Paul Coloma has an impressive résumé. The international business major speaks four languages, serves as a student senator, is an honors student, Williams scholar, Brueggeman fellow, resident assistant and retreat leader. He also spent the past few months honing his skills in the Netherlands through a summer study-abroad program.
Of course, you may never know this—especially if you’re a prospective employer. “It was very hard for me to get used to the idea that we are selling ourselves through a résumé,” says Coloma, a 22-year-old native of Ecuador. “In my country’s culture, being humble is a greatly respected quality. So for me, bragging about my achievements seemed very arrogant.”
Coloma has learned, however, that to land the right job after graduation, you have to show them what you’ve got. This lesson didn’t come naturally. It took a new program in the Williams College of Business to help him learn the difference between arrogance and achievement—as well as other building blocks that support the delicate social structure of the business world that aren’t usually covered in a classroom.
The Business Profession Program is a mandatory, four-year undergraduate program that comprises seminars, lectures and special events that address topics such as how to dress professionally, business etiquette, time management, how to work a job fair and even the importance of arts in business.
“There is nothing like this anywhere else in the country,” says Thomas Clark, professor of management and entrepreneurship and the program’s director. “Some colleges offer some business professional preparation at the senior level, but at Xavier the work begins when the students walk through the door their freshman year.”
Five years ago Clark led a team of faculty, executives and staff to develop the program after employers indicated that many Xavier students were ill-prepared for interviews, internships, co-ops and work. They had the knowledge but lacked the polish. During the first year of the program, students learn the finer points of time management, ethics and diversity, and career assessment. “We work to get students thinking about the importance of choices they make in their initial years at Xavier that will affect their careers,” Clark says. “Research shows that students who plan their academic careers land better jobs out of college and show greater job satisfaction over the long term.”
They also meet with one of six executives-in-residence to discuss career goals. Clark says students rank this interview as their most valuable first-year experience. The three remaining years of the program cover résumés, interviewing, career issues, the co-op experience and how to evaluate a job offer.
Students also attend a number of mandatory events as well as several optional ones, such as a four-course meal to learn proper dining etiquette, a fashion show and seminar at Saks Fifth Avenue to learn the finer points of attire, and performances by the opera, symphony and ballet to learn the importance of art to business and business to art.
“One thing that has really changed in respect to the program,” Coloma says, “is that at the beginning I didn’t like to go to the meetings because, in my freshman mind, I would rather be doing something else. “Now, through actually going to all the meetings, I realized the value of each and every one and I look forward to the next one. It gives me the opportunity to enhance my business knowledge.”
In the end, Clark says, students gain a confidence that they may not have gotten elsewhere and can seamlessly transition into the professional world.
“At the beginning, I was worried that I was not going to be prepared to face the challenges of an everyday life at a working place,” Coloma says. “But now my attitude is more like, ‘Bring it on.’ ”