"Know the Business"
Kathleen Weslock MILR '83 says her ILR degree and Cornell education helped pave the way for her professional success.
But, she cautions students to "check your ego at the door" when getting started in their careers.
"If you begin every sentence with 'I went to Cornell,' you won’t be in that job very long."
She shared her thoughts on having a successful and rewarding work life at the ILR Alumni Association's annual student career roundtables event Friday.
Weslock, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Cisco Systems, also advised students to "raise your hand" and volunteer to take on extra tasks that go beyond your job description.
"The best thing a boss can hear is, 'can I help you take something off your plate?' If you don't ask for something, you're not going to get it."
She learned that lesson well when she began her journey to ILR. Weslock was working for the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and met two ILR alumni, Eric Jensen '51 and Carl Behnke '61, both HR executives. They suggested that human resources might be a good career fit and recommended ILR.
Weslock said she was not accepted as an ILR master's student the first time she applied. She arranged a meeting with the school's dean, who told her to go to another school, get a 3.8 grade point average, and then "come back and see me."
She did just that – in fact, she earned a 4.0 – and after reapplying, she got into ILR with a full scholarship.
"There's gain in the pain," Weslock said. "You know how hard you have to work at ILR. If you think it's a cake walk, then try harder. You can probably do better."
Weslock told the students in the audience that they are "going into the workforce at a time that's a bit scary. You have a lot more to figure out than we did."
She urged them to pick an organization that they really want to work for and where they can really make a difference. A former HR executive at major firms including Deloitte and Sungard Data Systems, Weslock says she recently made the move to Cisco because she connects with the company's mission and it’s a "culture where I fit."
"We're on the verge of massive transformation in the tech business. I wanted to be part of the industrial revolution going on in Silicon Valley and work for a company that changes the way we work and play."
When asked about the challenges of rising to the top as a woman in the field, Weslock said there have been times when she felt like "people weren't hearing me. It's important to find your own voice and to know when you should, and when you shouldn't, make something an issue."
To advance in the field, she stressed, it's critical to know more than HR. "Know the business. When people meet me, I want them to think of me first as a business executive, and then as an HR executive."
"Have fun at what you're doing, and do what you love," Weslock added. "If you like what you're learning, you'll love what you do."