Eventually There Needs to be a Discussion about College Major

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Author, John Rindy, MPH

In my last article I suggested that we should stop asking kids, especially high school and younger, what they are going to “be” in life. I pointed out that in fact since they are going to “be” many things, it is sort of a ridiculous question. There is no way that the average 17 year old can answer the “What are you going to be?” question with any level of valid certainty. An old friend responded to that article with appreciation but with a very salient point. Paraphrasing, he made the point that with the seemingly endless amount of student debt that our young people are assuming, we need to have at least a discussion about academic majors at some point. And we are in agreement.

Before I continue, I need to point out another side to the college cost story here. One would think that not having a discussion about future careers would ultimately add to college costs because by not offering kids proper guidance, we are setting them up for frequent major changes, adding and dropping courses and falling behind in studies. In fact I propose that the opposite can also happen. I know, because it happened to me. You see, I answered the question, “John, what are you going to be?” “Band director” was my answer, to my neighbors, my friends, and my extended family. Unfortunately, within a quarter or two of classes, it became apparent that I was not cut out for the job. And yet I had told everyone, with a high degree of certainty that I was going to be a band director. I felt obligated to continue limping through my studies because of that pseudo promise. I limped and limped for three years before finally leaving the major feeling like a miserable failure. In the end, after bopping through a few more majors, I graduated after six years of college, with a two-year degree in business management. Talk about college costs and student loans! All because I was ashamed to give up on a so-called dream that I had touted would be my most certain future. So, now my readers can see why I am rather passionate about this topic.

When I encounter new students at orientation days, or during admissions days, I ask them questions, but never “What are you going to be?” I might ask “What do you plan on studying?” or “What are some of the areas of study that interest you?” These are more open-ended questions and since I am familiar with the areas our college has to offer, it can lead not only to some great conversation, but it also opens the door for me to explain why my work as a career counselor is relevant to them their first year, all the way through commencement and beyond. But what about discussions between parents and their children? Well, here is a formula that I always promote. I call it the three Ds equation:

Good Data + Deep Discussion = Great Decisions

Data: Today, we have the ability to measure a student’s interests, personality, values, skills, and leisure preferences. Want to see how it works? Go to my office’s website http://www.sru.edu/career and click on our FOCUS assessment. The access code is “rockon”. Have a youngster, at least in high school, take all five of the self-assessments and then, when they are finished with all five, click on the “See my top career choices” button below the assessments and scroll down. The tool combines the power of data from five separate assessments to suggest the areas that a student might begin to explore, in terms of their future. But it does not stop there, and no one should ever make a major or career decision based only on this type of data. There is also other data such as Bureau of Labor Statistics predictive data and other employment data that a capable career counselor can help lead you to.

Discussion: This “D” can take many forms. Here is what I say. Ask your selected college or university if they will offer one on one career counseling to students before they even arrive on campus. If they won’t then raise your eyebrows! Many career offices are not very busy at all and really have no excuse other than being short-sighted. Seriously, I have seen some career offices that only see a few students each day. Our office sees well over 2000 individual appointments each year with a team of only 3 professional staff and 4 less-than-half-time graduate assistant career counselors, yet we still make room for appointments for incoming students. School counselors are usually too overworked by their administrators (on the wrong things, like scheduling students) to be able to have these deep discussions. So, it is up to parents, friends, mentors and professional career counselors on campus to work with the students. Avoid telling your child things, instead lead with questions, explore different job descriptions at http://www.onetonline.org and ask what they like or what they do not like about each. Explore what subjects that they like, as well as what subjects they think that have been successful in. If they are stuck on a certain career, ask them to describe what they think the occupation involves every day and then check the accuracy against the bullet points in Onet. I like to show a student several jobs in a specific area, say accounting for example, and have them rate them on a scale of one to ten. Then I ask them to evaluate which descriptive bullet points they liked the most and which they liked the least in the daily activities described. Offer to find a one-day job shadow for your child and make sure they have a list of good questions to ask that day. But allow them to shadow a number of professionals in the field; not just one or two.

Here are other discussion topics related to career choice that you can have with a youngster about to finish high school:

  • Do you want to work around people, or not so much, and why?
  • Do you want to travel in your job (locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally) and do you know what you give up when you have a job like that?
  • Do you want a job that you can work at successfully with a Bachelor’s Degree or are you willing to think about graduate school (Onet will tell you what % of the U.S. market for each occupation presently holds Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees).
  • Do you want a job with really high variability each day, or a job that has many of the same, precise tasks to do over and over again?
  • Do you think you will be willing to work varied shifts or long days (and define “long” for them)? Why or why not?
  • Do jobs with high risk (working with the lives, kids or finances of others) interest you, or are you more inclined to lower risk jobs?
  • How important are things like a big salary (define for them and put in context) and advancement opportunities (define this for them) for you. (Do not interject your viewpoint here parent. Do not!!! Your desire for a prominent position has absolutely no bearing on your child. They are not you, and may not value a large salary as you might, or vice versa.)

There are many other questions, but I will stop there. The point is, only the combination of data, plus discussion will result in great decisions. Lastly, and I believe I started to make the point above, I should point out that everyone’s happiness pie recipe is different. As you discuss, you, the parent should be talking about 10-20% of the time and the child should be talking the rest of the time. Your job is to ask questions and then listen. Never use the words, “I believe”, “I feel”, “I think”, “But I say” or anything that inserts your influence into the discussion. Your kid might not be interested in a huge salary – maybe they want to consider social work. Your kid might not be interested in a highly visible and prominent occupation – perhaps they would prefer to serve as a mental health counselor. You kid might express interest in an occupation that will require for them to move away from home – you need to get over it. It is their life.

In any case, ask, listen, and lead them to new experiences and new ideas about the world of work. In the end, they will learn to make more informed decisions in everything they do.

It’s your future (and theirs). Take charge (and teach them to take charge, responsibly)!

Stop Asking Kids What They Are Going To “Be”. Just Stop It!

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

Why don’t most of us become the things that we said that we planned on becoming when we were 17?  I recently came across this quote by radio personality Garrison Keillor, “Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.”

Author and theorist Dr. John Krumboltz, developer of the Theory of Planned Happenstance approach to career counseling, a theory that I subscribe to quite readily, reflects upon a number of “realities” that we conveniently ignore as we encounter children.  In his book, Luck Is No Accident, Krumboltz points out a few key points:

  • Less than 2% of us actually turn out to “be” exactly what we said we were going to “be”
  • The world changes everyday
  • The people around us change everyday
  • Our community and the economics that surround us each day change dramatically
  • New jobs, that had never been envisioned in the past (e.g. Social media specialist) are being created each day
  • Most college-bound youngsters “choose” majors and career paths without ever actually experiencing the jobs that they are considering committing to

Krumboltz makes an incredible point in the book when he states, and I am paraphrasing for the sake of impact, “Forcing a teenager to make a public statement about what they are going to “be” (i.e. Be for the rest of their lives, without any formal life experience) is no different them asking them to describe the characteristics and name of their future spouse.”  What a powerful statement.

Here is the truth.  For the most part, even current college students cannot possibly predict what they are going to “be”. For more advanced adults, how many so-called “dream jobs” have turned out to be nightmarish.  A couple of phrases I like to say are:

“The grass is always greener, but you still have to mow it.”  – I believe that there is no such thing as a dream job – when you get into just about any job, there are always positive and negative aspects.  You create a dream job, when you, by means of happenstance, find your way into a career that you can shape and make your own. You do not realize that it is a dream job until on your way home one day you think “Wow!  I really value the things I did today,” whatever those values are.

“Stop asking people what they are going to ‘be’ because truth is, they are going to ‘be’ many different things.” – As testimony to this, I think about a former student that I had in a graduate course that I taught. I teach in a Master’s of Public Health program, and one semester I discovered that one of my students was a DVM. That’s right, she was a veterinarian!  She tried it out, she did it successfully for many years and then thought, “It’s time to do something else.”  Now, this is just amazing.  Vet school is about the hardest professional program to enter.  3.9 students get turned down all of the time, and it is much more difficult to enter a DVM program than an MD or a DO program! Yet, she will end up “being” something that she probably never imagined before starting vet school.

There is no way – absolutely no way – that we can expect a 17 year old child to choose from the tens of thousands of occupations that exist out there.  Heck, they are not aware of 99% of them, let alone having ever experienced them!  As I counsel some of the students at the university where I work, I often notice the difference in the way I think, verses the way that they think, when we are amidst a career counseling session:

My thinking: You are so lucky.  You will have this great transferable degree that can be used to do so many exciting things, and explore various career pathways throughout your life.  You will probably start with a job that you never imagined, and possibly one not directly related to your degree, or maybe an occupation you did not even know existed when you started college.  Then, happenstance – chance interactions with people as you do that job – will create new opportunities that will lead you places that neither you, nor I could possibly sit here and predict.

My students’ thinking:  I have to choose my first job.  I have to plan.  I have to make the unpredictable more predictable despite everything around me is changing dramatically every single day.  I have bills to pay – these student loans are going to start to become due 90 days after I graduate.  What are the two or three occupations that most graduates go into?  Where can I get a job doing those things?  How much will I make that first year? What are my chances of getting any of these jobs?  Where are these jobs posted so that I can go look for them there?

