On October 28, CCE in partnership with the Black Alumni Council of Columbia University hosted a virtual networking event. Students and alumni of color gathered on Zoom to hear alumni insights on navigating the career space as a person of color.

Tips and Takeaways from the Event

Build your street cred

When speaking about finding your voice in the workplace, panelists said that building your “street cred,” through performing on tasks, listening, and taking responsibility for mistakes, is key. As you develop trust amongst your colleagues and supervisors your opinion will be respected, people will look to you, and your voice will be heard.

Think about your plan of action
  • “Every time you enter a job, every time you enter a class, you have to make sure you perform and deliver what you said you were going to deliver… Pick and choose your battles. Be very, very strategic about initiatives you’re going to put in place and follow through on them.”- Megan (CC’13)

  • “It’s about earning trust, and a lot of times that’s actually listening… the approach that I take is, I like to listen, but I  speak very candidly and directly if it comes to it… Also [be] self-critical, if you do something wrong, you’re the first person to voice that.”- Jeremy (SEAS ‘13)


The group unanimously agreed on the importance of finding mentors and sponsors. They clarified the difference between a mentor and sponsor sharing that, mentors are the people you go to for advice, and sponsors are those who advocate for you for things like a promotion. Further, the group shared that your sponsors may not share your identity, especially if you are in a space with few People of Color. As you navigate decisions about your career, both mentors and sponsors are important.

Come up with a strategy, alumni stated how they built relationships with mentors and sponsors

  • “LinkedIn was probably the most important thing for me and randomly reaching out to people and asking If I could speak to them for a half-hour.”- Bridgette (CC’18)

  • “I sought mentors who were either experts in their fields… or mentors who were in the education networks that I was a part of…Columbia has played a part in being able to leverage friends of friends.”- Corina (Barnard ‘15)


Panelists discussed the actions they took to prepare for post-graduate life toward the end of their time at Columbia. They shared their stories showcasing the power of being open-minded and building relationships. A key theme was that taking initiative by attending events and making networking connections can often lead to unexpected opportunities. 

Focus on your value add

  • “Taking initiative, attending these similar events, networking, reaching out to classmates [as well as] individuals in your community and saying ‘this is what I’m passionate about, this is what I care about and this is what I want to focus on and here’s how I can add value…’ It might not be your dream job when you first get out of Columbia…. As long as you have an opportunity and you let people know what you have to offer, I think that’s a great step.”— Greg (CC’13)

  • “What’s really important is being able to have an open mind on what the future might look like….Think about the exposure you’re going to get as you take on your next position”- Jeremy  (SEAS ‘13)

  • “…What I do remember are the relationships and the people I got to know during that time.  I wouldn’t over-index on setting yourself up and making sure you have all the right skills. Try to get to know your professors. Don’t over-index too much on the career side, I would actually pull more towards the relationships…”- Megan (CC’13)


As the conversation shifted to networking, we learned that CCE events along with networking through LinkedIn are great ways to make meaningful connections.

Additionally, alumni shared that once you land a job or internship, networking doesn’t stop. Instead, you can put time on people’s calendars to get to know your colleagues across various departments.

Build meaningful relationships, use theSE tools

  • “CCE Events - I met someone crucial to my career journey through one of those.” “[Additionally], LinkedIn is the number one thing, people are always willing to talk about what they do and share their stories. I would recommend before reaching out to them researching something about them, try to figure out why they are interesting to you and try to connect with them on some type of level.”- Bridgette (CC’18)

  • “I always reached out to people. I said, ‘I’m interested in X things…I just want to learn about what you do.’ In this scenario [of virtual work] it’s a lot easier because you can reach people that are all the way across the world and it’s not awkward or weird….it allows you to at scale, build more substantive relationships.”- Riley (CC’17)

  • “If you get an internship somewhere, put time on someone’s calendar to chat.”- Jeremy  (SEAS ‘13)

To hear additional insights that were shared at the event, check out the video below!