I arrived early at the first stop of my Carey Business School Consulting Career Trek in Washington, D.C. One of our guides for the day, Jenn Leard, asked how I was feeling, and I gave the same answer that I have given for every business event to date: Nervous.
As someone with no business background to speak of (I was an English teacher and, before that, a research assistant), I have viewed the business world through the lens of my own biases. I have often worried about not fitting in.
Seeming inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-place is a common source of anxiety for me and for many others. Even as many companies now proclaim that a nontraditional background can be an advantage as long as you have some core personality traits (such as motivation, adaptability, and communication skills, among others) several of my peers have mentioned how this has not been the case for them.
Soon the other 10 members of our career trek had joined us. As we stood in that lobby with Jenn and our other guide, Tracy Carter, I was filled with a mix of excitement and nervousness. All I could figure was that we all must be thinking something similar: are these companies looking at me, or at my background?
Our first stop was Facebook, which isn’t traditionally seen as a consulting company, but was a place buzzing with energy and ideas. Facebook works on many projects with third-party groups, which include a platform that works directly with small business owners in rural areas to help them better utilize some of the tools they have so they can grow their business, as well as working directly with the government on legal and policy issues.
The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. Our host, Will Castleberry (MBA ’95), showed us around, fed us, answered questions both big and small, and joked with us. Despite my own nerves, I managed to get a conversation going that lasted into lunch.
This was not what I had been expecting. Maybe it was just Facebook, I thought, with its open office, fun art, and free snacks around every corner. Maybe they were just laid-back in a way that other, more traditional companies were not.
EY consulting was next. We entered the space to find a much more traditional set-up: small cubicles. But, as it turns out, there is a hoteling system (which means the desks are reserved every day but there is no assigned seating) and higher-ups sit with their employees as well.
We were given another warm reception and, while the atmosphere was not as laid back as Facebook (more suits, for one) people were friendly and genuinely wanted to hear what we had to say. EY also has a policy where they shut down for a break in the summer and the winter.
At the end of the day, Jenn Leard approached me to tell me what a great job I’d done at Facebook, and how I had gotten them to notice me and had made a favorable impression. I was a little shocked: I had connected with a sponsor by telling a story about a snake I found in my basement, which was not at all a professional topic. I had been so caught up being nervous about not being exactly what I thought a business person was that I hadn’t even realized I had made a connection through storytelling.
After this, I felt considerably more confident. These companies were looking for people who they could engage with, who were willing to learn, who were interested in what they were doing. All of this was made incredibly clear while on the trek in a way it hadn’t been just from word-of-mouth information in classes and seminars.
Leaving that day, I felt confident. I had made some good impressions and learned more than I had expected to. The business world no longer seemed as scary once I had actually spent time in some of the companies, around the people who worked there (yes, even the ones in suits).
We had all learned that the most important thing was that we were willing to learn and to adapt to any new situation or company: from traditional consulting to Facebook, from a rigorous hierarchical structure to a more laid-back team. All of us at Carey already fit these requirements: we all come from disparate backgrounds and have found ways to work together that brings out everyone’s best self. We are all learning new things, every day, as we seek to increase our business knowledge. The career trek cemented, for me, that I was exactly where I needed to be.
I know that, after this trek, I will be able to face networking, job applications, and interviews with a new sort of confidence that I didn’t have before, even without a traditional business background.