To me, it is painfully evident that what happens outside the high school and college classroom is equally, or perhaps more relevant to where each career will flow.  If I engage with no one throughout my studies, then not only will I have no clue what roles are out there in the world of work, but I will not have created those happenstance opportunities where someone might offer me the opportunity to go down a path, that could have led to an amazing set of career options.

So, why bother to blog on this?  Well, when I was 17, I was living in a fraternity house at college, and had to make a choice.  I was offered a job delivering pizzas at a new pizza shop near my school.  At the same time, my sister was working for a small laboratory and had reported to me that the lab was looking for someone to drive around and pick up blood samples from doctors’ offices.  It would have been easiest to take the pizza job, and I almost did.  Heck, I did not even have my own car.  I shared one with my sister.  But a friend told me that he would drive me to an interview at the lab.  Well, I ended up working for that lab for the first 12 years of my career, and was promoted at least 4 times.  During that job, I met a man who, after graduating from medical school went on to form his own company – he later invited me to leave the lab and serve as CEO for that company.  Why?  Because happenstance had brought us together, and we recognized certain valuable qualities in one another. So, there I was, with a two-year degree in business, serving as CEO of a multi-state health care company.  I didn’t even study healthcare!  Eventually, I worked in the environmental industry, by planned happenstance, and then higher education, by planned happenstance, where I have served as a professor, a dean and a career director.  Go figure.  All by happenstance!

Most of us are not going to “be” what we thought when we were in high school.  So it is time to stop asking youngsters the question.  Too much is out of our hands.  Instead, find a youngster and introduce them to someone, to something, to new ideas and adventures and careers.  Let them job shadow, and listen to them. Ask open-ended questions and let the come to their own conclusions that it is neither prudent, nor realistic in most instances, to tell people what they are going to “be” and that it is OK to answer that question with “I am exploring all sorts of great opportunities.”  Truth is, they are going to “be” many, many different things.

It’s your future.  Take charge.

Cocky or Confident?

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Author, John Rindy, MPH

A couple of months ago, I was at an event where I had a chance to mention some highlights of my department.  After the event, an acquaintance noted, side-bar, “Wow! That was pretty cocky of you, how you presented your department.” Now, I am not going to describe to exact event, nor am I going to explain what it was that I said about my department – I am concealing this because I have a number of readers in various circles and I do not want to single out anyone.

Where is the thin line between confident and cocky?  I have been giving this some thought and I came up with a few questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are cocky or confident:

When you say something, are you trying to better yourself or your team, in the eyes of others? (It should be your team.)

When you offer stats, are the stats factual and a good representation of your team’s performance? (If so, chalk it up to confidence.)

Are your words/thoughts/presentations full of “I” and “me” or are they full of “we” and “us”? (If you are “we” focused, then it is probably confidence.)

Is the end result of what you are saying intended to promote others, support others and ultimately help others? (If so, we are talking confidence.)

In this particular instance, while I am glad my acquaintance brought her perception to my attention, my comments met all of the criteria above.  When I probed for a reason why she felt my comments were cocky, it turned out she was comparing her own department’s performance to the numbers that I was articulating and she was uncomfortable about the differences.

Those of us who are faith-filled know that the Bible is pretty clear about God’s adoration for the humble, and the meek.  At the same time, we are also tasked with doing good things throughout our lives. One thing I often tell graduating college seniors is that “No one is going to tell your story for you, most of the time.  So, look for those channels by which you can get out information about the good that you do in a company or organization, but use those channels to do the most good for the most people, and not just to promote yourself.”

It’s your future.  Take charge.

 

Why I Love my Job: a Reflection on Leadership

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Author, John Rindy, MPH

Caveat, you probably need to read between the lines in this article, for two reasons: first, I have been reflecting on how much I love what I do for a living but this article is about the people and the structure behind that passion, it is not supposed to be about me; secondly, I just finished a 14 hour workday today, and sometimes themes become a bit more obscured when your gray matter is low on batteries.

So, who comes home from a extra long day and writes an article about how much they love and appreciate their job?  Before anyone offers advice on treatment options, hear me out.  Lately I have been thinking about not only my job but what factors make my work a true pleasure.  I believe that embedded in these factors are probably some hints to great leadership.  During my hour-long drive to work and then the evening commute home, I have had time to give this some thought.  Here are a few of the things that seem to contribute to my work satisfaction:

5. Visible outcomes – If it moves, we measure it, but sometimes we do not even need to measure it.  I work in a career office and even if we create and promote an event, seeing 400 students show up for a program that we created is satisfying.  It is even more satisfying when a student says, weeks later, “I got a great internship because I attended that new event.”  But you know what?  You need to get off your duff and measure things – it takes a great deal of effort – measurement pays off big time in the long-run.

4. Focused, professional and fun co-workers – That seems to be a tall order; so many positive characteristics.  Yet I think that the best workplace can also bring out the best in people.  Our office is so busy, we do not have time for drama or idle minds and hands.  Moreover, we are very careful about whom we invite to work in our office – they must be an exceptional fit for our four-pillar FISH! philosophy.  Before starting my current job, three years ago, I admit that I took things less seriously, but in this new environment, I am more serious, more organized and yet, surprisingly, I am having a lot more fun.  My co-workers, both within and beyond my office are exceptionally dedicated professionals.  What a pleasure it is to work with them each day, drama free!

3. Appreciative and critical feedback – When you work in an organization where risk-taking is encouraged and applauded, then it is so much easier to accept critical feedback. After all, your job is not at risk just because a new program only attracted 10 students.  So you make an adjustment and figure out how to do it better next time.  Further, I find a high level of appreciation in my organization.  People send cards!  That’s right, cards!  I, as well as my closest co-workers each have a drawer full of thank you cards from co-workers, administrators, students, alumni and even parents.  I too keep a pack of such cards in my top drawer, and often reciprocate.  It is a “Thank you!” culture where people truly seem to strive for win-win situations. Today, alone, I received two separate emails from my supervisor thanking me for my work on projects.  I am not a person who is driven by money, but if you just recognize and value my work and support me, I will work my tail off for you and my stakeholders.

2. Laissez-faire (translated “let them do”) supervision – By no means is our executive leadership “laid back”.  To the contrary, as I mentioned earlier “If it moves, we measure it.”  That was in quotes because it is one of my supervisor’s mantras.  But I learned early on that if you demonstrate that your decisions are based upon study, fact, critical thought and inclusive decision-making, you tend to win the support of our top leaders.  So, do not let the term fool you, our brand of laissez-faire is really “Let them measure, let them prove, let them risk, let them do and let them be praised and appreciated.”  Leaders take note, laissez-faire leadership also tells people “I trust you.  I hired you because you are a capable, good fit.  Now get to it!”  If you do not trust your people, you are either a miserable micro-manager and ought to stop trying to convince people you are a leader, or you did a really lousy job hiring your staff. Period.

1. Supportive supervisor – Isn’t that the same as number two?  Not exactly.  I can talk to my supervisor about anything.  She knows my quirks but she also knows my strengths.  She knows what motivates me, and she knows what ticks me off, and she cares about it!  She admires and heralds examples of collaborative efforts within and beyond our division and she includes me and other middle managers on major decisions, on major committees and touts our offices’ accomplishments to our president, our provost and our deans on a fairly regular basis, and, by the way the executives tend to acknowledge us in reply! Now that is what I truly define as “supportive”.

I have acquaintances who work in shockingly toxic work environments, and it breaks my heart.  In the past few years, I have dedicated many evening hours to helping some of those folks escape their work situations. All of these people are superb professionals themselves, which leads me to ask the question, “Who is causing all of the problems in these workplaces?”  Maybe this is a chance for a leader to self-analyze.  If we examine the opposite characteristics of my list above, we can imagine environments that lack support, discourage risk-taking, are selfish and entitled, that are full of micro-managing, top-down unappreciative bullies who at the most, offer a nasty review maybe once per year.  All of this serves to create a workforce that is paranoid, scattered in their thoughts and actions, and one that is badly prone to energy-draining negativity and loads of time-consuming water cooler drama.  Who needs it?  What a waste of a great life, when we could be serving, loving and leading instead.

It’s your future.  Take charge!

Count to 10 Moments: The Lost Art

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Author, John Rindy, MPH

“. . .not only are you wrong and clearly incompetent, but you are the poorest excuse for a co-worker I could imagine – we are going to lose this account because of you, and guess who is going to take the blame? ME!!!!  Some friend you turned out to be.  I will NEVER trust you with another project AS LONG AS I LIVE!!!!!!

