Need a Break?

by Shannon Kelly

As we approach August, arguably the last month of summer, I want to remind you to take a break! When I think of summer I think of the shore (or beach if you don’t go to New Jersey), Phillies baseball games and barbecues.  However, for many in the professional world, summer is a time characterized by professional development conferences, summer projects, working on annual reports, etc.  The summer can easily fly by and before you know it, it’s August (aka less than 2 days from now) and your window of vacation opportunity is closing.

via mandolin davis on Flickr

It is important to take care of your professional responsibilities, but it is equally important to not burn out.  If you burn out,  your productivity at work will likely nose dive and your ability to execute your responsibilities effectively will go with it.   You don’t want that, period.

Time away from email, the daily grind and just unplugging from regular life is priceless.  We are only human and do need a break every now and again to re-charge.  So whether you can take two weeks, or two days, I encourage you to take advantage of vacation time.  It is there, use it before you lose it (or your mind).

Where in the World…

By Barbara Hewitt

Money Magazine recently released their annual list of the “Best Places to Live” in the US. The list ranks 746 cities with populations between 50,000 and 300,000 based on criteria such as salaries, unemployment rates, housing accessibility, and the quality of the school system. You can see the list at  (Who knew that Eden Prairie, MN, ranked number one, was such a gem?)

Of course, there are many factors that go into deciding where to locate when you graduate from college.  Being near family and friends, living in a place in which you are familiar and comfortable, or enjoying a particular climate are all valid reasons to focus your search in a particular region. However, I often think that new graduates (who typically could be very flexible when deciding where to settle down) limit their career choices unnecessarily by placing too much emphasis on the “where” and not the “what” of their first jobs.  I have seen many students turn down amazing opportunities because the positions were not in their preferred locations.

I also speak from personal experience. When I was graduating from my Masters  program back in 1991 we were in a recession, much like today. Jobs were tight as colleges and universities cut their budgets. My “ideal” job at the time involved working in the career center of a small college. I absolutely was not going to consider residential life positions, as the thought of moving back into a dorm and being on call 24 hours a day was not one I relished. However, as any new student affairs professional can tell you, residential life jobs are much more abundant than career center positions in any given year. My hope was to work on the East or West Coast… I didn’t really care where as long as I wasn’t “stuck” in the vast expanse of the Midwest. I’m not quite sure why I was so determined to avoid the Midwest, as I had no experience with the area. I grew up in upstate New York and attended undergraduate and graduate school in Pennsylvania. Outside of a brief study abroad stint in Spain, I had not lived anywhere else.  Nevertheless, opportunities were scarce, and I eventually accepted a position at the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio.  Not only was I living in a state that was nowhere on my desired list, but the position involved serving full-time as the Assistant Director of Career Services AND a residence hall director for a dormitory.  Clearly, this position was not exactly what I had envisioned upon graduation.

Compton Hall: My Home for Two Years

So…how did it all turn out? Great! I loved working at a small school and found it very easy to get involved in the campus community right away because of the school’s size and the fact that I was able to get to know students both in a career context as well as more personally in the residence hall. While a live in position was not something that I actively sought, I realized that residential experience is extremely helpful for any student affairs professional to possess, and managing a staff of five resident assistants provided me with a wonderful supervisory experience. I really enjoyed the town of Wooster itself, (Ohio ended up being a terrific place to live), and I quickly became involved in community service working at a local women’s shelter. Granted, I did eventually tire of living with over 100 college students, but on the plus side I had free room and board for two years – a definite advantage for a new professional with college loans to repay.

The take away for me (and hopefully you!) is that it never hurts to at least be willing to consider a variety of locations during your job search. You will have many more opportunities available and may discover a new place that you never considered before but with which you could fall in love. Maybe Columbia, MD (#2 on the Money list) or Newton, MA (#3 on the list) is just the place for you!

And the Offer Goes To…

By Claire Klieger

No, it’s not Oscar time, but the sense of anticipation or anxiety about whether or not you might get a full-time offer from your summer employer can be just as intense for rising seniors.  However, only a few industries (consulting, financial services, consumer products and technology) typically make post-graduate full-time offers almost a year before you would actually be starting in that position. This is because of the cyclical nature of entry-level roles in those fields—that it is common for people to work for two years and then leave—which allows those employers to predict so far in advance what their hiring needs will be for the upcoming year.  For this very reason, these are the same employers that often participate in on-campus recruiting, so, if you secured your internship through OCR it’s very possible your firm will be making full-time offers to some interns at some point in late summer or early fall.

