Alumni From Top Companies Offer UVA Darden Students Career Advice

31 August 2015

By Dave Hendrick

A little more than an hour into their first official day as students at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, First Year residential MBA students turned their attention to career discovery and development.

Encompassing a substantial portion of the first three days of the new school year, the Career Development Center’s annual Career Discovery Forums offered incoming students an up-close view of popular fields, with insights shared by more than 20 alumni of the Darden School who are high-level practitioners in the fields of consulting, general management, entrepreneurship, investment banking, marketing and technology.

The experts included returning alumni from J.P. Morgan, Starbucks, Bain, Danaher and Microsoft, among others.

Welcoming the residential MBA Class of 2017, Darden School Director of Career Education and Advising S. Kellogg Leliveld said she hoped the forum proved to be a meaningful step in each student’s journey of self-reflection.

“We’re in the process of exploring,” Leliveld said, adding that the process would go on throughout each student’s tenure at Darden, and for the rest of their careers.

While many in the Class of 2017 come with career goals in mind, Leliveld encouraged each student to be prepared to have his or her assumptions challenged by the speakers.

“Be open to the possibilities,” Leliveld said. “Where else in your career can you hear this many people sit down and hear this many individuals tell you about their job searches?”

The Darden School’s Class of 2015, meanwhile, appears to have reaped the benefit of the intensive career preparation experience. A few months since graduation, 95% of the Class of 2015 has received a job offer, according to preliminary data.

The median base salary for the Class of 2015 is up 12 percent year-over-year to $123,200.


Students received a case study on being open to exploration from keynote speaker Sarita T. Finnie (MBA ’01), the senior director of global wound care at Johnson & Johnson.

Finnie, who manages iconic brands such as Band-Aid and Neosporin, congratulated the incoming class for making it to Darden, which she promised would be a “luxury experience.”

“Not the kind of enjoy-a-mimosa-on-the-beach kind of luxury experience, but when else in your life will you have two years when you are not only allowed to be — but supposed to be — self-centered and focused on bettering yourself, learning new techniques and training your mind?” Finnie asked.

In addition to self-improvement, Finnie said she knew the assembled students had their eyes on the career at the end of their MBA journey, and offered a series of tips culled from her experiences rising in the ranks at Honeywell, General Mills and Johnson & Johnson.

Finnie said she initially sought some crowdsourced advice for job seekers, and offered the top 10 responses she received when polling her Facebook friends on career advice for the Class of 2017:

  1. Do your homework on the company and the job.
  2. Dress for success. First impressions matter.
  3. Network, network, network.
  4. Use firm handshakes and look people in the eye.
  5. Write a thank you note.
  6. Have at least three questions for the interviewer.
  7. Have an honest answer for the question, “What is your weakness?”
  8. Be persistent but don’t be annoying.
  9. Look for a good fit.
  10. Be yourself.


Deeming the list “solid,” albeit familiar, Finnie offered a list drawn from her own experience, which she said could be useful when building a meaningful career.

Finnie’s personal list, which she presented mixed with her story of pivoting from the dot-com bust to a first job at Honeywell to more meaningful and ultimately fulfilling stops at General Mills and Johnson & Johnson, included:

  1. Know your story.
  2. Stay resilient and agile.
  3. Trust your intuition.
  4. Experiences that inspire you may help clarify your passions.
  5. Discover your strengths and then focus on them.


Finnie added, “I can tell you that if you marry four and five — the intersection of figuring out what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about — you’d be downright lethal.”

The Johnson & Johnson executive offered one final list she promised could be useful as the Class of 2017 charted its future, that being the three items her seven- and five-year-old boys know as their jobs:

  • Work hard.
  • Learn as much as possible every day.
  • Be nice.

Said Finnie, “If you can take that top 10 list and land the job, if you can think about the five lessons over time to develop your career and add this in — it won’t hurt — you’ll be well on your way to a very satisfying career.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia