Alumni downplay GPAs, stress need for people skills to grads

by Lori Achman

News Reporter

Brains are great for getting jobs, but it takes heart to succeed in the job market, said eight UH alumni in a recent panel discussion sponsored by the Honors College Alumni Association.

"Technical excellence allows you to get the job, but it's the softer skills -- caring about people, cooperation and working on teams -- that sets you apart," said William McMahon, a petroleum engineer at Exxon USA.

All the panelists agreed that it was the communication and thinking skills they learned in college that they depend on every day at work. Michael Danke, consultant at Grant Thornton, said, "It is awfully hard to develop those communication skills unless a person interacts with people of different cultures and backgrounds. College is a great place for that."

Santosh Varughese, president of RSVP Publications, said the skill he learned in college that has helped him the most was the ability to think clearly and express his thoughts orally and through writing.

All the participants acknowledged there are pros and cons to working in a big or small business. "The trade-off is security vs. opportunity," Varughese said.

Pat Fitzgerald, owner of Fitzgerald Properties, said the disadvantage of owning a small business is working seven days a week and a lot harder than at a bigger corporation.

One trend the participants said they have seen is that bigger corporations are outsourcing some of their work to smaller companies, which means there are more and better opportunities in these smaller companies than there used to be.

McMahon said Exxon has started hiring smaller companies for human resources and accounting. The trend is moving away from a company controlling a product from start to finish, he said.

Some companies are also becoming more people-friendly, Danke said. "Bigger consulting firms are trying to start career paths people can live with. Qualified people are demanding that their job fit into their lifestyle," he said.

While technology has become an integral part of the business world, the panelists agreed that there will always be a need for people. "Technology enhances communication, helps disseminate information and helps sell, but the human element in every transaction will never change," Varughese said.

In terms of getting a job, the panelists suggested research and persistence. "When looking for a job, people should look for what they can bring to the business. Then be confident in your abilities and be persistent about it," Danke said.

Karen Taylor, human resource representative at American General, said, "Work experience is the most valuable asset." If people can't find something exactly like the job they're looking for, they should at least find something that is translatable, she said.

The ability to adapt and change is one of the most important skills in today's job market, said Mike Bisesi, senior vice president of United Way of Gulf Coast. "You won't be doing what you think you'll be doing in 10 years."

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