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What I Wish I Knew About Networking - Q&A with University of Akron Alumni Erica Hollingsworth

Our November Forum, “What I Wish I’d Known About Networking,” is on November 14 at 2 pm ET. With networking top-of-mind, we’re spotlighting our Forum panelists. Erica Hollingsworth, an Operational Specialist at Charles Schwab, shares how networking has impacted her career and tips for making prosperous connections.

Can you tell us about a time when networking positively impacted your career?

Networking is what launched my career! I first attended the Diversitas Symposium in the Spring of 2018. I have considered myself very shy since childhood, and Prof. Mulholland always encouraged me to participate in these types of events. He also asked me directly to start attending more, and I am very happy (and lucky) I listened to him. In 2018, I was able to network with someone from Charles Schwab who introduced me to a manager in Participant Services. This led me to getting an interview, being hired, and ultimately starting my career.
I was looking to progress my career at the beginning of the pandemic while the company was experiencing a significant increase in call volumes. I made the choice to leave the company. It was not my favorite choice because Charles Schwab was where I wanted to grow my career. A short time passed, and I learned of an open position at Schwab from a friend and current employee. I contacted the hiring manager, who I worked with in my previous employment. I applied for the new position, in a different role than I was in before, and was able to return to the company. This is an excellent example of networking, even after leaving the company, ultimately leading to my rehire. Although it’s unfortunate that I did leave, I was sure to leave on a good note, which paid off significantly in the end. I am very happy to be back!

What are your best tips for maintaining your network in college or after graduation?

I suggest ACTUALLY using LinkedIn! When I was in college, I always thought this suggestion was something you just did to make your professors happy. It has turned into something more than that for me. I have found that you don’t need to be the most active on LinkedIn to get something out of it – even just liking posts if you’re uncomfortable commenting, reading what someone has shared, or even sharing a workplace meme. You never know where the person you interned with, met at an event, worked with for a week, etc., may end up working. They may be your foot in the door to future career opportunities. It’s also nice to be able to see where old coworkers ended up and what they’ve done with their careers since you saw them last.

What are some networking activities — traditional or non-traditional — that have been successful for your company?

Charles Schwab employees love their team “FUIs”, which stands for Fun, Uplifting, Inspirational. These are planned quarterly team events that allow teams to get together outside of the office for a few paid hours of a workday. Individual teams or a group of teams can grab a meal together or participate in a fun group activity, such as Topgolf, Whirlyball, bowling, and more. It’s a great way to meet people that work from home, learn about what other teams do on a day-to-day basis, put faces to names, and spend some quality time with your own team and managers as well! It’s a very comfortable and casual setting, being able to meet someone and talk with them. These casual conversations could always lead to career progression. While it is essential to know what you know, the saying is true – it’s also about WHO you know!

What are some ways students can approach networking if they’re not sure what practice area they want to focus on after graduation?

Be open to new things. Talk to someone from a company that wasn’t necessarily on your radar. Try not to shy away from things that sound unfamiliar or different. Although it’s not necessarily ideal, some careers do start with a role that’s not the perfect fit (mine did) – but the company still can be, and with great leaders, you will end up where you should be.

Be yourself! A good resume and experience are essential, but it’s not everything. Here at Schwab, my hiring manager also determines if a prospective new hire will fit in with our company culture.

Connect and interact with contacts at an event. Discuss what you’re looking for in a career and what you liked most in school and share your previous work experience. This can help them think of possible departments and even other companies they may be able to connect you with.

The person you meet does NOT have to be someone you’d work with. Before my employment with Schwab, I met someone in their Product Management department. That individual then introduced me to someone in the Retirement Plan Services department, which resulted in my being hired in the latter. While we were from different departments, that person played a vital role in my career.

To sum it up, don’t think it’s a waste of your time to speak with someone who might do something you’re not interested in; they might know just who to send you to.

Erica Hollingsworth is a graduate of the University of Akron with a Bachelor’s in Financial Planning, Class of 2018. She started her career with Charles Schwab working as an Associate in the Participant Services 401(k) Call Center for her first 20 months, and during that time obtained her Series 7 and Series 66 Licenses. She currently works as an Operational Specialist at Charles Schwab in Retirement Plan Services and helps streamline processing between 401(k) plan participants and internal business partners. She is planning to obtain her QKA & QPA designations in 2023.

To learn more about networking, register for our upcoming Forum on November 14. The Forum will feature industry experts that will discuss what they wish they knew about networking. You can register for the free event here