Scroll through the blog posts and stories below to learn more about Hamilton student and alumni experiences in this industry. Finally, meet with your career advisor and explore the Career Center curriculum to learn how to network with alumni to discuss your interests and learn more about their work.
Business Career Blog
Finding Your Coolest Imaginable Career
By Sara Conklin '01
January 17, 2023
My role as a client experience leader for a Fortune 500 company is to me, one of the coolest jobs I can imagine. It’s ever-evolving, full of fun (really), and meaningful. It’s also nothing like what I as a Hamilton College student ever imagined myself doing. I got here by taking risks, learning from failure, and pursuing what was meaningful to me.
I adored my time at Hamilton, but had a tough initial transition into the professional world. After changing my major at least a dozen times, I majored in math based on an interest in math and a love for Hamilton’s math professors, but had no particular career path in mind. As I neared graduation, the associated career paths appeared limited to math teacher or actuary, neither of which appealed to me. In retrospect I should have looked beyond those cookie-cutter options. Instead, I enrolled in graduate school to study industrial engineering. This lasted about two months, at which time I dropped out due a serious (and in hindsight, absurd) case of impostor syndrome. Sad, ashamed, and directionless, I returned home. To pay the bills, I took a job teaching algebra and geometry at a local high school desperate for a qualified math teacher, which led to another teaching stint at a private New England boarding school. I was comfortable there, I was good at teaching and I liked it, but I didn’t love it. After a couple years, I decided to move on. Giving up my comfortable, successful teaching position felt risky, but I felt I needed to find something that fueled my passion. Now, I’m grateful to my 24-year-old self for this choice to explore more options.
My next step was to take the risk of enrolling in another graduate school industrial engineering program. Armed with more life experiences and a new perspective, I discovered I was not, in fact, an impostor. On the contrary, I was highly successful and graduated early. When I entered the program, I planned to major in operations research, a “mathy” way of finding the optimal answer to complex business decisions, which had captured my interest at Hamilton in a senior seminar with math professor Sally Cockburn. However, a breadth requirement revealed something even cooler: human factors. The field of human factors acknowledges that most systems – even the ones we try to optimize with math – involve humans, and we need to fit those systems to humans (and not the other way around). I was fascinated and focused there for the rest of my graduate studies. Knowing what I now know, I’m so glad I made the switch.
Next, I accepted an internship as a user experience designer at a Fortune 500 company. I hadn’t done any user interface design in grad school, but dove in with everything I had. The internship soon turned into a full-time job. Through a myriad of projects, I learned the craft and more about how to best apply my particular strengths (a version of “Know Thyself”). I treated my career as a constant learning process, not a destination, and volunteered for as many projects as I could that required me to learn something new. As the years went by, I acquired well-rounded skills, diverse experiences, and the respect of my colleagues.
A crossroads emerged when my boss offered me a promotion into any of three different roles and allowed me to select which role I wanted. This is remarkably rare, and I took the decision very seriously. Two of the roles involved managing teams doing user experience design; the third was a complete unknown, taking on a never-before-existing role at the company driving a human-centered culture across the 10,000-person organization. The first two roles would be comfortable and relatively predictable; if I worked hard, success would be assured. The third was a wild card; neither I nor my boss had any idea what it looked like or how we’d define success. In what felt like jumping off a cliff, I chose the third role, and it has led me down the most rewarding, meaningful, and fun pathway in my career so far.
Fast forward to today: I have the honor of leading a client experience team at a large corporation. We’re responsible for enabling and empowering everybody to deliver human-centered innovation and world-class client and employee experiences. It’s challenging, daunting work, but it’s also more fun than a corporate job is supposed to be (shh, don’t tell). We help teams collaborate, drive human empathy into technology and innovation, tap into their innate-but-sometimes-latent creativity and imagination, and work with agility. We ensure there is humanity in technology, both for the people consuming it and those creating it. My team and I can often be found punching up corporate meetings with oddball activities, loads of post-it notes and sharpies, and energizing workshops -- in-person or virtual -- all in the name of driving better human experiences. The coolest part is that it works: the business enjoys better financial results and people have simpler, more effective, and more joyful experiences.
As a Hamilton student, the last career I’d have predicted for myself is the one I now have -- and I absolutely love it. I arrived here by taking risks, learning from failure, and honoring my passions, and I could not be happier. If you’re a Hamilton student today, I encourage you to take this approach to find your own “coolest job imaginable.”