Five Books Every Student Should Read

Lakeisha Mathews

Lakeisha M. Mathews, Director, Career and Professional Development Center, University of Baltimore
Twitter: @RightResumes_CC
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/lakeishamathews/
Blogs from Lakeisha Matthews.

A few months ago I wrote about 10 must-read books for career professionals. Now I would like to draw attention to a few must-read books for any student who aspires to be successful, a leader, or simply to be ready for the world of work.

With information always at their fingertips, students can access tips, samples, and information on career and professional development in a split second on Google, YouTube, Pinterest, and so forth. However, many professionals can attest to the book that changed our lives, or the author that helped us mature and think differently about ourselves. Our students should be encouraged to have the same encounters with books that help them grow and mature professionally. Whether it’s a hard back, soft cover, or e-book, books are beneficial to help students grow professionally and we should be recommending them.

Lifehack.org, a website dedicated to providing tips for productivity, features an article entitled “10 Benefits of Reading: Why You Should Read Every Day.” The author asserts that reading increases knowledge, improves your ability to articulate, strengthens analytical thinking skills, and has a positive effect on writing skills. Another website, Persistence Unlimited, offers 26 benefits to reading in an article, “The 26 Major Advantages to Reading More Books.” And, “Why 3 in 4 People Are Being Shut Out of Success” explores improving creativity, making more money, improving reasoning skills, and building expertise as benefits of reading. What do you know? Surprisingly, many of the benefits of reading are a direct match to the skills and qualities employers want from candidates. As noted, in the 2015 Job Outlook, employers seek candidates who are strong in communication, analysis, problem-solving, and creativity skills.

It’s safe to say that reading books can have a positive impact on students’ professional and career development. For that reason, I recommend providing students with suggested reading materials as a “career task” to address skill gaps, expand industry expertise, and help make informed career decisions. At the University of Baltimore, we have begun recommending books to help students write resumes and cover letters, learn about the federal hiring process, effectively use social media, build a professional brand, and increase understanding of career planning in general. And, to our surprise, students have embraced our recommendations.

Below are a few books, in no particular order, which had an enormous impact on my professional development as a college student and entry-level professional.

  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  •  Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace by Daniel Goleman
  • My Reality Check Bounced by Jason Dorsey
  • Peaks and Valleys by Spencer Johnson
  • Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson

Of course books are not the sole format to recommend to students. Periodicals (in print and online) such as newspapers, professional journals, and business magazines are other sources for rich reading material that will help students grow professionally.

Dr. Seuss wrote in I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

If you had to identify five books that had a positive impact on your professional development or success what would be on your list?

Small Talk Can Lead to Good Connections

katie smith at duke universityKatie Smith, Assistant Director, Duke University Career Center,
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ksmith258/
Twitter: @ksmith258

 

“Small talk” is a concept that comes up a lot in career services work. Defined by Google, small talk is “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.”

The first time I thought critically about small talk was when a student expressed that he struggled with it and didn’t see the point. His perspective was evident in our interactions—the student always showed up ready to talk business. He had burned a few bridges with alumni by asking about opportunities before building a relationship and he had received feedback from peers that his e-mails were too direct. He wanted tips on how to gain the “small-talk skill.”

As a fellow introvert, small talk isn’t always comfortable for me either, so the two of us struggled to maintain friendly conversation by asking and answering small talk appropriate questions. At the end of our meeting, I referred the student to others across the university to help him continue to practice with people of different personalities from a variety of backgrounds and levels of experience. (I separately let my colleagues know the purpose of the exercise.)

After the student and I talked, I found myself analyzing interactions, noticing when I made a good connection and when I did not and factors that led to each scenario. Some passing interactions had become so mechanical that I had produced an assumed socially correct answer to a question I had not even listened to: I cringe when I think of how I mixed up the answers to those questions, saying, “Nothing.” to “How are you?” or, “Good.” when someone asked, “What’s up?”

