“Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
This series highlights young professionals and their stories, because no matter our path we all have a little to share and a lot to learn. Read and learn from past feature posts HERE.
This series has allowed me to share a variety of different people, but my favorite is when I get to share the stories of my closest friends, and today is one of those days. This is Brandi, one of my very best friends. We met early on in college, but I don’t think we became good friends until sometime during her sophomore year and my junior year. We were in the agriculture communications department and ambassadors for the College of Agriculture, but truthfully, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that our whole friendship was originally built on sarcasm, watching The Bachelor and Sonic happy hour.
Brandi’s story is a great example of being open to opportunities that come our way and placing value in being a lifelong learner. Brandi is hard working, creative and has a knack for detail. She’s fiercely loyal, whether its her people or something that is really important to her. What I probably appreciate most about Brandi, both as a friend and a fellow professional, is that she understands the give and take of relationships. I know that I can rely on her listen and then trust that she is going to know what I need to hear in that moment. I hope you enjoy reading her story.
Name: Brandi Herman
Hometown: Hill City, Kansas
College: Kansas State University
Degree(s): BS in Agricultural Communications and Journalism
Current Location: Manhattan, Kansas
Current Job: Global Product Communicator for Caterpillar
Background Story: I grew up on a farm south of Hill City, Kansas. We currently have around 125 cow-calf pairs that we run. My Dad also plants wheat, milo, and alfalfa. I think that living in a small town with 1,500 people helped prepare me for interacting with people later on in life. I was a waitress while in high school and quite frankly, just enjoyed talking and relating to people. Also, I believe being the oldest of 4 kids and being very Type A explains the type of strengths that have helped me get where I am today.
How did you choose your college and your major?
I had an incredible ag teacher in high school who, without a doubt, helped guide me to where I am today. Toward the end of my junior year of high school, he encouraged me to start looking at colleges and different programs I might like. At State FFA Convention, I read a brochure for the Ag Communications program at K-State. I remember thinking, “this is exactly what I want to do”, and that was that. If you told my 12-year-old Jayhawk self that I would only apply to one college and it would be K-State, I would have never believed you. Honestly, I didn’t even go on a campus visit until after I had been accepted and had already put a deposit down on my dorm room. I was also a statistical anomaly that never changed my major while I was in college.
What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships?
I never wanted to be overextended in college as I had been in high school. As a freshman, I took a break from being involved and just got used to being in college. Once I was a sophomore, I took the necessary steps to becoming an Ag Ambassador. At that point, I knew K-State was my home and I loved having the chance to talk to students and parents about all the different options and opportunities the College of Ag has to offer. Not to mention all the cool cats (no pun intended) I met in Ag Ambassadors. Some of my very best friends I made in college came from being in Ag Ambassadors.
I took an internship with Cargill between my junior and senior year. Internships are a good opportunity to explore something you might be interested in, but aren’t sure it’s the career path you want to take. That’s how my internship story went. It wasn’t a bad experience, but during that summer I found out that I didn’t like being so far away from home. This really helped me focus my job search and definitely helped me avoid a situation later on where I wouldn’t have been happy being so far away from family.
What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change?
High school was relatively easy for me. I never really had to sit down and study before a big test, which was the biggest change I experienced when I went to college. It definitely took a while before I felt like I knew what the most effective ways for me to review and absorb material were. If I could change one thing, it would be to apply myself more in that area and to get better grades.
What one piece of advice would you give a student during their senior year?
If you interview for a job and your gut is telling you it isn’t right for you, follow your instinct.
I was offered two jobs before graduation and I ended up turning both of them down. One was in Kansas City and would’ve been exactly what my degree prepared me to do, but when I interviewed and met some potential co-workers it didn’t feel like a good fit for me. The other job was more of a sales position and would’ve been further away from home than I wanted to be. So when graduation rolled around and everyone asked where I was headed, I got embarrassed when I had to answer, “back to Mom and Dad’s for a while until I figure things out”. Less than a month after graduation I had already accepted my current job. They didn’t need me to start until September, so I got to spend 3 months on the farm helping my dad and hanging out with my family. The time on the farm was priceless and to be honest, I probably won’t have that kind of an extended vacation from work until retirement.
Tell us about your career so far?
