Browsing Tag

Long-range Planning

What Do You Want Out of the Next Year?

Before you make a New Year’s resolution, typically narrowly focused on a measurable goal, stop and think bigger picture and longer term. When your future self is sitting here one year later, how will they be different than you? It’s easy to vow to be  closer to graduation, or with a better job and more savings, but you need to play the long game. Whatever the goal, there are skills you need to make that jump happen and stick, so while I support the short term goal, I think it needs to be meaningful in a longer term plan.

Normally, I’m a believer in building on your strengths, but college is the one place where you can build up your weak spots, while there is little consequence to failure. If you’re weak on small group discussions, pick smaller classes where the professor will consistently try and pull you into the discussion. It’s the rare company and manager who will do this, so this is great example of  the last call nature of college. If you’re already in the workforce, rather than set a goal of being promoted or getting a raise this year, if you’re on the quiet side, make a point of finding one relevant thing to say in every meeting. Getting noticed and stepping up your perceived engagement will make it a smaller, quantifiable daily goal. It will build the speaking skills that make the later discussion about a raise or promotion not only easier for you, but also, make it easier for the decision makers to think of you as a  valuable contributor. If you’re weak on writing out your ideas, take a class that demands small, short writing projects. If you can’t find a class like that, look for an extracurricular activity. Recording a meeting with your phone and distilling it into two pages of minutes once a month for the school year will help you master those skills. (There is a formula to these, so you can easily do it correctly.) Construct your daily or weekly goal(s) to build a skill(s) that will build to the larger goal.

Going back to my primary contention with the book version of Launch Like A Rocket, professional success requires strong skills in communicating, organizing, relating to other people, and executing plans. In the book I break those down, giving you examples of each, why they are essential, and how to acquire them. When you don’t have these skills your career stalls out and you have no idea why. If you’re stuck in a job that’s not quite right, reading the book may help you figure out how to use the time wisely so the next spot lets you move forward at a faster pace.

Assuming you’ve got mind-blowing skills, the best way to get a job at any step of your career is through your network, so you need that network to not only know you, but to know you well enough to make accurate recommendations. They need to think of you first when it comes to certain skills, and feel recommending you to someone for a gig or position will reflect well on them. While you build a network, meeting new people, be sure that it’s a meaningful network. (I got a job this way and it led to meeting my spouse and starting my company.) Having hundred of connections on LinkedIn who don’t really know you and have no idea of your strengths and expertise doesn’t do you any good when it comes to getting considered for a job. The very best way to job hunt throughout your entire career is to have jobs come to you when you aren’t even actively looking. If that’s unimaginable with your current network, then you don’t really have a network.

I’m not advocating your goal should be to build your network. In fact, I’m advocating you don’t build that valuable network until you have a clear idea what you want that network to say about you, and make sure the future you 365 days from now clearly represents those strengths and skills. If what you want out of this year is a new job, whether within your company or with a new one, you need to think about what that manager wants in that position, and you need to work on being that qualified person. Whatever you want this year, you can make it happen by thinking strategically about the long term before you make a move.

Free Tools for Organizing Projects

If you’re going to get things done around there, you’ll need a good set of tools. And while notebooks and documents on your accounts may be working, keep in mind one of the tests of managing an event is whether someone else can pull off next month’s or next year’s version without reinventing from scratch. Even if that person is you and it’s just a semester-long study group or this year’s spring break trip, this is a great chance to practice using some more collaborative tools. Many of these tools will even help you offload some of the work, making any time spent mastering them easily recovered in productivity gains. (If you read my book, you can get a lot more in-depth about why this matters.)

Here’s my short list of free tools that have value in the post-college world. Most have more elaborate paid versions, but as with Gmail, the basic, free versions should be more than enough for most people. Continue Reading

LinkedIn 101

Someone recently asked me is I could teach a small group of college-bound high school seniors how to set up their LinkedIn profiles. Funny, because we’d just come out of our monthly Lean In Circle meeting where we went through our profiles one by one and updated them. There are a ton of people blogging in detail about tips and it’s definitely a project to think about that first little intro blurb, but I’m just going to give you a quick checklist of things to do for that new empty little profile and link them to other posts that give you some tips on how to do those things. Continue Reading

Job Hunt 101

The brutal truth is that while estimates vary, most jobs are never advertised at all. Openings pop up, internally and externally, and are filled through referrals. The easiest way to get a really great job is to have a rich, active network that thinks of you when they hear of new opportunities. Even jobs at places that are required to post openings and go through an open search process frequently go to someone with an inside track—all other things being equal the referred candidate offers a more certain outcome. The biggest mistake I see people make in their job hunts at any stage of their career is not building and maintaining their network long before they need it. Continue Reading

Reading: Aspiring Adults Adrift

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s earlier book, Academically Adrift, keeps coming up in my reading, but this follow-up, Aspiring Adults Adrift, speaks more to Launch Like A Rocket’s mission. Subtitled “Tentative Transitions of College Graduates,” in this book they “illuminate other aspects of collegiate experience that students themselves value, and also examine the relationship between collegiate experience and transitions to adulthood after college.” They note that often the experience students are getting in “getting along with others” actually involves getting along with similar people—not something the modern workplace team is going to value or reward. Their surveys show that students value the extracurricular experience and that, in fact, their references in surveys and interviews to academic performance is mostly focused on meeting the minimum requirements for graduation, clearly not demonstrating a huge value on the learning itself.  They note that “Given students’ focus on social and extracurricular activities during college, we may have expected most respondents to emphasize soft-skill development above all else when discussing how college helped them perform their jobs.” And yet they find these skills are no more valued that any others by the students. They also quote more research showing 90% of employers highly value these skills and find “more than 90 percent of employers rating written communication, critical thinking, and problem solving as ‘very important‘ for the job success of new labor market entrants.”

I previously hadn’t considered civic engagement, nor seen statistics on that issue, but would have guessed young people today were far more engaged than in the past. Continue Reading

Everyone is an Entrepreneur (or at Least a Small Business Owner)

At the end of September I was back at Denison University for parent and homecoming weekend. As part of the fall weekend, the Career Exploration department always organizes a series of roundtables for particular careers. Last year I covered communications, but this year I figured that the Arts roundtable was bound to have students I could help advise. I always enjoy these discussions with students because it sparks so many new ideas for me. While I didn’t think Reid Hoffman’s book quite hit the mark since his focus was more on managing your career, making the “Start-up of You” a metaphor, my takeaway from my roundtable experience is that everyone literally should be thinking about their business(es). (And as I read more about Mr. Hoffman’s thinking, I think we might be in agreement, after all.)

For arts students it’s perhaps more obvious that this is required. While one student I met seemed more interested in a career as a recording artist, for which I have little advice, it was clear that he also had the skills to compose music, so my follow up email was about the various royalty-free sites where we buy music for many of our films. Essentially an Etsy-like business model, I don’t know why any music student wouldn‘t put some tracks up and start learning what sells and what doesn’t. Although this may not be enough to earn a living and it may not be their ideal career path, what if it could ultimately generate $300/month in income? (With a limited consumption of time, and all that time consumed when most convenient to them.) Add in one wedding-type performance event a month (always a weekend) with perhaps four people splitting $1,000. Again, very little time given up in exchange for part of a monthly income stream. Build up a following via the royalty-free music and maybe once a month you can sell a custom composition for a corporate film for $1,000. You see where I’m going, right? Something has to happen before you’re an overnight success with millions coming in. Continue Reading

Returning Student To-do List

Here’s my list of things to do in September for returning students:

  1. Get a flu shot (you don’t have time to be sick). Most pharmacies can do this, you don’t need a trip to the doctor or student health. It’s likely covered by your insurance, but if not, it’s a great investment of $25-40. You cannot get sick from the shot, and each year’s shot is different.
  2. Stock up on the stuff you’ll need if you still get sick, as your budget permits. Some vitamin C, Zinc tablets, and other OTC basics like cough syrup, decongestant (nighttime and non-drowsy), and a fever reducer like Advil or Tylenol (or plain old aspirin). When you are sick you won’t want to go out and get this stuff and you need it all to get well faster.
  3. If your parents are not picking up 100% of the college tab, make sure you’ve got the best possible employment lined up. You need a good hourly rate, sufficient hours (at times that don’t interrupt school), and, ideally, something that is helping you make contacts or build skills. If you’ve got to take a nanny gig, do so, but keep looking—that’s not a job that does much for you in the long run. It tends to have no network and no respect in the career job market. Working your way through college is a great thing to do, but it’s not going to give you much time for extracurriculars that build skills, so you want to make sure jobs are doing double duty as an income generator and a skill builder.
  4. Go talk to professors in your major, if your school doesn’t provide you with a specific advisor. If you don’t like your advisor, you need to be looking for a professor to replace them. This is not a big deal. Odds are if you are not clicking with someone, they aren’t clicking with you either. In any event they are professionals, they won’t have hurt feelings. You need information on where this major might lead you.
  5. Go talk to career services NOW. Find out what services they offer on your campus. I went to UCLA and they were great back then and clearly are still terrific. You’ll want to front-load any workshops in September and October. The hunt for a summer internship starts early in the year. If you go to school away from home, you may want/need to live at home in the summer (lots of internships are unpaid), so you need be well underway so you can do informational interviews over the phone in October-November, in the hopes of setting up some meetings in the winter break. Looking for an internship over Spring Break is way too late. (If you are hoping to submit a research proposal for the summer, note that successful proposals get discussed with professors now—it’s a Fall semester project even if it’s got a Spring semester deadline.)
  6. Career services will certainly have access to programs to help profile careers that might be a fit, but if not, I highly recommend What Color Is Your Parachute. It’s been in print since 1970, and it was the only book my peers and I could use back in the stone age when we graduated—before consumer-directed internet,, or anything else. We wrote letters, answering want ads in the newspaper, and sat by landline phones to get a call. (In the snow, uphill both ways.)
  7. Map out your completed classes and the ones you need to graduate with your major(s), minors, concentrations. You need to know now if it will all fit in and make some choices. (Large schools love to have these meetings late in junior or senior year—this approach is not in your best interest.) Even those without a clear idea of your major, you need to be taking control of your destiny. You may find your choices to date have locked you out of some majors or combinations of majors/minors. The process may also tip you off as to what your major should be based on where you are most engaged and already succeeding. I know there are offices on campus that will assist you, but you need to develop these life skills so some pre-planning before an advising meeting is still a good thing.