I can remember the time I told what was probably an inappropriate joke to a client many years ago.  That night I got a call at home from my boss of eight years.  He wasn’t pleased.  He hadn’t really gotten the true story from the client, frankly, but it didn’t matter.  I was millimeters from the unemployment line.  We tend to fire off things we regret for one main reason: because we can.  That’s right.  Think about the times that you later regretted your words and actions. Chances are, you really did not go very far out of your way.  It was simple to walk to the next cubicle and let someone have it, or in anger, you picked up the phone, called that client and blasted them.  Maybe you made the same mistake I did; you became carried away in the moment and took a tasteless joke too far, at the wrong time, in front of the wrong company. Most of us have done it and some of us have done it many times.  It really depends upon your experience, your maturity and probably your level of extroversion, or propensity to sort of go on and on about things, unfiltered.

These days, “because we can” has taken on a new meaning and a new level of irresistability.  We carry with us, in the palm of our hands, a tiny device that has a hundred times the features and functions and probably hundreds of times the computer storage capacity of the Saturn Rocket that propelled Neil Armstrong to the moon.  Yep, it is our cellphone, iPad Mini or other digital communication device.  I noted to a group of students recently that today, on college campuses, one of the main sources of conflict and fist-to-cuffs, is not stealing someone’s girlfriend, or someone’s laptop computer, it is misunderstandings brought on by our inability, or unwillingness to count to ten, to let things settle for a day, to ponder and reflect as to whether a situation really warrants the personal attack that we have keyed into our IM, our text field, or our Twitter account.  Meanwhile, our index finger hovers over the “send” button with an eager compulsion.

With our Generation Y friends, this takes on a particular challenge.  Because younger people, below the age of 21, literally do not have the the frontal lobe physiological development (the frontal lobe is involved in analyzing and projecting whether a situation could be deleterious), nor any level of real-world professionalism to guide their actions, the idea of having that power to respond immediately can not only be completely irresistible but can in fact be a career altering mistake.  These moments of poor decision-making can take on a life of their own, especially if that Tweet, Facebook post or IM is captured by one of the growing number of private firms that collects, stores and sells access to our very worst digital moments, to the human resources departments of large companies.  That’s right, just about anything you have posted online, even if you have removed it years ago, is probably already on file with companies like Social Intelligence Corporation, who, for a fee, are more than glad to use these unflattering lapses (and photos) against you in the job hunt process.

Boil any personal or workplace conflict down, and nearly every time, you will find poor, incomplete, or inappropriate communication at the heart of the conflict.  A CEO who is top down, nasty and a “my way or the highway” type.  A boss who cannot take criticism and stops talking to her direct reports.  The board members who show up at the company three times a year and have nothing to offer but criticism.  Most of these situations call for thoughtful, planned responses, yet in nearly all of these situations, many of us would be compelled to fire off that nasty text, email or even face-to-face rant.  Well, it is unprofessional.  There is no other way to say it.  It is stooping to the level of the lowest common denominator, and, if it is through our phone, it is allowing ourselves to be at the mercy of a tiny digital machine, combined perhaps, with our indignant need to always win in each situation, or to always be right (and right now).

An age old answer to this dangerous compulsion is something my mom and dad taught me; “John, take a count-to-ten moment before you do anything rash, because if you don’t, then 100 times out of 100 times, you will only make the situation worse.”  Better yet, dear readers, sleep on it for a night and store it in the “draft” folder.  I have found that 100% of the time, my attitude and most of the text of the email or Tweet seems to change rather dramatically the next day.

It’s your future.  Take charge.

Good Leaders Know When to Say “No!” to “Reply All”

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Author, John Rindy, MPH

I have joked – well, sort of – among my peers about my distaste for the “Reply All” button, which is unfortunately available in most email systems. Well time has come to make the point more public.  My poor email box simply cannot take it anymore and soon, people who truly need to reach me will not be able to do so with all of the “Reply All” fluff that I get each day.

About two months ago, I was working with a friend and former colleague at another institution on a project.  After weeks of work on the project, a few of us came to the conclusion that the project was simply not worth the time that we were spending trying to put it all together.  So, my friend issued an email, by listing several people in the “cc” area of the email address, to a group of those people whom we considered “concerned” about the project, saying that the project would not be continuing and explaining the reason. That was really his biggest mistake; he should have used “bc” instead as it prevents “Reply All” messages.  A couple of days later, a minor contributor to the project clicked the “Reply All” button, berated and embarrassed my friend and colleague “in front of” about 10 other people, while adding two other executive leaders from both universities to the “cc” list.   In my book of unbelievable moments, it went down as one of the most unprofessional actions I have ever witnessed in 20 years of corporate leadership and 10 years of higher education leadership.

Understand that I see “Reply All” as a sort of social injustice.  Other people, often hastily, decide what is important for us to see, inconsiderate about our already-full email boxes, and then they load us with unrequested information, often for the sake of their own convenience.  “Wow!  That was harsh!” you might think.  No.  It is actually true.  How about a little research – my readers know I love data.  I visited with 15 professional friends and asked them if they had ever used the “Reply All” button on their email system.  All 15 had at some point in time, as have I, reluctantly.  I then asked them why they used the button.  As I jotted down their answers, a pattern became very clear.  In fact, I could categorize their reasons into three broad categories (in order of frequency):

  1. To cover my butt
  2. To expedite – so I do not have to hunt for something later and send it to someone who requests it (i.e. It is easy to do)
  3. Because a group of people really needed to know something

The results were not surprising, only the order.  I remained hopeful that most people really shared information by “Reply All” when it was exceedingly apparent that they had thought through the action prior to sending the messages.

I will just pause to reiterate what my friend should have done.  His message was the perfect opportunity to use “bc” or blind copy.  In a blind copy message, no one can even see who is on the list.  The “Reply All” feature will only send a reply to the original sender and not to anyone else.  It is one of the very few good and acceptable uses of “bc”.

So, when should you use “Reply All”.  I will summarize the thoughts of various authors on the issue.

Use “Reply All” only if:

  • Your response will cause other people to actually act
  • You know that everyone on the list will be interested in the reply (If you do not know everyone on the list personally, then don’t do it; it is rude as you have absolutely no way of knowing if it is of interest to them)
  • If the reply is going to 10 or fewer people (if more, then use “bc”)
  • You have something absolutely critical and substantive to add to a discussion
  • You disagree with what a group is proposing

Do not use “Reply All if:

  • Your response will have absolutely no effect on other people
  • You are sending an item requested by the sender (If the original sender is merely collecting answers/files, then you do not need to “Reply All”)
  • If you are just sending a “thanks” or “ok” (God! Please!)
  • You find that less than 70% of the people are actually participating in the “Reply All” discussion (I will be one of those non-participants, by the way)
  • You agree with what is being proposed (That is assumed by not replying)
  • You are doing it to cover your butt or tattle on someone
  • You intend to reprimand, call out or berate another or return nasty comments

Your use of email and netiquette says a lot about your expertise, your demeanor and your leadership.  If you are a frenzied, “cover my butt”, hurrying from one thing to another thing leader, then you probably are one of the “Reply All” abusers who are causing the rest of us problems.  And for you folks who embarrass and berate by “Reply All”, do you know that correcting a co-worker in front of others is probably the worst thing a leader can do to a team member, let alone adding executives to the “cc” as if A) they care and B) they have time to solve something you perceive as world-ending problem.  Knock it off!

Remember, every action you take in the workplace is received and perceived by many.  Overuse of “Reply All” simply demonstrates that you do not understand the tool, and thus shows disrespect for others on the thread.  So do your best to keep your fingers off of, what I call, “that evil little button.”

It’s your future.  Take charge!!

Today, you are either Networking, or Not Working

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Author, John Rindy, MPH

Today I attended a large regional job fair.  Having encouraged about 100 students at my institution to attend, I, along with some of our other staff members also attended, in order to pitch in and work various stations at the fair.  My first assignment was the front door, greeting entering employers, and directing them to check-in.  I knew many of the recruiters and so I took time to strike up a conversation on a number of occasions.  One of the career pros, who was also stationed at the door, also engaged me in a conversation about making connections.  It was during our discussion that she uttered the phrase, “I tell my students, ‘Today, you are either networking or you are not working.’”  It was just too simple and yet too amazing not to bring it back and share it on Careersonassignment.

As the day wore on today, I witnessed around 1000 college students, interacting with about 300 recruiters from around 130 different employers.  If we did not need each other, if we did not need people in our networks, all of that activity would have been in vain.

Hearkening to a recent job fair at my home institution, I formally polled employers asking them many questions.  One of the questions I asked was for them to rank the ways they prefer to recruit.  Of course job fairs, through my network, newspapers and online ads, job postings on college websites and randomly mailed resumes were among the various choices.  I asked our employer recruiters to rank their preferred method as #1 and so on.  What were the top two hiring methods selected by recruiters, by far?  Job fairs, and using their network dominated the rankings.  Which were dead last?  Newspaper and online ads, and randomly mailed resumes; the exact advice we career professionals have been giving to job seekers for years.

