Meet Shannon Thompson of the Office of Career Development

Interviewed by Kathryn Cambrea

(Photo courtesy Shannon Thompson): Shannon Thompson poses with her graduation cap.

Shannon Thompson is a graduate assistant with the Office of Career Development. She graduated from STAC with her bachelor’s degree in accounting in May 2020 and is currently pursuing her MBA degree at her alma mater. Shannon is even a student-athlete. In this interview, she talks about graduate school, the work that she does for the Office of Career Development and resources that it offers, the value a student-athlete brings to an employer, and more. You can listen to this interview on STAC’s Office of Career Development’s podcast, “After Class.” Click here to listen on Spotify or here to listen on Apple Podcasts.

Shannon, I understand that you are a graduate student. What are you studying?

So, I’m currently getting my master’s in general business administration with the intent to sit for my CPA exam.

That’s awesome, Shannon. What would you say is the biggest difference between being an undergraduate student and a graduate student?

The biggest difference would probably be that you’re kind of more on your own. STAC has a great staff and they’re really helpful, so compared to other graduate programs they do help a lot, and they’re really always there for you, but you only meet with your teachers once a week, so it’s kind of on you during your normal weekdays to get all of your work done, do any of your studying, so it’s just a lot more independence.

Would you say that virtual instruction because of COVID-19 has made it even more independent than it would have been?

Yeah. Definitely a lot more. 

I understand that you are also a graduate assistant with the Office of Career Development. What do you do in this position?

So my job in this position is really to just help Maureen with most of her tasks. So, I track all the students that go to any of her events. I’m constantly checking which students have LinkedIn, checking over students’ resumes, so I’m really just mostly her right hand, just helping her with anything she needs.

And what motivated you to become a graduate assistant?

So I actually heard about the graduate assistant position through a member of the staff, and they encouraged me to apply, and I just thought that it would be a great opportunity for me to work while doing my studies and to give back to STAC with everything they’ve taught me and the skills they’ve given me. 

And I know from attending a bunch of team meetings with the Office of Career Development that you’ve attended a plethora of events with the department. Do any events come to mind and how were they beneficial to you?

So the two events that I really enjoyed were the KPMG Mentor Program, mostly because KPMG is an accounting firm, so in that program I got to meet with a KPMG employer every month, every two, three weeks. And they just helped me out with anything I really needed, whether it was school and accounting related, or just general. And the second one was the Career Readiness Program. It really helped me get ready as a junior to move on into being an actual professional and getting grad school and stuff done, so they helped me with interviews, resume writing, LinkedIn, and just gave me general tips on how to really act and perform as a professional person in the work world. 

Would you say that those skills that you’ve learned from those programs are applicable to when you help students?

Yeah, definitely. One, I can give students that same advice. And two, it really gave me the knowledge I need to kind of direct them where they need to go.

I know that you are studying accounting. What work and internship experiences have you had or currently have in the field?

So, I actually have not had any experience in the accounting field. My experience is mostly small retail jobs and working here in the Office of Career Development. 

What resources have you learned about from the Office of Career Development that students should utilize?

I think a really good tool that the Career Development office has is meeting with someone to go over your resume or to practice interviewing with. When I was a freshman and sophomore, I didn’t have much experience in interviewing, so my first few interviews weren’t the best, but once I was a junior, I met with Maureen and she really helped me with learning to interview better, and it helped a lot. 

Did the Office of Career Development help with educating you more about LinkedIn and SpartanJobs?

Yeah, definitely. I didn’t have a LinkedIn account until I went to a LinkedIn meeting with Maureen. 

And, in addition to your studies, I understand that you have a lot on your plate. Not only are you in graduate school, but you’re also a student-athlete. How do you balance schoolwork, and your career, and any work experiences that you’re having with everything in your schedule?

It is very difficult. I’ve been an athlete most of my life, so that did help growing up having to schedule everything, but most of it is just designating certain times to do certain things, and having really good time management skills. So I try to do any homework or projects a week before the due date, just to give myself that week cushioning in case I do get overwhelmed. And then, I really use my sport and practice time as my time to relax and clear my head.

If you don’t mind me asking, how are sports operating now with the COVID-19 pandemic, and are you still able to get that relaxation and cathartic effect?

