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This spring, the Kilts Center for Marketing hosted its second-annual “What I Wish I’d Known” panels. The panels—one dedicated to Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) marketing, and one to tech—bring back recent alumni in the CPG and tech industries to discuss what they have  learned during their first year in a full-time role post-MBA, and what they wish they had known before they started. This year’s panels featured alumni from Google, Facebook, SC Johnson, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo. Evening student Becky Schmid attended both panels and shares what she learned from the events. 

Why did you decide to attend both panels? 

When I decided to get my MBA at Chicago Booth, I told myself I was going to follow my curiosity wherever it might lead. A big part of that was gaining exposure to a broad variety of career paths I might not have been familiar with or had access to prior to Booth. I have always been interested in the world of tech, but CPG marketing is something that came on my radar thanks to taking Marketing Strategy in my first quarter. Since I am still early on in my journey at Chicago Booth, I am still in an “information gathering” stage, and want to soak up as much knowledge as I can about different industries and fields. Since it’s so convenient to attend virtual events, it was easy to decide to sign up for both. 

What were your expectations going into the events? 

I have attended a few other alumni panel events in the past and found them really valuable for getting candid insights into different industries, roles, and companies. Since these events were focused on reflection with the “What I Wished I’d Known” theme, I was hoping to get tangible advice I could apply in the near-term, as I am about to start a new position myself (though not in CPG or tech specifically). 

How do the insights of the panelists apply to your post-MBA career path/job function?

I am in a unique position because I am in the Evening MBA program, but I am about to start a new job in a new function. While I am not working in CPG, my new role is in the realm of marketing (merchandising), so there are parallels between what the panelists shared and what I expect my own experience will be when I begin my new job in June. While my new company is not a tech company, tech is an industry I’ve always been interested in, and there are a lot of stereotypes around that industry. I wanted to hear from folks who actually work in that space rather than allow my preconceived notions to run wild. In listening to the tech panelists speak, I realized a lot of their advice was applicable to anyone starting a new role that will require cross-functional collaboration. It was quite interesting to attend both sessions and see the similarities between the experiences of both groups, and to recognize the commonalities with what I imagine I will come up against in my new role in an entirely different industry.  

What were you surprised to learn? 

People on both panels emphasized that you are not expected to know everything on day one, and some companies consider even your first six months to be “onboarding.” While I’m sure that timeline varies by company, it was a helpful reminder that employers do not expect you to be an expert the moment you walk in the door. Even though Boothies are highly ambitious and want to contribute right away, it’s important to take time to learn the ropes and get your bearings so you can set yourself up for success in the long term. 

The second thing that really jumped out at me was the emphasis on soft skills. I came to Chicago Booth with the intention of building up my quantitative and “hard” business skills, but many panelists mentioned the importance of the soft skills they learned in classes (or wish they had taken more classes on) at Chicago Booth, which is making me rethink my strategy for what classes I want to prioritize for future quarters!

What key takeaways and/or advice did you get from the panels?

Use your resources and talk to the experts! This was a great piece of advice from the CPG marketing panel and was mentioned in relation to using Nielsen data, but it can be applied to anything. I am someone who likes to try to figure things out for myself, but as I have progressed in my career, I have had to learn when to stop spinning my wheels and ask for help from someone more knowledgeable in whatever area I’m struggling. One of the panelist’s rule of thumb is to spend no more than 20 minutes trying to figure something out before seeking assistance. That rule is something I will definitely be taking with me into my own work!  

Another key takeaway is to form relationships early on. Almost every panelist emphasized the importance of building relationships right away with the people you will work with most closely, because it is harder to do later on. That really stuck with me as someone whose work experience thus far has been with small companies where it was easy to connect with my colleagues at any time.

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