The student’s question was valid: Why do we even bother?

I’ve since encountered many students asking about how to improve their small talk skills—a concept that career advisers may refer to as networking. Really, they’re one in the same: Small talk builds relationships and establishes common ground.

I recently served as a panelist as part of a student-led event that explored the ethics of small talk. A range of challenging questions were asked:

  • Do certain personality types have an advantage in the professional world based on their ability to small talk?
  • Do we need small talk?
  • Is it productive?
  • Is there an alternative?
  • Are we most inclined to conduct small talk with people who appear like us?
  • Is it possible to build a strong relationship without small talk? Is the lack of small talk indicative of a deeper relationship?
  • And, perhaps most difficult of all, is it ethical to use relationships to lead to opportunities? Is there an alternative?

People who are natural relationship-builders have an advantage in the professional world due to the network that they can easily construct. However, I’ve seen many students who are not natural conversationalists excel in their areas of interest through small talk, proving their skills and abilities while showing examples of their work.

One size does not fit all, and in some fields, at some companies, and for many positions, small talk skills and networking savvy are not of highest priority. Better yet, there may be an appreciation and acknowledgement that positive and strong work relationships can be built outside of well-executed small talk.

Is there an alternative? Can we jump right into deep and meaningful conversation? Can small talk be deep and meaningful? Is the alternative to small talk deep talk, or is it simply silence? Would silence be better?

We each have unique perspectives and experiences—some people may prefer jumping immediately into meaningful conversation, some would rather have silence, and some may love small talk. Regardless of your preference, small talk is a fascinating cultural phenomenon. We build relationships and rapport by asking expected questions, hearing expected answers, and sharing ideas about the situations we have in common (e.g. weather, current events, our surroundings) before moving on to a greater purpose.

I have a difficult time imagining personal and professional interactions without small talk, but that’s simply my cultural lens. For those with another perspective, the presence of small talk may seem just as strange.

 

“How Shall I Wear My Hair?” – Students Navigating Professional Identity Politics

Jade PerryJade Perry, Coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Student Success at DePaul University
Twitter: @SAJadePerry1
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/jade-perry/21/667/b25/
Website: jadetperry.com 

During graduate school, I worked as the diversity program assistant in the primary career services department for a university. I provided programming and advising concerning the ways that our identities influence our career development process. I was asked a myriad of questions on topics that ranged from international visas and sponsorships, to gender in the workplace, to assessing a company’s commitment to inclusivity. But I could always tell that some of my students weren’t always paying attention to the resume/cover letter advice I was giving. They were looking at something else….my hair.

In my professional life, I have chosen to wear my hair naturally. For those that are unfamiliar with the term, this simply means that I wear my hair in the tightly coiled, curly form in which it grows. I work a myriad of styles: voluminous, curly afros, braids, wash-and-go, silky straight, and pompadours. Though the options are endless, these styles include anything that allows me to least amount of manipulation to the way my hair naturally grows.

Now that we’ve gotten definitions cleared, you might be wondering why I’m talking about hair in this particular form. It is because I cannot count the times that my students, particularly women of color, have asked in hushed tones, “So….I’m meeting a recruiter/employer tomorrow and I’m hoping to get a job. I wear my hair naturally. So, what do you do—what should I do—about my hair?”

It is one of my favorite questions, but it is always a loaded one. The trained ear will notice that these students are not just asking for fashion advice. They are trying to figure out how to navigate identity politics. They are looking for understanding on how they might “assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations…” as Heyes asserts. They are looking for ways to be authentic in spaces that may be largely homogenous, and in professions that may be largely male. Questions about hair are typically never just about hair.

They saw me sporting worlds of curls, yet would I admit to them how tough it was to get to that point? Would I tell them about the qualitative generational gap between Millennials and a few of the older professional staff of color: some of whom asserted that true professional style was wearing the hair straight and pulled back? Would I tell them about these conversations?