Yeah, so currently, we are allowed to practice with our team for six hours a week, so for the cross country and track teams, we meet three days a week and the rest of the days, we just get sent a workout and we do it on our own. Some of us do meet up with one or two other people and run. We are encouraged to stay in small groups, not get close. We have to run with our masks on, so it’s different but it still does work. I’m sure it can be a bit harder for other sports like soccer, lacrosse, football, because they have to do those skill practices. I’m lucky where my sport is just running and I can go out and go for a run any time I really want to.

And you run both cross country and track and field, right?

Yes. I do all three seasons, so cross country, indoor track, and spring outdoor track. 

That’s great. And what value does a student-athlete bring an employer?

So one of the main things is time management skills because you’re constantly doing your schoolwork and you have to fit in your practice schedule and trying to work both of those things out. They’re also really good at multitasking. I know personally, sometimes when I run, I am going over what I have to do in my head, and if I have a paper coming up, I will start planning my paper in my head while I run. So, it helps really with multitasking and stuff, too. And a lot of athletes do have leadership experience. They’re good with teams, which is really important to employers now.

And as a graduate student with the Office of Career Development, what advice do you have for undergraduate and graduate students as they explore their careers? And that can be specific to accounting or any career.

The advice that I would give is obviously a lot of students are still very young. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out and your main thing is that you should be doing something that you enjoy and that you will enjoy for your life. I’ve been, through my studies, I’ve learned that some things you’re not going to be happy with, and if you just keep going, being unhappy, it’s just going to make things worse, and you’ll never enjoy what you do and that really is the important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing.

Some Resume Tips from STAC’s Director of Career Development

By Kathryn Cambrea

Graphic created by Kathryn Cambrea

When it comes to writing a resume, there are not only guidelines to keep in mind, but resources that you can use to help you. One apparent resource is the Office of Career Development at St. Thomas Aquinas College. Director of Career Development, Ms. Maureen Mulhern, as well as her team of Career Ambassadors, are trained to offer feedback to students regarding their resumes. Check your STAC email to be notified of upcoming Resume Workshops, or reach out to Ms. Mulhern via email for feedback. 

As someone who has attended a Resume Training session to learn how to help other students, as well as someone who has had my resume critiqued by Ms. Mulhern, here are some tips to keep in mind.

  • Keep it brief.

When I came to STAC as a freshman, my resume was pages upon pages of what I accomplished in high school. The document had achieved its purpose at the time. I had an incredible internship experience my senior year of high school with The Press Group, Inc. which owns three local newspapers. But at STAC, I was told that I had to condense it—to one page. People may very well toss a resume that exceeds that amount. Ms. Mulhern uses the phrase, “Be concise.” She adds that important pieces of the resume should be easily noticed, which ties right into the second tip.

  • Be consistent with your formatting.

It is very important to have a section on your resume dedicated to jobs and internships that you have had and currently have; Ms. Mulhern recommends breaking this section down further into a “Related Work Experience” section, tailored to your major and the internship that you are applying for, as well as an “Additional Work Experience” section with jobs that may be unrelated to what you want to pursue as a career, but nevertheless still had a role in equipping you with skills that you currently have. Under such a section, it is important to be consistent. For instance, make sure that you include your title for each position that you held and hold, not just locations. At the same time, do not forget about locations that you work for. If you write the physical location of where one internship you had was but not another, that is inconsistent. If one job title is written in bold or is italicized, every job title should be that way. Also, dates that you completed each experience should be written in the same format; if months and years are used to denote time at an internship, they should be used for each experience. Also, every component of your resume should be properly aligned and spaced out. No piece of your resume should stick out in a negative way, violating the format. However, your credentials should stick out for how valuable they are!

  • Check grammar.

You want employers and recruiters to be able to read your resume, right? If words are spelled incorrectly, there is an immediate issue. Also, sentences and phrases on your resume should be written with correct grammar. For instance, as a bullet point under a past internship experience, do not write, “Developed____ and completing____.” The word “completing” should be “completed” if you are no longer at that internship. This corresponds with consistency as well. Ms. Mulhern has said of someone who cares about the grammar of his/her resume: “That’s the kind of person you want working for you.” Think about it. Paying careful attention to grammar on your resume may translate to that skill being carried over into your job or internship. It also signifies how dedicated you are to interning or working for a specific company.

  • Use active verbs.

