Secrets to Success

Author name
Nikki S.Z. Smith, M.Ed., Assistant Director, Duke Career Center, and Emma Welch ’16 following an event by the same name for first-year students

First-year students joined in a panel style conversation last night with William Wright-Swadel, the Fannie Mitchell Executive Director of the Career Center and David Ong, the Senior Director of Corporate Recruiting for Maximus, and two undergraduate seniors Emma Welch and Zamantha Granados. The goal was to help first-year students maximize their four years at Duke and begin early preparation for the career searches that would come in their later years. The group discussed everything from how to write your first resume to how to begin networking as early as possible. Read more about the questions and answers below:

Q. You’ve been recruiting at Duke for 17 years. What is it about Duke students that keep you coming back? Thumbnail
A. David Ong: When I started recruiting at Duke through Capital One, it was because they had ambition, smarts, talents, were well rounded. Regardless of what students major in, at the end of the day, you want to hire those who have drive, ambition, and ability to effect the behavior of their peers. They need to have leadership qualities. Once they hit the workplace, I think you really see that take off. Individuals who are given autonomy to succeed in the workplace will do so. Duke students are often promoted faster than others.

Q. Similarly, what are some of the common mistakes you see made consistently by Duke students?
A. David Ong:
Who in this room has made a resume or a LinkedIn profile? What was the toughest thing about putting together a resume?
Student: We aren’t sure what an employers want to see; assuming we have no more than high school experience.
David Ong: Absolutely, students see a resume in the wrong way—the document isn’t what they did, but an opportunity to tell a story. The document is an opportunity to tell your story. My best advice is to take a look at the types of job descriptions that you’re applying for and interested in. Set up a spreadsheet that lists what an employer wants on one side, and across the top, look at your resume and see examples of when you’ve displayed those skills. Tailor the resume to reflect soft and hard skills that you have. This will emphasize what you have done.

Q. William Wright-Swadel: You’ve used the term hard and soft skills. Can you explain those?
A. David Ong:
Personal skills, or soft skills, are focused on behavioral traits. They’re skills that predict behavior like work ethic, communication style, or teamwork capabilities. You’ve been developing these over time. It’s all about the degree to which you’ve mastered those skills. Technical or hard skills are subject matter skills, skills that are specific to an industry. They require training or practice through classes or experiences.

Q. How do employers view things that aren’t “real jobs” next to a candidate who has real internship or job experience?
A. David Ong:
Student athletes, student organization president—we understand that these things take a lot of time, leadership and commitment. Look at the big picture—employers want to see that you’re able to juggle a lot over time.
William Wright-Swadel: It’s about what you have learned through these experiences. If you can share a failure with one of these activities it’s about what do you do once you fail. How you speak about your experience is an indicator of your reflection on that experience.
David Ong: How many of you have gotten the “have you made a mistake” question?
Employers want to see what you’ve done that is different, or stretched yourself or taken a risk. Those are the sorts of character traits that can help them advance their business causes.

Q. What kinds of experiences should students get while they are here?
A. William Wright-Swadel: 
Employers are looking for how you went about the experiences—the student groups, work-study job, student governance—these become your work experience. Sometimes, students don’t think that being a student is being in the real world, but this is the real world at this stage of your life.
David Ong: All experience is good experience at this point. Whether it is a job, college or high school, you learn real life skills during these. I worked in retail when I was younger, at a tennis store, and I was lucky enough to have a career counselor point out to me that these were transferrable skills. I love seeing things like camp counselor on a student’s resume. In that role I know that you had to influence behavior, discipline children, and were trusted with a great deal of responsibility. Think about skills like that. Those are transferrable to the business world.
William Wright-Swadel:  If you don’t value the experience you’ve had, then others won’t either. If you project the experience you’ve had as valuable and as something that you took seriously, then I see that you think that was serious work experience. The best predictor of future performance is past behavior. Tell us the experience you’ve gained, and then share its value.

Q.  What is the benefit of first-year students going to a career fair? Especially when the internships primarily go to older students.
A.  David: How many students here have gone to a career fair?
Student 1
: It was overwhelming. Other students had resumes and seemed prepared.
Student 2: My approach was that I went in to see what it was like. I knew it would be overwhelming but I wanted to see what it was all about.
Student 3: I didn’t go. If you don’t know what kind of jobs are there or what kind of job you want, it can be confusing. Or, if I knew I wanted to do something specific, I’m not sure which companies do the work I want to do.
David Ong: When I advise students on why to go I always tell them--If you’re confused, then I would rather you be confused now than your junior or senior year when the stakes are higher. It frees you up to approach companies, ask them about what they do as an organization if you don’t know already…it’s a chance to practice and learn from them. Talk to companies that you’re not necessarily interested in early on to work out how exactly to have a conversation with an employer.
William Wright-Swadel: We don’t run a career fair without a lot of staff available. We’re there to give information, advice, to answer questions you have. We can point you to companies that follow your interests. You can go up to an organization and listen to older students and the employers interacting. Listen to learn. You’ll learn more about what you want to do and how to hold those important conversations.
David Ong: Anyone here thinking of going into investment banking? When I worked for an investment banking company, they would track every interaction they had with a student. Info sessions, career fairs, things like that.  Any engineering or Computer Science students? You’d be surprised how they do early talent identification in the first year and on. Don’t rule out the fact there might be an internship for you. The organizations want to get into your space early. They want to be on your mind so when you are looking for a job, you consider them.
William Wright-Swadel: A lot of organizations send young Duke alumni to these fairs, and they do so to help you feel more comfortable. It is not meant to be nearly as intimidating for a first-year student as you might think. Company representatives want you to engage with them.

