(Ja)makin’ Memories Out of the Office

Most Fridays, my day includes meetings with colleagues and appointments with students. Last Friday, my day included ziplining with students through YS Falls in Jamaica. Needless to say, last week was quite different from most other weeks of my fellowship, and it gave me the opportunity to grow as a professional and grow closer to some incredible Elon University students.

Our great group of Elon students!

So, what in the world was I doing in Jamaica during a workweek? Last week was spring break for students here at Elon, and I was given the opportunity to work as a staff co-advisor alongside Brad Polen for 11 students on an alternative spring break trip (#Elonaltbreak) through the Kernodle Center. Our trip focused on rural education in Treasure Beach, Jamaica.

We had two main service projects during the week. First, we served as volunteers at a local school. We mainly worked individually with children who were struggling academically in the classroom for various reasons. We also played with the children during recreation, and I learned that almost all the children could outrun me. Second, we started farming a small plot of land next to where we resided during the week. The vegetables grown will be donated to the local community. I now have a deeper appreciation for farming, especially after working with students to sow the dry land.

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Our volunteer coordinators!

Besides our service projects, we also immersed ourselves in Jamaican culture in other ways. For example, we had an arts and crafts night in which a local resident, Charlie, demonstrated how to carve beautiful pictures on organic material. We also had a dance lesson to learn how to move to reggae. I use the term “learn” loosely for myself because I have no coordination. Yaya worked as our cook for the week, serving us delicious breakfasts with foods such as pineapples and journeycakes, and delicious dinners, including jerk chicken on our first night. Ava was our volunteer coordinator for the week. When I think of strong women I know in my life, she’s now one of the first people to come to mind. She dedicated her small amount of free time (she also works full-time as a high school teacher) to ensuring that we had everything we needed for the week.

My favorite part of the trip was working alongside Elon students. The students collaborated so that all the tasks were accomplished. Our student leader for the week, Consuelo Mendoza, did an excellent job with planning and execution. Most evenings, we reflected upon what we were learning and experiencing, and, most importantly, how we could use what we learned during the week once we got back to campus. I’m looking forward what’s in store these students because they deeply care for others and want to better their communities.

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A beautiful sunset at Treasure Beach.

As a career development professional, I’ve learned that oftentimes, the best way to serve students is to get out of my office. Thinking about a career can be intimidating, but through working alongside these students last week, I was able to explain to them what I do and tell them about resources we provide. Students are much more likely to come to appointments when they already know the person with whom they’ll be meeting, and I’m so thankful to know all of these students within the context of our Jamaican alternative break.

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Togetherness

Video Source: Elon University

Elon University has welcomed its ninth president, Connie Ledoux Book to take the stage, and in the past few weeks, I’ve appreciated seeing her bright and smiling demeanor engaging with faculty, staff, and students alike. Her presidency at Elon signifies a first, not only for the University, proudly advocating for its first female president, but also for President Book herself as she embarks on her first collegiate presidential journey.

I anxiously had the opportunity to introduce myself to her during a snowy spring semester day (March 12th, in case you’re wondering), and one of the first things she mentioned was how she enjoys following the Career Fellows’ blog. I thought to myself, well, now that she knows I am slacking, I had better get a move on my March post!

I could not think of a better topic to discuss than the concept of ‘togetherness’. During her speech addressing the Elon community on October 9th when she was announced to be the next president, she closed her remarks with,

“Together we will advance Elon’s future.

Together we will continue building the best learning environment in the country.

Together we will set the next horizon for Elon’s destiny.

Together.”–Dr. Connie Book, E-Net News Article, Owen Covington

 

Her first few weeks in her presidential term have thus been filled with the notion of ‘beginning together.’
I think many of us can relate to the theme of togetherness, but I feel this especially strikes a chord with me in my role as a Career Advising Fellow in the Student Professional Development Center.

In my role as a Fellow, I have seen the hard work that goes into planning our bi-annually Job & Internship Expo. Our Career Advising team relies heavily on the Corporate and Employer Relations team to engage with employers and convey pertinent information about what said employers are looking for in students. It’s our job in the SPDC to collaborate and be adaptable.

In addition, I had mentioned in an earlier post that my co-fellow, Rachel Brown, and I had been interested in enhancing our relationship with the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education. She has recently partnered with the Michael Spencer in The Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship to co-sponsor a great panel entitled, ‘Black Innovation Matters’ as part of CREDE’s Black History month initiatives in February, which certainly emphasized togetherness.