Continue Reading

Reading: The Defining Decade

Subtitled “Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now,” by Meg Jay, I loved this book. I first heard Meg Jay on NPR’s TED Radio Hour podcast, and loved her message. She’s a clinical psychologist working both as a college professor and in private practice. Her introduction notes, “Eighty percent of life’s most definitive moments take place by age thirty-five. Two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens in the first ten years of a career.” I found that pretty hard to resist.

Dr. Jay introduced me to the phrase identity capital–a collection of our personal assets. As you go through life, you accumulate experiences as well as skills. Her issue with underemployment after college is that it doesn’t give you any identity capital (and barely gives you relevant skills). You’re better off with jobs that help you continue to develop conversations that lead to lucky breaks. So nannying might be great for paying the bills, but work that on the side if you must while temping in a field you might be interested in so you begin to have experiences and conversations that move you forward.

Scary as it is to contemplate, time isn’t endless, so you can’t afford to mess around. I’m even more insistent on this point. I don’t think you can afford to write off the four (maybe five) years of college as a complete time out from the real world. As I read comments from clients like, “…you can’t pull some great career out of your hat in your thirties. You’ve got to start in your twenties.” I want to amend it to say: You can’t expect to pull some great career skills out of your hat upon graduation. You’ve got to start building them now.

Dr. Jay goes on to note that After serving on several admissions and hiring committees,…a good story goes further in the twentysomething years than perhaps at any other time in life. To go into internship interviews with a memorable story, you need to be doing things before you get the glorious internship that leads to the amazing first job. Spend your summers and your extracurricular time wisely!

The book goes on to a great second half on relationships, in much the same theme. (If you’re dating badly now, you’re missing out on building the relationship skills you’ll need when the right one comes along.)

Recommendation? The book is a fast read, full of stories about clients that really help drive the points home painlessly, but I recognize you might have to pick and choose so if you are really strapped for time, spend 15 minutes listening to her TED Talk. (Got an hour, check out the TED Radio Hour podcast on The Next Greatest Generation.)

What are Soft Skills?

Back in 2012, The Chronicle of Higher Education published this study on employer perceptions of college graduates. And one-third of folks from my very popular segment, Media/Communications said that colleges were doing a fair or poor job of producing graduates who were going to be successful employees. Another third of employers across all industries said “recent graduates are unprepared or very unprepared for their job search” while “over half of the employers indicated difficulty in finding qualified candidates for job openings.”

Sure, this survey is three years old and the job market is much improved. Some students are now reneging on offers because better ones come along. The thing is, while the offers are being made, and the jobs and internships filled, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be well-regarded. And failing at your first job without being told why is pretty disastrous. You may not end up fired, just shunted off to the side or conveniently laid off. Continue Reading

Look for Leadership Opportunities

In the Fortune CEO Daily newsletter today Editor Alan Murray reports from Brainstorm Tech that disrupter companies, all being disrupted themselves, talked primarily about “changing cultures and the people skills needed to change them.” When you’re out there interviewing, keep in mind that companies have a short-term and a long-term need. They are interviewing to fill an entry- or low-level position, undoubtedly full of basic grunt work at a desk or computer or on the road. You’ve got to be able to tackle that with a great attitude. If you’re lucky, they’ll couple grunt work with some formal training. But they are also making an investment in their new hire, even with no formal training program. They need that to pay off and so, all things being equal, the candidate who shows a glimmer of longer-term potential wins every time.

We live in a time of unprecedented change and that pace keeps accelerating. If you’re a new college grad or quickly on the track to be a new college grad, a lot of your technical skills are going to be obsolete in a few years. What will last a lifetime, and a whole career, are your communication and managerial skills. That’s where you need to focus your energy to stand out. Continue Reading