For more than a century, McIntire has been preparing its students to deliver immediate value to the organizations they join after UVA. By honing their skills and gaining real-world experience while still at the Commerce School, graduates give employers many reasons to expect that they will hit the ground running.
To get a clearer view of how McIntire’s world-class business education supports Hoos entering the world of work, we caught up with three grads from the Class of 2021 to hear about the roles they’ve taken on and how their time within Rouss & Robertson Halls has prepared them for great professional beginnings—as well their reasons for being excited about the future.
Eryn Cohen, Associate at Boston Consulting Group (BCG); Alexis Goode, Business Analyst at Kearney; and Maen Soufi, part of the enterprise team as a Business Development Representative at Care+Wear, shared details of their various employment experiences and offered some advice to current students based on the projects they’ve been part of since joining their respective organizations.
Different Duties, Different Opportunities
Cohen says that in her role at BCG, her daily activities vary, as dictated by the project. Each project offers a new set of challenges, which are ultimately determined when her team begins the case by “frameworking—thinking about the big-picture areas we should delve into to address a client question at hand,” she explains. Once a framework is established, she usually delves into independent research, meeting with her case team and making calls with people who can help answer the overarching questions. Quantitative and qualitative analyses follow to strengthen the recommendations her team makes. Cohen notes it’s an iterative process that often demands further research as they go.
“The most challenging aspect of my role is staying on top of the multitude of tasks I’m juggling and keeping up with the speed at which we work,” she says. “To be comprehensive with the recommendations we provide, it’s important to explore many different avenues, which can be time consuming if I’m not prioritizing well.”
While she admits solutions are often less than obvious, and as a result, dead ends are known to arise along the way, the positive aspects of her daily work arise from the pace and the process: “I enjoy the speed at which I’ve been able to learn and develop, both personally and professionally. Since stepping into my role, I’ve gained invaluable organizational skills and learned how to address problems proactively—the secret was just a bit of extra thinking and upfront communication,” she reveals.
Goode says she too spends the bulk of her time collaborating with project and client teams for the duration of a particular project. “I’ve worked on a few different projects across different industries since starting with Kearney, such as consumer retail, health, and technology. It’s been a great experience to gain exposure to a multitude of industries so early on in my career.”
So far, she’s found that managing the complexities of projects is often the most challenging part of her work.
“Each project is different, so there is a need to work your way up the learning curve by at least setting a knowledge base,” Goode says. “I’ve found that it’s been easier to manage these complexities by recognizing that you don’t know what you don’t know. However, by setting up a knowledge base, you allow yourself to ask the right questions and create a path forward.”
For Soufi, he’s applying his skills at a company that’s aiming to bring about a large industry-wide transformation. “We are a company that specializes in innovative healthwear with the purpose of changing how we look at and feel about healthcare. I spend most of my time working directly with hospitals and building trust and relationships to find opportunities to grow the business.”
Comm School Parallels
One year after walking the Lawn, the McIntire experience still looms large in the work life of these young alumni.
“I actually think a lot about the lessons we were taught at McIntire on a day-to-day basis,” says Soufi. “It’s hard to say which I think have been most impactful because, being at a smaller company by headcount, I am exposed to so many aspects of the business, so it all does come up at some point—almost like a real-life ICE [Integrated Core]. But I’d say that I think about Professor [Gary] Ballinger’s classes on asymmetric information and best practices in negotiation, as well as Professor [Paul] Seaborn and Professor [Jeff] Lovelace’s Management courses especially.”
Goode says the Comm School has already proven instrumental in building the foundation for her career.
“There have been multiple times when I’ve reflected on areas of the ICE curriculum that I have actually experienced in a client setting,” she says, pointing out that McIntire helped her build what she calls her “consulting toolkit” of analytical thinking, problem-solving, and impactful communication. “ICE also helped set the stage of what it would be like to collaborate with project teams. While at McIntire, I knew I wanted to go into consulting for the first stage of my professional life and decided to focus on coursework that would help me think like a consultant and develop the hard skills like coding and data analysis.”
