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.

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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 serves 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!

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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?

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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.

What makes a strong leader?

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All of the participants at the 2017 NCACE Leadership Institute!

On Monday, December 4th, both Rachel Brown and myself braved the dark 6:00am morning as we drove to Charlotte, North Carolina to participate in the 2017 NCACE Leadership Institute. As we chased the rising sun, many questions crossed our minds: Would we know any of the other participants at the conference; would there be tangible material that we could use in our own practices, and finally, whether the material would resonate with us in our current roles as fellows?

 

After grabbing my plate of breakfast goodies and settling in, I noticed that I did, in fact, recognize some familiar faces from the NCCDA conference held at Elon not too long ago. (More on that here). With a smaller group of 25 individuals, it made the networking and conversations seem more authentic to me. After all, we were going to be with each other for two days, so it would be in my best benefit to try to foster some meaning in the conversations.

The two days were carefully mapped out with sessions like “Partnership and Strategic Alliance”, and “Setting the Stage for Excellence—Staff Development and Performance”, given by various Career Development professionals representing an array of Colleges and Universities in North Carolina and one representation from South Carolina–Hello, Clemson! Though I definitely found meaning throughout the sessions, I struggled with the definition of the term ‘leadership’.

According to Susan Ward, a business writer for TheBalance.com, “leadership is the art of motivating people to act towards achieving a common goal.” While I do agree with this, I think it’s absolutely necessary to consider the context in which the term is used. That said, I feel I had two major takeaways of what leadership means to me in the context of career and professional development.

First, leadership involves partnerships. If there was one big, bold-lettered theme to the many conversations and discussions at the Institute, partnerships would have been the glittering marquee, and for good reason. In Higher Education, career advisors and professionals need to consider how to help students beyond the resume reviews and individual sessions they provide. Considering how impactful alumni, faculty, employers, and even the student organizations across campuses are, it’s necessary to have conversations to reach a common goal of serving students. Sometimes, this may mean having a difficult conversation to ensure all parties are on the same page. Often, though, this occurs when career and professional development teams meet together under the direction of a strong leader to dive deeper. This could also mean focusing on already-established partnerships or sometimes innovating to discover new pathways of success.

Second, the notion of trust was something that was maybe less obvious, but still absolutely necessary in fostering leadership. In order to have a relationship in which both the supervisor and employee can grow professionally, the lines of communication need to be clear. Honesty is always the best policy, and in leadership roles, one must weigh the pros and cons of how transparent to be. For example, there are times where the staff should be integral in the decision-making process regarding office changes and politics, however, there are also times where it’s unnecessary to place the burden on the staff when the leader should own their decision.

I’d like to wrap-up my thoughts on leadership and the NCACE Leadership Institute with a quote I heard during one panel session by Tiffany Waddell Tate, Associate Director of Career Services at Davidson College: “you sometimes have to be your staff member’s hype man and bring them to those crucial meetings with you.” In this context, she’s referring to bringing staff members to meetings with upper management to let them take a chance and guiding them in the process. I felt this especially ringing true as I’m embarking on my journey to plan the College of Arts & Sciences’ Career Trek; my supervisor, Ross, and colleagues on the Arts & Sciences team have allowed me to take the reins and conduct a meeting on my own. I can honestly say that I work with an amazing team of individuals who constantly support, encourage, and empower me to take ownership of projects and try new programs.

What are some other major themes you think of when you consider the makings of a strong leader? And further, what does leadership mean to you?

Plans, Pathways, & Progress

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The past three months (Wait, did I really just say three? Are we living in the ‘upside-down’?) have begun to shape the course of the 2017-2018 academic year here at Elon. I’ve identified areas in career services that I want to focus on, and with the assistance of my supervisor, Ross, have been able to see some of those plans come to fruition, which is an amazing feeling!

When we first arrived at Elon, Rachel and I crafted professional development plans, which essentially outlined all of the areas of career services we wanted to learn and grow in. To highlight some programs and areas of interest that Rachel and I have developed, both individually as well as collectively, I thought it would be great to list them to capitalize on our progress.