A while back I did an article on introverts, based upon my understanding of the Susan Cain book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking.  I hold fast that whether a person is introverted or extroverted has no bearing on their responsibility to build a network.  A college degree does not get you a job.  A resume does not get you a job.  A cleverly-crafted cover letter or fantastic LinkedIn page does not get you a job.  Nearly eight out of ten times today, it is people!  People get you jobs!  People connect you to opportunities.  People review your resume, recommend you, endorse your skills on LinkedIn and interview you.  So whether you are a bubbly social butterfly, comfortable in any setting, or a thoughtful quiet, and reserved professional, you are still responsible for building a high quality (not necessarily high quantity) network of others with hiring influence.  Extroverts, keep hitting those job fairs and business and professional mixers and society meetings.  Introverts, spend at least an hour each evening on LinkedIn, clicking on profiles of people you might like to meet.  Remember, on LinkedIn, conversations happen in your own time, on your own terms and when you feel like being conversational.

Today, given the tools at our disposal, it is inexcusable to graduate from college with no network and no prospects, unless you have done absolutely nothing outside of the classroom. So, the next time you click on one of those horrible national jobs boards, or run out on Sunday morning to buy a newspaper so you can search the want ads, or think that spraying your resume everywhere and praying that you get a job is a good approach, remember this fateful phrase: Today, you are either networking, or you are not working.

It’s your future. Take charge.

 

Execution: What they Never Taught us in Business School

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

An old friend and I used to joke that business can be pretty much summed up this way:

  1. Have a meeting
  2. Make lists
  3. File a report
  4. Have a meeting on the report
  5. Make lists of reports
  6. Craft a strategy (and put it on the shelf)
  7. Hold focus groups on the strategy
  8. Have meetings about the focus groups
  9. Make lists of findings and report on the meetings and focus groups
  10. Make lists of meetings and reports and strategies and focus groups
  11. Repeat

I had a good chuckle today. I was talking with my intern, Riley, and I used the phrase “mired in the minutiae”; she asked what in the heck I meant by it.  I explained that the minutiae is the stuff that is constantly swirling around us everyday. We get caught up in it all and find ourselves “busy”.  Isn’t that good?  Isn’t it good when we are busy?

Let’s cut to the chase with this topic.  I remember way back in my early university learning when I moved colleges and decided to study business instead of music (a very good choice it turned out to be, by the way).  We talked about case studies and paradigms, and strategy and all of those buzz words.  We talked about planning, and thinking through what we were going to do with a business in the future.  But it recently occurred to me that we never talked about executing anything!  Fast forward to my more recent experiences in the corporate and higher education world.  Oh, how many strategic planning processes I have been part of, where we created the book and then set it on a shelf to gather dust.  After all, as it turned out, we were “too busy” to do all of that extra stuff anyway.

I recently listened to an audio book from Franklin Covey – part of it was narrated by Covey himself, God rest his soul.  It presented the four disciplines of execution; actually getting things done.  I thought this would be a good place to share those four disciplines:

Draw a line in the sand:  This means that you and your team choose two or three goals and only two or three goals at a time to try to accomplish.  If you all agree to focus on those goals amidst the whirlwind (the minutae) then at least everyone knows what is important in addition to the day-to-day.

Choose your measure: Of course you need to know if you have hit a goal, but what about on a daily or weekly basis.  You need a lead measure that predicts the lag (the goal itself) measure.  For example, the book explains, the scale is a lag measure (also called an “Oh crap!” measure) if you are trying to lose weight.  What would be predictive of the lag measure?  What would be a good daily lead measure?  The number of calories you eat.  The amount of exercise you do.  These are more up-to-date measures.  You can literally monitor them all day, whereas weight, you can only measure when you step on the scale.  Oh crap!

Display the score:  People are more apt to see through the minutae if there is a scoreboard they can see.  The book described the average corporation mired in minutae as “bowling through a curtain”. Sure you might like bowling, but if you can’t see if you hit any pins, what fun is it?  Indeed!  The same goes for an office team.  The presentation also made the point that if you watch kids playing on a playground basketball court, you can always tell if they are keeping score, even if you can’t hear them.  They are playing tougher, making better shot selection, getting more emotional, using more teamwork and yes, even celebrating a basket more, together.

Build in open and oral accountability: Staff meetings should include a period where each person in the office articulates aloud one or two things they are going to do in the coming week to affect the lead measure.

I don’t know if there is a magic bullet to actually help us leaders move from planning to execution, but I do know that too many people fail on the execution side of the equation.  Maybe these four simple disciplines can help someone to at least see where they are lacking in their own execution amidst the daily whirlwind.

It’s your future.  Take charge!

Solving Problems is an Exhaustingly Bad Habit. Stop doing it!

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

That’s right, I said “Stop doing it!” How many times have we sat around the office complaining about problems, focusing on what’s wrong and thinking of our organization as a perpetual problem to be solved?  How many times have we driven home thinking of work problems, and had trouble sleeping because of the deficits we experience in our workplace.  Truth is, when we see organizations as problems to be solved, it is easy to see that eventually, all we find are more problems.

Traditional problem-solving focuses on a deficit-restoration model.  We are performing below some set standard.  So, we figure out what is wrong, apply a solution and restore the organization to the status quo.  The goal with problem solving is to take an organization that is performing at the “D” or “F” level and restore it to a “C” organization – one that we can all “live with.”  As it turns out, there happens to be a better way.

Let’s take that same organization that is experiencing problems, and address the problem as an opportunity;  not an opportunity to restore the organization to the status quo but to create an exceptional organization well-beyond the status quo.  Suppose, next, that we gather all of the folks who work there and ask a question like “What makes your very best work day, your very best workday?”  Suppose we continue asking questions like “Tell a story about a time that you provided the absolute best service to our customers,” or “What are the very best qualities of our team?”  We might also ask, “On your very best work day, what do you value about working here?”

The process I am talking about is called “Ai” or Appreciative Inquiry.  What we actually do with all of this data is work to agree to a common reality that we uncover through asking positive questions.  Essentially, we agree as a collective on what characteristics describe the very best of who and what we are as an organization.  Now, suppose we digest that information, and then attack the question, “Given what we know about the best of what we have experienced, what does the very best future look like?”  More discussion ensues. Then we explore “Now, what will it take to get there?” and finally “How do we implement this?”

Ai researcher and visionary Dr. David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University points out that if we spend time seeing our organization as problems to be solved, then problems are all we will find.  This eventually degenerates morale, sapping valuable energy and making the organization a miserable place to work.

So, there is another way.  Ai is not a deficit-restoration process.  Instead, it looks beyond restoring the status quo and essentially asks and then answers the question, “If we were to create a situation where we are always existing at the same level as our very best experiences, what might the future and our organization look like?”

I am as guilty as the next person at spending time problem-solving.  As I learn more about this curious, yet amazingly simple philosophy, I am trying desperately to change my habits.  I will leave my readers with an incredible concept related to Ai.  I have read and heard this many times as I have become a practitioner of Ai. “The moment we start asking questions, we start to change. If our questions are negative, we will change in the negative direction but if our questions are positive and focus on strengths and opportunities, rather than deficits, we will always move the organization toward the positive.”  Light bulb moment!

It’s your future.  Take charge!

Where is your Commitment? The Case of the Disappearing Dr.

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

The great thing about blogging is that from time to time, you can bring to your readers a real time case that highlights a point you have blogged about in the past.  Just recently, the president of a Midwestern university, announced his intention to leave the role, not even a year after assuming the presidency. He will be leaving to accept the role as president at another Midwestern university.

Recall, dear readers, that I blogged about, among other things, knowing when it is time to quit your job (and how to do it), and also, my definition of commitment.  As I consider this case I think about my feelings when families break up. Parents without children can consider themselves and the impact of a break up on the extended family, but parents with children. . .well. . .that is something else.  You see, I equate this higher education professional’s act of saying “Yes,” to accept the role of president to taking on an entire family – the school, its students, faculty and administration, the school’s alumni and the entire community.  Some readers may have disagreed with my blog definition of commitment and some will disagree here.  Parents with kids, must place their kids first, regardless of marital discomfort (excluding the criteria that follows) and the leader featured in this blog should have put aside his own dreams and wishes for the betterment of his adopted family.  Once you accept a presidency, your wishes and dreams take second place to your constituents.

Criteria for Leaving Employment (a Marriage)

It is one thing for an assistant director, or faculty member to decide to pack up and leave an institution, but it is a different story and a different level of scrutiny when a president does this.  I have stated my “acceptable” reasons for leaving a job abruptly, and this goes for a marriage, with or without kids: Verbal, mental, physical or sexual abuse, substance abuse, or gross infidelity.  That is it.  Otherwise you owe it to your constituency to live out the contract (employment or marriage).  That is right, your happiness notwithstanding. What I mean to say is that once you are beholden to a massive constituency that relies upon you for guidance and leadership (i.e. children or students and community members) their needs trump your own happiness. Period.  It is my belief that when you accept children into a marriage, or an employment contract as president or chancellor of a university, you also sign away 100% of your rights to put your own needs and desires first, with the few exceptions listed above.  To abandon your adopted family, as president, is purely selfish and grossly unprofessional.  An individual signs away their right to be selfish when they accept such a high appointment.

