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.)

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!


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

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:

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:

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.

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, 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.

Meet the 2017-2018 Career Advising Fellows

We’re so excited to introduce the 2017-2018 Career Advising Fellows: Rachel Brown & Rachael Rysz. We thought we’d make it tricky for the SPDC staff, and hire two people with the same name (although spelled differently). And, if you address them collectively by their last names, it sounds like your saying “brown rice.” So, there’s sure to be a few moments of humorous confusion within the SPDC in the coming months!

On a serious note, both Rachel Brown and Rachael Rysz bring unique talents and perspectives that will enrich the SPDC and Elon University as a whole. We are thrilled to welcome them to the SPDC team, and we’re grateful for their eagerness to learn, grow and contribute through this fellowship experience. Welcome to Elon, ladies!

Rachel Brown


Rachel Brown is looking forward to joining the Phoenix Family for the 2017-2018 school year! Rachel grew up in Southern Virginia until moving to Williamsburg, Virginia, to study at the College of William & Mary, where she majored in psychology and English. Rachel decided to continue her education at William & Mary and received her master’s degree in counseling. During her time in graduate school, she was able to work as a graduate assistant at the Dean of Students Office. In this position, she discovered her interest in higher education, specifically in student development. Her classes and assistantship helped her realize that she wanted to combine her interests in higher education and counseling, and thus a position in career counseling became the perfect fit.

In her spare time, Rachel enjoys writing because she loves telling stories, but more importantly, she loves listening to the stories of others. She also enjoys traveling and being in nature, as depicted in this picture of her at a geyser in Iceland. When she’s not working, you’ll likely find her outside with a cup of coffee in one hand and a good book (probably by J.D. Salinger) in the other hand. Rachel is excited to listen to the stories of Elon students who come to the SPDC to help them develop their career goals.


Rachael Rysz


Rachael Rysz hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she attended Duquesne University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Rachael then continued on her career path at Chatham University, where she obtained a Master’s of Science in Counseling Psychology. During her time at Chatham, Rachael had ample opportunities for her own career exploration and a fulfilling experience working as an Intake Specialist for a large mental health private practice for the past four years. Her last internship working with adolescents and young adults unveiled a genuine passion for career services and helping others achieve their career goals. This experience led her to branch out to the field of Higher Education and act as an Educational Support Liaison for students enrolled in Career & Vocational Psychology courses at Chatham University. Rachael is motivated to help students find their passion through empowering them and encouraging experiential learning. In her spare time, Rachael loves volunteering, and particularly feels a connection working with individuals with intellectual and development disabilities. She enjoys musical theatre, hiking, exploring new coffee shops, traveling, and reading a good mystery novel. Rachael is ecstatic to join Elon’s SPDC team by acting as one of the Career Fellows for the 2017-2018 year and is immensely grateful to have this opportunity!