I started working for Caterpillar in September of 2014. Most of my responsibilities at that point were for the layout and upload of customer and dealer-facing media for Work Tools (things that go on the front of an excavator or wheel loader; buckets, hammers, etc.). While I mostly did layout work, some of what we do is take the words from product engineers and expertise from field specialists and morph that into customer messaging. My first two years were spent mostly doing that type of work. Last year, I had the opportunity to work on a data project. At first I was skeptical about how much I could bring to the table for this particular project. I had convinced myself I was bad at numbers because I was never good at or liked math. The project I worked on exposed me to creating data sets and connecting them together using Access, which I have really enjoyed learning. Part of that joy comes from it being a new challenge, but the other part I believe comes from having a very linear thought process. This has helped me understand how the data should relate, connect, and flow easier than I would’ve ever imagined. My job role changed a little bit at the end of last year. I will become less of a content manager and more of a content creator that is closer to touch points with our customers, but am excited for what new challenges will come my way.
How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad?
As much as I despised group projects in college, they are the reality of my workplace. Some group projects were in classes specific to my major, which wasn’t bad because the people were all similar-minded. Other group settings were in electives where there was the token no-show person and someone who can’t stand if they aren’t in charge of everything. Unfortunately, the latter is a more likely setup for real life even if it is an extreme example. Working with people from different disciplines was better practice for the real world.
On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges or differences you’ve experienced post grad that you didn’t expect or didn’t feel prepared for?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is learning the difference between doing something myself because it is easy versus taking the time to teach others and enable them to have the same capabilities. When I started working on the data-centric project, learning the basics of Access wasn’t hard for me. At that point, I would hear a problem and understand quickly how the data needed to be set up. What took me some time was having the patience to let others learn about it at their own pace so they could be comfortable using the data.
What apps, technology and resources do you use regularly to stay organized and do your job?
When it comes to staying organized, I’m old school pen and paper. To do lists are my jam and I really like to see a whole month laid out in front of me. At work, I have a plain notebook I take notes in and write down other thoughts and questions. To me, there’s something satisfying and complete about being able to physically check something off your list.
At this stage, what are a few of your strengths and weaknesses?
Since I started my job and had to figure out how to budget, plan, and organize a household on my own, those same attributes became stronger at work too. Patience has been a consistent weakness I’ve had to deal with.
How do you stay motivated when work gets really busy or difficult?
I’ve always said that I’d rather go to work and have a million tasks on my to do list than be bored. Part of how I stay motivated is to have the feeling that I’m earning my paycheck and not just going to work to collect it. When things get busy and start to feel out-of-hand, I never hesitate to ask for a priority. For the days that are difficult and stick with you because of a person or project you had to deal with that didn’t go your way, there is always wine and massages.
Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed?
The supervisors I’ve worked for so far have been strong advocates of work-life balance. I believe in going to work and doing the best job I can while I’m there and then going home to enjoy my time with my boy and the corgi. There’s a balance to staying late one day to finish a project up, but then recognizing a day you may need to leave early if you’re feeling tired or sick. We also have a flexible time policy at work too, so if you want to get all of your 40 hours in the first 3 days of the week you can. Sometimes I try to front load my week with extra hours so the last two days are shorter. This allows me to have time to run errands or just me time. Plus, I’m not one to pass up time to get some snuggles from my favorite little doggo.
What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about?
So from a hobbies perspective, I’m really trying to get back into reading. There’s a point in college where you are reading so much for school, the desire to read for leisure doesn’t sound leisurely anymore. I heard a great quote that has stuck with me. “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” My goal this year is one or two books a month, some for learning and some for fun. Right now I’m in the middle of the first Game of Thrones book.
Just for Fun
What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right?
When I was growing up my Dad would make breakfast for me. To this day I still need something of substance to get me going in the morning. My go-to is a sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich on mini bagels or English muffins and a cup of coffee
Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace?
Chapstick. Hand lotion. Purple Beats headphones. Podcasts.
If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be?
I fell in love with working in InDesign in college. I think I still would’ve chosen a career path where I was designing, but more creative and less technical than what I do now. Prior to this job, I never knew I liked working with data and numbers so nothing in that realm would’ve been on my radar before now. OR I would be an organizer working for The Home Edit #dreamjob
Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college?
In college, I lived with some of my best friends I made in the College of Agriculture. Next door was a house full of my best friends from high school. Having all of my friends so close and being able to drop by between classes or everyone hanging out on Grey’s Anatomy night was the absolute best.
Thanks for being my guest today Brandi! I miss these days!