Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Make the Local Exotic

I see many students each year bent on doing internships in far off and exotic locations.  There's the pre-med student intent on working at hospital in Zimbabwe, the aspiring teacher hoping to teach English in Argentina, and the economics major looking for a finance internship in China.  Well the awesomeness of doing an internship in any of the above locations is hard to deny, securing an internship abroad is no simple order.  Things to consider include the cost of living abroad, travel expenses, necessary visas and/or vaccinations, health insurance, and many more.  Moreover, all these internships can be done in one's own backyard - just try contacting your local hospital, school, or financial planner. Yes, I know, Sturdy Memorial in Norton, MA lacks the cache of a rural health clinic in Africa, yet it's practical and sustainable as you can continue your work there throughout the school year.  While I'm all for the value of international experiences, it's not necessary to travel 5000 miles to gain practical skills and work experience relating to your future career goals. So here's to making the local exotic!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chaos Theory and My Own Career

In "You Majored in What?" Katherine Brooks dispels the notion of an assumed linear path between one's major and career in favor of a chaos-inspired career trajectory.  Essentially, she suggests that most career development paths are more akin to the butterfly effect, rather than the straightforward routes so many college students initially envision (or desire).  With this premise, I think Brooks has hit the nail on the head, and I'd like to offer up my own non-linear career path as evidence.

I've always loved learning.  As a history major at Middlebury College, I interned in the Department of Education in Washington, DC and later wrote my senior thesis on education legislation passed as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty.  This interest in education policy and the history of education, compounded by my idealistic desire to “change the world, motivated me to join Teach For America after graduation.  After two incredibly difficult, yet rewarding years in the first-grade trenches, my naive aspirations to transform the educational inequities in our country as a policy-maker were replaced by my desire to return to my beloved halls of academia.  And so I applied to six graduate schools - three History PhD programs specializing in the History of Education, and three Education Master’s programs with a focus on Higher Education.  Despite my instinct to dive into the seeming security of a seven-year long PhD program, it was too difficult to turn down the all-expenses-paid one-year Master’s program at an elite university in my hometown.  The next thing I knew, I was back in Boston interviewing for graduate assistantships advertised at the multitude of Boston area college campuses.

I ultimately accepted a position in the Office of Career, Research, and International Opportunities, helping to manage a $70 million dollar grant program designed to fund international summer experiences and internships for undergraduate students.  In this process I re-discovered my passion and interest for the field of career advising and career services.  I say re-discovered because, in retrospect, there were some tell-tale signs pointing me in this direction.  For one thing, I’ve always been interested in what other people are up to, and specifically curious about new to me jobs or industries.  Additionally, as a college student I practiced what I currently preach.  I utilized career services, applied for and received summer funding for my DOE internship, and started my job search early.  And during my stint as a TFA Corps Member, I volunteered as a recruiter, thereby gaining inadvertent experience in what would later become my chosen career field.  I'm not sure if I ever could have predicted or foreseen this path for myself as an undergrad, which certainly speaks to Brooks’ assertion that "unplanned events and emerging conditions [change an] individual's circumstances." What I do know is that along this path I’ve built on my skills, abilities, and diverse work experiences in order to get to where I am today. And who knows, maybe in five or ten years I’ll have another similar, but equally unpredictable story to tell.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Honor of Father's Day

