College students on the brink of graduation have many decisions to make about the future. As they step out into the wide world, one conundrum they might face is which job offer to accept: the one with the higher paycheck, or the one that more closely aligns with their goals?

As the president of EBR Energy LP in Sugar Land, Texas, Mark Ely ’83 what employers are looking for in new hires. He had some advice for Mays students from the other side of the desk, as well as from his past experiences being in their shoes.

EBR Energy LP president Mark Ely '83 writes down characteristics of an ideal employee during a brainstorming session with Mays management students.
EBR Energy LP president Mark Ely ’83 writes down characteristics of an ideal employee during a brainstorming session with Mays management students. (view more photos)

Ely spoke about the importance of having a plan, a flexible plan. He admitted when he left college, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. “It’s a good idea to make a list of things you want to accomplish, and then keep that list in mind when you go out looking for a job.” He went on to note that one of the biggest mistakes a young professional can make is choosing a job purely on the basis of income. Yes, Ely conceded, it’s nice to be able to live the lifestyle you want, but the most important thing is that you’re happy doing what you do. “Is this company going to help accomplish my goals? Do we have the same goals? Those are the questions you need to be asking,” Ely said as he compared job-hunting to relationships. In the same way people surround themselves with friends who have similar goals, they should also look for a company with goals that match.

Students asked Ely, how do you impress potential employers? Ely considered the question, then repackaged it and turned it back over to the students: “What do you think is going to be expected of you from your future employer?” As students spouted off characteristics of the ideal employee, Ely grabbed a marker and began making a list on the whiteboard. He talked about the merits of each of their answers, and then condensed the sizable list down to two main characteristics: communication and problem-solving skills.

Communicating effectively is one of the most important qualities EBR Energy looks for. “You can have a brilliant idea, but if you can’t communicate it effectively, then it won’t do anybody any good.”

When it comes to problem solving, Ely knows whereof he speaks: his business requires creative thinking daily to thrive in an ever-changing market. “The lifecycle for one of our projects is approximately five years,” Ely said as he talked about the significant investment that goes into problem solving and innovation. In all facets of business, an employer is going to want the most effective answer to a problem, not merely a right answer.

Though there are many concerns for young people in the workplace, the most important thing of all, Ely told students, is to remember that, “you are a unique individual with unique characteristics. Don’t let [corporations] change you.”