Regardless of what type of organization you’re working with this summer, if you’re interested in future opportunities with your employer, there are ways to broach the topic with your supervisor. How you approach it depends on your experience at the organization and how serious you are about really wanting to work there.  Here are some tips:

1. Demonstrate your interest. Start by thanking your supervisor for your wonderful learning experience this summer. Explain how the experience has helped you realize that you are really interested in pursuing a career in… (whatever type of work you’re interested in at the organization). Then say that you would certainly be interested in future opportunities at the organization and ask if it would be possible to stay in touch throughout the year.

2. Don’t give a false impression. Be wary of giving the false impression that you would –definitely- work there if you had an offer if that’s not really the case. Avoid saying things like, “I would jump at the chance to work here full time” (unless you actually mean it—as in, if they offered you a job tomorrow you would say yes without hesitation).  The last thing you want to do is give the impression that you would accept an offer if made if you’re not sure that’s true. Remember, the working world is small and you don’t want to burn bridges.

3. Express your interest in future opportunities without committing yourself to anything. You could say something like, “I’ve had a wonderful experience this summer and I really appreciate the opportunities afforded me and all that I’ve learned.  I realize you probably don’t know what your future hiring needs may be, but I’d certainly be open to opportunities that may present themselves in the future.” Notice how I didn’t say “love” or “definitely” or “thrilled” anywhere in there?

4. If you had a negative experience, don’t push for an offer. If you know that you would never in a million years take a full time job with your employer, don’t initiate any kind of conversation like this. Instead, figure out how to focus on the positive of that experience so you can talk effectively about it in future interviews (we can help!).

Decisions, Decisions!

By carefully considering the information you have and asking yourself some hard questions, you might find that you already have a very satisfactory answer in your grasp.

Sometimes you need to make an important job decision in a short period of time.  That phone call offering you a job comes in, but with a fairly short deadline for accepting or declining the offer.  Your first inclination is to focus on the deadline, frantically trying to figure out how to evaluate this offer.  You think you should call all the organizations you’ve applied to, asking them to rush their decision-making process for you, because you want to see all of your options laid out on the table.  However, if you take a moment to calmly review the information you already have, you might be able to come to an intelligent, well thought out determination without bothering the very people upon whom you want to make the best impression.

Our son (let’s call him “Chris”) applied for summer internships related to his field of study.  One Friday morning Chris called to say he’d just received an offer from University X , but they needed him to let them know his decision by Monday at noon.  The other organizations which had expressed an interest in his application had given the following Friday as the date they would let him know.  Chris excitedly said he was going to call the other employers.  He was going to ask them if he was in the running, and then call the friend who had forwarded his resume with a good referral to one of these organization to see if he could do anything to help Chris with this endeavor.

First, we congratulated him on having a concrete offer on the table.  It sounded fabulous, and the first offer is always a relief to receive, even if you end up doing something else.  We wanted him to realize this was a good thing to savor and be proud of, as the panic of making a quick decision seemed to be overwhelming him.  We advised him to stop a minute and go through the information he already had which included start and end date, living arrangements, compensation, scope of the research project and duties.

The following questions came to our minds:

  • If he received more than one offer, how would he rank this one in comparison;
  • would he be happy spending his summer at this unique location to which he’d have to travel and where he would know no one else;
  • would the compensation let him live away from home for the summer and still have money left for the school year;
  • was it a good match for his interests;
  • what were the things that bothered him about this opportunity?

Then we asked him:

  • what he would gain from calling the other employers;
  • what was the specific information he wished he had before he could make an informed decision;
  • would he be causing the friend some embarrassment if he pushed on Chris’s behalf and then Chris didn’t accept that position;
  • could he ask his advisor for some guidance?  After all, he worked in this field and had originally brought this opportunity to Chris’s attention.

At the end of this conversation, our son was able to focus on the comfort of having a good, solid offer for summer employment.  He was in control of himself with some concrete things to think about and went off to find his advisor.

We spoke with Chris again later in the day.  His advisor helped him realize that this offer was a wonderful opportunity, an experience out of the ordinary he would like to try.  It would only be ten weeks, after all, not a lifetime.  Even if it turned out to be less than the ideal summer, he would meet new people and be part of a team working on an interesting project within his field.  He’d experience working within a large southern state university in contrast to the small eastern college he attended.  This could be valuable information to help guide him toward his potential goal of becoming a professor himself.

