Was it déjà-vu or destiny? Recently Madison Wagnaar ‘16—a marketing associate for FTI Consulting in Denver, Colorado—was instantaneously transported back to a Union College classroom, a memory of an intense discussion with Professor Barry Forbes and her classmates.
“We were reading a Wall Street Journal article about a new company with a big new idea,” remembered Madison. “We read articles about the positive and negative sides, and had a debate in class about how this company might do in the future.”
A couple of years later, Madison found herself serving that very client. “They were dealing with a PR disaster, and I was preparing a pitch for them! It was crazy! I had been in class discussing them, then I was pitching the very executive we had been talking about!”
“Thanks to my exposure in class, I was already familiar with the capabilities of the company, the controversial issues, and their history,” said Madison. “It was pretty surreal!”
Wagnaar’s time at Union prepared her for much more than just that one client. All those in-class discussions about how different models generate revenue, how the supply chain works, and why some companies succeed while others fail … those issues come up at work every day.
“A lot of classes I took at Union made me think critically about the world. They got me thinking about what works and what makes things topple in the business world,” said Wagnaar.
Prepared for anything
When Wagnaar started college, she had no idea she would end up at a global strategic consulting firm. She arrived for a campus visit imagining herself as a teacher, but after touring campus with Barry Forbes, she felt more at home in the business program.
“They were excited about me and for me. That is something that I couldn’t get at a community college—people who really care about me, who are genuinely interested in family and my whole life,” she reflected.
Wagnaar is very artistic and shared her passion for theatre with her future professors on that tour. Their interest and advice helped her see that a career in business would give her the foundation for one day starting her own theatre, a long-time dream. Wagnaar agreed, “It is a good way to get a foundational education if you are going to do some kind of small business around your artistic abilities.”
“Union certainly gives you confidence in yourself,” said Wagnaar, who didn’t have that same self-confidence when she arrived as a first-year student. “Part of that is the leadership and empowerment that Union gives.”
Wagnaar says that at Union, students are empowered to start or lead any kind of club. “If you have an idea, you can be a leader.”
Wagnaar started a drama group in partnership with campus ministries, managed events for the Division of Business and Computer Science, and served as social vice president for ASB. Staff mentors encouraged her to make her own well-informed decisions and not back down to pressures around her.
“In the business world, you need to be the leader of your own career, as well as manage projects you are given,” said Wagnaar. “Leadership experience is really helpful.”
Internships provide valuable experience
Faculty advisors are clear from day one that a business degree from Union requires at least one internship, and they prepare them well. Classes include tips on interviewing, professional dress, and fitting in to workplace culture.
Professors encourage students to reach out to their network for internship opportunities. Wagnaar felt nervous, but took the plunge to call a family friend. “She told me she would tell them to look for my name, but after that, it was all on me,” remembers Wagnaar. “It was all about my skill set. I demonstrated my knowledge of how business works.”
Wagnaar secured the internship and worked writing website content for FTI all summer. She gave her all, showed up every day, and built relationships.
That hard work paid off. In January 2016, FTI called to offer Wagnaar a fulltime job with the company. She started right after graduation, and has been working there ever since.
Intentional variety increases hireability
Wagnaar credits her internship success in part to her well-rounded education. Her internship was mostly writing, so her general education requirements were very useful, and the tips and tricks she learned for Excel, Powerpoint, Word, and Outlook are part of her every waking moment.
Now in the working world, she sees more than ever the value of all the challenging finance and businesses classes she took at Union. “Having been on the job, I would love to go back and take those classes again with the context I have now. It’s hard to learn about the inner workings of a company before you have experience,” Wagnaar said. “When I look back, I wish I had paid even more attention!”
Wagnaar reminds everyone to look for a job with work/life balance. “You’re interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.” she said. “Make sure there is a balance because your happiness depends on it.”
“If the boss is really cranky all the time, don’t work there if happiness is important to you,” said Wagnaar. “My boss is really helpful and reminds me of some of my mentors at Union.”
That’s a pretty high bar. Congratulations on finding a great fit!
Carrie Purkeypile is a Union College graduate and freelance writer based in Sacramento, California.