In my own journey, I have been working steadily with faculty in Elon’s College of Arts & Sciences to assist with various workshops and aided Jon Metzger in planning an annual Alumni panel for the Music Department. I’ve also benefited from co-teaching a Transition Strategies course with Amy Hogan from the Psychology Department, where we’ve relied on each other to bring our own sent of expertise to the classroom.

Finally, I will be attending my first conference with NCACE in May. This year, North Carolina is joining with Colleges & Employers from South Carolina; the theme, as you may have guessed, is “Better Together”.

As my Fellowship is now entering its eighth month, my thoughts are enveloped in the notion of continuing to strive towards togetherness, in whatever form that may take.

 

Career Steps

The February weather at Elon the past few days has felt like spring weather. So after leaving the Student Professional Development Center Friday evening, I decided to go for a run around campus. I would not list “running” as one of my LinkedIn skills, so I took a walking break when I got to Holt Chapel on campus.

There’s a labyrinth next to the chapel open for Elon faculty, staff, and students to use. Now you may be wondering, what is a labyrinth? It’s like a meditative maze, except there’s only one path. You walk through the labyrinth at your own pace until you get to the end, located in the middle of the labyrinth, and once you arrive at the end, you walk back out the same way you entered. (I admit it doesn’t sound very exciting from this description, but I’ve found it to be helpful for contemplation.) I completed my first labyrinth walk when I was in graduate school, but hadn’t done one since that time. And since I needed a short break from running, I decided to take a walk through this labyrinth.

The labyrinth on campus next to Holt Chapel.

As I was walking through the labyrinth, I compared my meditative walk to career development. Like walking through a labyrinth, career development is all about putting one foot in front of the other, taking different steps to figure out where you want to be. When you glance at the labyrinth’s path, you don’t think it will take that long to get to the middle because you can see it in sight. However, the path to get to the middle is winding; you go in and back out, you turn left and you turn right, and so what seemed like a straight shot is not.

Nevertheless, to paraphrase Hamilton, let’s not throw away our shots just because our career development path is not as clear-cut as we would like. So how do we handle feeling stuck in the labyrinth of career development? When we can see where we want to be but we don’t quite know how to get there?

I recommend talking to the people who are doing the thing you want to do. In my last blog post, I talked about how to connect with people, including Elon alumni, on LinkedIn. Besides LinkedIn, you can also look on companies’ websites to find connections who are in your field of work. Writing those emails or making those phone calls to people you don’t know well can be intimidating, but here’s the thing – those people were once where you are now. They were once in college or recent grads trying to figure out what they were doing with their lives.

One thing I appreciate about the labyrinths I’ve walked is that they don’t have walls. I can see my surroundings and other people completing the labyrinth with me. Don’t be afraid to ask those people around you for advice and insight. In the career development world, we call this concept informational interviewing because that’s just what it is – you are interviewing people who interest you to gather information about how they got to where they are, including what they studied, where they’ve worked, skills they have, and connections they have. If you want some help formulating questions you can ask during an informational interview, look at our informational interviewing guide under the Student Professional Development Center’s Resources.

If you’re feeling a little stuck, reach out to people you know who are doing something that interests you. I reach out to people all the time to learn more about careers that interest students. And if you have time, perhaps stop by the labyrinth next to Holt Chapel to go for a walk.

Study abroad…in the USA?

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Recently, I have noticed a pattern of student appointments that I’ve conducted who are interested or will be participating in Elon University’s Study USA program. For a little more context, Study USA is a program unique to Elon in the sense that the University offers three different centers: Elon in Los Angeles, Elon in New York, and Elon in San Francisco. Participating in any of these programs would require successful completion of an internship and at least one course taught by an Elon University faculty at each site, so it’s a great way to complete any Experiential Learning Requirements!

Additionally, I have been asked to assist in some pre-departure presentations/workshops for students who will be participating in the program during summer 2018. Initially, I was trying to piece together why the pre-departure information could be that helpful or even necessary—they are staying in the U.S. so there shouldn’t be any big changes, right? Wrong.

Transitioning to a large city (especially from rural Elon/Burlington, NC) can pose challenges for students in the way of culture shock and homesickness, not to mention the stress and anxiety caused by trying to secure an internship in either given city!

With this framework in mind, I spoke with Cindy Sweeney, Associate Director of Career Services, (who formerly worked in the Global Education Center), and Victoria Thompson, the current Assistant Director of Study USA. I asked about the program details and how career advisors can best serve students who may be opting to participate in either Study USA here at Elon, or any other city-specific national program.

