As part of our Standing Up For Heroes series, we paired 25-year-old Marine Corp veteran Wesley Olivo with mentor and financial expert Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments. Olivo served two tours in Iraq and hopes to become a CEO or CFO one day. He has a 3.5 GPA and is working full-time toward a degree in accounting at Robert Morris University in Chicago. He sat down with Hobson earlier this month at her offices in Chicago to begin his education outside of the classroom.
In the time they spent together, Hobson offered a wealth of advice for achieving success in the financial field, but boiled it down these six key tips:
1. Make Internships a Priority
Hobson noted that she began her own career with an internship, saying, “When people see that you have real-life experience, especially in the financial services industry. It counts for a lot. A lot of things that we do, it’s not about a textbook. It’s about having good judgment.”
2. Utilize Professional Resources
Knowing that an internship is important is one thing, but finding a company to internship at is another important part of the career building process. Hobson suggested Olivo consult a resource such as Crain’s: Chicago Business for a list of top accounting firms in the region.
3. Ask Professors for 3 People to Network With
She also suggested Olivo capitalize on his professors’ past experience in the field of finance by asking them to recommend two or three people Olivo could meet with, noting, “People love to give free advice. They love to,” especially when it is someone who has served our country and done great things. “I certainly feel honored to meet you, especially given the context of what you have done for me and the freedom we have in America,” Hobson said.
4. When Networking, Prepare Ahead of Time
Hobson said that it is imperative to be very specific about how much time he is looking to spend with a person, recommending he ask for 15 minutes. “Be very specific about what you are asking them, so you do all your research on the front end,” she said.
5. Ask for Experience from Local Vendors
Hobson suggested Olivo look for hands-on work experience in places that might not be obvious. She suggested asking local businesses if they need help with book-keeping, telling Olivo to approach them by saying, “I just want the experience, and I can help out at a discounted price. And the only reason you are doing that, again, is to get the experience.”
6. Share Your Resume for Critique
“Have a couple people look at your resume,” said Hobson, adding that although details are important on every resume, they are extremely important in accounting. One mistake could lead the recipient of the resume to think, “If the person has missed these details, what would happen to my books?”
After their meeting wrapped up, Hobson took Olivo on a tour of Ariel Investments, introducing him to employees and potential contacts along the way.
She offered him the chance to speak with Maureen Longoria, CFO of Ariel Investments, so he could get specific advice about breaking into and succeeding in the field of accounting.
Longoria suggested Olivo begin his career in public accounting.
“[It] gives you a good base, and then gives a feel of what type of corporate company you would like to work for, and then, depending on where you are in your career, you just advance your way up. … With accounting, as long as you are willing to work hard, work with people, try to do the best that you can, there’s lots of room for growth.”
Hobson and Olivo will remain in touch as he begins his search for an internship.