Have you ever found it difficult to go to a professor with a problem you’re having in class? How about carrying a conversation with your boss’s boss while on co-op?
It can be hard to “hold your own” with figures we think of as our superiors, but it’s an important skill to hone while in school and gain plenty of experience exercising before going out into the work force full time.
This is something that Rajeev Nunna, a third-year finance major, and Bella Santosusso, a fourth-year economics and legal studies major, realized early on, and upon being elected to the Dean’s Student Advisory Board (DSAB) within the LeBow College of Business, were able to navigate and practice these skills. And the fact that they’ve done so is quite apparent while listening to them interview Interim Provost Paul Jensen, PhD, in the inaugural episode of the student-run “LeBow Students Talk Leadership” podcast.
“It worked out perfectly because he had just been appointed Interim Provost [after previously acting as dean of LeBow]. We talked about his promotion, his thoughts on the bigger role at Drexel, and it all tied together,” Nunna said of the podcast. “We approached him like it was a normal conversation because he was very willing to do the podcast with us and we had questions that we thought students would like to hear.”
For students who might have a hard time approaching an opportunity like this as “a normal conversation,” below are several points of advice from Nunna and Santosusso on how to hold your own with higher ups, and what experiences you should seek out and become comfortable with before you graduate.
In the classroom
One thing that helped Nunna keep it cool while interviewing Interim Provost Jensen was keeping in mind that he was once a professor in the classroom.
“One thing that I always think back to is all of these administrators… started in the classroom, enjoying the interactions they have with students,” he said. “And I’m sure they personally would still like to have that connection, even though they’re administrators. So, think about it as though you’re talking to a normal professor.”
For students who might even feel nervous one-on-one with professors, Santosusso had something pretty simple advice to keep in mind.
“A nice, confident introduction and a strong handshake can go a long way,” she said. “I remember I was so nervous my freshman year to go up to professors, even, and introduce myself after class. I would seriously go home and practice with my dad.”
Additionally, both students would urge others to get involved on campus with organizations that can help push them outside their comfort zone, like DSAB does for them.
“There are little things that you can get involved in all over campus that could really make a difference,” Santosusso said. “Attend networking events, case study competitions, be a presenter in your group for class, or get involved in a social organization. … Join DSAB, Greek life, or a sports team. Do anything where you can be out there having candid but intelligent conversations and really understanding who you are and what you want out of your [college] experience as a whole.”
On the job
A key thing to remember when interacting with a higher up like Interim Provost Jensen or your boss’s boss’s boss while on co-op, Nunna said, is to keep interactions brief, because these people are all very busy.
“Let’s just say it was a casual passing by — you want to be clear and concise with what you want to say when you introduce yourself,” he said.
At the same time, Nunna has found that the higher up someone is at a company, the more likely they are to spend time and energy mentoring co-ops and interns.
“I think those more senior-level folks are the ones that want to see you succeed,” he said. “They’ve kind of had their day of ambition and doing that, so they want to give back. ... They do really enjoy speaking to you, so make it worth their while also being able to know what exactly you want to get out of it.”
Additionally, it’s important going into internships and co-ops with some awareness of what it will be like working with people who are much older than you, Nunna said — something he wishes he had more experience with going into his first internship after his freshman year.
“It was at a hospital in their IT division, and everyone there was, I’d say, above the age of 40 or 50. So I felt really out of my comfort zone,” Nunna said. “That was really the only time that I don’t think I got the best possible experience of getting to know my co-workers because I just didn’t feel comfortable talking to them. … I think I would have benefited a lot more if I got over that hump a lot quicker.”
Santosusso agrees that getting to know co-workers on a personal level while on co-op is an extremely important skill, and the easiest way to do that is to find common ground.
“If you’re looking around the office and they have a basketball poster, you might want to bring up that you’re on the cheerleading team and that you also enjoy basketball,” she said. “So, just always trying to find like interests — something [to talk about] besides the weather.”
Making these deeper connections can help with everything from gaining more trust and responsibility on the job to maintaining a valuable network with it comes time for graduation, Santosusso said, and can help make any work experience more enjoyable.
“At the end of the day, you’re spending most of your time at work. You don’t want to be somewhere you feel stuffy and uncomfortable,” she said.
“You don’t want to be that kid who’s applying for a job two years later and you say, ‘Yeah, I interned here.’ And then they reply, ‘Oh, did you?’” Nunna added. “You want them be say, ‘Welcome back. We’d love to have you on the team again.’ You want to you want to be that guy.”
Before you leave college
In addition to making connections and a lasting impression, Nunna and Santosusso said it’s important for students to utilize their time in college to really learn and not be afraid to ask questions.
“A good piece of advice that was told to me was that, as a college student and as an intern, you basically have a free license to ask anyone for feedback,” Nunna said. “You want to provide value to your team, but know that you are there to learn and a good employer should want you to learn.”
However, it’s also important to be smart with your questions, and realize that your boss might not have time to answer all of your questions right away, Santosusso added. If that’s the case, seek out another coworker or even a fellow co-op or a Drexel alum to talk things through with.
“You don’t always have to start at the top,” she said. “And, if you have an immediate question on a project you’re working on, sit down and really think it through. Think through the options of how you could solve that problem and have something prepared for either route or multiple routes that this could go before going to your manager.”
Santosusso said she learned this lesson on a co-op where she was given a lot of autonomy, and even though that was nerve-racking, she said learning that lesson while still in college was a really big help in terms of her professional career.
“Your first instinct may be, ‘I don’t know how to do this. I need to make sure I’m doing it right. Let me go ask right now,’” she continued. “No! You should just sit down, think it out and have a few different approaches ready so that when your manager or boss does tell you which way they want you to go, you already have it ready for them. It will make you look a lot more prepared, like you’ve put a lot more thought into it and hopefully take away some of those nerves because you should already have the answer in that case.”
All in all, Nunna said students should remember that your first time doing anything can be nerve-racking.
“But the more practice you get speaking to higher ups, the more comfortable you get and the more you realize that these people are also just like you,” he said. “They were in your shoes at some point in time.”