Examining the Role

While college presidents are well compensated, financially, in my estimation, being the president of an institution of more than a couple thousand students is an exceedingly difficult job.  What I mean is that while most of us can stop”being” our work role at 5:00, a president never has a moment when they are not “president”.  When eating dinner at a restaurant, people interrupt them, at church they want to bend their ear afterward, they are expected to attend endless dinner parties, fundraising events, weekend and evening events, awards banquets and commencement ceremonies.  What makes the Case of the Disappearing Dr. even more unusual is that this particular individual was a university president before accepting his present appointment.  He knew what he was signing.  He was adopting a huge family and yet, in the end, he still elected to placed his desires and happiness above tens of thousands of his adopted constituents.

Commitment Revisited

If you return to my blog reflection on commitment it is easy to see why I find the Case of the Disappearing Dr. so inexcusably selfish and maybe even a tad arrogant.  Anyone whom this fellow has mentored in the past has got to be questioning his choice to forsake his commitments.  Allow me to sum up what commitment should have meant to the good doctor:  Commitment means that you must work whenever, wherever, and however to assure that your constituents are served with passion, professionalism, presence, patience and a commitment to hard work and their very best interests, in fulfillment of the entire contract, your personal wishes notwithstanding.

In closing, I suppose the good doctor may not have fully considered his choice to accept the role that he will soon abandon.  I think it begins with deeply knowing oneself.  Perhaps if he had searched his heart more deeply, in the first place, all of these unpleasantries would have been avoided.  It seems to me that all leaders should be more self-aware before taking on such roles.

It’s your future.  Take charge.

A True Leader Shares Knowledge

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

Mahatma Gandhi once said “A teacher who establishes rapport with the taught, becomes one with them, learns more from them than he teaches”.  Wow!  Don’t get me started Gandhi! Nothing is more discouraging to me than people who use their knowledge to set themselves on a pedestal, to arrogantly put distance between themselves and others, or to act as appointed judge and jury upon others.  Knowledge should unite and encourage and never be worn as a badge of superiority.

A candle can light many other candles without giving up its own light. Here I speak of a concept called institutional learning.  Institutional learning happens when we share knowledge within an organization, in that it lives on and can be used even after the original learner has left the organization.  For example, suppose my employer pays for me to go to a conference.  When I return, I can then apply everything I learned.  But suppose I decide to leave the organization a few days later.  All of that knowledge and the money invested in my learning, walks out the door with me. This is one of many reasons leaders should set an expectation of knowledge sharing, or institutional learning. Knowledge should be institutionalized whenever possible, rather than just individualized.

Good leaders not only encourage learning but also demand that others share what they know.  A leader who cares not about the common sharing of knowledge is destined to lead an organization that is siloed, protective, territorial and a place that no one really wants to work.  So whether your knowledge comes from a conference, a course, a certification or a doctoral degree, remember, it should never be held up as badge by which one demands respect.  To the contrary, these symbols of higher learning should be viewed as a bestowal of greater responsibility, and a profound opportunity to humble oneself, and as Gandhi said, “develop rapport” with your learners, rather than using your knowledge to show others how superior you are. Chances are, if you are arrogant enough to think that your degree or certification makes you superior or special, most others are likely thinking just the opposite, behind your back.

It’s your future.  Take charge!

Choosing an Undergrad College? Think Retention and Continuous Learning.

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

So, are you trying to decide between two, colleges?  Three?  Four? Ten?  Early on in my blog I spoke about the concept of first-year retention.  A college or university’s first-year retention rate essentially answers the question “What percentage of the first-year students who started in the fall of last year, are still in those seats, at the same college this year?”  The national average retention is around 70%, that is, 7 out of 10 students who start college, are still at the same college a year later.  The school where I work hovers in the 82%-83% retention rate range and yet across the nation, there are schools in the 40-55% first-year retention rate.  So what is the difference?

Letting Some Off the Hook

This article is supposed to be about continued learning, outside of the classroom and yet I am still talking about retention.  Well, this article also reflects my belief that what goes on outside of the classroom has as much to do with retention – or more – than what goes on inside the classroom.  So, to begin, let’s let a few school off the hook.  Across the US there are a plethora of small and medium state universities and community colleges whose charters require that they accept any student who possess a high school diploma or GED.  So, no matter the student’s level of preparation for college, they will most likely be admitted to these schools upon application.  This type of policy can automatically impact retention rates, even though these schools often offer remedial reading, writing and mathematics courses.  So we need to be careful when thinking about these schools as their retention rates are not quite as reflective of the quality of co-curricular learning as the retention rates at, say, a small private, or a mega-research university with lower (40-60%) retention rates.

High Retention Rates + Deliberate Co-Curricular Learning = Your School Choice

Of all of the schools you visited, which ones are truly serious about learning?  Which ones offer a program to track co-curricular involvement?  Which ones have a retention department that tracks student performance to determine which students might not be getting involved beyond the classroom?  Which ones offer an education function as part of the residence life department so as to assure that learning – on topics of career development, student health, cultural respect, problem resolution, restorative justice, study abroad, study skills and time management, life after college – continues when students return to their residence halls for the evening?  Which colleges feature their career development office at all orientation and visit events – not for 5 minutes but for serious, 30 minute sessions – to tout the message that career development either happens all four years, both in and beyond the classroom or else the student will be looking at underemployment for, perhaps, a very long time?  Well, sit down and think about it.  Which schools truly care about learning?  To the contrary, which schools talked mostly about their picturesque campus and life in the dorms, financial aid and the great times that student will have as the main focus? Among those, which ones have retention rates below, say 60%?  If they are not an open enrollment, urban state school or community college, then it is time to ask them the hard question, “Why do so many of your students check out during that first 365 days?”

The Learning Continues

New college students might not always like the fact that their residence assistant or community assistant in residence life mandates that they attend learning sessions in the residence halls, or that their performance or lack of performance, attendance and involvement are tracked closely through a retention system, but years of research has provided reasonably strong evidence that a percentage of younger college students do not always have the cognitive development to make the very best choices when it comes to their time outside of the classroom.  A college or university that has worked to create a deliberate, continuous learning opportunity for its students will typically experience not only better first-year retention rates, but also superior graduation rates.

To find the first-year retention rate for the schools that you are considering, go to the National Center for Education Statistics and then search by school name.  Once you click on the school, click on the “More Information” link at the top of the window and choose the section for “Retention and Graduation Rates”, you might just be surprised what you find out about the schools you have been visiting.

It’s your future. Take charge!

To GPA or Not to GPA? That is the Question.

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

At what point should a recent graduate’s grade point average be included on their resume?  3.0? 3.5? 2.5?  About two years ago I had the pleasure of hearing a recruiter from Google speak about how to get hired at her firm. It is probably needless to say that jobs at Google are rather coveted; everyone wants a shot at being “Googly” as they say at the company.  The recruiter was pretty deliberate in her assertions that “If you do not have a 3.7 grade point average, do not bother to apply to Google.”  I wasn’t surprised.  I have always known that there was a certain “economic quality” to the job market.  Any highly sought after job is going to net a greater number of resumes, and so the firm can be more choosy on things like GPA; sort of like a supply-demand curve.  My favorite part of the presentation came in the following moments when a student raised their hand and asked, somewhat smugly, “Well what if we just do not put our GPA on our resume.”  The response from the jeans and Google t-shirt clad recruiter?  “Well, then we assume that it sucks.”  End quote.

So we now know that only the academically prepared make it into the hallowed halls of Google.  Only the most scholarly get to enjoy the 3 free meals a day prepared by an on-site chef, get to set their own hours, get to bring their dog to work, get to take their breaks in sleeping pods, enjoy endless healthy snacks from the 3 open, fully-stocked snack bars and take lunchtime breaks with colleagues over a game of Dungeons and Dragons, Monopoly or chill out for an hour in the library or the music room, equipped with guitars, electronic drum sets and both cutting edge as well as classic, original versions of video games from Ataris to the latest Play Stations.  But what about the rest of us?  At what point should a new graduate include their GPA on a resume?

A 2003 study by Arlise McKinney, published in the Journal of Personnel Psychology, examined the question of GPAs on resumes, in considerable depth.  In the peer reviewed study, the researcher examined the on-campus job interview pursuits of not 10, not 100, not 1000, but more than 100,000 college students.  Each of the students had submitted their resumes to be considered by various firms trying to establish on-campus interviews for jobs.  Some of the applicants included their cumulative grade point average. Some of the applicants included only their major grade point average, and some included no GPA.  So, what were the results?  Who got more interviews?  Is there a certain GPA that seems to be shunned by employers? Well, the study results were very surprising.  Among those students including their cumulative GPA, the top performing students (GPA of 3.76-4.00) were slightly less likely to receive an interview than the next lower tier (3.51-3.75).  Here is where it gets even more surprising. This trend continued in that pattern to the 3.0 GPA level.  That is correct.  People with GPAs between 3.0 and 3.25 were considerably more likely to be offered an interview by the employers than those at the 3.5 level and even more likely to receive an interview offer than a 4.0 student.  Who would have thought?  Additionally, once GPAs started to dip below the 3.0 level, the percentage of students offered interviews began to drop off sharply.