This technique is very important to one’s resume. In fact, it is important in the field of journalism and makes a paper very effective. Of course, it applies to resumes as well. When it comes to creating bullet points under work experiences that you completed, use active verbs in the past tense. For bullet points under current work experiences, use active verbs in the present tense. Do not use passive voice in these bullet points. Consider this example as a bullet point under a past internship: “I was developing software for clients and testing programs before they launched.” Now, condense the sentence and shift from passive to active voice: “Developed software for clients and tested programs before they launched.” This sounds so much more professional in the active voice. Not only that, but notice how the word, “I” is not used. In fact, Ms. Mulhern recommends not using words indicative of first person as well as not using words like, “a” and “the.” 

  • Don’t get “lost in the sauce.”

Ms. Mulhern champions this concept. She also calls extra information that is not necessary added to a resume, “fluff.” One’s cover letter is the perfect place to appeal to a company and explain why you would be a great candidate for the position that you are applying for. But your resume, by being a resume, asserts itself through your credentials. If you write too much, experiences you have had will get buried in the body of the resume. One easy way to avoid this is to prioritize the most recent information of each section of your resume. For instance, Ms. Mulhern says that under “Education,” St. Thomas Aquinas College should be listed above one’s high school. Also, she adds that in work experience sections as well as sections that concentrate on leadership and involvement on campus, that most recent experiences should be on top. Would you want a potential employer to see a club you are no longer a member of before a club that you are not only a member of but that you created and lead yourself? No. Ms. Mulhern recommends eliminating words that you do not need, as well. For instance, if you wrote, “Phone Number” in front of your phone number or the word, “Email” in front of your email address, eliminate these words. Employers and recruiters will understand that it is contact information.

Ms. Mulhern adds that some words regarding specific tasks under “Additional Work Experience” may be unnecessary. This would contribute to being “lost in the sauce,” and we do not want that. Therefore, she suggests writing transferable skills to show the value of work experience that may not directly relate to your career aspirations. “Think about some of your transferable skills and highlight them,” Ms. Mulhern said. “These transferable skills are going to be what’s most meaningful to me.” For instance, as a lifeguard, replace concrete tasks with skills that you acquired, such as communication and patience, which can apply to any job field. Not everyone may have your transferable skills, but they exist and are needed for more than one career. These skills may very well distinguish you from other candidates applying for the same position. As Ms. Mulhern says, “You are not limited by your major.”

Why You Should Take Advantage of Real World Tours

By Kathryn Cambrea

(Photo courtesy STAC Career Development Instagram): Attendees of STAC’s “Real World Tour” to Good Morning America pose for a picture.

With COVID-19, it is an understatement to say that everything is different. The Office of Career Development at St. Thomas Aquinas College has always held “Real World Tours” for STAC students. In essence, Director of Career Development, Maureen Mulhern, along with additional STAC staff, accompany students on trips where they learn about companies that they can potentially intern for or work for in the future. Often, students hear from employees of the companies and gain insight. These trips serve as valuable, instructive opportunities for students. Although trips may have ceased due to the pandemic, the Office of Career Development continues to provide students with opportunities to advance their career journeys, such as the upcoming virtual mock interview event, which will be held on Oct. 22. As someone who has been on a few “Real World Tours,” here is what I have learned from them and how they have benefitted me. 

  • Your name becomes known.

The first time I interviewed Ms. Mulhern was when I wrote an article about STAC students visiting Good Morning America on April 12, 2019. Prior to the event itself, I sat down with Ms. Mulhern and asked her questions about it. I learned from her that a former professor of the college’s husband, Eddie Luisi, is Stage Manager of Good Morning America. As a result of this interview, Ms. Mulhern connected me with Mr. Luisi so that I could interview him. He answered my questions on the day of the event itself in Good Morning America and proceeded to give all of the students a tour, as well as career advice. From there, I even interviewed a couple students on the trip. I sent the article to Mr. Luisi at a later time, and he remembered who I was: this is because I personally reached out to him and expressed interest in having him as one of the sources for my article. Without this “Real World Tour,” he would not know my name.

  • You become acquainted with the Office of Career Development.

