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Meet Sharon Lee: recent LSA alum, first generation Korean American, and now a Business Analyst at a Fortune 100 company. Join Sharon and Employer Engagement Coordinator Ashley Parker as they take an in-depth look at Sharon’s career journey: a graduate unsure of her next steps to her current position at Cisco Systems.
Explore with us and learn how Sharon built and utilized her network, turning her connections into tangible opportunities through persistence, creativity, and a carefully cultivated growth mindset.
Ashley Parker: Hi! How are you?
Sharon Lee: Hey Ashley. I’m doing okay, how are you doing?
AP: Good, good. It’s nice to meet you. Alright… to start why don’t you just tell me a little bit more about yourself: your undergraduate trajectory, career, and major, all that good stuff.
SL: I am Sharon Lee and I graduated this past May, last year now. [At UM] I was studying economics and International Studies—a double major with a minor in Chinese language. So I graduated in May and then two months later I started work, and I’ve been working at Cisco for the past seven months now, which is kind of crazy to think about. So that has kind of been my trajectory... I'm currently working from home in Lincoln, Nebraska, which I never expected either. But I'm going to be here until Cisco opens back up and then I will be moving over to the Bay area where the headquarters of Cisco is.
AP: Let's talk a little bit about your career journey. I was looking at your LinkedIn and you did some government work, you also worked at Trotter which is an amazing organization, and then you ended up as a business analyst at Cisco. How did you begin that exploration and why did you choose to pursue a role at Cisco?
SL: I started off my journey [knowing] I wanted to be in a space where diversity was the forefront, a place that valued social impact. And I thought that that would be in the government space. I was an appointments division intern for Governor Whitmer which was really exciting. And I thought that government was the way to kind of get into that social impact space, but I realized that I wanted something a little more fast-paced... the change that I was looking for couldn't be implemented as quickly [as I wanted] because of the entire organizational [government] structure.
SL: So I decided to look for a space that's very quick-paced: the tech world. I started researching tech companies that had really great social impact office organization and Cisco just happened to be on the top of my radar, but from the beginning I didn't even know Cisco existed. It took a lot of researching, and I think that's the thing... When you begin recruitment in undergrad, you don't know what opportunities exist for you. So it's really important to think about what you value and then doing your research. No one's going to tell you, especially if you don't have connections like family, friends or other professional connections, you really have to do your own research to get to know these fields.”
AP: Yeah, absolutely. There are a lot of students out there who can relate to that and after graduating, thinking “what’s next for me?” and having to do that research. How did your LSA experience impact your experience with Cisco?
SL: A lot of the classes I took at LSA are not directly related to my role, but they taught me how to manage my time, and how to learn, which has been very applicable. The learning curve has been very high, so I have leveraged LSA alum connections to help [navigate] my career. Especially in terms of knowing that there are people out there that have had similar undergrad experiences within LSA, and being able to reach and connect with them.
AP: That’s incredible. What was the most difficult part of making those connections?
SL: It's very intimidating because you just feel like you don't have anything to give to them, but you're asking them for their time. But just having that alum connection that I could leverage was very powerful for me, and I got exposure to a lot of different job positions that I didn't know existed.
AP: How did you navigate developing your network into what it is today?
SL: Personally, I didn't really have anyone teaching me how to network or how to do a resume. I'm a first generation Korean American--my parents and I immigrated [to the U.S.]...So my parents [were] not familiar with the job searching process in the US, and a lot of these things—specifically with networking and using LinkedIn—I had to figure it out as I went. I splurged on LinkedIn premium for three months, hardcore recruited and reached out to a lot of LSA alums. Although there weren't people actually saying they didn’t want to meet, there were a lot of people not responding. So I had to get in the habit of not being discouraged, continuing to reach out, and not taking things personally. As time went on, I made it routine to reach out to five people per week. I made that goal and then stuck to it, pushing through rather than getting discouraged.
AP: Definitely, I know exactly what that looks like. Other than LinkedIn, were there any other parts of your undergrad experience that kind of helped you navigate your search?
SL: I worked at Trotter Multicultural Center from my freshman year to my senior year and I loved working with the people there. Although It didn't necessarily guide my career search towards tech, I would definitely say working at Trotter taught me what I valued and needed in a company. I needed the company to value the same things that Trotter values, such as the intersectionality of diversity. Those aspects helped me identify the foundational values that I was looking for in a company that I wanted to be in.
AP: Thank you!
Sharon’s shared wisdom for navigating the recruiting process:
Determining your “dream” organization:
- Define your values. Start your exploration by defining your personal values and search for organizations that align well. Working at Trotter Multicultural Center helped to confirm the values Sharon prioritized in an ideal employer.
- Affirm your interest. Use internships as experiential learning to affirm your prospective career pathway. Sharon's experience working in a government organization excited her, but ultimately aided in her decision to pursue a faster-paced work culture.
- Utilize your resources. Conduct informational interviews to find out more about the organization, industry, and role. Sharon relied on LinkedIn to foster connections with Alum in her prospective field.
An informational interview how-to:
- Build. Begin growing your network and social capital via strategic informational interviews.
- Become. Set attainable outreach goals to connect with individuals doing the work you are pursuing by utilizing resources such as LSA Connect and LinkedIn. Track these interactions to help send follow up messages, thank you notes, and professional updates.
- Believe. Adopt a growth mindset by understanding that unresponsiveness is not rejection and instead viewing positive connections as small wins. Sharon's small wins were transformed into referrals that boosted her recruiting candidacy.
The Hub’s Approach to Career Exploration:
- Student Groups - Identify one to two student groups that relate to your identity and explore the possibility of holding a leadership position. Use Maize Pages to browse U-M 1,400+ Student led organizations.
- Campus Jobs - Campus jobs allow students to gain their first professional experience and can often be used as leverage during your hiring process. Check out the Student Employment site to browse on campus offerings
- Most Impactful Courses - Choose classes, like ALA125 (first-years) and ALA325 (seniors), that allow you to actively explore the connection between your LSA degree, identity, and career aspirations. Click here to explore the Hub’s Applied Liberal Arts (ALA) offerings.
- Coaching - Coaching is an opportunity to receive direct feedback and support from one of the amazing Hub coaches on career development, internship searches, graduate applications etc. Click here to learn how to schedule an appointment or find out more about drop-in hours.]
- Internships - An internship can help you explore career interests, build up your experience, expand your professional network, and increase your probability of finding meaningful opportunities after graduation. Explore summer internship opportunities still active on the LSA Opportunity Network.