n today’s quickly changing world, where many of tomorrow’s jobs have not yet been conceived, we asked several alums what qualities they need to be successful in today’s workplace. Across a wide spectrum of industries, WT alums are finding their path and making a difference by practicing empathy and idealism, by leading the charge with solidarity, by embracing adaptability, and even by recognizing others’ super powers.
Sierra Laventure-Volz ’05
I work with public transit agencies and cities to develop, fund, and implement infrastructure projects that move people through neighborhoods, cities, and regions faster and easier.
While a student at WT, I was taught to think critically, idealistically, and creatively. As the workplace changes, it’s important not to let those teachings fall away. Don’t want to be in an office from 9-to-5 every day? Great! Forward-thinking companies are continuing to engage a younger workforce in defining work environments. Want to work somewhere that allows you to work from the beach? Those exist! Want to work a job that maintains a work-life balance that allows you time to start your own company? We can do it! However, I always remember the enormous privilege of having attended WT. My choice to create my dream work life is a privilege that the majority don’t have. To “Think also of the comfort and the rights of others” might just be the best skill with which WT has prepared us.
Linsey McDaniel A’96
I support nonprofits and community organizations with program development, project management, and strategic planning.
Noticing and encouraging everyone’s strengths has served me well in the workplace. It takes a team to be successful and successful teams feel valued. Any time people are underutilized, undervalued, or ignored, the organization will stagnate. Being attuned to the best role people can play requires a mindset that assumes that everyone has a voice and something unique to contribute—not that they are just good or bad at a particular job. A little willingness to get to know people, and curiosity about their secret super power goes a long way. It’s amazing how people flourish and thrive when they can apply their own personalities, work style, skills, and interests towards accomplishing a goal.
Don Michael Mendoza ’06
Executive Artistic Director
LA TI DO Productions
I seek out new performers, collaborators, and content for our cabarets, concerts, full-length theatre, and events.
I believe that empathy and honest listening skills are very important to today’s work force because in a society that is highly divided in almost all aspects, that is what will get goals accomplished and milestones reached. In my line of work, I collaborate with all different kinds of people from all walks of life that differ from me whether it be gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or any combination of the above. As the leader, and in most cases the face, of my organization, I can only be successful if I am truly sensitive to the needs of each individual and am listening fully to the messaging they want to deliver. This in turn allows for empathy to find a safe and inclusive middle ground to build connection.
Joy Titus-Young ’92
Deputy Director, Global Stakeholder Engagement
I develop, maintain, and enhance relationships with external stakeholders for science and healthcare practitioners.
One of the critical qualities that has allowed me to be successful is my ability to recognize organizational needs and offer solutions. I am also a connector with a broad knowledge of my organization and can identify opportunities that are mutually beneficial to those with whom I maintain relationships. Throughout my career, I have been open to pursuing roles that align with my strengths and identifying when I need additional training or education. I have been able to build trust by allowing people to be their authentic selves. In turn, I have established long lasting relationships that have spanned my career.
Christopher Bangs ’10
O’Donoghue & O’Donoghue
I help represent my law firm’s clients, primarily labor unions, and their affiliated pension funds.
Today’s workplace is defined by highly unequal bargaining power between workers and management. Wages for college graduates are often far lower than expected, and positions are often far more precarious than we expect. And the picture is bleaker for people who do not go to college, unless going into a skilled trade. The cause of this anguish and precarity: the erosion of good, middle-class jobs. In my experience, joining together in a union with coworkers to demand better wages and working conditions is the only way to get broad-based gains and means we can sit across from our bosses as equals. Against extreme power disparities, the only solution is solidarity.
Max Zissu ’15
I plan, organize, and manage the shift operations within my area of the fulfillment center. Additionally, I lead and develop a team of associates to ensure quality and productivity standards are met.
About five months into this position, I have found that the most crucial skills needed to be successful are problem-solving and the ability to adapt in different situations. Every shift is different and can bring about unfamiliar circumstances, and the success of the shift is dependent on how we, as a team of managers, can adjust to ensure that shift plan goals are met. Additionally, with the continued growth of Amazon, there are new programs, pieces of technology, and initiatives that are implemented on a rolling basis. Because of that, the ability to stay updated on what is changing in the building and analyze how it affects my area or could affect my associates is a key skill to possess, as it is important to be able to properly communicate these changes and help explain the different processes to all of the associates. Ultimately, in this type of work setting, there are constant changes as we try to search for the most efficient ways of performing each process, and it is my job as an Area Manager to be able to adapt plans and strategies, while providing the best information for all of my associates.
Critical Qualities for Success in Today’s Workplace:
Q&A with Dr. Sarah Goldin
Q: How is the changing landscape of the workplace impacting the qualities that are necessary for students to succeed in the job market?
A: First, it’s important to understand what’s driving the changes. Advances in the technology field, mobile internet, and cloud technology, plus advances in computer power and big data change the way information moves. At the same time, global migration has increased, so people are moving differently, and more people are moving. And, the freelance economy has dramatically increased, leading to more flexible work environments.
Q: So what skill sets are needed to navigate this change?
A: Both cognitive and interpersonal skill sets are required. Rather than hiring for a specific technical skill, companies are saying, ‘We’ll teach people what they need to know in terms of hard technical skills,’ because by the time someone is hired, the technical skill will likely be irrelevant. Instead, what employers will hire for is cognitive flexibility and a stance toward learning.
Q: Can you share more specifically what this might look like?
A: Employers are looking for the ability to communicate clearly, to collaborate, and a well-developed sense of how to respond to setbacks and ambiguity. We often talk about critical problem-solving, but it’s more than that—it’s ‘problem-framing,’ or ‘perspective-taking.’ It is the ability to articulate a needed outcome, to immerse yourself in the situation from multiple perspectives, and then to synthesize what you learn from each perspective.
Q: How can our students apply their current skills in a way that best prepares them for the future?
A: The reality is that what you’re doing now is probably going to require a different skill set by the time you’re 25. So use it now, contribute to the world now, and have it mean something in the present. If we focus more on living, learning, and doing in an impactful way in the present, we are actually preparing students better for their future, because they become more nimble, adaptable, cognitively flexible, empathetic, solutions-oriented people who understand the intersection between different disciplines in a way that’s usable instead of purely theoretical.