How Undergrad Prepared Me for a Job in Procurement… Or Not

After a series of job fantasies ranging from astronaut to music producer, I finally settled on the ever ambiguous “businessperson.” Armed with my vague declaration of wanting to go into business upon finishing college, I chose to attend Northwestern University, a school with a renowned business program, though not available to undergraduates (whoops). Instead, I chose to study the next best thing, according to my parents: Economics. Now, because I wanted to still cling to some level of individuality, I also chose to major in Spanish with a concentration in Portuguese. 

Economics at Northwestern was no joke; to get an A, you either had to have a natural talent, or spend all your time in the library. Neither of those applied to me. I worked hard enough to maintain a mediocre GPA within my Economics courses, learning vague theories on how world economies supposedly function, none of which I could explain today. Northwestern’s focus on the theoretical certainly prepared economists for grad school, but I can’t say they did much for my procurement skills. 

Unlike Economics, I find that I use a lot of what I learned throughout my time with the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Yes, to some extent I use my language skills when negotiating with suppliers in Latin America, but throughout those classes, I learned quite a bit that practically applies to what I do today. In one class, Spanish for Business, we learned how to interview in Spanish and translated our resumes. In another, we worked with Brazilian students and practiced both informal and formal writing. Through my study abroad experience in Brazil, I left the comforts of my native language and country, and attended university with Brazilian students, spoke only Portuguese, and came back with a newfound confidence in public speaking (once you spend 10 minutes trying to order ground beef from a butcher, but only know the phrase “beef well cut,” doing anything in your native tongue is a piece of cake).

First and foremost, these non-business learning experiences proved useful once the formal interviewing process started. As I glanced around me, all the Econ students seemed to be stressed about how they could come off as clear and concise while thinking on the spot, and some seemed to be affected by the high pressure situation. For me, I was able to see interviews through a different lens: I knew I had made it through much more stressful situations before unscathed, and because the interviews were in my native tongue, I knew that I wouldn’t be stumbling over words as I tried to recall the perfect one, which happened more than I’d like to admit while in Brazil. This confidence and unflappability during unpredictable and stressful situations served me well in interview settings, as well as prepared me for daily life as a Procurement consultant.

After being hired as a consultant, I find that my previous learnings in my Spanish and Portuguese degrees translate directly into my daily work life. Negotiating a major telecom audit deal to save a client millions of dollars? Not a problem! Many months of haggling (in Portuguese, nonetheless!) at the fruit market in Brazil prepared me for this very moment. I walk into the conference room, palms and armpits completely dry, and manage to walk out with a fee reduction which means even more savings for my client. Trying to explain the nuances of a complex fleet deal? No sweat! I recall my days in Spanish class, trying to understand the complicated text and subtext of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and then put myself to work to create a digestible deck for my stakeholder. Afterwards, my client tells me she has never seen such an eloquent description of a corporate fleet program.

Looking back, the best decision I made in college was to branch out of the typical “business” track, and go with my passion for learning languages. I am able to directly apply my language skills when I work with clients, which both makes the interaction easier for them, but also impresses them and makes them look at Proxima in an even better light because we took the time and effort to connect with them, in their own language.

Overall, I don’t regret my Economics degree in the slightest; after all, seeing an Economics degree from a top university always seems to catch peoples’ eyes. However, I feel that the value my Spanish and Portuguese degrees gave me is truly what helps me excel today in my consulting position. I gained from them a confidence I never knew I had, a passion for learning, and a sense of curiosity that translates to my job every single day.