On the subject of hair, a male recruiter that attended a networking dinner for our students declared, “When it comes to your appearance, you do what you have to do to get that job. Your own expression of personal style comes later.” I cringed. A few other recruiters chimed in to admonish women specifically to wear the hair swept off of the face. In other settings, I’ve seen this question posed and witnessed career service professionals gasp at the thought that someone would face discrimination due to choice of hair style, among other things. I’ve witnessed this astonishment give way to awed silence, and students left without an answer. Then, I’ve seen other professionals admonish young women not to change a thing.

Since career services professionals know the concept of appropriate disclosure, I kept these anecdotes to a minimum in appointments. We all want to be taken seriously in our careers. Our students do, as do we. We want to have our personal and professional identity validated in the workplace. For many of us, your students and your colleagues, hair has a lot to do with that professional identity. In light of that, here is what I shared when students posed questions about hair and identity politics in the workplace:

Your experience is valid. Starting there is always a good idea. Students of color, low-income students, and/or first-generation college students are already working through varying intersections of their identities before they come to our offices. Often times, by the time they get here they have been silenced in both subtle and explicit ways. As student affairs professionals, we do well to understand that the career search process does not just involve crafting resumes, writing cover letters, strategizing searches, and so forth. We know that there is an internal process going on that is valid and that holds a variety of implications for their career-search process.

Reflect on your career values and which values you would look for in the workplace. Before an interview, I encourage students to get clear on the values they are looking for in a work environment. For example, it is important to me that I work in a context that is validating to my cultural sense of self (and that includes the natural way in which my hair grows and how I groom it). Typically, I assist the students in brainstorming a few of the values that they hold: large amounts of monetary capital? Cultural validation? Flexibility? Mentorship? Often times, this exercise has been particularly salient for the women of color that I work with. It is their time to decide what they want out of an experience. It often takes a lot of encouragement to sift through the opinions they have received from their community, family, friends, and industry professionals.

For example, a student might say that he or she values authenticity in the workplace that straightening/processing his or her hair feels inauthentic, but they were told by a family member that it should be done to get the job. While they are sifting through these opinions, I ask students to briefly reflect. Through what lens might a student have been given this advice? Does this line up with his or her value of (insert chosen values here)?  What are the salient and non-salient points of the advice a student was given? Posing questions allow career advisers to serve as a guide for students to work through that type of dissonance. It also allows students to understand the thing that they value and begin to explore professional opportunities that reflect those values.

Do your research on prospective employment opportunities. Search for information on the culture of the company / organization. The “culture” of an organization might include anything from organizational structures and reporting lines, spoken and / or unspoken workplace norms, leadership trends and more. Knowing this information helps our students to understand what a company values and can serve as a loose discerning point as to what it might be like to work there. Does this provide a direct answer to the question, “What should I do with my hair?” Not exactly. Yet it provides keen insight for students to make informed decisions on their career journey. For example, I encourage students to ask the questions: Are there any professional affinity groups? Who is in leadership and what does that reflect? What can I perceive about the norms of a particular atmosphere? Do I have enough information? As we reflect on this, I typically pull up the website for the office that I work within. We mine the “data” for the mission, the leadership, the programs, the services and I ask them to work through such questions as What insights does this give you about the culture of this organization? Now, what might that mean for your personal choices in clothing and hair in this atmosphere?

There are times that I have chosen to naturally stretch out/ straighten my hair and pull it back. This was particularly early on in my career path, when I did not feel equipped with enough experience or knowledge about the organization. Moreover, there were times that I decided to do a large bun or a complicated pompadour. Three measurements allowed me to make my decisions about race/gender expression in an interview setting: 1) Do I feel comfortable with the process it took to get my hair this way? 2) Does this style allow ample room to see my face? 3) Will this style hold without touch-ups after arriving to the interview site? This was the practical piece as these measurements allowed me to show strong non-verbal energy and did not require me to compromise my own cultural validity. Typically, my students take these measurements as a rubric that they can use, as well.

