Every year The Career Cycle LLC sponsors the Alignment Awards at The College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida. This is a competition for the best essays on how students used the concepts and recommended actions taught in the Professional Development classes to land a career job before they graduate. I have published this essay from Luci Torres on our website as I find it very inspiring. I hope you will too!
On August 16 2014, my parents dropped me off on the University of Central Florida campus. I was 18, and this was the first time I had been away from home. In fact, it was the first time anyone in my family had been away from home. My parents crossed the border almost 40 years ago. My dad didn’t make it through high school, my mom didn’t even make it past the 6th grade. Life was hard in Mexico, and they wanted to make sure my siblings and I had a chance at the American Dream. I was the first in my family to be accepted into a major university and earn a full ride, so at 18 years old I packed up my life and started my career at the largest university in the nation. What the next four years brought me I could have never imagined.
My name is Luci Torres, and on the first day of freshman year I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It’s difficult to create a life plan at just 18. A few months before coming to UCF my mother had still been setting up my doctor’s appointments! Now suddenly I was supposed to know exactly what I wanted to do on the other side of four short years. I felt stressed and overwhelmed by the sudden immensity of the world. We often think about the “what ifs.” What if I fail? What if I don’t graduate? What if I don’t get the job? These negative thoughts serve as invisible limitations we place on ourselves. The section on attitudes in The Career Cycle from Alex Groenendyk’s book This Is Who We Hire helped me reframe my mindset to turn these ideas into motivation. I was able to interrupt my anxious thoughts and repurpose them into fuel for personal growth. I remembered how Dean Jarley at Welcome to the Majors had talked about the importance of “getting to the one” and I began to believe that I could!
At the beginning of my sophomore year I scheduled a KnightQuest consultation to help find student organizations where I could start building lifelong connections. I knew that I had the drive and the potential to be someone, but I needed a place to turn my intangible qualities into results. I was referred to ALPFA at UCF, a professional development organization aimed at helping business students attain internships and full-time jobs. I didn’t know it when I took my first seat at the back of an unoccupied classroom on that Tuesday night meeting, but this RSO changed the course of my life. This is where I first started applying the lessons I learned in Alex Groenendyk’s The Career Cycle. To begin with, I received my first resume critique. I had not realized the importance of an exceptional resume and the difference a well-written, tailored one can make in getting an interview. Thinking about my resume so early also exposed me to a point Alex Groenendyk makes, “no successful business randomly develops a product or service. They build specific, targeted capabilities based on solid research of needs.” The realization that this principle also applies to students building their skills for potential jobs was one of the greatest lessons for me. I understood the importance of targeting jobs and aligning myself to their needs. After reading this chapter in the book, I realized that I couldn’t just pass my classes and hope for the best. I had to actively mold myself into the ideal candidate in the eyes of the employers I wanted to work for. I had to ensure that I stood out from the other 60,000 smart, capable, challenging students competing for my dream. It was time to take ‘ownership and control of my development’ as Alex Groenendyk likes to say, and that was what I set out to do.
The first step was deciding exactly what my end goal was. After many, many info gathering networking meetings and using the Venn diagram approach (that Alex Groenendyk describes in his presentations) to target a career, I decided I wanted to become a financial analyst for a Fortune 500 company. The next step was to research in greater depth the types of skills, experiences and attitudes these companies seek in new hires to ensure I could pass the four hiring thresholds outlined in the Win chapter of The Career Cycle. I learned that I needed to interact with people in a meaningful way on a daily basis to help me build the interpersonal skills to pass the initial “like and trust threshold” with any employer. Joining ALPFA at UCF was my solution to this. After a semester in the organization, I earned my first leadership position as Vice President of Membership. This meant that it was my duty to recruit College of Business students, which gave me the opportunity to talk to hundreds of students at events like Welcome to the Majors, club showcases, and speaking in the large lecture capture classrooms for a thousand students to see. The experience of networking every Tuesday for 3 years at our weekly meetings—as well as at many professional events—allowed me to build the strong interpersonal skills that companies look for in their employees and gave me the confidence to be able to speak to any person at any time.
