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What do Condoleezza Rice, Lady Gaga, and I have in common? All of us attended an all-girl high school.

I loved my days in plaid, so when my alma mater, Presentation High School, asked me to join their Career Day Corporate Marketing & Event Management panel, I jumped at the opportunity. The students attended three panels that covered diverse career options in Healthcare, Business, Environmental Science, and Engineering, to name a few.

Walking the halls for the first time in over 10 years, I saw how some things never change: the photo-collaged lockers, the distinct smell of our cafeteria “The Center,” and the pleated blue and white plaid skirts falling just at arm’s length. What has changed? Students taking notes on school-sponsored iPads, e-books and apps to manage homework and curriculum, new sports facilities and classrooms, former classmates as faculty, and an emphasis on thinking about a career today versus waiting until after college.

Full disclosure, I was nervous. It’s not very often you’re given a soapbox to share why you love your job; let alone doing that while standing at the front of your old Algebra classroom looking into the bright eyes of 30 female students. It’s intimidating. My fellow panelist and I discussed our backgrounds, career paths, and what it means to work in corporate events.

The follow-up questions were thoughtful and actionable: What classes can I take? Did you know you always wanted to do this? What do you like least about your job? How did you get your internships? What type of internships should I look for?

Answering their questions with candor, I explained how my unplanned path of HR intern turned into full-time Sales Events Specialist, and how that led me down my current career path. The other panelist and I also told “war stories” of logistics gone wrong and last minute curveballs thrown our way, such as a frantic 24-hour turnaround on a sales award in China all communicated via a translator, or a last minute trip to Office Depot for supplies an intern forgot to order. We both enjoy the think-on-your-feet action of events, and in my opinion, it’s what keeps things interesting.

My biggest piece of advice was to intern or volunteer in an area they find interesting and to conduct informational interviews. Internships gave me the necessary resume experience to land my first job, and having coffee with executives whose careers I admired introduced me to Marketing and Event Management as a career path.

Career Day concluded with a keynote speech by alumna Maria Cannon, VP of Channel Marketing at TE Connectivity. Cannon spoke of her high school and college experiences, career path, work/life balance struggles, and gave encouraging words to the young women who absorbed her every word. She emphasized taking risks and not being afraid of the word “no.” To this point, she highlighted a Hewlett Packard internal report where women applied to jobs if they only met 100% of the qualifications; whereas, men applied when they met only 60%. The students were surprised by these numbers and hopefully encouraged them to not underestimate themselves upon entering the job market. Seeing Cannon’s success gave the attendees, and even myself, something to aspire to.

Reflecting on my years at Presentation, I was allowed to take risks, allowed to fail, and allowed to soar with a soft landing underneath me. Being in that environment during those sometimes awkward and formative years contributed to my confidence. That confidence now permeates my work and relationships. The students I spoke with have endless opportunities awaiting them and will hopefully one day speak in front of a wide-eyed audience with big career dreams of their own.

 

career growth, career development, culture

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