The Power of Connections
Starting with self-awareness, Wendy Murphy teaches students how to build lifelong networks.
By Donna Coco
Students should do internships, believes Wendy Murphy, assistant professor of management. “They need to try things on,” she says. Networking, mentoring, self-awareness. All these skills and experiences, she says, are critical to succeeding in today’s changing workplace. Murphy knows. She has been there.
As a senior majoring in studio art and psychology with plans for graduate school, she worked for a firm that provided support to girls who weren’t faring well in high school. Over time, Murphy developed a client base of girls she regularly helped—child care for their babies, help with homework, jobs in the summer. But the work, although rewarding, turned out to be too emotionally draining. “I would work Mondays for 10 hours, and it would be Thursday before I felt emotionally whole again,” she says. “I became really attached to people. Grad school would give you a lot of training and skills around that, but I just felt like it would be too much as a career.”
Finding a job related to her second major of studio art seemed out of the question. As the oldest of four and on full financial aid, she didn’t think she could make enough money to pay for loans and the bills. Fortunately, Murphy graduated in a boom economy and was able to switch gears. She took a job in former department store Filene’s executive training program and became a buyer. “Retail had this combination of business and creativity that felt like a nice fit for me,” she says.
She loved it and stayed for five years. But thoughts of the future again turned Murphy in a new direction. “I got to know one of my bosses really well, and she was exactly 10 years older than me,” says Murphy. “I’m grateful to her to this day, because as much as I loved her, I looked at her and said, ‘I don’t want to be her when I’m 35.’” The frequent travel, relentless long hours, and a changing industry (stores such as Kohl’s and Gap were taking business from traditional department stores, says Murphy) prompted her to go back to school.
With plans to earn an MBA, she took a course from The Princeton Review to prepare for the GMAT. Unexpectedly, the company called Murphy and asked if she’d be interested in teaching Saturday classes (her high scores had piqued their interest). She decided to try it and found teaching suited her well. Still looking to apply to MBA programs, Murphy then visited a former psychology professor to ask for a recommendation. They talked for two and a half hours about career options. By the time she left the office, Murphy decided to apply for PhD programs and become a professor of organizational behavior (OB).
“It’s easy to see how the pieces fit together now,” she says. All her interests—psychology, business, teaching—could be wrapped into the one profession of teaching OB. But had she not connected with her former professor, who knew about Murphy’s past ambitions and took the time to ask questions and provide guidance, Murphy might have gone in a different direction.
Perhaps kismet played a part in Murphy’s future, but she now uses her knowledge of mentoring, self-awareness, and networking to help Babson students consciously shape theirs. For the MBA program, she teaches the “Managing Talent” signature learning experience, a weeklong intensive that prompts students to think about how they’re managing their careers, their talent, and other people’s talent. “There are these great moments in the class when students can increase their self-awareness and think about diversity in the classroom, not only in the traditional sense, but also in terms of behavioral styles and people’s preferences and perceptions at work,” says Murphy. “The class also gives students a chance to pause and think about their careers more holistically. At the end of the week, they come away with a career development plan.”
At the undergraduate level, Murphy sees her experiences and research, which focuses on developmental networks and mentoring, enhancing what she teaches in OB. Most students will hold three to five jobs by the age of 30, she says, which makes developing the skills needed to manage their careers that much more critical. “You need to have people helping you think about your career from both inside and outside of the organization,” she says, “and they should be at multiple levels. You should have someone higher up than you, peers, and someone from a different industry altogether who can give you perspective. So you’re thinking through, ‘What does an appropriate developmental network look like for me?’ And students should start this process in college.”
In addition to her classes, Murphy works with the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership as the coordinator of its mentoring program. Having developed a successful program while teaching at Northern Illinois University, Murphy knew that being exposed to mentors early on increases students’ abilities to develop beneficial professional connections, even outside of their formal mentoring relationships. “Those students are more willing to approach people, to ask questions, and to get feedback on career opportunities,” she says. She’s helping to make CWEL’s program easier to manage and more robust while extending it to more students.
On campus for almost two years now, Murphy feels she made the right move coming to Babson. “The students are just so interesting and engaged, smart and thoughtful,” she says. “And the student body is so diverse. When we’re talking about international culture in class, I have students who can share their experiences firsthand and challenge others’ perspectives in a way that you can’t simulate.”
She finds her peers equally diverse and enriching. “It’s hard to even explain to people until they get here and see what’s going on,” says Murphy. “I love Babson. I’m so lucky to be here.”