Learn From Me: Leveraging CAS Skills in Your Job Search and Career
Based on the true story of Ally, English BA/Environmental Policy Design MA, Class of 2019
While attending Lehigh as an undergraduate, I majored in English and minored in sustainable development and marketing. I wanted to blend my academic focuses because I felt that an interdisciplinary education would allow me to explore my different interests. These programs provided me with the opportunity to study topics that excited me, helping me to build a unique skill set. As a current graduate student in Lehigh’s Environmental Policy Design Master’s program, I believe that my undergraduate CAS background has helped me to excel both academically and professionally. The communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills that I acquired through my CAS background are transferable to many professions.
One of the advantages CAS majors enjoy is a wide range of career options as a result of obtaining such diverse skills. As a sophomore, I applied to many internships in fields such as finance and supply chain because of my interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR). It shocked me when I received interviews for these roles and some of my friends in the business school did not. During my interviews, the interviewers mentioned how my CAS background intrigued them. One of them even discussed how his company often sought out CAS candidates because of their ability to communicate effectively and to learn quickly. I noted those were key skills employers valued and found in CAS applicants. It quickly became apparent that I had a great way to market my education and my skills to employers in any industry. This was the start of me realizing that CAS majors are already strong candidates for a variety of job opportunities and internships, but actually receiving an offer would come down to my ability to market my CAS skills.
My first internship experience took place the summer before my junior year. I worked as a Law Intern for a firm in New York City that specializes in environmental and asbestos litigation. This was a competitive internship, and the interview process was intense. I definitely felt nervous to travel to the city, navigate a very professional environment and be scrutinized by high achieving law professionals. It helped when I did interview prep, starting with a review of how my CAS skills and education would connect to the legal industry broadly and to this company and internship specifically. During my initial phone interview, I was ready to describe my CAS skills and connect them to the internship I had applied to.
“How has your educational experience prepared you for this opportunity?”
“I have developed advanced critical thinking and close reading skills through my background in English. I would directly apply those skills to analyze legal documents and data as a Law Intern. My courses in sustainable development have provided me with a deep understanding of the environmental issues that your firm focuses on. In addition, my minor in marketing has strengthened my communication skills through my experiences working collaboratively with other students on projects. Overall, I believe that my educational background has provided me with a strong skill set that will help me to excel as a Law Intern at your firm."
Most recently, I have been job searching for a summer 2019 internship so I can gain additional experience before I graduate from my Master’s program in December 2019. This past month, I interviewed for a Global Supply Chain internship position at a Fortune 500 company. I spent hours preparing for the interview, thinking of ways in which I could weave my skills and experiences into potential answers. During my interview, the interviewer again asked me about my academic background. I felt excited to answer this question after spending a lot of time preparing for it.
“How has your English major and academic background influenced your educational and professional goals?”
“When I first started my undergraduate academic career at Lehigh, one of my educational goals was to strengthen my ability to read and write effectively. My English major has played an integral role in developing these skills. As a current graduate student, I use the skills of critical thinking and close reading that I learned through my English major every day. One of the most important skills I have acquired as a CAS student is the ability to communicate effectively. I have strengthened my communication skills by engaging in vibrant class discussions, finding ways to thoughtfully contribute in collaborative environments and working with teams on exciting projects. My academic background has inspired my passion for learning, an enthusiasm I can bring to <company name>. I am eager to work in a role that will allow me to continue to learn and to expand my knowledge about sustainability industry trends. Your company’s focus on continuous learning aligns directly with my professional goals.”
While initially preparing for the interview, I decided to reach out to a family friend who has experience interviewing candidates for a multinational banking company. I expressed to him that I was a bit nervous that I did not have a background in supply chain management (and I expected this to be a disadvantage for me). He suggested that I conduct research about the field and then emphasize my knowledge I learned during my research when it came time for me to ask the interviewer questions. He recommended that instead of asking typical questions such as “What is the company’s culture like?,” I ask questions that both emphasized my skills and my ability to think at a high level. I researched the company’s sustainability policies and supply chains and then I formulated questions that highlighted my ability to think critically. I asked these questions at the end of my interview.
Given the company’s mission and opportunity to be responsible and sustainable, what is its view on sustainability and what policies does the company have around it to govern their processes?
Where are the supply chains? What types of companies are in the supply chains and where are they located? What products? Where are they manufactured?
What are the expectations of an intern walking into this role and what can I do to make an impact?
My high-level questions demonstrated the skills that I had mentioned at the beginning of the interview, showing the interviewer firsthand that I can think critically.
Many of my past professional experiences and my involvement in various extracurricular activities helped me to demonstrate my leadership skills and my community engagement. These experiences also helped me show how I developed skills I could share with an employer. My involvement in Lehigh’s Engineers Without Borders chapter allowed me to work on sustainability consulting and corporate social responsibility projects.
“What experience do you have with leadership?”
“I stepped up into a leadership position when Lehigh’s Engineers Without Borders chapter chose me as a group leader for the CSR team. This included managing four team members, researching international companies’ CSR efforts, and managing the selection of prospective partners. As a leader, I learned to delegate, manage all the project details and ultimately developed confidence as a leader who can handle the responsibilities of a team.”
What sets you apart from other candidates?
“I was selected to write stories for the Southsider publication. I have published interviews and articles to celebrate South Bethlehem’s arts culture and to generate awareness about art’s role in the community. This experience represents my ability to connect to the community around me and to communicate messages that have an impact. I consider it a great advantage to share the stories and the messages of those in the community and also bring a writer's ability to connect thoughts to words and editor's eye for details to any future position.”
I am very confident (and proud) that marketing my CAS skills played a vital role in the company’s decision to extend an offer. In my experience, many companies saw the value in my CAS degree, but it was still critical for me to describe and to sell my skill set during my interviews.