Preparing for such a unique experience presents challenges that students may not have to face abroad or even here at Elon. I think successful preparation and assistance to students boils down to three things: Articulating your story in a real-world setting, identifying mentors, and understanding work culture.

It’s one thing to meet with a career advisor to practice for a mock interview, or even strut your stuff at the bi-annual Job & Internship Expo, but it’s quite another when you’re having to talk about yourself outside of the classroom. In a larger, more diverse area, it is important to be able to efficiently talk about your skills and experiences. The more you practice or attend employer meet-and-mingle events, the more comfortable and authentic this will feel.

During my conversation with Victoria, we talked a lot about the value of utilizing LinkedIn to identify mentors in one of the Study USA programs. Though there are many networking/LinkedIn philosophies, it boils down to intentionality. What messages are you putting out there? Further, are you being considerate of who you are connecting with? Recent graduates may be more willing to help and can paint a clearer picture of realistic 5-year goals.

Finally, successful preparation for a Study USA experience boils down to understanding and defining work culture. Students’ experiences may be limited thus far to their own internship opportunities or even what they see modeled in a ‘9-5’ workplace environment. This may look very different for companies in LA or San Francisco where socializing with coworkers is common in the evenings. There may even be nights where you will have to work until 8 or 9pm but then have the flexibility to start later the next day.

The bottom line is that career advisors can absolutely be influential to students embarking on such a unique experience. It’s just a matter of listening and preparing.

Connecting with Your College Network

I’m from a small rural town in which the word “LinkedIn” is hardly ever used to refer to a professional social network. People don’t see much need for a platform such as LinkedIn because most people in the town know each other. Moreover, when there are more cows than people, it’s hard to form a plethora of professional connections. (For some odd reason, the cows who were my neighbors growing up never set up LinkedIn accounts. I tried to search for them, but to no avail.)

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Some of my cow neighbors (who are not professional connections).

Perhaps for various reasons, you also feel that you don’t have many professional connections. Even though you want to form more, you’re not sure exactly where to start. My advice is to start with what you’ve got! If you’re an Elon student, that means starting with the people right here at the university.

To find Elon University’s LinkedIn page, you can search for Elon University, or go to the page directly here. If you click the button that says “See alumni,” you’ll be able to see alumni who have Elon University listed on their LinkedIn account, and you can sort through the alumni by different categories, such as where they live and where they work.

You can then see if you have any mutual connections. We suggest connecting with Elon Career Services because many alumni are connected with that page. You can click to connect and send a note to alumni who are doing work in which you are interested.

I’m not an Elon alumna, but I think the connections we make during college can be useful for us now and in the future. For example, my alma mater William & Mary has provided a great network for me. I recently connected with a colleague who works in career services at a school in the DC area. Even though I didn’t personally know her during our time in college, she was more than happy to tell me about the work she is doing in the DC area and introduce me to some of her own colleagues.

Sometimes, I think we can be hesitant to reach out to make connections because we may feel we don’t have anything to offer, especially if we are just starting off in our careers. However, I think we can all bring something to the table. It may not be a ton of experience, but you can bring interesting perspectives you’ve learned in classes or in internships. In general, Gen-Z is bringing a fresh perspective to the work environment that other generations aren’t.

So, if you’re concerned that you don’t have a network, remember that you’ve already got one here at Elon. Start using it by connecting with alumni. And remember to stop by the Student Professional Development Center if you want more insight regarding how to form and maintain professional relationships. We’re happy to help you get connected!

As my cow neighbors might say, let’s get moooo-ving! 

Another Openin’, Another Show!

GreatestShowmanpic

Though a musical theatre reference (Kiss Me, Kate, anyone?) wasn’t originally how I had intended to open up my thoughts on this semester, I decided to roll with it. I saw merit in using the metaphor of a show opening in comparison to the start of a brand new semester, and further, a new year.

The New Year is certainly a time of change for many; studies have shown that individuals are more likely to focus on new resolutions, start journaling, take up a new hobby, etc. In fact, John Norcross, a psychologist and researcher at The University of Scranton, has found that nearly 50% of Americans set out to make resolutions each year, but not surprisingly, less than 40% are actually on track by the 6-month marker. Resolutions are essentially “psychologist-speak” for behavior change, something that we, as a society, are not too keen on.