Now, what about listing the cumulative GPA verses the major GPA?  Yet another huge surprise, at least to this career professional.  Among students achieving major GPAs at or above 3.25, and listing only their major GPAs, interviews were offered at rates 5-12% above those with similar cumulative GPAs.  So, in essence, if a student had a cumulative GPA of 2.7 (and never listed the cumulative GPA on their resume) but a major GPA of 3.5, for that major GPA range, they would have been about 5% more likely to have been offered an interview than students with a stated cumulative GPA of 3.5. I should point out that major GPA seemed to have a greater impact when it was 3.25 or above.  Once major GPA dipped below 3.25 (between 3.0 and 3.25) it was more advantageous to list cumulative GPA, at least by a couple of percentage points.

So if this does not turn everything we ever thought about GPAs on its head, I don’t know what will.  Bottom line, even though the findings are very surprising, they still very much support the advice offered by most college career offices across the US.  If your cumulative GPA is 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale, then it is generally appropriate to list it on your resume, unless you are trying to secure a job at a highly competitive firm, like Google.  In that case, it might be important to calculate your major GPA. If your major GPA was 3.25 or higher, it would be more favorable to list your major GPA than your cumulative GPA, according to the results of this particular study.  If your cumulative GPA is below 3.0, it would also be prudent to calculate your major GPA and include it on your resume instead of your cumulative GPA, but only if the major GPA is at least a 3.0.  Remember though, if you list the major GPA, be honest and label it appropriately; “Major GPA”.  Do not say “GPA” because in this case, that would be misleading.

Now, what about the people who listed no GPA on their resume?  Well, they performed – received offers to interview – at approximately the same rates as those students who listed cumulative GPAs or major GPAs in the 2.5 to 2.75 range.  There were about 13,000 students who listed no GPA in this particular study.

Looking at this whole issue objectively, it is somewhat of a shame that companies screen on GPAs in the first place.  Not everyone is a “classroom learner” in the sense of the traditional “sage on the stage” lecture style “teaching” that many college professors still use today.  On the other hand, there are a number of studies that have also equated higher GPAs with eventual superior performance, on the job.  So maybe I am being short-sighted.  In any case, the message is pretty clear to college students.  You have to go to class. You have to study.  You really need to try to leave college with that 3.0, or you are automatically going to be screened out of the running for a considerable percentage of jobs for which you would have had a shot, if you had achieved at least a 3.0.

It’s your future.  Take charge!

Most Career Paths Today Are Not Linear

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

The University of Northern Colorado has hit the nail on the head.  I recently inherited a tumbler (see photo) that was a premium from the Career Services office at the University of Northern Colorado.  On a snowy, Ohio day, I sat down with my glass of ice water to do some reading and glanced at the graphic on the glass.  The graphic depicts an array of different sized and colored lines, capped off by arrows weaving amidst one another.  What a fantastic representation of the various career pathways that the college students of today will be taking.

The University of Northern Colorado uses the perfect graphic to depict the career paths of today.

The University of Northern Colorado uses the perfect graphic to depict the career paths of today.

Students often come to me with dreams of what they would like to “be”.  Truth be told, we career professionals know that today, most college graduates are going to “be” many different things, occupationally, during their lifetime.  The idea that an individual is just going to be one thing for the rest of their life may apply to some careers, but certainly not many, these days.  At the same time, the pathway to various jobs varies to a great extent.  I recently worked with a student who conveyed his dream to eventually become an athletic director, possibly at the college level.  So we jumped onto LinkedIn and examined the profiles of college ADs.  Some came from business.  Others came from sport management backgrounds.  Others were high school ADs before they moved to the college level.  A good number served in jobs such as sports information and intramural program coordination before their career really took off.  Once again, Northern Colorado’s (NCU) graphic representation holds true.  There is not one, absolute pathway to reach a certain career goal.

So this begs the question, with so many twists and turns in our career lives, is there any way to direct our career pathway?  I believe it is more about creating a path of least resistance, much as a stream seeks, and even alters its own pathway as it meanders downhill over the years.  John Krumboltz’s Theory of Planned Happenstance suggests that we are faced with many situations throughout our lives where we cross paths with those who have hiring influence; again, reminiscent of NCU’s graphic. Krumboltz would describe this as the “happenstance” part of his career theory.  The “planned” part is knowing your strengths, weaknesses and constantly being prepared to recognize those opportunities and then say “Yes” to those opportunities, even if accepting an opportunity might take us down a path that we had not anticipated.

People’s lives are not linear.  The world of work is not linear.  Career pathways are not linear.  I recently heard someone recite a stat that went something like this:  Seven out of 10 advanced professionals, with Bachelor degrees, who have been in the world of work for at least 10 years, are no longer working directly in the same area that they studied in college.  Now, I have no way of measuring whether this is true but I have certainly encountered a wealth of anecdotal evidence suggesting that this might be fairly accurate.  I would be one of those examples. I have a business degree, an environmental studies degree and a public health degree but I am a career counselor. I said “Yes” a lot, throughout my career.

So, if you are encouraging a youngster as they face a multitude of college choices, or if you are helping an advanced professional deal with a job loss, or a career change, remember that the route to a job, or to a specific career, is not typically scripted.  We never know where the word “Yes” will take us.  We just need to be ready to say it with confidence, while being keenly aware of our skills and knowledge.  But it is best to first sit down and deliberately inventory these as we seek to continuously build the network of professionals to whom we might reach out for advice and assistance.

It’s your future.  Take charge!

Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About This Stuff?

Author – John Rindy, MPH

  • You need to have a network of people with hiring influence before you graduate from college
  • The best way to choose a major is to use data, and discussion with a career professional
  • Going to class and getting a 4.0 is absolutely not enough to score a great job after college
  • You do not join organizations because it “Looks good on a resume.”

As I spend more and more time in higher education, I am increasingly baffled by the lack of attention paid by many mega universities and small colleges to the messages presented above.  I have visited a number of colleges and universities with my children, and have never heard these points mentioned or presented in any venue.

In my role as a career professional at a medium-sized university, whenever I have the chance to speak to groups of parents and their children who are exploring colleges and universities, these messages are always part of my monologue and yet after these presentations I am constantly approached by dozens and dozens of parents who tell me “That was the best message we have heard at any college we have visited.  I am so glad my son (or daughter) was here to hear what you had to say.”

Why in the world are colleges and universities at the large and small ends of the spectrum not talking about this stuff?  When our career office changed our message and started to say things like this in our presentations, we were told that parent feedback on end-of-day surveys reflected their appreciation and now, our office is featured in nearly every admissions and orientation program.  Certainly a nice pat on the back for us, but more importantly, a win-win for parents and their children.

Look.  These points are merely factual and yet colleges and universities get mired in the whole financial aid-housing-dining side of things.  Some institutions never consider their audience.  They sit around the table thinking “Now what is it parents will want to hear?  Oh, I know!  The money is important so we will have a huge financial aid component.  And the kids will want to know about the food and the housing.”  Truth is, by day number one of their first year in college, the whole dining-housing-financial aid thing is all solved, done and pretty much over with.  But career development is relevant every day and every year of these kids lives, for the rest of their professional career.  In fact, the career office is one of the only offices on a college campus which is:

A) Relevant before a learner starts college

B) Relevant the whole time the learner is enrolled in college

C) Relevant to the alumnus after they graduate, especially if they need post graduation support

So, if you really want to know how to choose a college, look for those who feature their career office; those who think the career message is important.  Now, I am not talking about the colleges that brag up “Look at all of the corporate CEOs who graduated from here.”  That is a bunch of marketing who-ha and your kid’s chances of being on one of those photos is practically nil!  Don’t fall for that sort of thing. I am talking about colleges, who during visit days and orientation quite literally feature a speaker from their career office who sends a four year career development message to visitors, and then provides evidence that the college actually carries out what they are selling.

It’s your future.  Take charge!

A Realistic Resolution for 2014: Two New Connections and Great Docs

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

I’d love to lose 20 pounds, and I am going to work on it.  I plan on taking yoga with my wife starting this month.  I plan on finishing my doctorate this year and being a better Christian, husband, father, boss and employee.  All “well and good.”  But what I am I going to do to make sure my career is also in good health?  I challenge my readers to do two things this year:

1. Update your employment documents

2. Make two really great connections and follow up with them

You’ve got 364 days so let’s get busy.

As a career coach, I believe that these are two of the best things you can do to keep your career future happy and healthy.

Just prior to the 2013 holidays one of my employers asked me for an updated CV. They do this about every three years.  I thought to myself “Wow! I wonder what my resume even looks like; I am so busy with everyone else’s resumes all of the time, I really never do much with mine.”  Well, suffice to say, it needed a significant tune up but I went ahead and took care of that.  I also moved a working copy of my resume to a location where I can readily access it and update it as I add new research or presentations.  As you examine your resume remember a few things:

Recent: The past 10 years.  It is OK to add older things but unless the information from those jobs is significant to your future career, keep the descriptions brief.

Relevant: If it is on the resume, you had better tell the reader why it is relevant. “Was in fraternity in college” is a big “Who cares?” to an employer unless you explain why it is relevant to the job.

Consistent: Your font, punctuation, bolding, underlining, spacing needs to be perfectly consistent from top to bottom.  Oh, and please do not forget to put your name and the word “page 2″ at the top of page 2.

