Engel discusses career advancement

Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, visited the Francis Marion University campus all day on Tuesday, Feb. 7. 

Dr. Engel has degrees from both Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin, teaching jobs at Yale University and Texas A&M; he was the author or editor on twelve books discussing United States history and politics; he has made appearances on many popular news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, as well as articles published by USA Today and the Washington Post.

Dr. Engel came to campus to talk to students primarily about their careers and how to adapt what they know to varying fields and better their resumes and outlooks as potential employees. He came with an abundance of information and wisdom to share, and he shared it throughout both class lectures and a lecture open to the whole school later on in the day. 

“I find myself doing a lot of things I never thought I would,” Engel says. “There are a whole lot of things we have to do throughout our careers that we never anticipate. In my opinion, a liberal arts degree, and a history degree, in particular, is really good training for doing well at things you can’t imagine what they will be yet. Most Americans, statistically, will have twelve jobs in six different careers, three of which have not yet been invented.”

Engel advised students to say yes to new opportunities that come their way but to stay professional and responsible about it. He encouraged students to step outside their comfort zones, yet still, avoid doing something wrong. 

“If I am asked a question that I don’t know specifically, that makes me uncomfortable, but I can talk about things that are informed that might relate to it,” Engel said. “If I am asked to say something that I don’t believe is true, that’s wrong. So I would be happy to do the former, and hopefully never do the latter.”

Engel was able to compare the philosophy to his own experiences.

“The more you can say yes and try new things, the more people realize you’re a reliable person and they are more likely to come back to you,” Engel said. “I’ve had producers tell me that a person is absolutely brilliant and a jerk to work with, so they don’t call them anymore.”

Starting one’s career can be challenging, however, and Dr. Engel took care to address this as well. 

“Just about everything can be overcome, with a combination of really good luck and really hard work,” Engel said. “You can’t control the luck, so all you can control is the work. This may mean that you work harder than everyone else and don’t succeed because you don’t get lucky, or maybe because there are structural impediments, but you can’t control those, all you can control is how hard you work.”

Another key component when starting one’s career is the amount of grunt work that will likely be performed. Engel was able to relate to this aspect through his history as a server. He also commented on how the grunt work was a necessary part of the process, and that it teaches people things that will be helpful knowledge when pursuing their careers.

Repeating to students to “keep going” even when things seem impossible, Dr. Engel provided insight into the basics of cultivating and maintaining a career. Mulling over the rough starts and big leaps we will all have to take to advance ourselves professionally, he attempted to convey the importance of perseverance within the journey to success. The big takeaway is to accept challenges and appreciate the hard work you will have to go through because those are the two biggest steps necessary to achieving your dreams, whatever they may be.