If you’ve never taken an Econ or business class, would you ever think you could one day successfully run a business? For many liberal arts and STEM majors the answer is, unfortunately, no. Careers in management, leadership, or operations are often thought to require specific training, but in reality, students from all majors and backgrounds can grow into successful managers and executives.
Many companies have recognized the value of hiring students from diverse academic backgrounds and have established programs that allow students to grow into their roles at the company based on their potential. One of these companies is McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company that hires students based on accomplishment and enthusiasm for learning and leadership potential. We spoke with two recent graduates who are currently working in Management Development at McMaster-Carr as well as McMaster-Carr’s Recruiting Manager about four tell-tale signs that graduates, regardless of background, can thrive in a leadership role.
1. You take initiative and want to make an impact.
Maybe you’ve never set foot in the business school at your university, but you’re the president of a campus organization or you regularly spearhead research on a topic you’re passionate about. Tracy, McMaster-Carr’s Recruiting Manager, says that one of the top signs of leadership potential is a willingness to take initiative and a desire to make an impact.
“Students can demonstrate management capability in many ways, even when they aren’t in a leadership role.” said Tracy. “We look for people that dig into topics or challenges and see opportunities to make a difference. They jump in, have ideas, and are resourceful and collaborative. They make great things happen.”
Audrey, a 2017 graduate of Williams College, supervises a team at McMaster-Carr that is responsible for merchandising products. She found that her experience running a campus group that operated a 24/7 phone hotline for sexual violence survivors established a foundation for the leadership and management skills she uses in her current role.
“In my interview, I was asked about managing those schedules, managing the students, and running the training,” Audrey said. “While I discussed my experience, I realized everything I did while running the group was directly applicable to this role.”
Think about what you have accomplished in that position or activity, not just your title. Anything that shows off your ability to take initiative or work with others could make you a great candidate for a company that offers a management track.
2. You enjoy working with people.
If you enjoy building relationships with others, you could be a great fit for a career in leadership, regardless of what you studied in school.
Denton, for example, graduated from Georgia Tech’s industrial engineering program in 2016 and is now the operations manager of a team responsible for packaging and shipping orders in one of McMaster-Carr’s distribution facilities. While in college, he did several engineering internships but realized it wasn’t exactly what he was looking for in a career.
“I decided from those experiences that I didn’t want to do pure engineering. I wanted to have a career that focused on people, not just the technical side,” he said.
Even with his technical background, Denton was interested in a company like McMaster-Carr because of how early in his career he would have the chance to manage people. If you’re drawn to people-focused careers like Denton was, look for management programs that allow you to work with people early on and that also place a particular focus on developing soft skills that will help you succeed as a leader.
3. You’re interested in gaining broad experience.
Great leaders often have a skill set that can transfer to running any kind of company, from tech to media to manufacturing. Many training programs take this approach and focus on empowering their employees with transferable skills that can be applied to any department. McMaster-Carr, for example, values generalists, and the company intentionally designs their training and promotional paths so that people gain experience across departments.
“They aren’t focusing on teaching you how to be an expert in sales or distribution,” said Denton. “They’re teaching skills like how do you coach someone, what does good work look like, how do you drive change?”
Every company will have a different approach to training their leaders, but developing a wide range of skills will serve you well no matter where you go. If developing a broad skill set sounds exciting to you, a career in management could be a great fit.
4. Learning excites you, whether it’s from classes, coworkers, mentors, or experience.
Having a passion for learning is one of the top signs that you could have a promising path to leadership, according to Audrey. She credits her alma mater, Williams College, for providing the building blocks necessary to learn the fundamentals of leadership.
“Being at a liberal arts school turns you into an expert on how to learn,” Audrey said. “I was terrified showing up to work and realizing I didn’t know how businesses were structured. But if all you bring is a desire to learn and ask questions, you will do just fine in a role like this.” She also credits “learning by doing” as an impactful part of growing into a manager, as much of the training for leadership roles happen through on-the-job experience.
“Coming from an engineering background, I’m strong with excel and formulas while others have strong writing skills” said Denton. “Because we all come from different backgrounds, there are opportunities to learn from your peers.”
If learning of any kind excites you, whether you learn from a fellow employee, a top executive, or from solving a problem your first day on the job, a career that helps you grow into a leader can be an extremely fulfilling one to pursue.
Do any of these signs resonate with you? If you take initiative, love to work with people, and want to learn as much as possible, consider looking for a company that is intentional about crafting paths to leadership. With or without a degree in business, there’s no doubt you can grow into a leader that can successfully manage a business.
Learn more about Management Development at McMaster-Carr here.