Q.  Speaking of how to engage with companies, social media is everywhere. What is your advice on how to use this tool to communicate and learn about organizations?
A. David Ong:
A lot of organizations developed Facebook pages specifically to interact with students. They are using Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest , all of those things to publicize events and as recruiting platforms. When I talk to students, there is always a reluctance to use social media to engage with organizations because they think of it as social and they only want to use LinkedIn for the job search. If an organization is using these other platforms, it is a good way to learn about things that they aren’t going to have on a corporate website. Social Media is a way for organizations to be more personal. My big warning is: if you choose to engage with a group on social media, they may be looking at your public profiles. If you wouldn’t want your grandma to see it, you might want to either lock up your profile or clean it up.

Q. We are always talking about building a board of directors. How do you go about building one?
A. William Wright-Swadel: 
Duke students are complex. You’re chameleons. In different settings, you behave or perform differently and you operate differently in each of these different environments. A board of directors is about building a team of people who can evaluate you in each space. Consider a few more experienced people who know your strengths and potential weaknesses. Start now, and I recommend you add a new person each semester. Get to know someone well enough so that he or she can know you and can speak about you. How many of you go to office hours? How many of you talk to professors about them? Ask them about why they chose what they did. People like to talk about themselves. Try engaging with your professor as a person and letting them get to know who you are.
Has anyone ever thought of post-graduate fellowships? These are competitive opportunities that juniors and seniors apply to—and for many of them you need five to eight letters of recommendation. It’s important to start building these relationships now.
David Ong: When I look at my college career and I start to think about those I networked with back then I realize there are many I still look to for advice. Pick mentors or advisors who know different facets of you. At some point, you’re going to need to get that variety of opinions. They can be people like your professors, parents, former bosses. They will give you great feedback when you are writing a resume. They might be able to catch mistakes or tell you things about yourself that you are missing.
William Wright-Swadel:  We would prefer that you learn to make decisions, rather than your parents making decisions for you, but at the same time parents can stay on your board of directors and can contribute a lot.

Questions from Students in the Audience
Q. What should we do if we are still not sure what we are interested in? How do we streamline our story?
A. William Wright-Swadel:
One of the things you’ll hear is that employers want you to be interdisciplinary. Your ability to connect disparate interests is a good thing. Your diversity in your interests is a good thing. But I understand that it is tough to make these decisions. I have been at seven colleges, and I have never met a group of alums that are more interested in connecting with students than those from Duke University. The career counselors are trained to help you think about the different parts of whom you are and refine your story. Find alums and career counselors, tell them your story, and ask how these things are connected. Most organizations know that you have a focus, but they also like to know that you have more than one interest.
David Ong: A large part of hiring millennial employees is the understanding that nationally, the average college grad stays at their first job for two to two and a half years. Companies know that you’ll be looking for your next role and that you are fast learners.
William Wright-Swadel:  Learning is something you’re doing all the time. You would be amazed at how frequently young alums later realize how their areas of interest come together and help them think broadly and differently across areas. Differences in areas of study demonstrate a range of ways of approaching the world and solving problems. That range is important because it brings you new perspective. Look for the symmetry.

Q. I have a question about networking. I know Duke has a great network, but it seems so big and I don’t know where to focus.
A. William Wright-Swadel: 
Really focus on talking to young alumni. Every person is in a different stage of their career development, and has done different things on the way to where they are. Networking is about being intentional and being interested in the people around you. Everyone thinks that networking is an extrovert’s delight, but in reality it is the perfect method for introverts because it is about listening.  
David Ong: There are three sources for networking.
1) Alumni. You have access to the alumni website, which has information on where people are working. Alumni are nuts are about making sure more alums come to work at their organizations.
2) LinkedIn. Connect with everyone you can. It makes networking so easy.
3) Faculty. With the war on talent the last 10-15 years, many companies will have departments where they liaison with faculty and ask faculty to recommend students. That’s a popular method these days and it helps to be on these professors’ minds.

Q. What are some hard skills that are essential to most or all industries?
A. David Ong:
That’s a hard question, because it varies by industry. You are most likely ahead in soft skills, but there is a gap in hard skills in the U.S. Look at your resume as a place to list projects, relevant classes, activity related to data. Companies love this idea of “big data.”
William Wright-Swadel:  Do you have to be a particular major?
David Ong: No, your skills are what matter. One frustration I hear from students who go to liberal arts schools is how to communicate their technical skills. If you’re a liberal arts major looking for a job that requires quantitative/data analysis, listing a high math standardized test score or that you took all advanced placement courses in math/calculus is one way you can show evidence of your natural quantitative talents.
William Wright-Swadel: You can also show hard skills through the organizations you’re in.
David Ong: Yes! Things like analysis, problem solving, and the one that frustrates so many employers: written communication skills. This is a huge gap for your generation. Look at how to write things like a brief, a letter, or a memo. I teach a workshop for students who are going to their first internship and I challenge students to try spelling every single text they send a week before their internship. You really have to condition yourself to do this.
William Wright-Swadel: Consulting case questions ask you to solve math questions in your head. Practice those kinds of things. If you don’t do it, you get conditioned to think a different way. Look for opportunities to engage in the three inter-‘s
1) Interdisciplinary thinking—Can you think in different ways?
2) Intercultural—Do you have experience in working in teams of people who aren’t like you?  
3) Intergenerational—Problem solving is vastly different in different generations, how do you handle this? Simply learning things without showing employers how you use it is problematic. Realize your potential and show them.