ICYMI: How I Built Professional Wealth During and After College

Professional wealth and social capital: two terms that came up often in our conversation with Chauntay Mickens ’10 (CLAS). Professional wealth doesn’t just refer to money. It refers to the wealth of career and networking opportunities available to those with great social capital. Social capital refers to the built-in network some people already have. “A lot of students of color don’t have this built-in network,” Chauntay explains. “We don’t have this built-in wealth that our family is passing on, enabling us to get an internship that’s unpaid.” Chauntay works to reduce this disparity through her work at Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a non-profit empowering students of color to build this social capital and, in turn, obtain professional wealth. Throughout the discussion, Chauntay gave tips on how we can all build professional wealth, from finding mentors, good places to work, to the career path we want to follow.

Stressing that she’s still developing in her own career, Chauntay’s continued growth provides many learning opportunities. The first lesson came for Chauntay months away from college graduation, panicking over her future. “I found myself, all of a sudden, my spring of senior year [asking]…  what am I about to do after school?” Chauntay reflects. “I went into this panic and frenzy… I’m just applying to anything and everything and that tactic really doesn’t work. You have to have some targets.” Some targets were able to be set by reaching out to her professors. “‘Hey, can we grab coffee? Can we talk?’” Chauntay asked them. “There’s many of those professors to this day I talk to. They’re my references and still in that circle that has helped me find positions and accelerate my career.” Do not be afraid to reach out to potential mentors and keep them in your circle, because, as Chauntay explains, “people like helping people.”

There are some finer points in establishing solid mentor/mentee and other professional relationships, too. When initiating these relationships, Chauntay advises to “never feel like you’re bothering somebody,” but at the same time “form organic relationships.” “You don’t just want to keep asking others for things without trying to build that trust.” Any relationship where there’s a mutual benefit is a good relationship, and that’s especially true between employees and companies. Ask yourself “am I a benefit to this company? Are they going to be beneficial to me?” For example, Chauntay’s teaching job out of college was attached to a non-profit that allowed her to dabble in grant writing. She really enjoyed this, and that experience allowed her to segue into her current non-profit work. She benefited the school through teaching, and the school benefitted her by exposing her to the non-profit sector. “Finding out other parts of your company that you could possibly dabble in” is a helpful way to benefit from the employee-company relationship.

The final advice Chauntay gives students when it comes to career planning is to “start early, don’t wait.” Don’t “get pigeon-holed into only thinking that certain occupations make money and others don’t.” New, high-paying jobs are being created constantly, so don’t be afraid to break the mold. Don’t be afraid to grow, either. More and more people are switching jobs and careers more frequently in the constant cycle of growth that is career development. As you grow and develop, make sure you build that professional wealth to support you.

Our full conversation with Chauntay Mickens is available on our YouTube channel. Click the play button below to check it out!

By Erik Zawodniak
Erik Zawodniak Erik Zawodniak