An Alumni Update from Taylor Whitmer
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In June of 2007 Taylor Whitmer graduated from UCSB with BA in English and Communications. Shortly after graduation she was hired to work in NB Real Estate's London office. Following is Taylor's personal account of the job search experience and her suggestions to other undergraduate English majors on how to land that dream job after graduation.
This report is one in a series of English Department Alumni Updates.
More Than One Career Path for the English Major
Last year, one of the most dreadful questions that people asked me was “So, you’re a double major in English and Communication … that means you are going to be a teacher, right?” When I added the fact that I was a writing tutor at CLAS for two years, the question would undoubtedly be asked. I forced myself to react as calmly as I could and to politely inform them that I was actually interested in business. In fact, my goal was to get some work experience under my belt and go back to school to get my MBA so I could one day be a very powerful female CEO, since there are simply not enough of them in the world. This statement usually shut people up pretty quickly, because their simplistic view that all English majors become teachers was plainly incorrect. Not that there is anything wrong with teaching; it’s just not my cup of tea (note: intended cliché).
The Benefits (and Disappointments) of Aiming High
To start my pursuit in business, I began with applying to one of the top companies in the world (and in my estimation one of the best place on earth besides Santa Barbara), Google. Out of the absurd amount of applicants they receive on a daily basis, I, Taylor Whitmer, got an interview! Knowing how competitive it was to get an interview alone, I felt pretty confident that I’d be climbing the corporate ladder in no time.
After diligently studying the history of the company, the position, and “good” answers to tough interview questions, I still felt that nothing could properly prepare me since I knew it would be extremely competitive; however, after getting through the first few rounds of interviews, I thought I at least had a chance, and more importantly, something to offer.
They flew a group of interviewees up to their headquarters for the next round and pampered us. We all got the essential Google gear and each interviewee drooled at the prospect of becoming a Googler. Upon my arrival to the Googleplex, I found myself surrounded by computer science majors from Harvard, business majors from Stanford, and chemistry majors from Princeton – you name it; Google had recruited the best of the best. There I was, an English and Communication major from UCSB. I thought to myself “What the heck do I have to offer against these people?!”
As expected, the interviews were quick and difficult, and I found that my days and nights of preparation were, to my dismay, not enough. Finding out I didn’t get the job with Google crushed my hope of landing a job that I would love. Let’s be honest, what could get better than their incredible benefits and a life at the Googleplex – not to mention all of the brilliant people you’d be surrounded by on a daily basis? That place breathes creativity.
Proof Positive: Even Disappointment Can End in a Dream Job
Today, one year later, I glance from my computer screen out the window to a very busy Regent Street. Despite the wind and rain, the determined shoppers clutch their bags and continue on their way. No, I’m not in Mountain View, California, but I’m in a place some might know as prime European shopping destination. Or, if you are business minded like myself, you might think of it as one of the largest business centres in the world next to New York City and Tokyo. Yes, I landed a job in London at a top commercial real estate company. (If I had the ability to play music to this excerpt, I would play the British national anthem or the annoying automated underground tube announcer repeating “Mind the Gap!”)
Most of my friends have high paying jobs at top accounting firms. This opportunity was one that would pay essentially the same salary, but would also simultaneously give me the international business experience that is necessary in this ever evolving globalized economy, setting me apart the rest.
How did I manage to do this? To be honest, half the time I cannot believe that this is my life. But, to make this happen, I first evaluated what I wanted after college. For me, a post-college life boiled down to two things: travel and valuable work experience. So after my pride had recovered a bit from the Google experience, I started searching for international jobs. As difficult as the Google interviews were, finding a job in a different country was just as hard, if not impossible.
There were several options like Bunac or Mountbatten, but I wanted more than that - something bigger and better. So I spoke with a family friend who had contacts throughout Europe, did some informational interviews, and passed my resume along. I ended up speaking with NB Real Estate for some time. In the end they were so impressed with my resume that they said they would have a job whenever I was ready to come! It seemed unreal. Given that they were willing to sponsor me for a visa (which is nearly impossible for Americans) I jumped at the opportunity. It all seemed too good to be true – my two main priorities all in one opportunity!
How Do I Spend My Days?
From the start, the company and I had agreed that I would do a four month full time internship in the Corporate Consulting division. Because I did not have a Masters in real estate, no one knew exactly what I would be doing. I was placed on the European Corporate Services team, a team and a floor primarily composed of men. Apparently, you’re considered a “real tough bird” if you’re a female in real estate. Awesome! Scratch that American lingo. Brilliant. Lovely.
