Arts alum and a manager at Microsoft Canada, Cheri Chevalier, told a group of students how and why arts-educated grads are invaluable in the workplace.
She should know. As the general manager of the Microsoft Office division, Chevalier credits her University of Waterloo Arts degree for her professional success.
“I feel passionately that the degree has been an anchor in my career,” she says. “I would not be where I am without that degree. There’s no way.”
From Waterloo, Chevalier holds a BA in English Rhetoric and Professional Writing and Applied Studies. Her degree included co-op and, in her final years, she worked as a co-op student for Microsoft Canada, giving her an excellent opportunity to help with marketing Microsoft Office and, later, Windows 95. After university, she was hired as on contract and, in 1997, became a full-time employee.
As the company grew more and more ubiquitous with the launch of Hotmail and MSN, Chevalier climbed the ladder, moving into management in the early 2000s. She returned to school to pursue a part-time MBA at Wilfrid Laurier University and, in 2011, she was promoted to Chief Marketing Officer. She has been named one of Marketing Magazine’s Top 30 Under 30 and was honoured with Microsoft’s Chairman Award, the top award given to employees globally.
As part of her role with Microsoft, Chevalier is especially interested in identifying new hires and co-op students with the breadth of skills developed in an arts education. “I look for the ability to communicate clearly, to have creative ideas and to be able to express those creative ideas in a way that inspires others to action,” she says.
Agility in a rapidly changing world is also tremendously valuable, something young people today often excel at, she says. “You don’t set plans at the beginning of your fiscal year and hold those in stone. The competitive landscape is constantly changing, and it is critical to be able to adapt and respond to the changes quickly and strategically.”
This February, 22 years since she graduated from Waterloo, Chevalier returned to speak at a career networking event for students. She urged students to pursue their passions and suggested they come up with an “elevator pitch” (to share this passion and the unique value they bring to the table), take the initiative to do more than what is asked at the office and, lastly, to network, network, network.
“Everyone knows someone. Your brother knows someone or your brother’s best friend’s parents knows someone. Magical things happen when you connect with other people.”
Chevalier ended her keynote by reminding students not to underestimate their abilities.
“I know that there is a lot of attention on computer science degrees, technology degrees and engineering degrees, but just as much as we need those skills in our company, we need arts degrees. We need thinkers, collaborators and communicators.”
This story was originally in Arts & Letters, winter 2017 issue.