Finding Solutions to Problems on a Daily Basis
Koont Htar’17 faced a choice as she approached graduation from Beloit College: Apply to graduate school or find a job. Economist Diep Phan, her advisor and mentor, set her straight: “I know you. You don’t want to go to graduate school. You want to work. Find a job.”
“Prof. Phan was right,” Koont recalls. “Graduate school appealed because I was afraid I couldn’t get a job. But once I focused on finding work, I landed my first post-graduation job.”
That first job eventually led to Koont’s current position as a product manager for Meta; she’s based in London. The problem solving she’d practiced at Beloit helped pave the way, as did the communication skills and relationships she’d developed.
Koont double-majored in international relations and business economics. Studying two different disciplines required considerable mental agility, while Beloit’s emphasis on class participation taught her to dive into class discussions.
Meanwhile, she was also learning important skills outside the classroom.
For example, as an orientation leader (OL) for Beloit’s international student services office, Koont helped international students ease into college life. “Peer-to-peer onboarding required that I break information into manageable chunks. I also had to learn to build relationships of trust quickly, and to deliver a message in just a minute or two. The skills I learned as an OL have been incredibly important in my professional life.”
Koont gathered other work experiences as well. Beloit-sponsored job-shadowing in Washington, D.C. in her sophomore year led to a summer internship with a government agency. A second internship followed after her junior year, when she worked for a Milwaukee juice company. The position was made possible by Beloit’s entrepreneurship center, CELEB, and BELMARK, a student-managed marketing organization. In the meantime, during the academic year, Koont worked for Beloit’s institutional research office, where she applied and honed the data-analysis skills she was learning in her economics courses.
These experiences and an initial post-graduation position helped her discover her preferences for work and work environment.
“The internship in D.C. didn’t suit me. I just didn’t like the formality of the government organization. Nor did I enjoy spending so much time speaking with officials. But it wasn’t time wasted. In fact, I’m really grateful to have had that experience while still in college, so that I could rule out that kind of work environment.”
When Koont graduated from Beloit, she had the skill set and experience needed to become an institutional researcher at a college. But while she found the work interesting, the fit was not quite right. “As an introvert, I thought that working on my own as an Institutional researcher would suit me,” she recalls. “But I found myself longing to work with a team. I also realized that while my life as a student had been fast-paced, academia in fact tends to move slowly.”
Fortunately, Koont’s network was able to help. A high school friend worked for Facebook (now Meta) and encouraged her to apply, while Beloit alumni who worked in data analysis helped her prepare for interviews. When she landed a job as a Facebook operations analyst, she discovered she brought advantages to the job. As an operations analyst based in Dublin, Koont looked at policies, processes, and project management.
“I brought a wider range of internship experiences to the job than many of Facebook’s other young professionals,” she reports. “Beloit had also taught me how to learn on the spot. That ability is critical when you work for Facebook/Meta, where solutions to problems need to be super scalble, given the company’s more than 1 billion users.”
Now, as Koont moves into project management at Meta, she’s both happy to be working with teams and to be able to apply leadership skills she learned at Beloit. “My colleagues tell me I am delicate and compassionate in my approach to teamwork, rather than forceful and overly self-confident. That’s something I learned by observing Brian Morello in his work with alumni and guiding CELEB.” The director of CELEB and a clinical professor, Morello remains an important mentor to Koont.
Koont’s advice for current and future students? “Take advantage of opportunities to get to know people. Diep Phan, my advisor, was able to remind me what I really wanted because she knew me. And Ellie Anderbyrne and Ruth Vater, for whom I worked in Beloit’s institutional research office, made sure I had the skills I would need to work in data analysis, even though I never took a computer science class.”
She also advises learning from other students. In her case, Beloit’s international office helped. “The office does a great job brokering relationships between first-year students and more senior international students. Those relationships helped me realize early on how important it would be to work and intern while at Beloit in order to be able to enter the U.S. job market once I’d graduated.”
Finally, gather experiences. “Take advantage of the opportunities Beloit provides to job shadow, meet alumni, and work. Every experience will enrich you. Even negative ones can teach you important things about yourself and lead to new opportunities.”