If we could really get to the root of the underlying cause of what makes behavior change so challenging, we might actually be able to stick with it—is it that we’re all too lazy? Is it simply too difficult to incorporate this new routine into our schedules? Change is hard for most people, but sometimes it’s just absolutely necessary for both our personal and professional development.

I recently saw The Greatest Showman, and now can’t get the catchy soundtrack out of my head. Besides the soundtrack, though, I think the movie highlighted certain parallels for both professionals and students alike who are embracing a period of change.

The movie’s protagonist, Phineas T. Barnum, portrayed by Hugh Jackman, epitomizes the trope of the “American Dream” storyline; if you work hard, you’ll make it big! (And he certainly did—the circus survived long after his time.) After a few flops and a less-than-ideal childhood, it’s not shocking that he succeeds in pursuing his dream of fame and bringing smiles to audiences faces–by way of showcasing individuals who are curiously different or have peculiarities. By no means is everything he stands for what we should strive to be, but I think the underlying message of perseverance and determination is key to helping achieve realistic goals for 2018.

In terms of some practical, tangible, things that both students and professionals alike can be doing to ensure their career success in the new year, here are some suggestions:
1. Be specific on setting a career goal. If you say you want to apply for jobs and get a new job this year, then set a concrete number of applications you want to complete and set a date for your deadline. It’s easier to complete a task if it’s realistic and specific, rather than a general goal of “getting a job”.
2. Identify someone in your network as a role model/mentor. In reading about behavior change and New Year’s resolutions, research has shown that the philosophy of telling as many people as possible has no effect on the outcome. Rather, having one supportive individual to hold you accountable and serve as a career mentor is more beneficial.
3. Focus on what you can do now. If you’re a student, now is the perfect time to have your resume or cover letter reviewed prior to submission. It’s never too late to work on the process, not simply striving to attain the end result.

In the end, the New Year is yours for the taking. Here’s to achieving professional success in 2018!

May Your Stories Be with You

My supervisor Ross always says that good interviews involve telling your stories well. Donald Miller, writer and CEO of StoryBrand, says, “The point of any story is always character transformation.” Thinking of these two ideas together, I wonder, how can we answer interview questions in ways to show how we have transformed – not only ourselves but also the companies and organizations in which we’ve had roles? Also, how can we integrate Star Wars into this discussion since it’s a great story?

Star Wars
From commons.wikimedia.org

I’ve been on both sides of interviews – the interviewee and the interviewer. The more I experience the interview process, the more I see how tough it is. It’s hard to interview well, or to even know if you interviewed well. And does interviewing well at one company or for one person mean you’ll interview well for everyone? Not necessarily.

Donald Miller discusses the seven integral elements of any story, and I think we can use some of these elements when answering interview questions, especially behavioral interview questions, such as, “Tell me about a time when you…” or, “Describe to me a situation in which you…” Miller maps out his elements in this diagram:

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From “How To Tell A Story” by Donald Miller, page 11

Let’s break this chart Miller created down into an interview question. The character – you – has a problem. Perhaps the interviewer has asked you about a time you had to lead people or had to motivate others or had to make a tough decision. The question becomes your problem that you must answer. Miller mentions guides, and I think we all have guides along our journey who help us lay groundwork and figure out what we need to do, and we can reference them when answering questions. No one got anywhere alone. So we complete the action with their guidance, whether it’s leading others or motivating others or making a decision.

Finally, what were the results? Perhaps, this answer is the difference between interviewing and just telling a story. Some of my favorite stories end in failure, and while we all have failures, most of the time, interviewers want to hear about a positive result. Sometimes, though, an interviewer may throw you for a loop by asking you about a time you failed or made a mistake. The key in answering those questions is that the end result is not the failure – it’s what you learned and how you grew from that experience. After all, we’re all human and we all make mistakes.

Miller notes that we see this story arc in basically all good stories. And since Star Wars Episode VIII is all the rage, I figured we’d use his Luke Skywalker example:

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From “How To Tell A Story” by Donald Miller, page 12

Thankfully, interviewers usually aren’t asking us how we trusted the force to defeat the empire, but they often do want to know about the key experiences we’ve had that have shaped who we are.

Interviewing is hard because we often don’t know exactly what questions an interviewer will ask unless we’re told beforehand. Thankfully, many of the questions revolve around the same theme – how have you changed or helped your organization change for the better? So, start thinking of those stories that have molded you and could be worked into typical interview questions.