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Having a specific career in mind during college is not necessarily the key to future professional success, Ellen Alemany, Citizens Financial Group’s chief executive told undergraduates last night at a talk hosted by the Harvard-Radcliffe Women’s Leadership Project.
Instead of preparing for a specific career, Alemany urged undergraduates to develop a passion, regardless of how it relates to a particular field of employment.
“Excel at something,” Alemany said. “Show you have passion, whether it is for a sport, or a club, or a course. Employers respect that.”
Alemany encouraged students to search for unusual professions that allow them to continue to pursue their passions in the workplace.
An English Literature major in college, Alemany said she originally planned to go into law and took a job in the legal department at IBM after graduation.
Unsatisfied with her experience, she then accepted an offer from Chase Manhattan Bank. Alemany said the increased face-to-face interaction and exposure to tremendous amounts of global travel her banking job offered convinced her to build her financial career.
Finance allowed her to utilize many of the same skills she had developed while studying English, Alemany said.
“Finance is a lot like English,” Alemany said. “All my analysis skills were at work, and making good decisions and understanding management required me to use the skills I learned as an English major.”
Alemany’s personal story alleviated concerns for attendee Hideko Tachibana ’13.
“I’ve been very stressed about my classes and career choice,” Tachibana said. “But the way she talked about how banking wasn’t her first option relaxed me.”
Alemany also shared her experience working in a male-dominated industry.
“I tried not to think about my sex as a major factor in my career,” she said. “I hope that your generation doesn’t ever have to worry about what women should or shouldn’t do in the workplace.”
Co-directors of the Women’s Leadership Project speaker series Samantha R. Rosekrans ’11 and Alexandra M. Zindman ’11 said they hope Alemany’s example would inspire Harvard women entering the business world.
The organization is planning to bring in at least two more speakers this spring.
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