5 Ways to Ace the Transition From College Grad to First Job - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

It can be tough for any college grad to figure out how to find their way when they start their first job, but it can be even tougher for students of color to navigate the realities of corporate America.

At the recent BE Smart Student Symposium presented by Dell Technologies, students from 10 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and four minority-serving institutions got a little help with that. Maggie Chan Jones, founder of executive coaching firm Tenshey, taught them five ways to rock their transition from student to professional.

Chan Jones knows a thing or two about excelling in corporate America despite coming from an underrepresented population. She was born and raised in Hong Kong and moved to the U.S. when she was 14. She would go on to become the first woman chief marketing officer at software company SAP and was named to Forbes‘ list of the Most Influential CMOs.

“I created my own company with the purpose to elevate more women and people of color into leadership using my experience—how I got to the C-suite in less than 20 years in my career. Because if someone like me–who didn’t really speak any English when I first came to the U.S., and I honestly don’t think I’m that smart–if I could get there, so many people can get there,” Chan Jones shares. “The question is how.”

1. Be intentional in choosing your jobs

“Think about what you’re passionate about, what are the things that you just love doing. And that you’re also great at. Because they could be things that you’re great at, but you don’t love doing them and when you get into a job doing that, you’re going to get bored or get frustrated very quickly,” Chan Jones cautions.

“You want to start talking to people in those fields, and really learn about those things that are interesting to you,” she adds. “Spend time asking them about what is a day in the life of someone in marketing, someone in sales, someone in business development and see how does it connect with you.”

2. Unleash your intellectual curiosity

“How do you learn from every single job? And how do you learn from different scenarios?” Chan Jones asks, encouraging young professionals to adopt a growth mindset. “One of the things that I’m really passionate about is building muscles. I always tell people when I’m trying something new, even when it is hard, and especially when it is hard, I say, ‘Wow, This is great. I’m building the muscles.'”

3. Build your support system

“Network is, to me, my secret sauce of success. I count on so many people in my life, including—first and foremost—my friends and family because without their support, I couldn’t be moving across the country multiple times to take on new jobs. And without the support of my sponsors, my managers, my colleagues, I couldn’t have done what I was able to accomplish.”

Chan Jones challenged the students to take advantage of the opportunity to make connections with each other before they leave college life for their first job: “You’re meeting with so many people, people from different schools. Build that network, because they may be your colleagues. The next day, they may be your friends for life.”

Maggie Chan Jones (Image: APB Speakers)

4. Take risks and make an impact

Chan Jones spoke to the students about stepping out of their comfort zones, relaying an anecdote from her past: “One of the things I learned when I went from being a student to a professional is when you’re in a meeting, you’re supposed to speak out. And I remember one of my managers said, ‘Hey, Maggie, you have some really good ideas, but you never speak up in a meeting.'”

“So I took that with my growth mindset. I said, ‘OK, so what am I going to do about it?’ One of the ways that worked for me, and hopefully it will work for you as well, is when you do something that you feel like you’re getting out of that comfort zone, try something small first. So I told myself, every important meeting that I go to, within the first 10 minutes, I have to either make a statement or ask a question. After a couple of years, I no longer had to remind myself because that’s become a muscle memory.”

5. Have fun and be yourself

“In the early days, I was so worried because I would walk into the room and usually I was the only woman. Even today, in many cases, I could be the only person of color,” Chan Jones says. “On the early days, I would like just to fit in. Over time I realized that wait, if I really have to try that hard to change who I am as a person to fit in, guess what? That’s not my place.”