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Power Panel Recap

On April 14th, 2021 CWIB had its annual Power Panel over Zoom. This year, we were fortunate to have four great speakers to weigh in on how COVID-19 has shifted the work environment and to speak on the post-graduation transition. Two of our speakers were Abbey and Hayley Hester, who graduated from Virginia Tech in 2018 with a degree in Business Information Technology and a concentration in Operations and Supply Chain Management. Rianka Dorsainvil graduated in 2009 from Virginia Tech and majored in Applied Economics, with a concentration in Financial Planning. Our last speaker was Lauren Berger, who got her Associate of Arts in Communication at Florida State in 2004 and her Bachelors in Communication at the University of Central Florida, in 2006.

Each panelist gave their own perspective regarding the questions asked by our leadership team. For example, Abbey and Hayley are twin sisters who both started their careers at KPMG, where they were IT auditors, and then decided during the pandemic to resign from their jobs and make their passion projects their full-time positions. They have their luxury pop-up picnic business called The VB Picnic Co., their online clothing boutique called Rebel and Wren, and their fashion and lifestyle blog called Abbey and Hayley. Our panelist, Rianka, started in Corporate America as a Certified Financial Planner, but decided to start her own firm, 2050 Wealth Partners.Lastly, Lauren is the CEO of InternQueen and Career Queen, which are free websites that have great resources for finding internships and job opportunities. She is also the author of three books as well.

Starting off the night, the first question asked was, “How has COVID-19 affected your career, and how have you kept up?” Rianka’s business model was not really impacted because her financial planning firm has been fully virtual since its inception six years ago. Lauren explained that , “Because of Covid, revenue was zero dollars for a few months, even while utilizing government resources.” Her main focus was truly believing in what they were selling, and as a result her company had to pivot to be confident in the digital products they were selling. She highlighted that utilizing government resources was important during this time, since she was also focused on retaining her employees. At the start of the pandemic, Abbey and Hayley were still working in Information Technology, while transitioning to online meetings. They didn’t launch their business until the middle of the pandemic, and although they were cautious when launching their projects, this period of time allowed them to invest in their side hustles and start their brands full time.

The second question for our panelists was, “What are the main struggles you had in the virtual world?” Rianka said that she had to learn to detach herself from her work and set clear boundaries with clients. Expectations needed to be set in order to find balance, since she became a mom in March of 2020. Lauren’s advice was to be loud and to over communicate when in a virtual environment, because no one always knows what everyone else is doing. Abbey and Hayley agreed, as well, that over-communication is key. When the pandemic started they were still working full time but having these side hustles as well. In regards to the struggles they faced, “The feeling of not deserving to level up, you have to know when you can do the big scary thing, push yourself forward.” Because they were worried about the timing of it all, taking that step forward was intimidating but worth it. In addition, the panelists were asked, “How much do you think COVID-19 will permanently change your career?” The virtual environment has altered physical communication and shifted the stigma that work can be done at home, according to Rianka. Shifting to Lauren, as a speaker at college events and fairs she was always traveling. But, the pandemic taught her to always have a backup plan and to always be testing things. She felt that you can never be too comfortable. Conversely, as the virtual environment continued, Abbey and Hayley felt that they had the ability to meet and speak with more people that they might have never met in person.

Looking back to before the pandemic, our panelists spoke to what they would have told their pre-pandemic selves. Abbey and Hayley highlighted how things can really change and how new opportunities can shape you. Lauren spoke about having a plan b never hurts anyone and nothing is guaranteed. Lastly, Rianka concentrated on how to practice what you preach. She added that “it's ok to have a mental health day once a while” and that “taking that time and energy to unwind is very important, especially when on the constant grind of the 9-to-5”. These mental health days, especially while being virtual, allow herself and her employees to take a step back.

Shifting away from the pandemic, the panelists were asked to give advice on how to handle rejection when ‘Plan A’ is not going the right way. In response to this question, all of the panelists were on a similar wavelength. A ‘no’ can lead you in the right direction and can shape you. And, rejections may not mean ‘never,’ just ‘not right now.’ So, embracing those rejections may lead to an even bigger ‘yes’ down the road. Risks are very important, but can be difficult in the moment. For Rianka, the biggest risk for her was leaving corporate America and starting her own firm to better serve the young adults and those who typically couldn’t afford a financial planner. For Lauren, it was finding her first internship as a freshman in college, which allowed her to unlock her potential and lead to her business idea. While Abbey and Hayley faced judgments in the IT audit role because their passion for fashion clashed with the norm, taking the leap to start their businesses allowed them to be fully invested in what they wanted to accomplish.

The panelists pivoted to speaking on how to stand out in the virtual interview and what to do when facing Zoom fatigue. For virtual interviews, Rianka said to make sure to write the first and last name of everyone on the call and hone in on the specifics of the role you are applying for when preparing for the interview. Doing research and asking questions shows interest in the job. Rianka also highlighted the importance of writing thank-you notes- handwritten is the better option, but a thank you email is also a good way to show the company you are interested. Furthermore, being motivated in a virtual environment can be difficult, but according to Rianaka, getting dressed like you would go out the door helps your mindset. Lauren found that taking a break from your phone is helpful. She uses the Peloton app and a mediation app to unwind and take a much-needed break once a while. Lastly, Abbey and Hayley said that a change of scenery is very important; because they run their business out of their house, going to a coffee shop can help with this.

The last questions asked was what the panelists would do if they could go back to college and what advice they would have for CWIB members. Abbey and Hayley started by saying life is fluid; college seems like the biggest decision you will make, but it is just a stepping stone. Rianka, being ten years post-grad, claimed that one decision ultimately can’t make or break your future. Finally, Lauren ended with encouraging members to value your core group of friends, take it one day at a time, and know that the sky's the limit with what you can do with your life.

This year’s Power Panel gave our members a scope of the endless possibilities post-graduation. After the Q and A session, our members got the opportunity to network with our panelists and ask more personal questions. My main takeaway was that rejection can be a stepping stone toward success. Overall, this event showcased how passion and career can come from anywhere. Special thanks to our four panelists for their amazing insight and advice.

By Sarah Viebrock

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