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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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!

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?

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.

Fall-ing Into Your Transferable Skills

Happy-Fall-Yall

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

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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.

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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.

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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.