Forward Thinking – Navigate the Business World as a Sarah Lawrence Student

For four years I agonized over what I wanted to do with my life. Did I want to go to law school, or get a PhD? What would I study? And then when I decided I wanted to deal with everything (and I do mean, everything) related to global food supply, my next question was, ‘do I go private, public, or academic?’

By my junior and senior year, these hypothetical questions boiled down to a series of decisions that would determine the next few years of my life. I found myself lost as I tried to navigate ‘case interviews’ at consultancies, pitch my ‘industrial’ and ‘business’ knowledge at investment research divisions – all drawing from my academic research at Sarah Lawrence.

What did I learn? Being a Sarah Lawrence student trying to find a job that isn’t related to academia, the arts, or publishing is hard. Those who make it in business and entrepreneurship do so on sheer hustle and wit, without much exposure to any of the industries while at Sarah Lawrence.

Since graduating in May, I’m currently working for Onion Crunch and Taste Savant, both food-related startups based in New York. Over the summer I interned with an organization at the United Nations, focusing on food security and sustainability. Hindsight is always 20/20, and based on both my experience and advice from mentors, I know I could have prepared differently.

Looking back, I needed a rundown of key deadlines and insight into how the business world worked, presented to me during my junior and senior year.

What do you do and how can you plan if you’re heading towards the world of corporate recruiting, business, and entrepreneurship? Initial points to consider:

1. Who do you want to work for?

Make a list of firms you want to work for in each industry. This helps you build a coherent strategy when applying and interviewing. By organizing your list of firms, you can better strategize and research the firms and their industries.

2. Find out deadlines

Rule number two: Corporate recruitment has strict deadlines that are similar to graduate school deadlines. Applications open in August and close in December/January, and you receive an offer in April/May for an October start date (if you’re a graduate) or June start date (if you’re an intern).

3. Figure out fitting into the company

Corporate recruitment is not only about ‘can you do the job?’ It’s whether you went above and beyond your call of duty to get to where you need to be, and how you can contribute to the company’s growth. Applications often ask about how you fit in the company, so be prepared with your research.

4. Where is your Resumé?!

Get your resume together. One page, covering your education, work experience, and leadership. Career Counseling has a sweet resume guide. Find it, use it, own it. And then shred the first draft to pieces. Get different people to read your resume, and don’t take ‘oh you’ll be fine,’ as an answer. Whether you’re a freshman or a senior, do it now.

5. Network

Networking can seem like a curse word, but I see it as making new friends. Going to networking sessions (The Mayor’s Office hosts major events for women in finance, and Out for Undergrad hosts events for LGBTQ students interested in business, finance, and tech, for example) gives you the chance to meet current employees and future friends. This is your chance to get some insight on the company and industry. Ambitious students often start in their freshman year by attending networking events, career fairs, info sessions, and business conferences.

6. Read. A lot.

This goes without saying for Sarah Lawrence students. But it is especially crucial when applying to positions in the business world. Do you follow the company’s recent acquisitions and expansions? What’s the hottest new thing coming up in the industry? Are there recent events that are putting their business at risk? These are things you get from consistently following the company and trends, and news. So start reading. Read relevant news: for finance read the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek; for entrepreneurship, go to Fast Company. But beyond that, explore ‘non-news’ literature – Andrew Ross Sorkin’s “Too Big To Fail” is useful for those who want to enter finance but don’t understand how the industry works.

7. Reach out

Sometimes there are things you can’t find on the corporate website. Employee turnover rates, loyalty, happiness, and career advancement opportunities are issues you can only assess by speaking to current and past employees, or veterans in the industry. Speak to Career Counseling and Advancement or Alumni Relations about alumni who are in the industry, and get them to put you in touch with those professionals. Cultivate those relationships and learn from your mentors – those relationships go a long way.

This is Part 1 of a series of articles on how to maneuver (and get ahead in) the business and entrepreneurship worlds. Read a few more What Should We Call Me posts tonight, but then tackle something on this list. You got this.

Jing Min Chia – who goes by Jeamme, which is pronounced Jamie, a name her mother created – is a Malaysian who loves to eat, cook, write about food and ponder about everything related to food. She reads the BBC, Nature and The Economist like its no tomorrow because she believes it is theoretically possible – and important – to understand how the world actually works. At Sarah Lawrence College she studies Economics, Anthropology, French, Agriculture, Development, plus a medley of sciences and tries to convince her mother that the combination is a good idea.

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