On Tuesday, October 23rd, the CCE conference room was packed to the brim with students and alumni here for the Student-Alumni of Color Career Panel and Networking Event co-sponsored by the Center for Career Education and the Black Alumni Council.

Alumni shared candid insights about navigating the job search and workplace as a person of color, maximizing resources, building their network, and working with colleagues with diverse beliefs, ideas, and attitudes.

Several themes emerged from the panel. Discussion about these topics continued well into the night:

1. People and relationships are your most powerful resource.

“Everyone in this room can relate to feeling like an outsider at some point. … I wanted an internship in finance and I’d go to panel events and no one looked like me. You find yourself asking do I have the confidence to get in there. Just showing up in the room is the first step and then identifying who can help you. I reached out to black women who had been in the field and talked to them. They will be invested in your success. Identify people that will help lift me when I need it and I’ll do the same when I see people who need help. You are students – people will answer your emails.”

“Your friend group is so valuable. There is a tendency for things to become competitive but try to be part of a friend group where everyone cares about your success.”

“I’m a sprinter and I’m always going to be competitive. But apply that energy to elevate others and have them elevate you. Paying it forward is so important and looking at those behind you that are looking at your footsteps is crucial.”

“The most important resource here are the people.”

“Some people may say their advisors were not helpful, but don’t listen to them. People can be so helpful. My financial aid advisor told me about all these scholarships to apply for. Just coming to CCE for a LinkedIn presentation ended up being so helpful over time. The programming here is amazing. If you don’t find your assigned advisor helpful, look for someone else. Just go! Keep in touch with your network too. People here want to support you and you have to hold onto them. Just tell them what you are up to. Start with the people assigned to you and branch out from there.”

“I was part of National Society of Black Engineers – There is something to be said for being part of a community of people who look like you and are engineers. It’s amazing. These small connections matter.”

2. You bring value and deserve to be here.

“It can be exhausting being the only black person and woman in the room. Being at Columbia, you may get used to that at times. But Columbia teaches you not to shrink away. These Diversity and Inclusion Programs – take advantage of them. Take them and use them because you add perspective and value to your environment. These programs have the right mindset, they are not always perfectly executed but they are a resource. These programs exist because you bring a lot of value to the workplace so take them and feel proud.”

“Don’t underestimate yourself. You deserve to be here.”

“The requested years of experience for entry-level jobs – that math never adds up. But knowing how to tell your story well and that you deserve the job you are interviewing for is powerful. “

3. Take advantage of all the resources on campus.

“Go to every event like this. I came to CCE and had some lady look at my resume each time and we became best friends. Take advantage of these resources.”

“Come to CCE and have your resume reviewed. Things you may not think are valuable – they can actually help you frame them so employers see how they are relevant.”

4. You are more than your GPA. Your passions and experiences can guide you and will be recognized by others.

“Being an athlete at Columbia takes about 30hrs/wk. I went to play professionally in Europe after college. At Columbia, I was part of Project Rousseau and a sports non-profit called Level the Field. I went right into Morgan Stanley after graduation. I was able to bring that work into the office through volunteerism at work. Take what you are passionate about and make sure it gets elevated.”

“When I made a transition from finance to government, I was able to use student group experience to make a career pivot. Trust your gut that what you are involved in here on campus and what you are passionate about matters and is invaluable.”

5. Self-care matters.

“If you are contorting yourself it’s not the right fit.”

“Managing one’s own stress and anxiety is a big deal. If I could do it again I’d tell myself to breathe, meditate, pray.”

Enjoyed hearing from alumni? Stop by CCE for a 30 minute appointment to chat further about how to engage with Columbia’s vast alumni network!