Next, I needed to build experience that directly correlated with the type of statement of work I would have as a financial analyst. Again, I turned to ALPFA at UCF and used my networking skills to get a recommendation from a fellow member for an internship – thank you Jorge Londono. Having this connection was vital because not many companies have opportunities for sophomores. However, because I had established meaningful connections with this organization and had a leadership position on my resume, I had gained enough credibility to be referred to this position, secure an interview, and complete my first internship as a Finance Leadership Development Program intern at Verizon. This experience proved that I could fit in and succeed in the corporate environment of a Fortune 14 company. My work didn’t end there, though. The Career Cycle highlights the importance of an achievement portfolio and in viewing your resume as an ever-evolving digital version of yourself as you try to position yourself as a suitable candidate for the jobs you want. Following this notion, I leveraged my internship into action-oriented points to include in my resume and kept copies of the work I did while I was there to serve as proof of my abilities during future interviews. These were the beginnings of my S.O.A.R. (Situation, Objective, Actions, Results,) examples.
In August 2016, I attended ALPFA’s National Convention in Dallas, TX. This 5-day event features daily workshops hosted by companies and nightly networking opportunities that culminate in a massive career fair and on-site interviewing event. After preparing for the event heavily following Alex Groenendyk’s advice, I arrived ready to go with business cards, professional resumes, and carefully memorized company facts and recent news to use as icebreakers. After networking 7 hours a day for 5 days, I was able to secure 6 on-site interviews with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Boeing, JP Morgan Chase, Synchrony Financial, and Target. Ultimately, I accepted a position as a 777 Engineering Finance intern with Boeing in Seattle, WA, for the summer of 2017. Not only did this role expand on the Excel, database, and analytical skills I had built in my previous internship, but it showed that I was flexible enough to adapt myself as a person and my skills to “fit” into an organization in another location and line of business.
As I reflect on my career search story, I’ve realized that there are some tips in particular that were essential in becoming “the one” that can be applied by any student.
First, it is critical to build “life” experiences. This means volunteering to work in groups, taking on side projects, joining an RSO, or volunteering. The purpose of these activities should be to expose you to a variety of situations which you can draw on when an interviewer asks you to talk about a situation such as when you didn’t get along with a team member, solved a problem or a time you made a process more efficient. From my experience, most interviews rely heavily on these and similar behavioral questions to gauge the types of attitudes and skills you have. Next, select Career To-Do List activities that help build on your strengths and improve your weaknesses. For example, when I had trouble with public speaking, I chose to attend Toastmaster meetings both as part of the Professional Development course assignments and to force myself out of my fears. Consequently, when a potential employer asked me to describe my biggest weakness, I was able to turn this notorious trick question around by framing what was my previous weakness as a strength. It demonstrated that I had the drive to invest in my own growth. As Alex Groenendyk says, employers look for people who have the drive to be “self developing assets.”
It is also a good idea to do in-depth research on both the company and your interviewer prior to any interview. I forced myself to get in the habit of going to every company’s investor relations website and writing their mission statement, company values, and basic facts on one side of a paper and my own matching values and experiences on the other. Making these mental connections helped me to answer the “Why do you want this job?’ question and be genuinely enthusiastic about each company during interviews.
The lessons I have learned throughout my time at UCF in general, plus the lessons in The Career Cycle in the Professional Development classes in the College of Business Administration, are now tools I can use for the rest of my life. I also plan to give back by joining the national chapter of ALPFA in Seattle, WA, and being a mentor to University of Washington students.
Forty years ago, my parents crossed the border with nothing but a dream. In three weeks, I will be crossing the stage as a Top Honor Graduate with the highest GPA in the College of Business and a job offer as a Financial Analyst from Microsoft. I became the one!
Thank you to everyone who helped me on this journey.
Luci TorresView More Blogs