilities has ever been easy, I do believe that each generation—and individual for that matter—faces their own challenges unique to their circumstances. This time in human history is no exception.
As a young business professional trying to start their career, the most difficult obstacle to overcome is experience. Seeing the experience requirement on a job posting can be enough to completely deter us even if we meet all of the other preferred criteria. Most people don’t want to be under prepared, and not everyone can so easily adopt the "fake it 'til you make it" philosophy. Fortunately for me, I’ve been given an opportunity to grow that experience.
But before I can tell you about my experience here, I think it’s important to understand the path that led me to it. This is my fourth and final year at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point. I graduated on May 21st, this past Saturday. I’ve made many friends and memories here, but I’d never felt completely fulfilled. Something was missing. I made a concerted effort in my junior year to get out and do more. I got a job and joined a sports club, and found that I was suddenly happier with what I was doing. But I knew that I still needed something more. I thought about it for a while longer, and I soon realized that the end of my junior year was fast approaching, and I had yet to have any job experience relevant to my major. Yeah, major ‘oh crap’ moment. With as little as one year of school left (I hadn’t yet decided on a graduation date) the clock was ticking. It was time to get to work.
Fast forward to September, I had come off the summer fresh out of an exciting management internship with a small, family-run business. It was my first foray into truly utilizing what I’d been learning in school. It was like a test-drive to see for the first time where my career path was taking me. While I learned a large amount from that internship, I knew that three months would pale in comparison to my peers, some of whom have years of occupational experience in their field. I needed to find a position for the school year that would continue my path. How hard could that possibly be, right?
As it turns out, very! Trying to find a part-time job that doesn’t conflict with 18 credits and playing a sport is pretty challenging, especially living in a small area. On top of that, while I did really enjoy my previous school year restaurant job, I needed to find something geared toward my degree. This can’t all be blamed on the job market, though. I wasn’t smart enough to be looking for work in the months before school. Let that be a lesson to those of you reading this looking for internships! I had my heart set on one particular company, and let trying to get in with them distract me from looking harder elsewhere. By the time I significantly branched out to look elsewhere, it was too late.
I felt pretty bad that I went a semester without a job. I felt useless, and it was uncomfortable to know that every dollar I was spending wasn’t being replenished in any way. Not to mention, precious time was being wasted. I had to find something. I’d given up on finding anything for the fall, so I needed to refocus my efforts on the spring. As the semester was winding down, I began my second job hunt. Yet again, pickings were slim. I gave up on the hope of finding an internship and started applying to ‘regular’ jobs. However, I realized I hadn’t utilized one last resource: the University career page! Lesson number two kids, exhaust every resource you’ve got.
I found one internship that matched my criteria with a company I’d never even heard of: Wildcard Corp. They looked professional, were within walking distance of where I lived, and were listed as ‘tech start up’: it doesn’t get better than that! I submitted my materials and waited, fingers crossed.
Winter break passed and I hadn’t heard anything. Not from any job that I’d applied to. What was I going to do? I couldn’t go another semester without work. I couldn’t go another semester without gaining any experience. Panic and doubt started to set in. Who would want to hire me after graduation? "I'll be years behind my classmates," I thought. As I started to let my hopes down, in the last week of break I got a call to set up an interview with Wildcard.
I drove the two hours from my hometown to get back to Stevens Point for my interview, anxious as I’d ever been. This was going to be my first interview for this kind of job. I’d done mock interviews in school, and I’d had jobs in the past, but most of them had a fairly informal interview process. The stakes seemed much higher than they’d ever been before. All I could do was trust my instincts and show them I was capable.
After about an hour, the interview ended with smiles and handshakes. I knew deep down that I’d nailed the interview, but I also knew that what was to come was out of my hands. There was nothing left to do but make the long drive back home and wait.
I only had to wait about a day for a call back from what would be my future boss. I was in!
Excitement set in, but so did the nerves. It would be my first office job, and this was going to be my first big test beyond school. It truly felt like another exam, and that if i didn't know all the answers I would fail. I couldn’t sleep the night before that first day.
I remember getting up bright and early that Tuesday morning, walking through the snow and cold to get to work. My boss, Gregg, was waiting for me at the door. I was as nervous as I was the day before. This was it, my semester-long exam was about to start. Would I be up to the task? Would I live up to expectations? What if I mess up, are they going to fire me? How will I find another job like this if they do? I hate to admit it, but my nerves were definitely getting the best of me.
To my relief, it was nothing like I expected. My first day started with a tour of the company office and my first introductions to the staff. Everyone was very kind and made me feel welcomed and instantly appreciated. They wasted no time putting me to work; they gave me my own laptop, set me up with my company credentials and handed me my first research project from the get-go. I wasn’t quizzed on course vocabulary like in my worst fears: I was instructed what to do, and was told to ask questions as they arose. Simple as that. And the thing that amazed me the most? I knew what to do! It knew how to proceed. “I’ve done research 100 times for class, I can handle this,” I thought. It was an empowering moment and a confidence booster that I badly needed. I continually had these moments the longer I worked, and felt a little less worried and nervous coming to work each day.
I learned very quickly that what I would be doing wouldn’t always have to do with what I’d directly learned in school. I never took “Principles of Being an Administrative Assistant at Wildcard,” and therefore there was no way I could really be prepared for everything. And now I’m comfortable knowing that I’ll never be completely prepared for a position, particularly if I advance and try new things. That’s life. It’s okay to not know all of the answers. How could you? It helped me understand that school—well, at least business school—is not about teaching everything you’re going to be doing on a daily basis. Our education is far more about a set of skills and a way of thinking. When it comes down to it, almost every occupation is tied to a business. Everything is a business in some form. You’ll learn how to work within your industry of choice when you get there. You’ll learn the duties specific to your occupation when you get there. It was hard to accept that, but once I wrapped my head around it, everything made so much more sense. It was liberating to not worry about doing everything the ‘right’ way.
I’ve learned a lot in my time here as an intern. I’ve seen how a company really operates on a daily basis from the inside. I’ve learned how to communicate with my coworkers as well as those supervising me. I’ve learned how to handle several tasks with varying deadlines simultaneously, and prioritize them. I’ve learned how and when to ask questions. It hasn’t been just business that I’ve learned about here, but also about myself. I’ve demonstrated to myself that when I set out to accomplish something, I shouldn’t give in, because I will get there. And once I’m there, I can trust myself to know what to do next.
Having this internship has enriched the past semester of my education because I had to apply what I’ve learned to something. I have not yet learned everything, and I’ve come to understand that’s alright. What does matter is that I have learned something. And I feel more prepared to take that next big leap after graduation of being a full-time employee, and embarking on my career journey. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but I can say for sure that the lessons I’ve learned here have set me up for success either way.
It makes me feel a little more comfortable that just two days ago, I finished my last final exam and walked across the stage to accept my diploma. It was a surreal moment. You never think it’s going to end, and it always feels like just yesterday you began. At least now, I have a strong work experience to carry with me going forward. For giving me that opportunity, I say thank you to everyone at Wildcard.