Nilam Patel (BA 2012, History)
Social Media Strategist at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT
Describe your current job role.
I currently work as the Social Media Strategist for Montana State University. I create content and manage top-level university accounts via various social media channels while continuing to build brand recognition and increasing our audience. I also help departments, colleges and student organizations with their brand alignment and social media strategies.
My job can be stressful at times but in general it’s a lot of fun. I get to engage with various audiences, promote university goals and resources and help students have a better experience at MSU! Social media is a great way to gauge university culture and we can bring MSU to thousands of alumni and supporters that don’t live in the area. It’s an exciting job and no two days are the same!
Tell us about an interesting project that you’ve worked on recently.
I recently worked on a Veteran’s Week ad campaign to showcase the University’s Veterans Center and all of the resources available to veterans on campus. It was truly a departmental effort as we had five videos, countless photos in addition to designing and coding a brand new Veterans Center website. The affinity that our students, faculty/staff and community members have towards MSU grew and it was heartwarming to see so many people share their stories of how MSU helped them or a veteran in their life. We also won a Bronze Case Award this fall for our work on that campaign, so that was a nice bonus!
What professional experience(s) did you have prior to your current position?
I was a part of the 2012-2013 Wake Forest Fellows cohort and it was an amazing experience. I was extremely lucky to work in Information Systems with Rick Matthews and I couldn’t have asked for a better first boss than Rick. I learned a lot – not just about technology and higher education but a lot about myself. Rick was great about preparing me for post-Fellows life. He was intentional about making me think about myself and where I wanted to be. The mentorship I received from Rick and the Fellows program was truly exceptional.
My current role at Montana State University is wonderful, and honestly, this is the job that made me realize what I want to pursue as a career. My job at MSU has given me a very clear understanding of what it means to work in higher education and specifically what type of work interests me. I love that I can make a difference in the lives of so many people through the University and it also gives me the opportunity to work in public relations/communications.
What do you know now that you wish you had known about being a working professional?
Confidence is key! Once I left Wake Forest, I suddenly lost all of my confidence. New coworkers didn’t know what I had done or what I was capable of, so I was very quiet and didn’t speak up. There are lots of articles out there that say that millennials are entitled and haven’t earned their place in the workplace, but I disagree. As long as you don’t have a lot of hubris, then most of your older coworkers will welcome your ideas and comments.
Also, make friends wherever you go and be kind to everyone! You’ll never know when a personal connection can help you get ahead in a project you’re working on or open a door for a new job. Also, a handwritten thank you note can go a long way!
How did Wake Forest prepare you for the world of work?
Wake Forest helped shape me into the person I am today by giving me a solid foundation and excellent leadership skills. I learned to work hard and to follow my passions. I distinctly remember hearing Zahir Rahman (’10) telling a young doe-eyed group of Student Government freshmen to “do whatever makes your heart beat the fastest” – and I still follow that advice. Volunteer for projects that you’re passionate about and you won’t even feel like you’re going into work. You’ll learn to love what you do and that will definitely shine through in your work.
Also, I can’t leave out the importance of Pro Humanitate. I loved my City of Joy trips and cherish those memories every day. I haven’t stopped volunteering – whether it’s through the Junior League, my local TEDx chapter, or BozemanSOUP – it’s in my blood and it just makes me happy. Giving back will help bring balance and perspective into your busy schedule and will allow you to make new friends and experience new things along the way.
What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional full-time job?
I decided to choose a theme for each post-Wake Forest year and they started when I moved to Montana. My first year out here, I chose to say yes to everything so I could experience new things and create a social circle in a new city. The second year, I wanted to only do what made me happy and to stop the constant cycle of overcommitting just because I wanted to please everyone. And my third year is going to be the year of me being a better friend and keeping in touch with loved ones. I would highly recommend that other young alumni think about choosing their own themes and/or setting these types of goals.
Additionally, a lot of Wake Forest graduates move to DC, New York City or Atlanta for their first professional jobs and while there’s nothing wrong with going to a big city, know that there are other opportunities for you in other cities (e.g. don’t pass up a great offer in Texas just because your best friends are all moving up to NYC together). Moving across the country to an unfamiliar place made me really appreciate my family and friends. You’ll make time to see your college friends and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t all move to the same city. All of this makes you appreciate your time at Wake Forest.
Have you been mentored by anyone in your professional field since entering the workforce? If so, what impact has that had on you?
It is hard to find mentors upon graduation and leaving Wake Forest. I recommend finding someone you admire professionally and learn as much as you can from them. And if you feel confident, ask to have a 20 minute meeting with them regarding advice on advancing within your field and how they got to where they are now. It doesn’t hurt to ask and it allows you to continue to gain professional development opportunities. That 20 minute meeting I had turned into a one hour monthly meeting where my mentor tasks me with various professional development challenges. I have a safe space to ask him how to navigate through University politics, resume builders, or even how to balance life outside of work. Plus, you’ll have someone to champion for you in the office!
Keep your mentors close! As someone who now works on the other side of higher education, I love it when former interns keep in touch and ask for career/life/professional advice. Another tip: buy The Defining Decade by Meg Jay and read it. It is truly an incredible book that will help ease some anxiety about leaving college and it will help you make the most out of your twenties.