As a part of this week’s Graduate Student Newsletter’s focus on Finance-related industries and careers, we caught up with Collin Drat, O’Neill MPA alumnus from 2012. Collin is currently a Project Manager at Raftelis in Kansas City, Missouri. Raftelis is one of three highlighted employers in this week’s newsletter. Take a look at Collin’s best practices and advice for O’Neill students.
Education: Wheaton College (BS, 2010), O’Neill (MPA, 2012)
Can you tell our students a little bit about yourself and the work that you do?
I am a project manager in Raftelis’ Kansas City office. Raftelis provides financial and management consulting services to utilities and local governments. Project managers lead teams of consultants who work on 6 to 12 month consulting engagements for our clients. My work focuses on financial consulting, principally for municipally owned water, wastewater, electric and natural gas utilities. A typical engagement involves the development of long-term strategic financial plans which help our clients understand how to fund the critical services they provide in a manner that is equitable and financially sustainable.
What did your professional journey look like from college to your position today?
My undergraduate degree was in International Relations, a focus that I had planned to continue during my MPA program at the O’Neill School. That said, as began my coursework, working with local government, and utilities specifically, really captured my imagination. A fellow graduate student observed my interest in municipal utilities and suggested I reach out to Raftelis. I applied for an Associate Consultant position and was hired to support project managers in Raftelis’ Kansas City office. Over the past 2 years, I’ve begun to take on more project management responsibilities, but still do my fair share of number crunching.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow your career path?
I would advise folks interested in consulting to build the analytical “toolkit” which matches the type of work they’re interested in. For financial consulting, background on local government budgeting, finance, accounting, statistics and economic analysis are critical. The type of work we do at Raftelis is learned “on the job”, meaning courses like those offered at the O’Neill School provide a framework for thinking analytically, whose practical application is learned throughout your consulting career.
What skills are most important in your role?
Interpersonal skills are critical. Consulting is almost like starting a new job every 6 to 12 months, as projects are completed and new projects kick-off. Each engagement brings new clients which also means new personalities, organizational structures, and nuances. The challenge is that you never really 100% find your footing in the way you might if you were an employee of the organization receiving the consulting services. Navigating this landscape goes beyond being a good analyst and requires a temperament which seeks to understand other people’s concerns and how to communicate the right solutions in a way that anyone can understand.
New professionals are often told to “pay their dues.” What is your advice for a successful first year in the workforce?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is tempting to pretend to understand to avoid looking foolish, but—in my experience—its always better to ask than to have a lack of understanding impact the quality of your work. On a related note, I think erring on the side of overcommunicating is also preferable. For example, if you’ve been asked to do something by a supervisor (or agreed to do something for a client), restate the request and confirm the timeline to ensure expectations are set appropriately. At first, something like this can seem unnecessary, but new employees might be surprised to learn how often (especially with new supervisors, or new clients) everyone is not quite on the same page!
Raftelis is currently posting two positions perfect for O’Neill graduate students:
Consultant (Management Consulting) – NC and OH – Deadline Nov. 8
Associate Consultant (Management Consultant) – NC and OH – Deadline Nov. 8
Associate Consultant – Kansas City at Raftelis – Deadline ASAP
Senior Consultant at Raftelis – Deadline ASAP
Click HERE to view all current openings.