To see a pattern, sometimes you have to take a step back.

You may not know for a few years–perhaps even decades–how your college experiences will shape your careers. It’s hard to see a pattern when you’re in the midst of it, busily juggling the skills and activities that may influence your direction in life. What you can do is open yourself up to opportunities and see where they lead.

We had a chance to talk with alumni recently at the Business Leadership Council meeting and ask them how their work experiences as students helped in their careers. They had some great insights and advice for current students:

Shannon Hughes ’92 still uses the skills she learned in her early experiences. “One of my jobs on campus was working in the writing center. Even more important than the writing skills I learned in that job was how to provide feedback in a way that people can accept it. I draw on that skill more than anything else I learned.” She admits she didn’t realize where this skill came from until just recently.

Sometimes students get discouraged while looking for summer jobs. Maile Zahand ’98 encouraged students to keep trying. “I spent the summers after my freshman and sophomore years working for the housing office on the military base back home in Hawaii. It took me until the later part of the summer to get the position, but as a result of doing a good job the first year, I got called back again and again. Persistence paid off!”

Others had advice to share about making the most of your time as a student:

John Dickson, Professor Emeritus for the School of Business and Leadership, recommended seeing every position as an opportunity to showcase skills. “When working a job you don’t think has any relevance to your career goals take one of the skills everybody says Puget Sound students have in abundance, like writing, and apply that to the company–without them asking. Exceed the expectations of the employer.”

Most students don’t get their dream job right away, but John Huddleston ’77 reminds students to stay engaged with whatever their passion is through volunteering. “Remember that you can volunteer while you’re working, no matter what you’re doing. Spend a couple of hours a week in a volunteer position and you’ll find your best opportunities may come from that experience.”

Charles Morningstar ’91 echoed that sentiment. “Volunteering can be a safe environment to try new things. Go out and do something you’re uncomfortable with; challenge yourself.”

Even though you can’t see the pattern yet, every experience you have is forming a foundation from which your future will emerge. If, somewhere down the road, you pause to consider your path you will likely see how your choices shaped you.

Seeking more advice from Puget Sound alumni? Use the Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Network in Cascade to connect with over 2000 alumni from a wide range of majors and career fields.

© 2010 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound