What makes a strong leader?

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?


You Hate Your Job. Now What?

I’m a big fan of James Franco. I may have named my first car Franco in his honor. As a fan, I’m not saying I support or agree with all of his work, but I find him intriguing. I especially like his performance in Spider-Man 3 as Harry Osborne, but that’s a story for another day.

James FrancoI’m also a big fan of people having jobs that bring them joy, but I realize that often we’re in jobs where we’re not satisfied. What do we do when this happens?

A few weeks ago, I was reading an article about when Franco worked in McDonald’s as he was beginning his career as an actor. In his op-ed Washington Post article, he states, “All I know is that when I needed McDonald’s, McDonald’s was there for me. When no one else was.” In the article, Franco talks about how working at McDonald’s in Los Angeles was a decent job for him as he was starting his career as an actor. Franco also talks about how he used different accents with customers, from Southern to Irish to Brooklynese. The accents were quite convincing, and helped him practice acting as he was trying to launch his career.

I’m not saying I recommend talking in fake accents to people or dropping out of college, as Franco dropped out of UCLA to pursue his career in acting. (He did later return to UCLA and graduated.) And there is valid criticism about Franco’s McDonald’s experience, which I’ll discuss. However, there are certain things Franco did during his time at McDonald’s which could be helpful for any student or recent graduate working a job that is not ideal for them.

  1. Developing strengths. We often talk with students about identifying their strengths and learning how to put them to use. Franco knew he had a knack for acting, and so he worked on developing how to speak with different accents during his time at McDonald’s. He identified a strength – acting – and worked to improve it, all in the context of McDonald’s. Even when working jobs we don’t like, we may be able to harness our strengths by thinking outside the box.
  2. Valuing current work. Often, it’s easy not to appreciate the work in which we’re currently employed, especially if we see a job only as a stepping stone. Of course, the job may be a stepping stone, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss the work as unimportant. Jobs like the ones Franco had at McDonald’s are so important. They help people develop time-management skills, communication skills, and problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, we often dismiss some jobs as being more important than others, when all jobs usually have a purpose. Perhaps write a list of what you do value at your current workplace, and see how you can live out those values.
  3. Using free time well. Even as Franco was working at McDonald’s, he tried to use his free time to look for acting gigs, and he talks about how he was able to get a gig. Not everyone has the privilege of having much free time outside of work, but when you do come across it, use it well. Try to network with people in careers you are interested in pursuing and look for hiring opportunities.

Whether you like McDonald’s or not, reflect on Franco’s experience, and critically analyze it as well. Times have changed since Franco worked for McDonald’s in 1996, including that the cost of college has risen. Tsedeye Gebreselassie from the National Employment Law Project stated in an article in CNN Money, “It’s a real privilege to do what [James Franco] did, just work a few months and leave when he wanted to.” Many people who work at McDonald’s are in much different situations than Franco, discussed in another op-ed by Lydia DePillis speaking to how McDonald’s workers should be paid better.

I’m not saying all of us will reach the same stardom as James Franco. However, we can try to find joy and satisfaction in our jobs by seeing the value in what we do and using our strengths during the course of the work day. Find the parts of the job you do like, and learn how you can do more of those things. Analyze what Franco did, and see what could apply to your current situation.

Plans, Pathways, & Progress


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)

Give Thanksflyer

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.

Elon 1
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.

Fall-ing Into Your Transferable Skills


Autumn signifies a time of change. Sometimes that can be scary and it may look differently depending on whether you’re a first-year student merely starting to adjust to your Elon life, or suffering from senioritis and ready to embark on your professional journey.

Personally, not only am I starting to enjoy sweater weather and all of the fun fall activities, but I am also experiencing a change in work environment and transferring some of my skills from my background in Mental Health Counseling. Though my career change has not been extremely different, there have been some notable changes in which I have adapted to a different way of doing things, for example, in terms of note-keeping, or having more flexibility with scheduling.

In my time working with students one-on-one and through classes/presentations, I have found that many counseling skills are useful, if not necessary, in my career shift. For both students and working professionals alike, I think the below skills may be useful in translating into your own career change or emergence into your given field.

Holistic Understanding

In graduate school, one of the aspects of counseling that I really appreciated was taking a holistic approach. It’s easy to stereotype or make judgements about students based on a resume review where the student needed a lot of hand-holding, etc., but it’s not fair to both the student and yourself if you only consider the “Elon student” side of the person. Sometimes I find myself asking students questions about why they are interested in a certain internship or where they want to live after graduation, because it gives me a broader sense of who they are outside of their role of being student. I think applying this knowledge to my work as a Career Advising Fellow has been helpful in ‘getting the bigger picture’ as well as learning not to jump to conclusions. Having a holistic perspective challenges you to go beyond what you know, whether that’s deciding which majors lead to the career path you want to choose, or simply knowing the full scope of a job you’re about to take.

Using Empathy

Empathy is key in building relationships, and particularly when considering it as an applicable skill for the workplace, no matter where you are professionally. To be empathic requires one to have respect for another’s perspective and understand where they are coming from; empathy is extremely beneficial, regardless of where you are in your career journey. (More on empathy as one of the best transferrable skills here). In an effort for the SPDC to engage in a more meaningful way with organizations on campus, we’ve begun using a Design Thinking approach. Design Thinking is essentially a solution-focused mindset to solving problems. Take a problem, for example, creating more inclusive workplaces. We must empathize and understand the needs of the individuals and students we are serving before jumping to a solution, much like we should be doing in our own career paths.

Establishing Rapport

I was nervous initially about the transition from working as a mental health professional to a career advisor, specifically because of the short amount of time (30 minutes can fly by!) when working with students. Sometimes, I end up scheduling a second appointment with them, and other times, that may be my only interaction, so it’s imperative to create a safe space to welcome friendly conversation as well.


Listening-blog post

You may have heard of the above quote, and I personally find it’s applicable in ANY stage of your life. Sometimes (and I’m guilty of this, too) we feel anxiety just to say something, rather than to hear what someone is actually trying to convey. Taking a step back, and fully understanding another’s perspective is very important, especially in Career Advising.

Do you have any suggestions for other transferable skills that are useful for students and professionals alike? Please leave a comment below, and truly: Happy Fall, Y’all!


Building Your Brand: Are You “Ready For It?”

Building a personal brand sounds intimidating. Aren’t brands something that only big companies do? When we hear names like Adidas or Kate Spade, for example, we may already know what they’re about through commercials, websites, advertisements, and stores.

Thankfully, branding can be easier than we might at first assume. And with some effort, we can also change our brand if we don’t like it or if we feel we have evolved since we started branding. To look at an example of branding and re-branding, we need look no further than Taylor Swift.

Swift began her music career as a country music star with an audience of primarily teenage girls. Through her concerts and her lyrics, she developed an image as an innocent, fun, awe-filled young woman. However, if we fast forward to 2017, the image that comes to mind when we think of Swift is no longer a young woman with her mouth agape in wonder, staring at all the fans at her concert with a glittery acoustic guitar around her neck. Now, Swift has distanced herself so much from that image that she pokes fun at it. She’s become instead a fierce, bold, independent woman who wants her reputation to go down in flames.

Some of the first posts on Swift’s revamped Instagram feed.

Whether you like the new Taylor or not, it’s clear that the “old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now.” Through deleting old Instagram posts and changing her music, Swift has transformed what we think of her. And whether we like the branding or not, we can learn from it so we can build our own personal brand to promote to our connections, colleagues, and employers.

How do we build a brand? First, we need to know ourselves. We need to understand our values, our strengths, and our skills so we know what we want to promote. If you’re an Elon student and you want to gain some of that self-awareness, then you can do some MyPlan assessments, which can help you reflect on your personality, values, and specialties you bring to the table. Also, we need to know what sets us apart from others. Find something that makes you stand out from others in your field but still makes you a qualified candidate. Perhaps most importantly, according to Herbert Sim on Forbes.com, we need to know our purpose – what’s the why behind this personal brand we’re creating?

Second, we need to know our audience. Since I’m working at Elon, I want to make sure my brand aligns with Elon’s brand, specifically with the mission of the Student Professional Development Center. And because my job is in higher education, I stay up-to-date on information related to higher education.  

Third, let’s tell the story (or as Herbert Sim likes to call it – network!). Once we know ourselves and know our audience, then we can begin to brand to tell others who we are. We can let our brands be known through social media, such as LinkedIn or Instagram, networking events, or simply through our interactions with colleagues and friends. And again, if we’ve started a brand for ourselves that we don’t like, we can take the old, “shake it off,” and start anew, just like Swift.

A Game of Authenticity: The Do’s and Don’ts of Networking

GoTwinter isHereBy: Rachael Rysz, Career Advising Fellow

Welcome back to the 2017-2018 academic year here at Elon!

As I have begun my journey in the Student Professional Development Center, I’ve processed invaluable information for both students and faculty/staff alike. While the word ‘networking’ itself may denote some negative connotations (i.e., the dreaded awkwardness when meeting new people in a professional context), I thought it would be advantageous to relay information in regards to staying true to yourself while also going through the process of self-marketing through networking.

To define networking at its core, it is knowing yourself and knowing your audience and building connections through commonalities. Networking is more than just trying to add LinkedIn connections until your eyes are sore; it’s an opportunity to learn from others, share your skills, and enjoy getting to know someone.

As I’m striving to foster more meaningful connections in my own network here at Elon, I have become hyper-aware of noticing connections surrounding me, particularly in the stories that I’m consuming. In particular, I, like many, am still processing the season 7 finale of the hit HBO show, A Game of Thrones. Spoiler alert: How was it possible for so many of the main characters to be in the same place at the same time and live to tell the tale? I’m still demystified. Regardless, I think this season conveyed many messages, but I couldn’t help but see the connection in forming networks from a career advising perspective.

That said, I’ve gathered some tips on networking inspired by the characters of ‘A Game of Thrones’:

Do: Form Strong Alliances

Although both Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister formed an unlikely alliance (her father A.K.A. The Mad King, was killed by Tyrion’s brother, not to mention their houses hate each other) it has turned out to be a fruitful connection thus far. Daenerys, or Dany for short, has proven her strength as a leader through various obstacles she’s had to endure as well as winning over various groups of people through her honesty. Tyrion, also an underdog of the show, uses his wit and life experience to make more rational decisions and balance Dany’s spontaneity.

In the real world, being intentional about making connections with individuals goes a long way. Your network should be a two-way street where you can learn from one another and understand how your strengths could align with certain employers. Understanding an employer’s values and strengths can better allow you to make decisions about who to connect with.

Don’t: Burn Bridges
Cersei Lannister, currently the Queen of the Iron Throne, is noteworthy for quite literally killing anyone who crosses her, and sets a bad example for how to handle situations that may not be ideal.


Always be mindful of your professional presence, especially on social media and LinkedIn. You don’t want someone to get a bad impression of you and possibly diminish your network. Worse even, you never want to renege on a job or internship offer, even if a more exciting offer or connection awaits. You never know who’s connected to who!

Do: Stay True To Yourself
As we noted in those early moments in this past season when Daenerys welcomed Jon Snow to Dragonstone, they both stayed true to themselves, even though it seemed like they were talking in circles; it was evident that no one was leaving until someone got what they wanted.

Honesty is a crucial component to any relationship, but particularly when networking. It’s always important to be honest about your skills and abilities to potential employer connections. Be authentic when marketing yourself and let your personality shine!

Don’t: Think Only Of Yourself.
While many (all) of the characters on Game of Thrones can be selfish and seem to want to stake their claim to the Iron Throne, they fall shortsighted when judging another’s capabilities and decisions.

A network is a web of connections of people that you can learn from, but they can also learn from you. Don’t be afraid to use your network in various capacities, for example if you’re planning a move to a new city, or switching majors and don’t have the first clue if it’s the right fit. Talk with your connections, both in-person and through your online presence, and you may be surprised to see that others have gone through similar situations.

Do: Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Can I just say that it was super awkward to see all the rival characters (Cersei, Jon, Dany, and Tyrion) meet each other for the first time?

Networking may be awkward or intimidating, but it’s also an opportunity to broaden your horizons. We have a tendency to rely on known networks, whether it be education, age, race, ethnicity, or status. You also run the risk of limiting yourself in this way if you don’t form diverse connections outside your known network. You only know what you know, but never what you don’t know or try.

A Game of Networking may be in your future soon, after all. Remember to keep an open mind and your best professional foot forward!

…And don’t get in the way of the Night King.