What did you want to be when you were growing up and why?
I wanted to be a lawyer. I’m Nigerian American, so from childhood I was taught to be either a Doctor, Lawyer, or Engineer (lots of options lol). I wasn’t great at chemistry, and I didn’t want to do any more math than I had to. I was good at getting my point across, had strong writing skills, and loved the idea of the corporate environment. So being a business lawyer just seemed to be the natural choice for me.
What is your current job (or job that you’re discussing)?
How did you land that position? (What made you want to pursue that?)
I always knew I wanted to own my own business. While I was in graduate school, I met my Smart Workplace Consulting partner. We were both very interested in modern workplace issues, especially topics pertaining to millennials & social media in the workplace. So after graduate school and working for other companies for a while, we decided to open up our own company. We want to be able to use our expertise to serve professional millennials.
The reason I went into the field of Industrial Organizational Psychology was because I used to work for a company called Nelnet, which was in the collections dept. My job was to call people and convince them to pay their student loans. As you can imagine, it can be a very stressful job, but I loved just about every second that I was at the company. The company did such a great job in their hiring process, really worked to develop their staff, and really went the extra mile to take care of us. As a result, I was inspired to go into a field where I could help other organizations better manager their people. I wanted to help make sure that employees are happy in their jobs and motivated to produce high level results. I started doing research, and found out about Industrial Organizational Psychology. From there, I applied to a couple graduate schools, and the rest is history.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
I’m at the startup phase of my company, so my days are spent developing my business. Reaching out to people to offer my services, and studying to make sure that I’m staying on top of what is going on in our field. For others in my field who are more seasoned, they’re probably involved in a lot of meetings, conducting interviews, studying data, training people, and presenting, etc. It’s definitely a field that’s broad enough to allow you to take your job in whatever direction you want to take it.
What do you love most about it?
I love making work a better place for people. We spend so much time there and organizations spend so much money on having their employees there. So why not make it a situation where both sides are satisfied? I love making this happen utilizing data and research in a “smart way.”
What do you hate most about it?
What is rough about our field is that although EVERY company needs an I/O psychologist or someone with an I/O background to get their people where they would like to them to be, we are a small/young field and not really well-known to everyday people. So it’s definitely a struggle trying to explain to people the benefits of using an I/O professional. Not only that, but early on in your career, you sometimes have to get a bit creative in the positions that you take, to get the experience you need to continue growing.
What’s the coolest thing that ever happened to you at work?
Seriously, the coolest thing that ever happened was when I talked to my first potential client. I can’t share their name for confidential reasons, but let’s just say that they’re in the entertainment industry, musicians use their venue to hold concerts, and they also have a restaurant component to their business. The majority of their employees would be considered millennials, or at least have a millennial mindset, which is the demographic we love to work with. I freaked out for 2 hours before actually making the phone call. Right before I made the call, my speaker stopped working (insert crying emoji here), so I had to go borrow my brother’s phone. So as I’m making this call with a client that could potentially be a game changer for us, I kept losing signal and dropping the call. So embarrassing! I could have tried to be cool and play it off, but I was honest and let the client know that I was having a lot of phone drama. He was really cool and understanding, but I still kick myself today for that incredibly embarrassing situation. Regardless, I got to interact with an awesome company.
What strengths do you think are necessary for someone to be successful at this job?
I think you need to be somewhat analytical, and you need to be someone who is great at listening without presenting your own biases or assumptions. This is because most of the time, you’re being hired to fix a problem (picture Olivia Pope for companies). So biases (we all have them) gets in the way of doing the job correctly. Also, you need to have super-strong communication skills.You could be working with an executive one minute and an employee the next, so having great communication skills and knowing how to work with different people will get you far.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give someone who’s looking to pursue this as a career?
When you are looking at colleges, make sure you do your research. Pay attention to how you’re placed into internships and the types of research your potential professors are involved in, to see if it exposes you to what you hope to accomplish after graduate school.
Start learning about organizational behavior early on. It is very fascinating (well at least I think so).If you don’t think so, this field may not be the one for you. Turn anything you hear about in the news involving a company doing something with the employee component of their business into a case study. For example, why is Starbucks really offering free education to their employees, and what are the implications? And what’s the deal with Zappos‘ new organizational structure? Getting yourself used to that kind of thinking as soon as possible will make you that much more successful in school and beyond. Best of luck!
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