Clear: Whether we are talking cover letters or resumes, there needs to be considerable clarity.  Rambling on, using confusing acronyms, giving incomplete dates and information or saying things in the cover letter like “as you will see in my resume” do not make for a good, clear read.

Concise: Your resume should be readable in 30 seconds or less.  Dates should be easily located.  If you have a big gap in your resume because you stepped out of the workforce to raise your family, account for that in writing by listing it as a job “Head of Household” and describe that time period with bullets like “managed budgets with precision, took a proactive approach to asset management, volunteered, giving back to the community, assisted in successful fundraising activities”.   Saying things like this does not give away whether you are married or whether or not you have kids.  Employers cannot ask certain questions in the interview, so being clear, but not sharing this information on the resume is a good idea.

What about those two contacts?

Here is the other part of that New Year’s resolution.  Make a deep connection with at least two great contacts who have hiring influence.  Use this criteria to choose your two connections:

1. The person must have the ability to hire other people

2. This person should be well-connected, themselves

3. This person should be well-regarded for being fair, hard-working and successful

4. You must have a venue in mind for establishing the connection (networking mixer, LinkedIn, Twitter, Rotary meeting, whatever)

5. Be sure to get their detailed contact information; connect with them in more than one way (e.g. face to face and through LinkedIn)

6. Set up and hold a second meeting with them by the end of 2014.  Talk about work, investments, volunteering, other ways to work together, your work histories, great books, great coffee, cooking, whatever.

The way I see it, if you want your employment documents to eventually have influence for you, they need to be clear, crisp, concise, as well as recent, relevant and consistent.  But if you want to bolster their usefulness by ten times, resolve to building your network this year, so that you can hand your resume to someone with hiring influence, rather than ending up in a stack of resumes like everyone else.

So, get busy!  Fix that resume and meet at least two people with hiring influence during 2014.  Oh, I almost forgot.  Pass this advice on to someone else, too.  And by all means, if you can help someone else make their two connection target for the year, make the introduction!  That is what networking is all about.

It’s your future.  Take charge.

When is it Time to Quit your Job (and how should you do it)?

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

Listen.  There is only one instance where it is appropriate to quit your job without notice: anytime there is an instance of dangerous physical, sexual or severe emotional abuse or harassment.  Period.  Not getting the shifts you want? Tough!  Not getting along with certain others at work? Too bad. Your work area a little too cold this winter?  Wear a sweater!

Today, I hear stories of young people leaving jobs, without notice, because of better offers, because of an argument with others in the workplace, because “it is just too far to drive here everyday” or because “this is just not what I thought I would be doing.”  What?  Are you kidding me?

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a highly successful employer whose policy is to allow their entire company staff to interview new hires.  Now this particular employer survives on billable hours, which means that their entire staff, instead of being billable at between $60 and $120 per hour, takes the day off from the field just to interview candidates. That probably costs the company around $5000, plus the cost of paying the employees to stay in the office to conduct interviews.  In all, the company probably loses, with overhead, between $7000 and $10,000 on any given day of interviews.  Now, can you imagine someone accepting the job and then leaving without notice, a week later because “This is not exactly what I thought it would be”?  Pulling something like this is reprehensible and whether it is a professional firm or your local Subway or McDonald’s, the company has invested time and money in hiring you and they deserve notice.  Companies need people to run efficiently and with continuity.  To put things in perspective, how do you like it when your power goes out or when there is a boil alert for your city water?  How about when your furnace just stops working in the wintertime?  That is a pretty good analogy of what an employer faces when employees leave without notice.

“But what about sexual harassment?” you might ask.  I am certainly no legal expert on this but I would say that this falls in the “physical or emotional abuse” column.  Sexual harassment, as well as the act of creating a hostile work environment because of refusal of sexual or other favors, is illegal.  As an employee you need to know who your advocates are. Quitting your job, without documenting the abuse can have ramifications.  If the HR department is clearly not going to be on your side, because of an all-powerful boss, you should consult with an attorney who can advise you whether to quit without notice or to find a way to document and later litigate the issue. Then again, if the situation has gotten out of hand, waiting to chat with an attorney might not be possible.  In any case, if the abuse is affecting your health (physical or mental), safety or dignity, or your future career, it is most certainly time to do something about it.

Now, back to the core discussion here; leaving without notice for reasons other than abuse or harassment.  I have blogged before about the all-important interview question “Do you have any questions for me?”  It is inexcusable to leave a job, without notice, especially if you were given the chance to ask questions during your interview. “Can you describe a typical day and the sorts of things I will be doing?”, “Could you give me an example of your management style and the sort of oversight I can expect?”, “Tell me a little about the people I will be working with.  What are they like and what are their work habits?”, “Will I be working any shifts or times other than 8 until 5 and if so, in what instances will I be doing that?” When I bring this up with job seekers they often say, “But then the company will not hire me if it seems I am too picky.”  Well, you should be picky.  Otherwise, you will end up wanting to quit your job, without notice, within a few days of starting.

So, if you are ready to leave your job, and want to offer proper notice, what is the best way to do it?  Well here are a few pieces of advice:

  • Always resign in person (if there is anger, it usually fades fairly quickly)
  • Offer a written resignation that you hand to your supervisor
  • In your written resignation, be as positive and gracious as possible
  • You do not need to say why you are resigning but you can offer how the company/job can be improved
  • Never resign by phone (unless your boss simply cannot sit for a face to face because of geography)
  • Always offer at least two weeks – they do not need to accept it but at least the offer is there
  • If you are under no stress to move to the new job, offer to stay longer or until a suitable replacement is found
  • Do not make recommendations for your replacement (this could turn a future reference from this employer sour if the replacement does not work out)
  • Before you resign it is okay to discreetly take any valuables home the day before, but never clean out your desk or give obvious signs of your departure
  • Despite your excitement about a new job, never, never, ever, talk about your interviews or even your job search, openly while at work or post such things on Facebook or other social media.  Also, be careful not to change your job title/site on LinkedIn before your actual resignation, since this will send a message to all of your contacts.

As a final note on this topic, I know that some folks out there will be forever looking for that so-called dream job, which will never materialize. If you are a person who talks tirelessly about the concept of eventually working in your “dream job” you need to read this last paragraph. Consultant, Pete Leibman, has spent a lot of time writing about and consulting on the topic of “dream jobs”. His conclusion? There is no such thing as “a single, or particular dream job.” That’s right.  No such thing.  Pete, found this out on his own.  His dream was to work for an NBA franchise.  When the dream came true he found out that it was just another job.  Leibman postulates that jobs are pretty much what you make of them.  You can be a good fit or a poor fit for a company.  The more deliberate you are on the front end about finding workplaces, work styles and daily work tasks that are a good match for your interests, values, personality and actual abilities, the less likely it is that you will need to perpetually be looking for ways to leave your job.  Any job can be a dream job, or no job can be a dream job.  The idea of the dream job and the potential for a job to be a dream job resides within ourselves, if and only if we are rooted in reality.

It’s your future.  Take charge!

Who are your Emergency Ten?

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

“John (or insert your name here), today we need to let go of 350 people, and you’re one of them.”

Good morning! Welcome to the sound of being part of an abrupt reduction in force. One day you have a job, the next day you do not have a job.  The way I see it, two things can happen from this point:

Option 1: You break into tears, wonder how you are going to pay your house payment, think about your kids and wonder how you are going to be able to afford Christmas, or soccer, or college or whatever.  How will you eat? It is the worst day of your professional life.

Option 2: You gracefully leave your bosses’ office and pull out your “emergency 10″ list and you get the word out.  After all, you have carefully and purposefully maintained your emergency 10 list and know that you will have a job within days or weeks at the latest.

Career gurus from Tony Beshara (maybe you have seen him on Dr. Phil) to Keith Ferrazzi (author of Never Eat Alone) each espouse some form an emergency 10 list, and so do I.

So, what is an emergency 10 list?  These are the first 10 people you would call, if you lost your job today. Your emergency 10 list should not be people you call for a crying shoulder (see option 1, if you want to go down that pathway).  An emergency 10 list is a list of 5 to 15 people, who have hiring influence, with whom you have remained in close contact over the past two to three years, minimally.  Let me repeat.  These are people with hiring influence.

Given the definition of the emergency 10 list, I need to overtly remove myself from any of my friends’ lists.  While I do have a lot of career advice and can support folks in their strategic job search, I do not have immediate hiring influence.  I cannot give anyone a job tomorrow. I use myself as an example of who not to include in your emergency 10.  I can certainly help, because I know a lot of professional corporate recruiters, but I cannot give you a job (it doesn’t work that way at a state university).  So let’s go back to the day of your job loss.  Given the choice, would you rather call me, a guy who knows a lot about the job market and job search techniques or would you rather call someone who could say “You start tomorrow. Just be here at 8:00.”  I suspect the latter sounds a lot better, and I am not the least offended by this.

