How I Experienced the Importance of Mentoring First-Hand

by Arianna Weling, Seton Hall University | September 13, 2021

One of the first things I get asked when I tell people that I’m studying business in college is, “What do you want to do?” The problem with that question is: 1) I have absolutely no idea what I want to do or where to start and 2) I have no idea how to find out what I want to do, given I am only entering my junior year of college. For me, I usually learn by testing different things out; therefore, when I started my internship search, I wanted to have the opportunity to see, hear and try multiple areas of business. Fortunately, I had a mentor through Seton Hall University’s Buccino Leadership Institute — Merryl Richards, former executive director at the New Jersey Society of CPAs (NJCPA) — who helped guide me through this perplexing process. After a few months of searching, she suggested that I look more into associations, specifically, the NJCPA.

Initially, I had absolutely no idea what an association did. Of course, I knew of the basic responsibilities and mission, such as to bring people together for a certain cause, goal or objective, yet I failed to have a greater and deeper understanding of what exactly associations truly do.

To find out, she connected me with Don Meyer, the chief marketing officer of the NJCPA. Upon setting up a meeting, I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued at hearing more insight into the association’s role and presence. Not only did he share his experience working with the NJCPA, but he also shared insight into his own career journey; thankfully, and reassuringly, it wasn’t exactly linear. By the end of our meeting, I was both excited and confident that working for an association like the NJCPA would give me the opportunity to truly immerse myself in the world of business and, potentially, even find a future career path.

Within a few weeks, I applied for the position and was ecstatic to officially become a summer 2021 marketing intern for the New Jersey Society of CPAs.

Week 1

During my first week, I could not help but be absolutely mesmerized by just about everything that the office had to offer. In fact, on my very first day, I was greeted with gifts, friendly faces and my very own cubicle and badge. Truthfully, this was my very first glimpse into the business world working as a business “professional.” Granted, I use the term “professional” lightly, considering the first thing I wanted to do was to decorate my cubicle!

I walked around the office and found myself falling in love with the atmosphere and culture. Although not everyone was able to come to the office on the same days due to the pandemic, I still got an incredible glimpse at the culture here at NJCPA and, presumably, for most smaller associations. Everyone welcomed me with a warm smile and friendly demeanor. It became apparent to me almost immediately that working in a close-knit environment where everyone knows one another, and where birthdays are not only acknowledged but even celebrated, was something I strived to have in the future.

I cannot believe how much I’ve learned already in just a week with the NJCPA! I may not know just exactly the type of job I want yet, but I do know that I hope to work somewhere with a company culture as welcoming and close as the NJCPA — it truly makes all the difference in brightening any workday and changing the entire day’s dynamic and outlook.

Week 2

During the second week, I found myself slowly acclimating to everything in the office. I started to familiarize myself with the commute, hours and where everything is in the office. It was comforting to feel like I was fitting in — I enjoy coming back to my cubicle and see my stuff laid out just like I had left it.

My wonderful mentor, Merryl Richards, came to visit me this week. As she walked in the office, it was amazing to watch her contagious energy and spirits lift the room. She knew nearly everyone in the office and cheerfully greeted everyone with a warm smile and friendly demeanor. It is no surprise that the company culture is the way it is, considering the individuals here take the time to build genuine connections and relationships with their coworkers.

As a woman in business, having a mentor, friend and guide is so incredibly beneficial and important. During my internship search, I was so lucky to have Merryl help me during the process and address some questions or concerns, such as “Do I want to work for a small or large company?” and Would I like to have fixed or variable compensation?” Therefore, I knew that I wanted to find another mentor this summer who could help ease the transition from full-time student to working business “professional.”

My manager, Heather Shostack, quickly appeared as the guide and confidant that I had been looking for. She arranged a few meetings this week and gave me some incredible career advice and guidance, such as her path out of college, numerous different jobs, and, finally, how she landed her position here. Hearing her path and journey was fascinating; she had previously worked as a marketing manager in different companies and even worked as a marketing consultant — a potential job path I am interested in. Similar to Don, her career journey hadn’t been linear, and she reassured me that she needed to have multiple different jobs before she found out what she wanted to do and what she liked doing.

Having these conversations are irreplaceable; sometimes, I feel like just about everyone at my age has this idea or plan for their career. It’s discouraging to feel confused and unsure, especially halfway through college. In fact, lot of my friends and classmates have their lives planned out up until what age they hope to retire. Yet, after hearing Heather’s and Don’s experiences, I not only feel reassured but also excited and proud to have absolutely no clue! Being unsure now only means I have endless opportunities and chances to venture off into different areas and eventually find the one that fits me the most. I feel myself growing immensely and it has only been two weeks — I cannot wait but see the type of person I grow into within the next eight.