After accepting the offer with University X, he called the other employers to thank them for their consideration of his application and to advise them that they should take his name out of the applicant pool.  They congratulated him and thanked him for letting them know.  He also called the friend to tell him about the offer, telling him how much he appreciated his support, and explaining why this was a unique opportunity.  Proactively following up with the other organizations and taking his name out of their pool of candidates was the right thing to do.  It added to their positive impression of him, leaving the door open for future contact.

Chris was glad he had taken the advice to first of all enjoy the good feeling of receiving a nice internship offer.  It gave him confidence that spring weekend as he geared up to take final exams.  He was relieved to have his summer plans in order so he could finish the year focusing completely on his schoolwork.  Chris also learned some valuable tools for making decisions: even with a deadline looming, take time to gather your thoughts and the information you already have; calmly weigh the pros and cons.  In an ideal world you would have all your offers on the table at the same time to really compare and contrast them.  By carefully considering the information you have and asking yourself some hard questions, you might find, like Chris did, that you already have a very satisfactory answer in your grasp.

You might, of course, find that you still need more information, or that the first offer is not a good fit for you.  If so, organize the specific questions you will ask when you contact the employers; be polite and professional with everyone you speak with, from the receptionist to the recruiter.  Be prepared for the possibility that the employer might not be available or willing to speak with you, or give you the information you seek.

In the end, Chris had a wonderful summer.  This opportunity had not been his first choice when he submitted applications, but it turned out to be a good choice.  He has stayed in touch with the professor, who was happy to write a letter of recommendation when Chris was applying to graduate school a few years later.  As with many fields of study, he has found it to be a very small world.  People he works with now in his graduate studies know the professor at University X and have told him they are impressed he had the opportunity and training afforded by that internship.

Carefulling considering the information he already had and taking a chance at this unique offer worked well for him.  He is also very glad that he left good impressions with the other organizations along the way.

More than just “Small” Talk

…as you engage in your first job search or if you’ve been in the world of work for some time, chances are you’ve found yourself in a professionally related situation that required “small talk.”

by Jamie Grant, C’98, GEd ’99

Recently, I met with a student who was traveling for a job interview; the organization’s offices were an hour from the airport and he would be picked up and driven back by the person overseeing the interview process.  Overshadowing the candidate’s preparation for the interview was concern about what he could possibly talk about during the long car ride with a stranger-slash-potential boss. The weather?  Sports?   Politics?  Music?  While this was an extreme situation, as you engage in your first job search or if you’ve been in the world of work for some time, chances are you’ve found yourself in a professionally related situation that required “small talk.”

Like the business etiquette lessons you will find so useful throughout life, the ability to make small talk is an important skill to practice and develop, and one that will be more beneficial than you might think.  Small talk can put you at ease during the job interviewing process, while meeting new colleagues or clients or at social events.  It is a large component of successful networking; developing rapport with another through conversation and interest in a shared topic is an ideal way to create affiliation and forge strong and longstanding relationships.

So, how might you develop or improve your small talk skills?  One strategy I have found very helpful is to read widely.  In just a few moments, you can be well prepared for any situation that may involve small talk by reviewing the latest headlines of the New York Times or Washington Post, easily accessible online.  Another fantastic resource I use often is National Public Radio, or NPR.  Broadcast across the country and designed for an eclectic listener base, NPR frequently plays interesting short stories or interviews that cover everything from current events to art and lifestyle topics as well as entertainment and music of many genres.  I have had several interesting discussions with new acquaintances on brief excerpts from StoryCorps on NPR (a famed oral history project preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress).  The above mentioned sites are just a few of many widely available resources to aid you in developing a repertoire of topics to discuss.

Another key to effective small talk is to be observant as well as a careful listener.  As you speak with someone new to you or who has been a colleague for some time, pay special attention to detail.  You may learn that someone enjoys food by an innocuous comment made over a catered business lunch, leading to a spirited conversation on the area’s best restaurants.  Or, a comment admiring someone’s jewelry or bag could inspire that person to share the story of where it was acquired and how much they enjoyed traveling to the country in which it was purchased.  But, you say, what if the other person doesn’t respond or engage with my attempt? Remember that small talk is not formulaic, nor can it be forced.  You may be surprised, though, how pleased others are to engage in conversation with you when you have an interesting way to start.