I think it was Ferrazzi who said something like, and I paraphrase, “Your job security is proportional to the quality of your professional network.”  Notice we emphasize “quality” and not quantity.  Adding thousands of people on LinkedIn, as if it were a professional Facebook, is not what we are talking about here.  You need to deeply know and stay in touch with between 5 and 15 people on an annual basis.  Ways to stay in touch include:

  • Take them for breakfast, lunch or dinner
  • Take them for coffee
  • Give them a phone call at a time when you know they will not be especially busy
  • Send them a LinkedIn message at least twice a year, checking in with their family and career
  • Send them a holiday card
  • Invite a group of them to a dinner party at your house
  • Comment on their Facebook postings in a positive way
  • Invite them to a conference, a speaker, a concert or another appropriate event
  • Get together with them over the holidays
  • Invite them to a summer picnic or event

In any case, whatever you choose, it is important to make significant contact with your emergency 10, at least twice each year.  So, make your list, and put these activities on your calendar each year or you will forget to do it.  As you meet or chat with members of your emergency 10 list be sure to listen more than you talk.  Ask them about their family and career.  You will get all sorts of pointers if you just button up and ask question.  Share advancements in your knowledge, skills and career succinctly but definitely share these tidbits, without bragging.  Remain humble and respectful.  If you are chatting by phone or social media, see if you can set up a solid date when you can get together in person; this is where deep relationships are forged.  Oh, by the way, be sure to always have an updated list of the best way to get in touch with your emergency 10.  That is really important!

If you are a little more introverted and not likely to have a major dinner party at your house, then err on the side of staying in touch with one-on-one coffee meetings or by using LinkedIn and other social media tools.

In any case it is your choice.  Given an abrupt and unexpected job loss, you can be the person who breaks out the tissues and proclaims the worst day of your life, or you can be the person who picks up your list, and your phone and with tremendous confidence notifies your top 10 list that “I am officially on the market.”

It’s your future.  Take charge!

Cover Letters: The Oft Wasted Opportunity

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

“As you will see in my resume.”

Oh, how many cover letters I have read that contain that fateful phrase. This begs the question: If they are going to read it on the next page, why would we tell them about it on this page?  Probably the two worst mistakes I see on cover letters these days are preempting the resume, and overuse of the word “I”. “I was promoted.” “I earned salesperson of the year.” “I earned my Bachelor’s Degree.” “I volunteered with the Red Cross.” “I. I. I. I. I!”  If I were the boss I would be inclined to think, “Go work for someone else!  This is a we effort, pal!”

So, what is the proper mindset when writing a cover letter?  There is a particular phrase I use when I am career coaching one-on-one, or teaching cover letters to a group.  This is pretty easy to remember: “If you are going to say great things about yourself in the resume, then the cover letter is an opportunity to say more, and different great things about yourself.”  Employment documents should be clear, concise, recent, relevant and consistent.  But let’s just consider concise for a moment.  With the exception of a few majors, such as education, most first professional resumes should be no longer than one page.  This is not because of some profound law of nature but for a simple reason.  An H.R. person often has to scan hundreds of resumes to decide who to invite for an interview.  If yours is long, or hard to read, you’re out!  So, if you need to be concise, you might need to cut a few things out of the resume and this is where the cover letter comes in.

A cover letter and resume are not supposed to be about everything you have done, they are supposed to be about the best, most recent and most relevant things you have done. Here is a trick that I like to use.  Follow these steps:

1.  Bring up the job description (just the essential functions and desired skills part) on your computer

2. Copy and paste the description onto a blank Microsoft Word document

3. Then sentence by sentence separate each desired skill/characteristic (so if the description is in paragraph form, separate the sentences so that each sentence is on a separate line). Then put an open line between each essential function, skill or desired characteristic.

4. Then, below each of these type a description of where you have gained this experience, characteristic or skill.  For example, let’s say the first line says “Must have demonstrated work experience leading a team.”  Type below this line your best example of where you gained this experience.

5. Once you have decided whether you gained the experience from work, college courses (and filled in the name of the course too), volunteering or other experiences, go through each line and place an “R” next to the skill/characteristic or essential function that you will cover on the resume and a “C” next to the ones you will cover in the cover letter.

This exercise will help you decide how to lay out your experiences.  It will also assure that you do not over emphasize a particular skill and under-emphasize another.  Now, if the employer clearly notes certain skills, or if you know for certain that a particular skill set will be required for the job, then it is okay to cover these in both the resume and the cover letter but it is important that you demonstrate these through different experiences in each.  So if you talk about your teamwork skills in the resume, in terms of your athletic pursuits, you had better have a different example of your teamwork prowess on the resume.

Last, but certainly not least, we move to the cover letter format.  There is the traditional layout and the contemporary layout. I am a contemporary fan, so I will only mention this form.  Simply put, the contemporary form starts by using the same exact heading you have on your resume.  I like this format because it gives your employment documents a consistent, precise and almost letterhead look.  Also, use the “no spacing” feature in MS Word, not that lousy “normal” spacing setting which is anything but normal.  What in God’s name was Microsoft thinking calling that awful line spacing “normal” anyway?

Here is what the different sections of your cover letter should be doing for you:

Paragraph 1 (2-4 lines):  Thank them for accepting your resume as application for the job.  Tell them where you learned about the job (dropping a name if appropriate). One last thing I like to see in the first paragraph is a sentence saying “After reviewing the job description, I find that I would be an excellent candidate because. . .”  So give them one great reason that compels them to keep reading. Notice also that I said “I find” and not “I feel”.  It doesn’t matter what you feel, it matters what they feel (actually it matters what they think – we need to stop this mushy gushy “I feel” garbage).

Paragraph 2 (5-7 lines):  This is where you refer back to the sheet where you broke apart the job description.  Look at those characteristics or skills that you wanted to cover in your cover letter.  Often you will not have enough lines to cover them one at a time, so you may need to creatively weave two or three skills into a single sentence at a time.  Believe me, it can be done; I do it for folks everyday of my life.  So, this paragraph is where you tell your reader why you are a great match for the job.

Paragraph 3 (3-6 lines):  In this section you tell the company why you will be a great match for their team.  Read about the company’s services or products in detail.  Read their mission, vision and values statement.  Then write why you would fit in with this culture.  Whenever possible refer to actual phrases from their mission or values statements.  This shows that you took the time to determine if you are compatible with the organization.

Final paragraph (2-4 lines): “I would appreciate the opportunity to visit your offices and interview for this position.”  So few people actually ask for the interview in the cover letter, yet it is exactly what you desire.  Ask for the interview!  Then remind them the best way to get in touch with you.  If you want to seem more assertive, write something like “I will remain in touch in the coming days to ascertain the status of my application.”

Finally, do not forget a great salutation like “Respectfully” or “Kind Regards”, or “Sincerely.”  Never say “Thank You” as a sign off to your letters.  This is not a “Thank you!” letter, it is a cover letter and, by the way, “Thank You” is never an appropriate salutation.  If you are thanking someone for something, it should be in the first two sentences of your letter.  It does not need to be repeated because it begins to seem disingenuous the more you use the phrase.

So, never squander the opportunity to compose an effective cover letter and remember my rule: Never waste a full page preempting your resume when you could be saying even more and even better things about yourself.

It’s your future.  Take charge!

Why Should I Hire You?

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Author – John Rindy, MPH

What is the last question that most people are asked during a job interview?  Well, it is typically “Do you have any questions for us?”  But what about the question before that? When I conduct mock interviews to help others practice for their upcoming job interviews, here is how I pose the question, “I am leaving to drive home in a few minutes. I interviewed 3 other people for this job today.  Why should I remember you?” Most ask the question more simply, “Why should I hire you?”

What is your brand?  What sets you apart from others and how are you always consistent?  Chick-fil-a sells chicken, and it is darn good.  Eat mor chikn! Right?  Taco Bell is fast, cheap and tastes decent.  Wendy’s is probably the only fast food place where you can get a baked potato.  No matter when you visit these establishments, they are always consistent, in all of these ways.  In what ways are you consistent? What are some words you want people to think when they hear your name? What is something about you that will connect you emotionally with the hiring manager?  How do these coalesce to answer the question “What truly makes you unique?” I think you need to know the answers to these questions to do a really good job answering the question “Why should I hire you?”

Too often I hear mock interviewees simply recap what they already conveyed throughout the interview: “I am a people person and work well with others. Etc.”.  “Why should I hire you?” is not the time to recap and repeat.  When people do this it usually reminds me of the cover letter that keeps repeating “As you will see in my resume. As you will see in my resume. As you will see in my resume.”  If the main part of the interview is the place to say great things about yourself, then “Why should I hire you?” is the place to say more and different things about yourself, things from your personal brand.  It is your brand that makes you both consistent and different from everyone else.

What makes you unique?  I will give you a hint of what does not make you unique:

Knowing Microsoft Word and Excel, working well with others, showing good customer service, being a part of a team, having problem resolution skills, working a cash register, mopping floors, having a great smile, being on time, staying a little late, doing good work. . .these just are not enough.

The bottom line, you need to think through the question, “What makes you truly unique?” The answer to this question will also help you to answer the question, “Why should I hire you?”

It’s your future.  Take charge.

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