Growing up in Detroit, Jasmine Williams noticed something peculiar about the advertisements she saw.
“I found it strange that when I saw advertisements for large companies, they would advertise using people of minorities within those [communities], but when it was something that was for the masses, I didn’t see myself or the people who I grew up around represented,” she says.
Recognizing the pull that advertisers have and wanting to make a difference, Williams says she found herself drawn to business with “the desire to create a space for minorities.”
“[I want] people to feel as though — no matter if it’s a drink of water — they can see themselves actually purchasing [that product] because the person who’s trying to sell it to them looks like them,” she says.
Now entering her junior year as a business administration major, with a concentration in marketing, at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Williams is inching closer toward her dream of ultimately working in marketing in the fashion industry. Through The Consortium’s Competitive Advantage program, she secured an internship this summer at Colgate-Palmolive.
Williams recently discussed with us her experience at Competitive Advantage and how it has helped her overcome some of her fears.
What about Competitive Advantage appealed to you?
My father actually participated in The Consortium when he was getting his MBA, and when I told him about the program, [he encouraged me to apply]. He explained to me and in doing my own research I realized that they work hard to expose people to higher education and opportunities who might not have access, which was something that really attracted me to Competitive Advantage.
When I did the program, I was going into my sophomore year, so I was just getting my feet wet in business, and I hadn’t really started thinking about an MBA. But now, only a year later, that’s something that I have to be thinking about. I knew the program would provide me with information [about] what I can be doing now to ensure that I have access to a good MBA program and what getting an MBA can do for my future.
Before Competitive Advantage, how prepared did you feel for the job search and interview process?
Ross does a fair job of prepping you, so I felt pretty prepared up until a certain point.
I think the beauty of Competitive Advantage, the most memorable part for me, was the recruiting event. I was like, “OK, I have my elevator pitch. I have my key points that I want to talk about. I know how to do a good handshake. I know how I should dress.” All of those things were running through my mind. But as I was talking to recruiters from different companies, I was like, “OK, that’s only 30 seconds worth of conversation.”
I feel that Competitive Advantage really helped me in terms of knowing what those next steps are, because I think a lot of times [those professional skills only] get you to a certain point. Nothing’s going to [prepare you] like practice will. Competitive Advantage definitely gave everyone practice with having those deeper conversations, really getting to [learn what] the company culture is like and asking questions that provoke the person you’re talking to but that also show your intelligence. It was so much more intimate than I expected it to be, and everyone was so open to giving feedback.
How did you prepare for Competitive Advantage?
We knew about the companies that were coming, so I did research. I wanted to know, only going into my sophomore year at that point, what opportunities I could have with certain companies, what was going on currently with companies — are they trading, are they [selling] shares, are they privately owned, have they released new products — to find talking points. If I got the chance to interact with someone from a company that I was interested in, I wanted to be as prepared as I could be.
What did you enjoy most about Competitive Advantage?
The sessions were really interesting. The people who were presenting and the subjects they discussed were interesting because it offered a different perspective than what I was used to when it came to business. It was more honest than what I expected, which I enjoyed. People were diving into what it’s like to really be in the workforce. How to not lose yourself and how to incorporate philanthropy into your job were some of the topics — things that, to me, made it that much more attractive to be in business because they added humanity into it.
Within the sessions there were students from other schools, so to talk to them and hear their opinions was really nice. We also had the chance to have dinner with them; we got to share stories and compare what our schools and experiences are like. The majority of people who attended the event were of a minority race, which was comforting because … they shared stories of things that I [could relate to].
What specifically were you hoping to take away from the event?
I went in really wanting to get over my fear of bragging about myself or boasting because that’s what I thought talking to a recruiter required. But in going to the event and meeting my fear, I learned that that’s not it at all. It’s really [about] trying to put your puzzle piece together with a company’s puzzle piece and knowing that the person you’re talking to from the company is a liaison to [help you] do that, which I never really understood before.
I hadn’t had that much experience with professional recruiting events, so in attending Competitive Advantage, it was refreshing to learn that it’s OK to have those fears and that there’s a way to talk about yourself that isn’t boasting or bragging but is really just sharing your qualities that you think can impact the company and create change. For me, that change is representation, so sharing that goal of mine and learning that companies also have that goal, and getting to mature as a business woman, is something that I can definitely attest to [getting from] Competitive Advantage.
How did you get connected with Colgate-Palmolive through the program?
At a [reception] before the professional networking event, I met Sharon Kennedy, who is an engineer for Colgate. When I spoke with her, I shared my interest in marketing and kind of what my drive was to enter into the field. She stopped me and said, “This is so great, but I’m on the engineering side, and we don’t have any internships for sophomores. But I can introduce you to Jesma; she’s recruiting for marketing, and she’ll be a great person to get in contact with.” When I spoke to Jesma, she was very open about opportunities at the company, what they were doing and the longevity that you can get from having a career at Colgate if you start off as an intern. I thought that was so cool.
The next day we kept talking, and she told me, “You’re only going to be a sophomore this year, and we typically only take juniors, but you might as well apply.” About a month or so later, I [applied] … and got in touch with an HR representative with the company, who conducted my first-round interview. Then I had a second-round interview, and then I received a contract to sign.
It all happened very quickly, and as soon as I got the offer to work at the company, I sent both Sharon and Jesma a thank-you note for being so kind to me at Competitive Advantage. I had only felt comfortable applying for the position because, one, they’re both African American women, and two, they were so open about their experiences at the company.
What has your internship been like thus far at Colgate-Palmolive? What will you take away from the experience?
It’s so meaningful to have an internship where I’m not doing busy work. The work that I’m doing I see being used by not just people in my office but people in offices in New York and on the West Coast. It’s so important to me that I impact the company in some way while I’m here, and I can definitely see myself creating that impact currently.
The people in our office are so nice and welcoming and so willing to give help and advice, which I love. I enjoy learning how to improve, and I’m joyful that I work in an environment where it’s OK to ask questions. I feel comfortable going to leaders at the company and asking them why something is done the way that it is, knowing that they’ll be so kind and open in their response.
On a professional note, I’ve grown so much in my ability to utilize the information that I’ve gained in school — my hard skills, I should say — and the soft skills that I’ve gained from extracurriculars such as Competitive Advantage. When I’m in a meeting, I know how to speak. When I’m sending emails, I know how to draft them. When I’m meeting directors of the company, I know how to speak in a professional manner. I know how to go on a business lunch. I know how to use Microsoft Excel. It’s so fulfilling to know that everything I’ve done thus far in my life has really prepared me to thrive in this setting.
With these experiences under your belt, what are your post-college plans as of right now?
I definitely want to work when I get out. I’ve only had two years in school, and I feel like I know so much [already] … and can make a big contribution to a company, so who knows where I’ll be after an additional two years in the field. I know for sure that I’m going to get my MBA. But I definitely want to have the [work] experience because I think that teaches you just as much as a class does.
Why is it a dream of yours to work in the fashion industry, and how are you working toward achieving this goal?
This is a dream of mine because the fashion industry struggles the most with positive and inclusive representation. I want to be able to create a space for all types of people to feel welcome in clothing. I am currently the president of a fashion organization at school, and I plan on selecting models that break the stereotypical mold.