Keep it real and “mind the gap.” Brown talks about “the gap” in her book Daring Greatly. The gap is symbolic for the values that we aspire to and what actually exists. In my office, we talk in great detail about “the gap” that our students are navigating; the world as we wish it to be and the world that is. It is a concept that I chat about with my students, as well. Navigating identity politics in the workplace is a complicated thing because of the gap. While we rightly hope for settings in which such cultural expressions of hairstyle are widely appreciated, there is also the reality that in some circles, the appreciation is not there. There are times that our colleagues and our students may be faced with cold stares and uncomprehending eyes. It is inexpressibly tragic that this is the case. Yet, I must prepare them for the world that is. So, I keep it real and talk about what to do if they sense workplace discrimination at the point of their interview.

You may be thinking, “This sounds awfully complex for such a simple question: How should I wear my natural hair for an interview?” And you are right. Navigating through identity politics is inherently complex. Students, particularly women of color, are not asking trite questions about fashion. In these moments, they are looking for our understanding and guidance on the ways we navigate identity in the workplace. Thus, as student affairs professionals, we have to come with a bit more complexity than, “You should wear it off your face.”

End Notes

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.

Heyes, Cressida. (2014). Identity Politics, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Hurtado, S., Milem, J., Clayton-Pedersen, A., & Allen, W. (1999). Enacting diverse learning environments: Improving the climate for racial/ ethnic diversity in higher education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Volume 28, No. 8. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

The Insider’s Look at First Destination Surveys

Vanessa NewtonVanessa Newton, Program Analyst, University of Kansas
Twitter: https://twitter.com/vlnewt
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/vanessaliobanewton
Blog: www.wellnessblogging.com

 

 

Katrina Zaremba

Katrina Zaremba, Communications Coordinator, University Career Center, University of Kansas
Twitter: @KatrinaZaremba
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/katrinazaremba

 

Katrina (Zaremba) and I (Vanessa Newton) recently sat down and live-blogged our conversation about all things First-Destination Survey related. If you missed any of the other installments on this series, here’s where you can catch up:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2 – Branding Is Key
Part 3 -LinkedIn Limitations

Why is the first-destination survey important? 

Vanessa: It’s an important tool for students and parents to use when planning their academic journey. They can see how other graduates were able to leverage their experiences at the University of Kansas (KU) and be successful. Seeing how peers can be successful can be a really powerful tool. You are able to show people the results rather than just telling them.

Katrina: We are increasingly receiving more questions about students’ post-graduation plans from administration, prospective students, parents, and faculty. Having this data is helpful when communicating with outside constituents. From a marketing perspective, having this information gives us the ability to communicate key data points and illustrate the value of our institution to stakeholders.

What did you learn this year? 

Vanessa: The power of asking questions, whether for getting data or learning new things, asking questions was the biggest thing I learned this year.

Katrina: We are constantly learning new ways we can collect and share data. I’ve learned that it is important to remain open-minded to new ideas.

What is one key takeaway you’d share with others?

Vanessa: There are no bad ideas. We are constantly evolving and trying out new processes to get a higher response rate. Others have different processes that they have been sharing with us, so we are getting an idea of how other people are doing it. Spoiler alert:  It takes more than just an e-mail [to the graduate].

Katrina: Branding is key.

What is a goal you have regarding first-destination surveys?

Overall, our goal is to increase our knowledge rate. We also want to maintain the openness to ideas and make sure that we are keeping the conversation going with first-destination surveys. The process never really stops.

Vanessa: Organization is important: making more comprehensive timelines to aid in planning.

Katrina: To capitalize on campus partnerships. Many offices/departments on our campus have an interest in the data as well, and by working together, we can help each other achieve our goals. One way I’d like to do this is via social media, by asking campus partners to share our content and encourage their graduates to participate in the survey.

