“You have the gift of being able to look at the world a little bit differently,” said Tim Ristoff, founder and CEO of TriVista Business Group, to an audience of Thomas Aquinas College students at a Career Forum this past Sunday in St. Bernardine of Siena Library. “That’s going to make you unbelievably successful, should you elect to go into the business world.”
How the College’s students can get started in that world — and how they can best showcase the gift of their liberal education in job interviews — was the subject of the afternoon forum, sponsored by the College’s Office of Career Advisement. Over the course of two hours, the students received expert advice and strong encouragement from a panel of four distinguished business leaders with deep ties to the College.
“When you really think about the most successful companies out there — Microsoft, Google, eBay, or GE — there wasn’t any particular engineer that developed that creative, innovative new product,” said Mr. Ristoff. “There was a group of people that thought differently, that observed the world from a different perspective, that were keenly aware of the way people interacted. That didn’t come from somebody reading it out of a textbook, and that’s what you have.”
Joining Mr. Ristoff on the dais was his wife, Laura, a longtime human-resources manager in the real-estate development sector; Donald Swartz, president of Quest Property Corporation and a member of the College’s Board of Governors; and his wife, Rita, director of development for the Little Sisters of the Poor in San Pedro. The panelists each presented brief talks, focusing on ways students can prepare for a job interview, respond to interviewers’ questions, and demonstrate the value of a liberal education in the workplace.
Advice and Affirmation
The first speaker of the day, Mr. Swartz, set the tone for the afternoon by discussing the job interview, which he likened to both “the hurdle and the gateway” to one’s desired employment. He encouraged students to know what they want in a job, to brush up on their accounting and computer skills, and to “speak in short, declarative sentences” at their interviews.
“What do you really have to offer a company?” Mr. Swartz asked. “For graduates of Thomas Aquinas, it’s a list of virtues” — reliability; analytical skills; coachability, stewardship (“you know how to be accountable and transparent”), deliverables (“you know how to convert a conversation into a concise, legible, transmittable note or memo”), and candor. “You believe there is truth,” he told the students. “And you’re willing to search for it and find it.”
Following her husband, Mrs. Swartz described how her career began in mathematics, then shifted to computers, followed by marketing and, after some time off to raise her children, culminated in fundraising for Catholic causes. “While you are discerning your dream, be flexible, because your dream will change throughout your lifetime,” she advised. “Observe yourself as you grow, know your strengths and weaknesses, fill in skills as you go, keep learning, have fun, and most of all keep a positive attitude and a positive approach.”
The next speaker, Mrs. Ristoff, observed that “a great interview is what makes the difference between a job candidate and being hired.” The keys to a successful interview, she continued, are researching the company beforehand, asking intelligent questions, and learning about the culture of the company and what qualities it seeks in its employees.
“During your interview process you will need to be able to articulate the skills you have developed here at Thomas Aquinas,” Mrs. Ristoff continued. “These are what will set you apart from all other candidates: your strong analytical skills; your ability to solve problems, to look at ideas from different positions, understand them and find solutions; your ability to effectively formulate, present, and defend your positions; your strong ethics; your determination to do the right thing; and how your experience in small discussion groups has helped you to develop your oral and presentation skills.”
Ending the prepared portion of the presentation was Mr. Ristoff, who likewise stressed that employers value ethical workers. “Thomas Aquinas College epitomizes ethics, and when you are in your interview, if you do not properly articulate why you came here and how your value system grounds you in everything you do, I will tell you right now you are foolish,” he said. “At the end of the day, when employers have a challenge, when we have an issue that arises, we want to know: Are you going to do the right thing?” In conclusion, Mr. Ristoff told the students, “You absolutely are primed to be great leaders, and I know we would all love to help you be successful.”
The panelists then took questions from students and talked with them over refreshments. The students were interested and eager to speak — long after the initial presentation was over, some of them could still be seen chatting with the speakers in the arcade outside the library.
“The advice the Ristoffs and Swartzes gave will be very beneficial in my career search after graduating from the College,” said sophomore Peter Covington. “It was reassuring to hear that my education will be very applicable in the business world, and it was instructive to see how I can apply my skills in business.” Added senior John Paul Gerrard, “The panelists gave clear examples of how the education at TAC will benefit the students in their careers.”
Calling the event “a great time together for everyone,” the College’s Director of Development and coordinator of its Parents’ Association, Robert Bagdazian, praised Mr. and Mrs. Ristoff and Mr. and Mrs. Swartz for sharing their wisdom and expertise with the College’s students. “Tim, Laura, Don, and Rita have an extensive executive history,” he said. “They also have a real understanding of the College. The Ristoffs’ son Brandon is a sophomore, and the Swartzes are actively involved through Don’s work on the Board of Governors. So they were a perfect fit, combining practical business experience with a deep appreciation for the College’s unique educational approach and faithfulness.”
The Career Forum was one of several such events that the Office of Career Advisement has planned for the year, including upcoming talks about medicine and media, and a workshop on résumé writing and interview preparation.