“I would encourage you all to follow the same patterns of extracurricular activities that you have developed here as you progress on your career path."

— Sean Edwards, Senior Vice President - Credit Products Manager, Bank of America

We’ve heard of speed-dating style interviews, mob interviews, elevator pitch competitions, but what, exactly, is a meet-up?

Introduced fall term as part of the Fridays in Austin student engagement platform, meet-ups set our visiting alumni and industry partners on a solo conversational mission with a small group of students, either in a meeting room or in the community spaces within Austin Hall. The ideal number of students might be seven to nine participants, but could be as rowdy as twelve or as intimate as four.

The ideal conversation is dynamic, personal, and detailed. We’ll be honest, there is a chance that the format can be new for both students and our visitors, but in the end it will be impactful and memorable. In order to help the process along, we have created a highlights reel with finance alumnus Sean Edwards, ‘01, senior vice president - credit products manager, Bank of America, and the students he talked to at his meet-up while back in Corvallis for Fridays in Austin.

Edwards, with a long career in investment banking and customer-forward models, is a seasoned networker and handled the 50-minute format with ease. He met students from as near as Happy Valley, Oregon, and as far as Pakistan and Kenya and shared advice to advance a career and his expertise in banking.


Tip one: Come with your typical “ice breakers” handy — be prepared for compelling answers — and be prepared to keep driving the conversation.

Edwards: Why did you choose Oregon State University?

Student 1: I grew up in Happy Valley, and I just picked the closest college.

Student 2: I am an international student, and my sister already goes here. My parents didn’t want to fly all over the place.

Student 3: I am from California, and I didn’t want to go to U of O, because there’s too many Californians there already.

Edwards: Why did you come to this meet-up?

Student 1: Oh, it’s for class credit.

Tip two: Tell the students stories about the “olden days” and how tough things used to be.

Edwards: So, I was a graduate in 2001, before Austin Hall was built. I and all my alumni are very jealous of the facilities you have here. I did my first two years at a community college, and then I came here to finish my degree. You know, at the College of Business the technology was always ahead of the curve. Fifteen to eighteen years ago — we students had email accounts, and we were doing PowerPoint presentations.  When I went to work in banking we had our own computers — we could do word processing, but we didn’t have internet at our computers.

We’d have to go check our email at a kiosk halfway around the floor, and everyone was fighting for internet time, and it was dial-up speed. I thought, ‘this is ridiculous; this is a corporation making billions of dollars a year and I had better technology at Oregon State than I have here. About a year later things got better, but you are lucky to have this great space in Austin Hall.

Tip three: Talk about your career path in ways that students can relate.

Edwards: I would encourage you all to follow the same patterns of extracurricular activities that you have developed here as you progress on your career path, too. When I was at Oregon State I was involved in a fraternity, and the finance and investment club. I got involved outside of what I had to do in school. When I got to the working world it was pretty easy to follow the same patterns because I was already used to these kind of things. That’s networking professionally. Seattle and Portland have a very developed professional network for the business community.

For the last ten or twelve years, I’ve done a lot of non-profit board work which was really driven out of being a banker and a relationships manager. This has been a great training ground to help my career progress in terms of being a good manager, and also in terms of to be able to sympathize with our clients outside of the table and understand all the different things they are having to address. Whereas being a banker I am just focused on making loans and deposits and being risk focused.

If I think then about my professional career, some of the best connections I have made and held through my career have come from doing things outside my work life, and it is a pattern I learned here.

Tip four: a) Absolutely take time to address a “day in the life” of, in this case an investment banker, and what you did that helped you career, and b) offer the best advice you have on the current market demands.

Edwards: a) I’ve had a whole career in banking. I started right out of college in a training program. When I was a senior, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. A professor encouraged me to look at the commercial banking training program … So the training program allowed me to dive right in and use the accounting skills and the finance skills I had gotten in undergrad and targeted them towards a banking career.

It was a good overview of banking itself and how a bank lends money and the regulatory environment. The training included a “tour of duty.” I worked the teller line for a week; I worked mortgages for a week. I did international for about a month, the letters of credit, and foreign exchange — so all the things a bank can do …

I am on my 17th year of this — I now work for Bank of America. This is the fourth bank I’ve worked for, and each bank has been a little bit different.

b) I think that obviously being comfortable with numbers is an asset. There’s a lot of people who aren’t technically proficient, so those are always limiting factors to their careers. But you can also have a limiting factor if you are just focused on numbers. One of the things I think is extremely important is the soft skills — interpersonal skills, public speaking, and writing. Business, in general, is about doing business with other people and if you can develop your career that has strong technical aspects and strong personal aspects, you’ll go far in the world.

People skills — especially in banking, we see a lot of one or other. There’s only probably 10 -15 percent of people who have both the technical skills and the soft skills, and those are the ones that tend to move up into the bigger circle.

Tip five: If, during the Q&A part of the conversation, you press the students to ‘ask you anything; anything is on the table,’ be prepared to answer.

Student 1: You say you had to switch banks twice in your career, and it wasn’t your decision? What is the job market for banking? Is it typically that volatile?

Student 2: How do you think this huge wave of automatization is going to affect us?

Student 3: So what do you think of the trend for isolationist policies?

Student 4: Do you think it’s wise for Congress to pass such a huge tax reform?

Tip six: If you really impress the students, you may get a question like this:

Student 5: Do you think it would be wise for the government to go after private companies, like Bank of America executives like you, and recruit their best employees to help get us out of this debt?

We want to thank Sean Edwards for allowing us to eavesdrop on his student meet-up and to share excerpts of their conversation. Please visit This Week in Business for a full listing of events we have planned each term, and get in touch with our External Relations team to get involved. You can fill out an online form to describe your interests, or directly email to start a conversation on how you’d like to help.