What’s your advice to someone new to collecting destination survey information?

Vanessa: Keep it simple. You don’t need fancy software. You don’t need flashy surveys. Those are great to have, but bare bones, you just need the data. You can do a lot with frequencies and percentages that are easy to calculate in Excel. Those types of numbers are easily interpreted and understood by everyone.

Katrina: Teamwork. Collecting, analyzing, and sharing this data is (and should be) a group effort. You have to rely on other people’s strengths to contribute to the whole.

Once More a Student: Will an Ed.D. Make Me a Better Counselor?

Janet R. LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search Inc.
Career counselor, Widener University
Blog: http://inyourownvoice.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

When I made the transition from executive search to higher-ed career counseling a year ago, I felt pretty sure that my mid-life master’s degree in higher-ed student services completed my formal education. Gaining a foundation in a dozen counseling theories and learning about challenges such as lack of access for underrepresented groups provided important context for my role at an institution that serves many first-generation students. Graduate internships at very different types of institutions—one a religiously affiliated private university, the other of a large regional community college— offered invaluable opportunities for applied learning.

As I continued to apply this learning in my first formal higher-ed role, I realized there was still more to learn and integrate. In a moment of suspended sanity, I applied and was accepted to the higher ed doctoral program at my own institution, a continuation of the master’s degree I earned two years earlier. No one pressured me to do this or suggested that it might make me a better counselor, especially since the program’s focus is on leadership and administration. And yet, here I am a student once again, steeping in the literature, relearning APA-ese, and regaining my appreciation for nighttime caffeine. I can compare notes with my students on writing end-of-term papers, mastering SPSS, and keeping a complicated life in balance.

The past year, I feel like I won the lottery. As my institution’s career liaison to undergraduate liberal arts majors—from history to astronomy to anthropology— I’ve melded pure exploration with hands-on skills development and pulled out my back-in-the-day undergraduate English major when it underscored a point. I’ve also been humbled by how truly difficult it is to be a student today, how different it is from my previous experience when internships were a “nice-to-have” and a decent entry-level job for a hardworking English major was reasonably assured.

Most of my students compete for multiple internships—nearly always unpaid—while juggling at least one “gritty” part-time job, student research, significant community service, half a dozen extracurriculars, and full course loads.  As a group, they are inspiring, appreciative, exhausted—and fearful about the future. In short, they are like so many of the students that we support at our NACE member institutions. As their counselor, I celebrate every milestone with them—a sought-after interview, an offer, a grad program acceptance—and empathize with every disappointment.

In my alternative universe as a student, while two years away from formally starting my dissertation, I have begun to shape a research agenda around the career applications—and implications—of earning a liberal arts degree outside of a small liberal arts college. In this light, the dreaded advanced statistics courses become an avenue to discovering knowledge with the potential to make a difference for both my students and the organizations that might employ them. Will this make me a better counselor?  I certainly hope so.

 

Seeking Minimalism in a World of Clutter: My Office Décor Tour

tiffany waddellTiffany I. Waddell, Assistant Director for Career Development, Davidson College
Personal blog: www.tiffanywaddell.com
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/tiffanyiwaddell
Twitter: @tiffanyiwaddell

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that the life of a career adviser, coach, or counselor (pick your fancy) requires a great deal of organization, balance, and efficiency. Particularly when we, as higher-ed administrators, are called to do and be more with student needs, ideas, and skill gaps—with the same amount of time to use each day. I consider myself a fairly good manager of my time—I am a list queen, of course. As an introvert, I tend to plan my attack on the day long before I get into the office, and I am at my best when I am organized.

However, I am always on a quest for more balance and clarity. For me, that often begins with the physical space around me. How can I maximize my productivity and create a warm and welcoming environment for students who visit my office? How can I create a space that encourages my own creativity and idea generation, but that is still professional and organized? Transitioning into a new role this year gave me the opportunity to try something new with my work space, though it is always evolving.