My dad is asking me about all things social media.  As a small business owner he's heard a lot about the value of social media, but doesn't seem to know how to go about using online technologies to market and promote the services his company offers.  In the fall he had my uncle, his business partner, create a Facebook page for their small self-storage facility, but as the page has exactly 6 fans (each of the members of family) it's done little to generate any revenue this far.  So now he's wondering (i.e. asking me about) if he should get the business on Twitter.  I'm trying to explain to him that he can't just go on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and wait for the profits to roll in.  He actually has to utilize these tools as part of an actual marketing campaign by incentivizing users to join, and by creating traffic to direct potential consumers to his products.  Now this confusion surrounding how to use social media is not at all unique to my dad, or even to his generation.  I talk to students about using social media to publicize and reinforce their personal brand, which, simply put, refers to those skills and characteristics that make you unique, hopefully in regards to your employability.  But you can't just create the twitter account and wait for good things to happen.  You actually need to tweet - often!  The same goes for LinkedIn or blogs or any other social media be implemented in the hopes of getting hired; you need to actually use these tools!  Does this take time? Yes.  Is it often frustrating? Yes! I mean, I am fairly certain that no one is actually reading this blog (except for you Mom, "Hi Mom!")  But, as I've tried to explain to my Dad, social media is not something you can just opt into it.  It takes time, energy, and a plan.  Yes, it seems that everyone these days is using social media.  But if you plan to get results from it, you've got to do it right.  Now this is not something my Dad doesn't know.  Rather, his entire career is based on hard work and "doing things right."  So as far as social media goes, I'm happy to help him out and show him the ropes as he gets his online footing.  And no, don't worry, this isn't some sad excuse to avoid getting him a father's day present - I already bought him some socks.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Networkin' It at Reunion

This past weekend I attended my five year college reunion.  While I happily spent most of the weekend with the same 5-7 people that I spent the majority of my college career with, there were certainly ample interactions with classmates who I hadn't spoken with since we'd left our undergraduate careers behind.  And these conversations all essentially went the same way:

"Hi, it's been so long."
"Yes, too long, how are you?"
"Great, where are you living now."
"I'm in [insert Northeastern city], working at [insert name of bank/legal firm]. You?"
"I'm in [insert name of other, smaller Northeastern city], working at [education/non-profit organization]."

Despite the monotony of these essentially vapid conversations, I was struck by the fantastic opportunity reunion presented for networking.  And in fact, I was impressed by some of my classmates abilities to truly work the room (or in this case the campus green).  I saw several classmates exchanging bussiness cards, writing down e-mails, and concluding these seemingly prescribed conversations with the words that every career advisor loves to hear:

I'd love to learn more about what you're doing, would it be alright if I sent you an e-mail later this week with some questions?

Perfectly articulated!  Who wants to spend their 5 year college reunion discussing the details of their job? We've got more important things to do, like drink Vermont microbrews and relive our college glory days.  However, if you're willing to think outside of the party box and truly make the most of the excellent networking opportunity that reunion is,  you can not only enjoy the weekend, but make some excellent contacts. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

'Bite Your Tongue' and Other Advice for New Employees

Today's college graduates are used to speaking their minds.  And even if they haven't been exactly heard, they certainly believe they have something to say that matters.  As a millenial myself, I also firmly believe I have something to contribute to my office.  I mean, why else would my bosses have hired me (and why else would I be writing this  blog)?  Yet the first weeks on the a new job (or internship) are not the time to take the office by storm - actually it's never time for that.  Rather, if you are a new employee, here are three pieces of advice:

1) Bite your tongue
This is something I struggle with on a daily basis, but I suggest you stifle your enthusiasm to speak and up and just spend some time listening.  Get a feel for the workplace and what your colleagues are doing, and only then slowly begin to contribute to the discussion.  Others in your office might have been on the job for years before they felt comfortable speaking up and being taken seriously, so take measured steps to ensure that your eagerness to participate in the conversation doesn't alienate or offend some of your more seasoned colleagues. While I'm not advocating silence, I do suggest getting a feel for your office and waiting for your opinion to be asked before volunteering your two cents about a project that your colleagues might have been working on for months.

2) Ask questions
That great idea you have, yeah, they might have tried it a few years back with little success.  So rather than trying to have the answers, ask the questions.

3) Pay attention
Take note of the office culture, the way in which people approach new projects or tasks, and how your colleagues interact with your boss.  As the newbie at work, you'll be given some slack, but generally speaking, I'd try to adhere to the code of conduct and protocol already established in the office.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Congratulations to the Class of 2011

And to the new graduates, remember, it's not too late to make an appointment with career services!