By Will Andersen
For most students, the dream of the perfect job upon graduation is what keeps them motivated through long nights and finals exams. At the same time, many of us don’t have the slightest clue what that job is. Even if we do manage to pick out the perfect job, securing it on the first try can be a tough task. Shivani Soni, an alum of Class XIX, ran the second session in the Soft Skills Speakers Series titled “Making the Most of Your Stepping-Stone Job” where she gave her advice on these dilemmas. Soni used the workshop to explore how one can focus on constructive feedback and self-improvement during a first job to develop as a professional. She pushed each of us to use authenticity and active goal-setting to become a better employee, manager, and leader.
In the workshop, Shivani described how we should seek to use our early opportunities to catapult ourselves into our desired paths. She began by examining a climate survey we had each completed beforehand. The survey revealed that most are wary of the upcoming job market and understand that first jobs are most likely not “dream jobs.” The survey also signaled that T&M students have a strong habit of setting goals for themselves, yet still need to commit to them more by formalizing them. Soni then explored why resources that find pre-existing strengths can be such a powerful tool: it can be more beneficial to improve on an already developed skill in order to stand out than to improve on weaknesses. This is a key contrast to some professionals who believe a well-rounded approach is the most effective form of improvement.
Shivani then shifted into her practical advice on how to effectively set goals for ourselves. Goal-setting is the best platform to achieve tangible improvements both professionally and personally. This tool is most effective when goal-setters follow the SMART criteria. The SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) encourage goals that are impactful yet possible. Even just writing down the purpose and steps of a goal are worthwhile; doing so encourages personal accountability and can increase the chances of completion by 42%.
The presentation concluded with a question and answer session where Soni challenged each of us to change our mentality to incorporate feedback as much as possible. In addition, she outlined why we should weigh our own needs over that of our employer: we are our own best advocate and shouldn’t fear leaving or changing roles, as companies will always go on without us.
Following her presentation, I had the chance to meet with Shivani to learn more about her experiences in T&M, advice to current students, and goals for the future.
As an undergraduate, Shivani studied Civil Engineering but was drawn to the T&M program by her desire to gain business and leadership experience in hopes of setting herself apart from her peers. It was this interest that motivated her to enroll in business classes beyond the standard T&M curriculum. As she progressed through her junior year, she enrolled in the fifth year master’s program in structural engineering.
After completing her graduate studies, she began her career in the rotational program of McDermott International. She used the opportunity to network and sample four forms of civil engineering. After two years exploring the various roles, she settled in as a Plate Structures Engineer based out of northern Illinois. At McDermott, Shivani has led presentations on career management to fellow employees, which inspired her to continue to share her experience with goal-setting.
Going forward, Shivani aims to take the Professional Engineer exam in October. She’d been studying for the exam for months before it was delayed due to COVID-19. Soni hopes to leverage her PE license to allow her to relocate to McDermott International’s headquarters in Houston, Texas. Eventually, she plans to move into a construction management role that allows her to travel to construction sites and oversee active projects.
When Shivani reflected on her experiences at Illinois, many of her fondest memories were T&M events. The small and personal nature of T&M classes was a breath of fresh air from her larger-scale engineering classes. The China trip was a highlight of T&M for its unique perspective on how our decisions affect the world around us. She was equally amazed by the International Business Plan Competition, which she attended in San Francisco. According to Shivani, the opportunity to spend late nights working with some of the best and brightest students from around the world should never be passed up.
Will is currently in T&M Class XXVI and is a rising junior in Computer Science and is currently interning as a Software Engineering Intern at CME Group.