Here are a few pictures of my work space, and the items that make my home-away-from-home a comfortable space to coach, create, and conquer.  Enjoy!  I hope it inspires you to create a warm, comfortable work space of your own!

globe light

Fun globe light:  Most days I work in my office without the use of an overhead light.  Overhead lights can be rough on the eyes, contribute to headaches, and even make you feel a little blah. It’s not easy to turn off the overhead light when the weather is gloomy, but using lights like these instead help brighten up the room without being too jarring.

 

tissuesHand sanitizer, tissues, and an hourglass: Hand sanitizer and tissues?  Sometimes students and visitors bring flu and cold germs along, so I always recommend having some of both available within arm’s reach.  The hourglass was a fun find. I don’t actually use it to time sessions.  Ha!

 

 

prints

Wall art: Prints courtesy of a Google search. I love to add a splash of color in an otherwise neutral space, because it’s unexpected, vibrant, and allows me to add a bit of my own flavor while still being professional.  The quotes are also two of my all-time favorites.

 

organizer

Workstation organizer: When I arrived, the organizer was already in my office—and I find that it comes in handy to store folders of commonly used teaching tools and handouts (like career assessment access instructions!). This also minimizes the amount of clutter floating around the office space, leaving the tabletop free for project work or program prep.

sound machine

Sound machine: A must have.  It helps calm the space, muffles  outside noise, and (I think) helps minimize noise that travels from my office into the larger office.  Also helpful when I’m writing, because it provides just the right amount of white noise.

 

 

Desk Mantra

Desk Mantra: Speaks for itself.  This is double-sided and serves as a reminder for me …and all of the students and staff who visit.  We can definitely do anything.  But not everything.

Thanks for reading! Please share in the comments below how you jazz up your office space and create a warm, inviting space to counsel and coach clients. I would love to hear from you.

LinkedIn Limitations

Vanessa NewtonVanessa Newton, program analyst, University of Kansas
Twitter: https://twitter.com/vlnewt
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/vanessaliobanewton
Blog: www.wellnessblogging.com

I cannot tell you how many times I hear people chirping on about how great LinkedIn is and how useful it is to “up that knowledge rate” on your first-destination survey. And while I agree with that, I think it’s time we acknowledge some of the limitations of relying on LinkedIn for information. Blame it on my scientific research background, but I think discussing and acknowledging limitations is a good thing.

A lot of companies are selling their services to look up your graduates on LinkedIn. For just 50 cents per student or $5 per student, they do all the work and find information for you. That sounds great (sans all the money you could be spending if you have a large graduating class), until you think about it. Yes, these companies can find that information for you, but what if 60 percent of your graduating class doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile? What if everyone in the graduating class has a LinkedIn profile, but half of them made their profiles because they were required by a class two years ago—and they haven’t updated their information since? The data that you paid for could say (wrongly) this person is currently a Student IT Help Desk Worker!

And what about other data on the LinkedIn profile…how do you know that it is correct? How can you reasonably assume that the graduate is still a bartender? I have graduates who fill out the destination survey and indicate in the comments that the job that they are currently working is just to pay the bills and they are actively seeking a more professional position.

And then you get into the really fuzzy section—nontraditional graduates who appear to be working in the same position they held before they started working on their degree. Did they get the degree to move higher up in the company or did they just want to get the degree?

Then there are the graduates (I find this often with arts majors) who are working on building their businesses, but are also working multiple jobs to pay bills and make ends meet. How do you classify that information? Because I think the fashion designer who is working as a receptionist and a hostess might indicate on a destination survey that they are employed full time—and not mention the other two jobs.

LinkedIn is a hub for information, but it isn’t the end-all be-all source of information. Yes, we can educate students on how to use LinkedIn, and encourage them to use it, but when it comes to pulling destination survey data from LinkedIn, it should be used with caution and in conjunction with other methods of finding information.