During my first week, I hit the ground running. I was assigned articles to write about a variety of subjects, for example how occupiers felt about paying a premium for occupying green buildings, or redeveloping unused industrial sites such as paper mills. Luckily, my four years of cranking out papers in a single night had served me well, as my colleagues (what Americans would refer to as “co-workers”) were impressed with my ability to learn quickly, write efficiently, and express key points poignantly. I eagerly took on new projects ranging from pitches to business development assignments to end-of-the-year reports like our annual European real estate guide that describes the leasing practices across 26 different countries. Yeah, I talked to 26 different countries to put the report all together. How many other 22-year-olds do that? I began to see how invaluable this experience was shaping up to be.
About a month into my new life here, I decided that an internship would just not do, and that I needed to be here full time. I worked hard to prove that my skills were assets to my team, and to the other teams on my floor. As my end date began to draw closer, I discussed my options of extending my visa in order to work a longer period of time. My line manager supported what I wanted to do, and the visa application began again. The fact that they were willing to sponsor me again proved that I had learned some priceless lessons in my college days, so I tip my hat to you Professor Liu! To my luck, Immigration Services accepted me yet again, and now I have a visa until July of 2009, not to mention that I simultaneously upgraded my title of “Intern” to “Research Analyst.” Whew! Let me tell you, that was one great upgrade!
Tips on Landing That Job: Networking, Skills, Negotiation
Networking is what landed me the internship, but hard work is what guaranteed me the visa, the full time employment, and the respect among my colleagues. Studying English at UCSB has helped me in indescribable ways. Eloquent writing and clear communication skills are essential in any career you pursue (and of course, in general) wherever you may be in the world. So, my advice to undergrads would be to learn how to do that – and to do it well. Learn how to perform on paper, as well as in face-to-face interactions. You would be surprised at the number of people who lack this seemingly basic skill. Sure, it is different when you are in a business environment, so get internship experience along with your studies (or, for the real go-getters, get a few internships!). Writing skills and internship experience complement each other perfectly, and it gives you an edge from your peers.
My next piece of advice would be to never get your heart set on one job, one company, or think that you don’t have any options because of your major. The disappointment I felt after interviewing with Google was disheartening. It felt like I had failed. In reality, I got farther than most, but I had the wrong point of view about the entire situation. If you look at my current situation, I showed up to NB Real Estate, proved that I had skills that they needed, skills that at the time I didn’t even realize were important! Furthermore, I pushed through disadvantages like not having a Master’s in real estate and the problem of workplace gender stereotypes. Regardless of what you study, students learn valuable skills at school. Use your learned skills, and take a look at all of your options instead of just one. Never limit yourself. Something is bound to pop up, but not if you don’t search around!
Next, use available resources and talk to as many people as you can. Your parents have valuable contacts who can help you if you need some questions answered about certain industries, or even if you would just generally like to learn more. Most of you are probably like me and don’t have a clue what career you want to pursue. Don’t sweat it. I still have no clue what I want to do, but at least I am at a place where I can start to learn. All experiences are important and hopefully (if you take the initiative) you can learn at least a few things that will help you in future jobs.
Also, never forget to negotiate, or feel like you are not entitled to more. If you are a woman, then I hope you are aware that our salaries remain at 77% of men’s, and on average four times as many men will negotiate their pay. Say, for example, that an entry level male and female are each offered $25,000 at their first job, and one of them negotiates the amount up to $30,000 (most likely the man). Over the next thirty years or so, the negotiator would make more than $400,000 , if you assume that an employee receives a 3% raise each year. This doesn’t even include bonuses, raises larger than 3%, or switching jobs for a higher salary. Imagine what the differences are if you were to start at a $60,000 salary. This is a scary statistic that I learned at Stanford’s business school summer program. Clearly, these gains are substantial. Everything I have gotten thus far in my career (chuckle, chuckle – all four months of it!) I got from negotiating. I negotiated my entire contract until I got the terms I wanted, so you should too.
Last, and not least, appreciate your college years. Not to add too many clichés in such a short paper, but college is the best time of your life and at UCSB, the English professors and TA’s are great. Learn as much as you can from them because they are nothing short of fantastic!
--Bshockey 05:44, 7 May 2008 (PDT)