College Grads – Choices. Choices.

Jun 28, 2019 | 20-Somethings, Career Launch, Career Management, Choosing a Major, College Students

Chelsea’s story starts quite differently from most of the young professionals I meet. Their stories start with fond memories about childhood camps, nightmare stories about first jobs working as an ice cream server, and the excitement and freedom that comes along with a car on their 17th birthday. Then they go on to talk about college clubs, a study abroad experience, an internship and the first job in the field directly related to their chosen major.  They jump between jobs which increases their salary and responsibilities, (and cost of living), find a partner, settle down and start a family.  At some point of course, their best laid plans go awry and they stop to ask for help from a career coach; but for most the chronology above represents a typical story.

But Chelsea’s story begins on a subsistence farm in South Carolina, where she spent her childhood helping to feed chickens and goats, helping her Mom pick and can vegetables, and making yogurt.  She was homeschooled until she was 12 because it was a better alternative than the local public school, and she was the first in her family to graduate from college.

Chelsea will tell you that she achieved the role of a Senior Wealth Strategy Analyst before she hit 31 as a result of three Critical Success Factors. I’m going to call them “Chelsea’s Gems of Wisdom” in this article.

The first Gem of Wisdom seems straight forward enough: “Just show up and ask questions, because you’re not an expert.” She told me that she has a rule to always ask herself, “What else should I ask? What else do I need to know?”  Let’s call this curiosity.

The second of Chelsea’s Gems of Wisdom: “Be self-reliant and able to work through challenges. Gather information to help you, by asking questions, and be self-aware enough to ask more questions when you truly hit a wall. Don’t be lazy or let doubt creep in and stall you. How are you going to learn anything if you allow someone else to constantly help you out of a bind?”

I like to refer to this as self-sufficiency, and I’m a big fan of it. The job of a parent is to teach you everything you need to know in order to fly out of the nest, strong and equipped with all the tools for life.  Keep that in mind when you’re raising kids.

The third and final Gem of Wisdom: “Learn social etiquette and then blend it with authenticity, i.e. be open and honest with strangers, but be polite and kind.” Telling someone that you’re struggling to find a job, or that you’re too nervous to talk to strangers about yourself, is an example of being authentic.  This is called vulnerability. It may be hard to express it in professional situations, trust me it goes a long way when you’re young and speaking to older, wiser people. There is a natural empathy that results from displayed naivete.

Back to Chelsea’s story.  At 19, and with 30 days left to make her first huge decision Chelsea decided to change her major to Sociology after realizing that Political Science was not for her.  The idea of studying the lives of people, groups and societies was something that truly interested her. Two focused and fantastic years later, but with school loans looming, (having graduated into a terrible job market in 2011), she took her first job as a bank teller in a local bank in South Carolina. Did she expect to enter the banking field? No she didn’t. But… “I loved the daily interaction with people. I really enjoyed working with money, balancing my drawer every night, and helping people, and most of all I was lucky enough to find myself working with a great team.” She stayed there for 13 months and then packed a suitcase and decided to get out of SC for the first time, choosing to move to Philadelphia, where her godparents lived. She was hired as a banker, in a larger institution, working with customers to help them with their personal banking as well as with their mortgages and loans. The financial environment was very different now, more regulated and she learned a lot about how that impacted her business and the lives of her clients.

And then one day her life changed dramatically.  A Regional Managing Director walked up to her in the branch and said, “Hi Chelsea. Do you want to come and work for me?”  Chelsea looked around her, decided she wasn’t enjoying the culture of this larger bank but took the interview anyway because it was good practice and she was always curious. At the interview, Chelsea told me that she asked the RMD if the culture in the corporate office was similar to the one she had experienced for the past few months. He had answered, “No, not at all.” After at least a dozen more questions she took the job and joined as a Personal Banker.  Turns out the RMD was telling the truth and it was a much better environment and culture fit for Chelsea.

Over the next two years she mastered her role, made a boatload of authentic connections by just being herself and always doing the right thing for her clients.  By being her authentic self and providing the best service possible to her clients she was noticed by the Wealth Management division of the bank.  She joined them in 2014 and was eventually chosen to join the company’s Management Development Program, a 3-year rotation program, designed to help high potential young professionals experience all aspects of the business and choose the one that most closely aligns with their natural skills, interests and personality.

Chelsea will shortly make yet another big life decision, one that will likely rocket her career to the next level in a field that speaks to every part of her.

The reason I immediately wanted to interview Chelsea when I met her, and share her story, is that she just stood out to me.  She was genuine, curious, and very polished.  And her story also demonstrates that finding the PERFECT job after college is rare. But with a good work ethic, curiosity, and strong social skills, you will learn what you need to know, build connections, professional and personal, and impress your employer. The next decision will get you closer to the job you really want. Keep doing that a few times and the Perfect Job will soon appear!

Thank you to Chelsea for sharing her story. I hope it has given you all some insights into how to navigate your own life and career.