Cohen finds that the most obvious similarity between McIntire and her professional life comes down to working with others. “From semesterlong ICE projects, to many of the deliverables in the classes I took within my Marketing and Information Technology concentrations, McIntire’s team-based classes helped me learn how to collaborate effectively.”
She says that the Comm School stressed the importance of having early and frequent communication with teammates to plan and share progress. “I learned how to ‘load balance,’ or in other words, to delegate tasks and then later re-delegate depending on everyone’s shifting capacities. And thinking all the way back to my third-year ICE team frantically compiling our table of contents before the buzzer-beater submission of our second ICE project (a rather fond and funny memory in hindsight), I’ve learned to save enough buffer time before a deadline for the team to review and consolidate our work.”
Cohen’s Marketing concentration courses imbued her with a healthy skepticism when collecting research and taught her to problem-solve by keeping the perspective of the end user in mind; her coursework in Information Technology equipped provided hard skills in database languages and Tableau, which she notes have proven directly applicable to her work. A Project and Product Management class readied her with the knowledge of product-focused, agile approaches to working, “a common thread throughout all three digital projects I’ve done at BCG.”
But she stresses that soft skills in business communication and ethical considerations she learned and considered while still at McIntire have been equally as important on the job.
For current Comm students, it can be a bit confusing to make sense of the many pathways to professional success that are available to them—but our Class of ’21 alumni were able to offer some guidance based on what they’ve been through in the last 12 months or so.
“I’ve gained exposure to so many industries so early on and can honestly say that it is okay if you don’t know what industry you want to specialize in,” Goode insists. “I’ve enjoyed taking my first year as a consultant to explore and figure out where I have genuine interests and passions within my career.” She says that remaining open-minded when she started in her role gave her a better understanding of what practice or even what industries she may want to specialize in for the second year of her consulting career.
Soufi says that the change in his life between UVA and working at Care+Wear was “shockingly fast.” He acknowledged that while the transition to starting college is often challenging for many first-year students grappling with sudden independence, he says that after graduation, it becomes that much more important to remain flexible and adaptable regarding career plans and personal aspirations.
“It’s a hard thing to describe because it is also really important to stay focused and grounded, build routines, and continue to work towards long-term goals,” he says.
Cohen agreed that going from full-time student to full-time employee can be nerve-racking. “It’s easy to fall victim to ‘imposter syndrome,’ and begin to doubt your abilities. Fortunately, those anxieties were quickly dispelled as I began my first project. I realized that in my role, it wasn’t the hard skills that helped me succeed; rather, it was the soft skills—the coachability, critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability—that comprised my consulting toolkit and enabled me to solve virtually any consulting problem. With those soft skills in place, the hard skills—such as financial modeling and fluency in data analysis tools—were more easily learned.”
Though Goode, Soufi, and Cohen are looking ahead to the next exciting stages of their careers, they intend to keep in close contact with the school that set them up for early success.
“I was always told that UVA has this ‘culture of coming back,’ but I was able to see this idea really materialize for me since graduating,” Cohen says. “So far, I’ve had the opportunity to both return to the classroom and interact with McIntire students via other channels throughout the year. In March, I co-taught a guest lecture for Professor Ryan Nelson’s Block 1 and Block 2 course on Information Technology. I’ve also provided McIntire students with general advice on navigating the recruitment process and have fielded their specific questions on life at BCG. I hope to continue to bolster the UVA-BCG pipeline, and hopefully visit McIntire soon for some in-person recruitment events!”
Goode says she’s already planning to stay involved with the Comm School through campus recruiting with Kearney: “Hopefully you’ll see me during some virtual information sessions or on-Grounds events. Also, feel free to reach out to me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions about navigating McIntire, consulting, or Kearney. I’m happy to be a resource!”
Soufi intends to stay engaged, however possible, expressing his belief that McIntire and UVA are very special. “The pride in our School from current students, alumni, and families is amazing. It’s something I’ve always known, but after the first time I walked across Manhattan in a UVA t-shirt, it was pretty undeniable,” he says. “Everyone who has walked the halls of the Comm School and UVA has been so positively impacted by the help of our professors, colleagues, and alumni, that we are all so willing to continue to help others along the way as well.”