Week 3

This week I had the chance to see first-hand just how quick-paced and fast-adapting the business world is. I had the opportunity to watch the filming of IssuesWatch Live broadcast, a program that offers up-to-date information about legislative, regulatory and national issues affecting CPAs and businesses in New Jersey. I couldn’t help but feel afraid that I would knock something over or sneeze and subsequently ruin the live broadcast. Fortunately, I did not; yet I had a glimpse at the team’s management of a slight dilemma that had arose.

During the broadcast, it seemed that the agenda was running slightly behind schedule, and with less than 10 minutes left in the program, there was over three pages left in the script. I wondered if the chief operating officer, Theresa Hinton, who was the program moderator, would start to increase her pace and rush to finish everything. I remembered thinking, “How did the last hour of the broadcast just slip by?” To my delight, however, the team had already planned for the possibility of this problem arising. Calmly and confidently, the producer adjusted the script on the fly, and the rest of broadcast proceeded without any blips and ended smoothly and on-time.

I sat in awe at just how quickly the team had pivoted and avoided mistakes or blips. For me, I sat there stressed and nervous, yet the team remained calm and collected — it was admirable and refreshing. This was my first glimpse at slight adversities in the workplace, and the way it was averted was stimulating. The team’s demeanor and calm disposition, despite running behind schedule, is the exact mentality I would love to adopt eventually.

Weeks 4 and 5

I sat through my first department meeting this week. It was incredible to see how all the future plans and projects were facilitated, discussed and prepared. I sat there patiently taking notes and listening to each and every team member contribute and the way they bounced ideas off one another. Everyone was encouraged to contribute, which I know is something I want to have in my future job. Having a voice and feeling empowered to participate breeds more productivity, as demonstrated in the department meeting. The proactivity within the NJCPA is truly astonishing — they continue to plan, pivot and adapt.

I also got a chance to see how marketing worked together with the other departments within the association. I enjoyed seeing the ins-and-outs of departments, such as communications, education, etc. Although I may not pursue careers in those fields, seeing the way they interface with marketing is truly incredible. I got the opportunity to see what an association truly does in each and every sector, which is another perk of working in a smaller company. I can have multiple different mentors and receive insight into the responsibilities and role each department has.

Weeks 6 and 7

I started a project conducting research on past scholarship winners. Several of them now work for incredible accounting firms and a few of them even moved up the ranks within their companies. It was refreshing and encouraging to see how those scholarship winners have transcended the same very skills they acquired during their undergraduate years at college into successful jobs and careers. In just five years, most of them made the shift from a full-time college student into a full-time employee seamlessly.

I love hearing about the diverse experiences and jobs that those around me have had prior to their current position. I am about halfway through my internship, and I don’t quite know what I want to do yet, but I know that I am getting a glimpse into many different opportunities, which will ultimately help me navigate what I can see myself doing in the future. A few weeks ago, I was feeling discouraged that I had not yet figured out what my future career looked like. But today, I am happy that I do not know just yet.

Weeks 8 and 9

I had the incredible opportunity to work one-on-one with the senior graphic designer, Diane Espiritu, this week to brainstorm ideas and see those ideas come to life. Initially, I was worried that my ideas were childish or not up-to-par. However, she reassured me that my ideas were not only valued, but also essential for understanding the best way to market towards my generation, Gen Z.

As I began researching trendy ads and marketing campaigns, it felt exhilarating to feel in charge, powerful and important. This experience truly felt as if it was giving me a glimpse into a potential career opportunity and path. By the following week, I was able to see my research transcend into something bigger: finding sample pictures and creating a “mood board” for the actual event marketing. I felt like a true business professional responsible for conducting research and seeing that research transform into something greater. They treat me with incredible respect — I feel myself flourishing everyday as a much more mature, experienced individual.

As my time with NJCPA continues, I am so grateful to see how every week I am learning something new about the business world. I get to sit in during meetings, acquire leadership experience, hold myself accountable and responsible, while simultaneously learning more about the career I would like to have some day.

Final Week

During my final week, as I finished up some projects, I took a moment to stop and reflect on the person I have transitioned into during the past 10 weeks. Physically, I look the same, but mentally, I feel much more mature and ready for the real world…in two years. Nonetheless, my time at the NJCPA has taught me so much about the type of worker I would like to be, different roles and responsibilities of associations, proactivity, business, conflict management, company culture and, above all, future career aspirations and goals I would not only like to have but fulfill.

I remember when I first started, I had no idea what to expect. I worried about small things, such as where I was working, handling the workload, what to wear, what to talk about with my coworkers, expectations, etc. Now, I can look back and reminisce on just how tiny those worries seem and how much more confident and ready I have become over the past 10 weeks.

I truly feel empowered and confident from working here. I learned so much about myself and business from not just observing, but also participating — I even sat in on a meeting featuring marketing and communications representatives from other state CPA societies! I learned what it means to not only exhibit professionalism, but to embody it. I gained valuable hands-on experience mentoring and insight that will be utilized every single day up until the day I retire.

Arianna C. Weling

Arianna C. Weling

Arianna Weling is a student at Seton Hall University. She interned at the NJCPA during the summer of 2021.

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