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ISBN: 9781935552185
Learning to Succeed
Marlo Scott

I just turned 21, and I have had eight jobs, including two full-time internships. All my work experience, from picking up trash in the park to doing audits for The New York Times, helped me develop skills I can use in the business world after I get my degree in accounting.

I am about to graduate college, but the path here has not been smooth. I lost my mother at age 11, went in and out of foster care, and got in trouble with the law. I have had to support myself since I was 16. At age 17, I became homeless. After I got into college, I fell into tuition debt and the interest kept compounding. What kept me going was my eagerness to finish school and to support myself.

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I got my first job when I was 14, through New York City’s Summer Youth Employment program. I worked for NYCHA, the city’s Housing Authority, doing community sanitation, which was the most physically challenging job I have ever done. I worked in the summer heat wearing a yellow hard hat. I dumped the trash and cleaned all the green areas—grass, trees, bushes, and soil. Sometimes there were cigarette butts all over.

The sun blazed on my young back as I raked and swept, and I was exhausted. However, learning how to work hard and adapt to uncomfortable work environments was a great “soft skill” I gained at that job. (“Soft skills” are the social and emotional skills which help you succeed in a job—things like learning how to handle criticism from your boss or sticking with boring tasks.)

I began to work for Youth Communication as a writer in the summer of 2011. Writing for Represent magazine gave me an understanding of how to work in an office environment, and I expanded my writing skills through the rigorous program. I worked with two different professional editors and adjusted well to their different styles.

The diligence I learned at NYCHA helped me at Represent because there were times I had to add many details to my stories, polishing draft after draft while answering dozens of questions from my editors. I sometimes had to do research on the Internet and even interview experts. At Represent, I learned to find my focus before I started my research: Strategic planning helped me write better stories.

While I was at Represent, I started college in New York City. Then my father was evicted and we became homeless. I moved to Albany, New York, in June 2013 because my cousin lived there and offered me a place to stay.

Interview Skills

I transferred to a community college in Albany and immediately started looking for a job. I had three interviews with UPS, but unfortunately couldn’t take the job they offered me because I lacked transportation. Still, those interviews helped me on my next interview.

UPS asked me “What are your short-term goals?” and “Why do you want to work for us?” After that interview, the UPS hiring manager told me that they tended to hire people who “can display long term growth and commitment with the company.”

So when I was asked those questions on an interview with Kmart, I said I wanted to commit to the job and grow within the company. That may have helped me get the job as a customer service agent.

In that job, I had to learn the functions of the cash register system and the proper order forms for different types of transactions, including tax-exempt sales, purchase orders, refund disputes, online pickups, layaway, and credit card and loyalty processing. It was all new to me, but I picked it up quickly by paying close attention and writing everything down. Not only could I look at it later, but writing things down helps me remember them.

Book Learning

College also helped me at Kmart. The fact that I had studied bank reconciliations in Accounting 101 helped me understand how all these systems worked together. My sociology and psychology classes helped me read customers’ moods. I started conversations with customers while they waited for their items to distract them from their waits. These skills impressed my manager, and she promoted me to supervisor in three weeks.

As a shift leader, I assisted the hardlines store manager, Heidi. (Hardlines are all inventory besides clothes.) That became my primary job. I helped her with receiving and processing incoming orders. This meant I sometimes had to stay up late doing my homework, but I did not complain.

I was also put in charge of supervising the cashiers. What helped me manage well was in part a management class I had taken in college. I always smiled when I counted the money, so they were not afraid to ask me for help at their registers. I scheduled their breaks and lunch so that there were always three cashiers on duty.

I also changed policy so I counted the money in the registers every 20 minutes, not every hour as done previously. This policy left less room for error, and it reduced risk of theft. I also emphasized keeping the store clean and organized at all times, because that is what customers prefer.

Work Ethic

One day a customer purchased 40 bags of ground mulch from the garden department. On this particular winter day, nobody was available to transport the merchandise to the customer’s car. All the cashiers were busy with their lines, and the front end was out sick that day.

Tim was a loyal customer who always purchased large amounts from Kmart, and Heidi favored him. She felt bad that no one was there to help. I sacrificed my lunch break to carry the bags of mulch to Tim’s car. It was viciously cold, and my hands almost froze. Afterwards, Heidi told me she appreciated my work ethic.

My time at Kmart ended because they closed their Albany store. But my Kmart experience taught me a lot about work: Do as much as possible to help the higher-ups. Make your boss’s life easier—do not make her micromanage you. When building work experience and a career you need to manage your time well. Do not be late! End on a good note so you can get a letter of recommendation: Do not slack off as a job is winding down, and do not pick fights or be disrespectful even if your supervisor terminates you.

Becoming more professional and developing a work ethic at Kmart contributed to my identity as a law-abiding and respected citizen. That gave me more confidence to take into any business environment.

Out of a job, I decided to move back to NYC and transfer back to my first college, Berkeley. I was able to get a room in a dorm. I walked into some great news—there was an open work-study position as an office assistant in the administration department of my school, with an opportunity to grow into an administrative associate.

My boss was the dean of students; he assigned me administrative duties such as data entry verifications and securing and mailing checks. I also worked with the director of the office, Melissa, on community service work.

My work began to focus on student development and campus life (SDCL), which aims to create entertaining learning activities outside of the classrooms. My assignments grew to include event planning, which let me interact with many students.

During the summer of 2014, I landed a paid internship with New York City’s Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) working 30 hours a week as a clerical associate. My primary role was to make copies and to file source documents. This included data entry into the company’s software system. Data entry and filing require accuracy and precision. I learned that these qualities, important in accounting, apply to many different business sectors.

My previous roles at NYCHA, Kmart, and Youth Communication all required hard work and I learned to be effective at those places. Working at ACS taught me to be efficient and precise.

image by YC-Art Dept

Confidentiality and Security

This job ended in January 2015. That same month, my aspirations of becoming an accountant really began to blossom when I started an internship at The New York Times. I worked 35 hours a week in the Corporate Internal Audit Department as an audit clerk.

My job at the Times had a lot more responsibility than my previous jobs. I had to reconcile every transaction for a confidential audit, between 100 and 200 transactions per audit. My supervisor was the director of IT Audit, and I got a good look at what it is like to be an internal auditor. I already knew how important confidentiality is for an accountant, but in this job, I saw how seriously professional auditors take it.

I learned about the importance of technological security at a major company like the Times. IT Audit assures that the technology functions remain secure from risks such as spyware and malware.

I continued to work at Berkeley part-time for 20 hours a week, as I worked full-time positions at ACS and then the Times, and took college classes. In order to maintain this schedule, I had to cut back on sleep. With coffee and protein, I made it through the day. It is better to sleep, but sometimes you may have to push through to take advantage of short-term opportunities.

The internship at the Times ended well. I was the runner-up for an award for the best work ethic. I connected with the entire Internal Audit team, as well as many colleagues from previous jobs, on LinkedIn.

Listen, Ask Questions

I am also involved with several child welfare groups and the American Heart Association, and I’ve made professional connections there, even though that’s not my main objective. When I find myself in a room full of people, I network, both to better myself and help others.

The key to networking with people is clear communication and respect. Have an open ear when people are speaking, and do not be afraid to ask questions. When I am networking with people I make sure to exchange contact info or business cards.

Now I am working at Berkeley, in my last year of college, and writing for Represent. By learning from my different work experiences, I got better and better at interviewing and working. I signed up with two staffing firms and they tell me about potential jobs.

Be Good, Do Good

Every life experience is a learning opportunity. Sweeping dirt in the sun was never my professional objective, but it taught me how to work hard. Every job I start, I try my hardest to complete.

Success, to me, includes giving back. After all I’ve been through, I want to support myself, pay for my housing, and get and stay out of debt. I want to become a licensed accountant, ultimately a certified public accountant (CPA).

Beyond that, I may want to work for the government. I’d like to help figure out how the country could spend its money more wisely, and you can’t do that as a corporate accountant. To me, being successful means I can benefit society rather than harm it.

Interviewing Tips

The person interviewing you will be your boss, so start your interviews with an informed compliment. Demonstrate that you understand the business and the field.

Managers want to know how you think and solve problems. Be attentive to the questions you are asked. Describe what you can bring to the table. If the opportunity arises, point out suggestions to improve the company, but be careful not to be insulting.

Mention that you are a quick learner. You will probably get training, so you do not have to know how to do what you will do in your job yet.

Try to show that you are a proactive problem-solver, understand confidentiality, and communicate well.

Once You Have the Job

Work hard, even when you do not feel like it.

Manage your time well. Do NOT be late to work!

Make your supervisor’s life easier; show initiative instead of waiting for the supervisor to guide you.

Use things you have learned elsewhere to solve problems.

Ask questions and watch people who are good at their jobs to learn.

Keep confidentiality. Do not blab the company’s secrets and do not gossip about your coworkers.

Be accurate and precise. Check your work.

Leave a job on a good note; work hard until the end and maintain contact with co-workers. You may need a recommendation later.

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