I first met Ms. Mulhern when she was a guest speaker during the first semester of my freshman year in STAC 101. I will never forget how she said that if she does not know who we are, she cannot recommend us when she hears from recruiters. What does this mean? Communicate with the Office of Career Development. One way you can do this is by signing up for these “Real World Tours.” With the temporary absence of “Real World Tours,” you can achieve this by reaching out to Ms. Mulhern and attending virtual events. If an opportunity comes up where a company is looking for a college student with your major, she will gladly recommend you for the position. The key is that you need to utilize the resources that the Office of Career Development provides and that you must take the first step! The first step could be simple; you introduce yourself to Ms. Mulhern, even if it is in a virtual capacity. By attending “Real World Tours,” workshops, or virtual events, the Office of Career Development will learn more about you. 

  • The trips are free!

Two “Real World Tours” that I went on were to Good Morning America and to Hachette Book Group in New York City. Both of these trips were free! You hand in five dollars when you sign up, but you immediately receive it back the day of the trip. Commuting to the city costs money, so you should definitely take advantage because “Real World Tours” don’t (at least not for you).

  • You learn what the companies are looking for.

I remember when visiting Hachette Book Group, we heard from an employee in the human resources department who told us all about the recruiting process and what internships are offered through Hachette. We even heard a panel of employees speak from an array of different departments. (Read more about the benefits of the trip to Hachette Book Group in this article on The Thoma). When I interviewed Ms. Mulhern about this trip in September of 2019, she commented on the benefits of not only going to Hachette, but going on any “Real World Tour.” “It [going on the trip and asking questions] could build a good connection with a recruiter at the firm to open some doors for you and you learn from this trip what they really are looking for in a cover letter when you apply and what they are looking for when they interview you,” Ms. Mulhern said. Evidently, by not going on such a trip, you are placed at a disadvantage. After all, if you end up applying for an internship with a company that you visited, you should definitely say that you have been there in your cover letter and in your interview. Also, remember the specific names of who you talk to while on a “Real World Tour.” Although different companies may look for different qualities in potential internship candidates, they all value someone who has taken the time to get to know the company and what it is looking for. Going on a “Real World” tour is one way to do just that. 

  • You are exposed to the working environment of the company.

It is one thing to research a company, which is crucial. However, when you visit it, it is entirely different. What you see, who you speak with, the dynamic between employees, and other factors must be experienced in the environment itself, whether it is in-person or virtual. It cannot be obtained from simply reading about the company. Trips give you the opportunity to find out if the environment meets your expectations and if you can see yourself working there. Deciding that you do not want to work somewhere is just as beneficial as deciding you do. It means you are one step closer to finding out what you want to do. Ms. Mulhern has said of any trip held through the Office of Career Development: “You really get an idea of the facility and what life is like working inside that kind of organization.” She also added, “No two trips are exactly alike.” Therefore, by going on multiple trips, you compare and contrast the working environments, and see which ones appeal to you!

  • You learn about more jobs, internships, and career paths.

Ms. Mulhern has noted that one company, like Hachette Book Group, offers jobs and internships for people of different careers and majors. For instance, she has acknowledged that you do not have to be an English major to intern for a book publishing company. For that same article that I wrote about Hachette Book Group, I interviewed Professor Monica Wendel, who teaches classes in English and Creative Writing at STAC about the benefits of such a trip. Professor Wendel said, “This is a really good trip if you’re studying accounting, communications, any kind of business. They look to hire people from all different kinds of majors, so any of the business majors, communications, marketing, those are all really, really good majors.” She even added that students of hers in the past who went on such trips ended up receiving internships with book publishing companies. Thus, you not only learn about opportunities from these trips, you can actually earn them! Locating a job or internship can most certainly be attributed to going on a “Real World Tour.”

  • Most of all, you have fun!

Aside from all of the benefits that “Real World Tours” provide for your career, you enjoy a day out with friends. Collaborate with your friends about “Real World Tours” you are interested in going on, and get together for lunch afterwards to talk about it. Also, you have fun while you are on the tour itself. Watching Good Morning America for instance was amazing because I would love to pursue a career in journalism, communications, or writing one day. Therefore, I learned a lot. At the same time, I also had fun because the show was entertaining. There was live music, and two celebrity guests were on the show: Dwyane Wade and Jennifer Garner. The experience was professional and social. You are bound to have fun because you are signing up for something that you are interested in. For me, that is signing up to see a live program and experience the bustle behind the scenes of how it is produced. It is also learning how a book comes together, and all the people who have a role in its publication. For you, that may be something entirely different. But, I can assure you, that once “Real World Tours” come back, you will find a trip that appeals to you.