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Meet Travis Wilkinson.
For Travis Wilkinson, Kalamazoo, Michigan—the place where he grew up—might as well have been called Kellogg. Friends’ parents and family members, role models for a young Travis, were employed at the company’s nearby headquarters, so Travis understood early on how much of a household name the company was for many Michiganders.
Now an Associate Manager at Kellogg Company, Travis recounts how he explored majors, industries, and professional opportunities as an LSA undergrad—and how this led him to his current role in data analytics and category management.
Keep reading to dive into Travis’ conversation with Hub Employer Engagement Coordinator Ashley Parker, and learn what employers like Kellogg are looking for in a candidate, the importance of negotiating offers, what he did outside of the classroom to stand out as a the strongest applicant, and his advice to current LSA students on how persevere when looking for their first full-time job beyond college.
“Networking is the single most important thing you can do to further your career journey.”
Ashey: It’s so nice to meet you Travis, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Can you start by sharing more about yourself and your journey to becoming a student at the University of Michigan?
Travis: I’m originally from West Michigan, Kalamazoo, I started out at community college, in an honors program that focused on assisting students with transfer to a four-year university. That program is what helped me set a goal of attending the University of Michigan. The transition to Michigan was challenging, but shortly after, I declared linguistics as my major. I’ve always loved answering the question “is your degree about language and speaking different languages?” by explaining the difference in speaking about language versus speaking different languages.
Ashley: How did you explore potential industries as an undergrad?
Travis: The example that comes to mind is how I got involved with Tableau, a data visualization software. I was introduced to the software when a past roommate asked me to create a website for a Starbucks calorie counting tool she had created. Creating that tool put her on the Corporate Starbucks' radar and led to her full-time employment with them. Her story is so motivating, and it’s what sparked my interest in the tech industry. From there, I began educating myself on Tableau and I quickly realized I was spending the majority of my free time doing so. I think it’s really important to go outside the classroom to begin building your portfolio in order to get noticed by companies.
Ashley: That's a really interesting way of beginning your career exploration. What was your first professional experience as an undergrad?
Travis: I actually worked at the U-M Hospital hospital as a data analyst. The biggest lesson I learned was how important it is to have connections and build your network. I believe networking is the single most important thing you can do, especially by staying consistent with emails and LinkedIn. One of the things I found out early is that employers are curious about projects. If you are able to articulate your involvement in projects past or present, recruiters will respond well to that and will always want to know more. Most businesses right now are very data-driven, including Kellogg. So before my interview with Kellog I made sure to educate myself on the ways Kellogg is leveraging data so I could ask the right questions during my interview. Those types of questions helped me stand out and demonstrated to my recruiter that I was well versed in the qualifications of the position.
“Employers are curious about projects—If you are able to articulate your involvement in projects past or present, recruiters will always want to know more.”
Ashley: What led you to choosing Kellogg as the organization you wanted to recruit with and how did you land the opportunity?
Travis: Kellogg is a big force back home in west Michigan since they're headquartered in Battle Creek. I grew up with friends whose parents worked at Kellogg so I believed it was a great company. They truly embody the all American family company: they’re focused on feeding their community while continuing their innovation. But even though they are a traditional company, they're very forward thinking and environmentally cautious. During my interview, one of my first questions was, ‘what is Kellogg doing to assist in improving the environment?’ I learned that from a production standpoint, the goal is to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
Ashley: How did you begin your search for finding an opportunity post undergrad, and were there any specific resources that proved helpful?
Travis: It was tough to find a job when I graduated, and recruiting was very difficult. It was about a two-year process for me. I started my senior year of undergrad, all the way through my graduate degree. What was most helpful for me was my dedication to Tableau. After creating my website, I began to think of ways to make myself stand out and make sure my résumé was in tip top shape. One thing I wish I would’ve taken advantage of is negotiating my salary; the reality is you don't have to accept right away, you actually have more bargaining power than you think in terms of your salary. Negotiating has a perception of being confrontational or awkward, but it’s actually educational, and a great way for you to advocate for yourself.
Ashley: What advice would you give to someone entering your role if they want to succeed within the first 90 days?
Travis: Learning in school and learning on the job are two different things. I believe you go to college to learn how to learn, which kind of sounds crazy right? But what helped me most was understanding what information I needed to seek out to succeed in my role. I started out by making myself into a sponge, in order to absorb as much knowledge during those first few team meetings. Even though I’m quiet, I'm always listening and trying to learn as much as possible about my role, the company and other projects my team members are working on. And if I do say something in a meeting, I want to make sure I have all the information to back up my thoughts. I like to think of it as building a personal brand. I wanted my supervisor and teammates to be comfortable assigning me tasks because I drive results, and that’s what I want people to be able to attest to.
Ashley: What advice would you offer to current undergrads?
Travis: A piece of advice I would offer to students is to make sure you have a strong résumé, the Hub helped me to strengthen mine. I met with a coach that helped me organize my résumé and taught me how to improve it. The Hub also supported me in adjusting my cover letter, and, after I was hired, my current boss gave me great feedback on my cover letter, saying it showed that I could write really effectively. I think some of that also comes from my linguistics background: studying linguistics helped me become an effective communicator both orally and from a written perspective. I think that’s the real strength of a liberal arts education: you have the ability to take a variety of classes such as chemistry, math, Spanish, English etc. All of those courses prove to be very valuable skills in the workforce.
Travis: College teaches you how to effectively organize your thoughts, and how to conduct research by perfecting the scientific method. I'm all about testing different ideas and thoughts and experimenting with them every day. I do this daily and always try to challenge my own thoughts. That’s one of the many things that is great about the Kellogg company. They foster that type of thinking too. Kellogg is good at developing talent: every day I learn something new, and it has become a very humbling experience.
“Every day I learn something new—it’s been a very humbling experience.”
As an undergraduate Computational Linguistics Major, Travis did the following to stand out during his ongoing recruitment journey:
- Utilized U-M and external resources such as U-M’s Tableau membership and online blogs to nurture his learning.
- Studied the data visualization passion projects of his peers as inspiration.
- Developed and published his own Tableau dashboard to attract the attention of recruiters.
Travis’ Guide on standing out to your employer:
- Research. Educate yourself on ways the organization is fostering change within the industry or local communities, and don’t be afraid to share your perspective on the topic.
- Be a Sponge. Absorb as much knowledge as you can in your first few weeks on the job, take notes and ask every question, that way when you’re ready to offer input you're able to make an accurate statement.
- Challenge Yourself. Find ways to continue learning something new and find people to offer new perspectives on your work to help foster innovation.
The Hub’s Approach to Career Exploration:
- Student Groups - Identify one to two student groups that relate to your identity and explore the possibility of holding a leadership position. Use Maize Pages to browse U-M 1,400+ Student led organizations.
- Campus Jobs - Campus jobs allow students to gain their first professional experience and can often be used as leverage during your hiring process. Check out the Student Employment site to browse on campus offerings.
- Most Impactful Courses - Choose classes, like ALA125 (first-years) and ALA325 (seniors), that allow you to actively explore the connection between your LSA degree, identity, and career aspirations. Click here to explore the Hub’s Applied Liberal Arts (ALA) offerings.
- Coaching - Coaching is an opportunity to receive direct feedback and support from one of the amazing Hub coaches on career development, internship searches, graduate applications etc. Click here to learn how to schedule an appointment or find out more about drop-in hours.
- Internships - An internship can help you explore career interests, build up your experience, expand your professional network, and increase your probability of finding meaningful opportunities after graduation. Explore summer internship opportunities still active on the LSA Opportunity Network.