Give Thanks Program: I was first given the idea for a “Give Thanks” card program when I spoke with Amy Willard from Wake Forest University, who talked about the success of the program and how encouraging students to write a thank-you card emphasize their professional development and focuses on networking and following up with an employer, mentor, faculty member, or personal contact. Students are encouraged to stop by the Moseley Center Mailroom on November 15th from 10am-3pm. There, they can pick up a thank-you card, designed by current iMedia student, Nick Cook, ’18, and with special calligraphy assistance from our own Amber Moser! #Collaboration (You can see more of Amber’s work  on her Instagram, here, and Nick’s portfolio can be accessed here)

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College Fellows’ Career Trek: Next, my interest in becoming more of an expert of knowledge in Elon’s College of Arts & Sciences has led me to partner with both Aisha Mitchell, Assistant Director of Corporate & Employer Relations for the College of Arts & Sciences, as well Sara Cone, Assistant Director of Career Services for the College of Arts & Sciences, to curate a “Career Trek”, in which we anticipate taking a 12-15 College Fellows to various employers who are doing great work in a variety of industries, to hone in on skills that Arts & Sciences majors already possess and emphasize that they do, in fact, get jobs! The date is set for January 24th and I will be marketing the event soon.

Additionally, I have appreciated and enjoyed the narrative of empathy and curiosity that the SPDC is taking towards partnering with Elon’s Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education, and am also enjoying being a part of a productive brainstorming cohort with Rachel and others, both in our staff, from the CREDE, and from the LGBTQIA center.

SAMP CaREerLay: Finally, I am in process of developing a structured program to help prepare students for life after Elon, featuring budgeting sessions, meal prep and cooking, and essentially Adulting 101. Towards the end of spring semester, it’s my hope that students will sign up to participate in a career-themed ‘relay’ race, to compete against their peers at the Station at Mill Point in testing their knowledge as a race against the clock.

In terms of some fantastic programming that Rachel Brown has curated, she’s written about her upcoming events below:

Library Drop-In Hours: First and third Wednesday of every month, 3pm-5pm, back of the first floor of library in the Information Commons. Stop by to get your resume or cover letter reviewed, your LinkedIn updated, or your internship and job search skills refined! The next date will be November 15th!

Working Women Workshop: Tuesday, February 6th, 6:00pm-7:30pm. Isabella Cannon Room in the Center for the Arts. Different panelists will speak to their experiences in the workplace. After the large group panel, panelists will lead small groups focused on different topics that often affect women such as the wage gap, leadership, and mentorship.

SAMP Initiatives: Drop-in hours are held at the Station from 4pm-6pm on Mondays. However, starting next semester, we will have a special event every few Mondays where we have a focused discussion about a city where students may want to move after graduation. We will bring in alumni who live in those cities to give students tips and tricks and discuss how to network in the new cities to prepare for when #WereNotInBTownAnymore

She is right, Elon grads will not be in B-town anymore. Here’s to rolling with our innovative ideas to help support Elon students even further!

Conference Confidence

Elon University hosted the North Carolina Career Development Association Annual Conference on October 13th, bringing together career professionals from across the state to network and hear from leaders in the field of career development. Throughout the day, attendees could choose different presentations to attend, including a presentation by Elon SPDC’s own Danielle Golinski connecting Gestalt techniques to online interviewing. Coffee was served at the beginning of the day and lunch in the middle, two critical factors. And though the coffee and lunch were nice, but I had more takeaways besides what I took away in my stomach.

First, I took away knowledge. I took notes on all the presentations I attended, which included three presentations of my choosing plus the two keynote speaker presentations. I learned new information about developments in the field and how to best work with students.

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A great place for the NCCDA!

Second, connections. I was able to speak with some of the presenters, and many of them gave us their emails. I was also able to talk with other attendees, many of whom had different backgrounds than I and worked in various schools across the state. I know I can find these individuals on LinkedIn or on their schools’ websites if I want to stay connected.

Gaining knowledge and building my network led to the third and most important takeaway, a confidence boost. Sheryl Sandberg talks about the importance of confidence in the workplace in her book, Lean In for Graduates, which I’ve started reading because it applies well to the population with whom I work here at Elon. Some of her tips are applicable to attending professional conferences. A professional conference is a good place to start to lean into your power because you’re surrounded by individuals who want to see the field advance, which means they want to see you advance because you’re in their field. They are also the people who are most knowledgeable about their field and thus are the people who are able to answer tough questions you may have.

Sandberg asks readers, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Perhaps that thing for you is attending a conference or perhaps it’s something else, but either way, the question is relevant.

My fellowship provides ample opportunities for me to attend professional development events, such as the NCCDA. My supervisor recommends a couple conferences to us, but he also encourages us to explore conferences that align with our interests and skills, which is encouraging and empowering. All of these conferences are chances for attendees and presenters alike to increase their competence in their career fields. I’m grateful I was able to grow my knowledge, my network, and my confidence through this conference, and I highly suggest attending conferences in your field of work.