For Talia Aranda, a senior at the University of Southern California, Competitive Advantage was an opportunity to gain not only empowerment as a member of an underrepresented minority group but also the insight, skills and connections to help her on her professional journey.
Having walked into the program unsure of her career goals, Aranda, who was a member of the Competitive Advantage inaugural class of 2018, says the experience helped her better define her path. “I walked out being like, ‘I’d like to work in marketing, sales or human resources,’” she says.
Through the connections she made at the Competitive Advantage Conference, Aranda secured an internship at General Mills. Following her summer 2019 internship experience, she received an offer to return full time as a business management associate in convenience and foodservice.
Aranda recently spoke with us about her experience in Competitive Advantage, the connections and skills she gained and the value the program provides underrepresented students.
What attracted you to The Consortium’s Competitive Advantage program?
I think, a lot of times, the people who are part of The Consortium — both graduate and now undergraduate — often come to the organization as a chance to see and be part of diversity that they may not have been a part of before. It’s a chance for us to all come together as underrepresented minorities to understand that we can make a bigger difference together.
It’s really nice to look around and see people who are in the same place as we are and to be able to come from a place that maybe someone else understands. For me, that was a big attraction, that for the first time in my life, I wasn’t just seen as a white tan girl. I really got to be Native American and be part of something that was bigger than myself.
So there’s an empowerment that comes from being part of this program with other people from underrepresented groups?
Yes. But I think that The Consortium does a really good job of making sure that as long as you’re committed to diversity, you can be a part of The Consortium. It’s not about what you look like, it’s about what you’re committed to.
What was the program and, specifically, your experience like?
You get to talk to companies for [an entire weekend], which can be both absolutely amazing and absolutely daunting. You get to speak with some really amazing people who have spent their whole lives hoping to touch people like us, and now they get the real chance to do it.
Also, you get to learn. We got to attend workshops in which you hear about what it’s like to work in a place like General Mills or Accenture or any one of these Fortune 500 companies that we think about but that we don’t actually think [we’ll ever get] the opportunity [to work for]. So we got to learn the skills to really talk to these people and understand how we can make ourselves more attractive to companies.
What did you gain from the experience?
Competitive Advantage really offers you the opportunity to answer questions. People are asking you questions and talking to you because they want to hear what you have to say, and they can help you move forward to shape your answer in a way that really represents you in a better way. I think that’s something that [many of us] haven’t gained before, and it’s a skill.
Unless you’re frequenting your advisor every single day or the career center, there’s no way you’re learning this unless you’re going to something like Competitive Advantage. [It helps you] answer questions in a way that is both concise and clear but also gets your point across and shows who you are — and I think that can be hard to do.
Tell us about your internship at General Mills. What role did Competitive Advantage play in helping you secure the position?
My title was convenience and foodservice business management associate intern.
I am an anthropology and Spanish major, which is perhaps not always the most attractive thing to some employers. So, I made the connections I needed to make at Competitive Advantage to secure an internship like that; however, I did not secure it there.
It was a really business-oriented internship. It was geared toward those kinds of students, but that doesn’t mean you can’t [pursue a major outside of business]. For example, I met a [connection at the conference] who really helped me get the interview I needed to move onto the next round of my internship. Competitive Advantage helped me, but while I didn’t get my first interview there, I did form the connections that I needed.
What attracted you to General Mills?
As an intern, I think that sometimes people get nervous that perhaps they’re just going to get coffee or that they’ll get lost in the background, but General Mills never made me feel like that. No matter what my passion was, no matter what my [major] was, they made me feel like I had a spot there where I could really grow and learn and that they were willing to put their hand in mind and walk and grow and learn with me, which is something I don’t think you find at every company.
How valuable was the networking aspect of the program?
The really cool thing about it is that everyone is willing to be a connection.
It can be scary jumping into a [job market] of tens of thousands of students, but I think the people who are [at Competitive Advantage] are willing to both take that next step and take that extra look at you to understand where you’re coming from and how to help you, whether or not it’s at their company or another company.
What value do you think the program provides students from underrepresented groups?
If you are an underrepresented minority in a [top-tier] undergraduate program, I think that you bring something else to the table. Competitive Advantage gives you the opportunity to talk to people who recognize that — that specialness in you and that something that you have — because, at the end of the day, being an underrepresented minority … at a highly ranked institution, you offer something that perhaps not everyone else can give.