“All of you have been the recipients of a great gift, this remarkable education. But with any great gift goes the burden,” said Rob Neal, president of Hager Pacific Properties, to some 65 Thomas Aquinas College students at a Career Forum on Sunday in St. Bernardine of Siena Library. “It’s going to be incumbent upon you to make your way out there and to share these gifts with others.”
How those students will make their way — and share their gifts — was the subject of the on-campus forum, sponsored by the College’s Office of Career Advisement. Joining Mr. Neal on the dais was his wife, Berni, an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and member of the College’s Board of Governors ; the Board’s Vice Chairman, Scott Turicchi, president of j2 Global, Inc.; and his wife, Lannette, president of Falling Upward Productions.
“We invited the Neals and the Turicchis because they are excellent examples of successful professionals who place the fruits of their success in service of Christ, His Church, and His mission in the world,” said Robert Bagdazian, the College’s Director of Development and coordinator of its Parents’ Association. “Because of their close relationship to the College, they also have a deep appreciation for the value of our program  of Catholic liberal education, and they know how graduates can demonstrate that value to prospective employers.”
Mr. Neal, the first speaker of the day, encouraged students to be passionate and adventurous when seeking jobs. The question that is foremost in the thoughts of employers, he said, was: “How do my job candidates move this enterprise forward? How do they add value?” The College’s students need to answer those questions, he urged, by stressing that they have developed the ability to critically assess business situations and to devise novel solutions.
“When you meet these people — if you do your job correctly — you will lead them into probably the best hiring decision of their career, and that is to hire someone from Thomas Aquinas,” said Mr. Neal. “Why? Because you think about the world differently. You’re not thinking about just how to take the same old tried-and-true method and apply it to what may in fact be a very different situation. You’ve been taught to, as Tom Dillon  used to say, ‘unpack,’ and discover and discard and look at something fresh and new.”
Drawing on his personal experience, the next speaker, Mr. Turicchi, recommended that students maintain diverse interests and be open to unexpected opportunities. “You have to keep your skill set evolving. You have to keep your interests evolving,” he said. “If you do that, then you can be open to these things that might seem unusual, shocking, or surprising at the moment,” such as his first job, which was in investment banking — a field he had initially forsworn.
Following her husband, Mrs. Turicchi shared insights from her work in the entertainment industry. She offered tips for job interviews, such as always look the interviewer in the eye, offer a firm handshake, and follow up with a thank-you letter. “When you go to an interview, ask a lot of questions,” she added. “An interview goes both ways.” Above all, Mrs. Turicchi spoke of the need to keep God as the center of one’s professional life, including the virtue of tithing, even during the early stages of one’s career.
Ending the prepared portion of the presentation was Mrs. Neal, who focused on the importance of personal satisfaction in one’s career choice, advising students to ask themselves, “What would I be willing to do for free?” Echoing her fellow panelists, Mrs. Neal offered to help the College’s graduates with networking and job-search advice. “Get out there! There’s nothing to be afraid of. There are people like all of us who would be glad to help you,” she said. “You have pursued truth, you’ve understood it, you recognize it. Now we’re going to put you out into the world to magnify the truth that’s out there.”
The panelists then took questions from students and talked with them over refreshments. The students were interested and eager to speak — two hours after the initial presentation was over, some of them could still be seen chatting with the speakers in the arcade outside the library.
“I am thankful for the guidance of such respected business people as the Neals and the Turicchis,” said senior Andrea Florez. “It was a welcome opportunity to have time to speak with them and discuss my own personal plans for life after Thomas Aquinas College.” Added her classmate Alec MacIsaac, “It was energizing to hear what is possible from people that were in a similar position to what we are in now.” Nolan Napier, a fellow senior, took the day’s advice to heart. “They preached the truth,” he said. “If you want something, you work for it.”
Calling the event “a great success,” director of student services Mr. Kretschmer praised the Neals and the Turicchis for their time and generosity. “The value of this experience for our students is priceless,” he said. “Through their advice, they have given all who were here today a real sense of how best to put this education to use in choosing their careers and finding a job.”
The Career Forum was one of several such events  Mr. Kretschmer has planned for this year. This coming Sunday he will be holding a Career Strategies Workshop  on résumé writing and interview preparation.