Counselor or Editor? When Does Wordsmithing Stop Serving Our Students?

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search
Career Liaison to College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

While you don’t need an undergraduate English degree to become a higher education career counselor, I often draw on it as much as my counseling preparation and recruiting background. While the “juicier” student appointments may revolve around career exploration, interest assessments, and job-search strategies, a large percentage of appointments are dedicated to creating and revising resumes, cover letters, personal statements, and increasingly, LinkedIn profiles.

Our office, like most, conducts year-round workshops and posts online resources to help students with all of these communication formats. However, we find that the overall area of career-related written communication remains daunting for many students. This is neither an isolated nor insignificant finding.  A recent survey conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of The American Association of Colleges and Universities compared student and employer perceptions of career preparedness. While 65 percent of students surveyed believed that their written communication skills were work force ready, only 27 percent of the employers surveyed agreed.  NACE’s own extensive employer research revealed that oral communications ranks first among seven critical competencies associated with career readiness, with nearly 92 percent of respondents agreeing that is it absolutely essential or essential.

Like all of us, I want my students to succeed, whether in nabbing that long-shot, ultra-competitive  summer internship or gaining admission to a coveted graduate program. As an office, we are also keenly aware that the quality of written materials ultimately reviewed by potential employers and graduate schools reflects on institutional reputation.

While we can offer guidelines with supporting examples to assist in creating career deliverables, it is more difficult to help a student who struggles not only with the language of career-readiness, but with more basic issues of grammar, syntax, transitions, and overall flow. As both a student champion and a natural fixer, I struggle with where to draw the line between helpful wordsmithing and unhelpful enabling of a written communication deficit that begs to be addressed outside of the career services office. Like many of us, I tactfully refer students to our on-campus writing center. We can encourage, but not require.

Recently I assumed responsibility for leading our office’s assessment of student learning outcomes.  Among the areas we are examining as a team, the overarching area of what we have framed as career articulation, oral as well as written, has come to the forefront. While we will continue to use specific rubrics for resumes, essays, etc. as day-to-day teaching tools, we are exploring the use of a multi-measure rubric to help us better assess whether and to what extent students are applying learning from one form of communication to another.  For example, does mastering the 30-second elevator speech cross over to crafting a compelling LinkedIn summary or acing the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” interview question?

How is your career services office addressing the NACE written communications competency, both in your day-to-day operations and in assessment? What kinds of partnerships are you forming on campus?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Career Advising for Introverts: Should It Be Different?

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search
Career Liaison to College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

NACE blog team member Chris Carlson wrote eloquently about networking for introverts earlier this year. His piece inspired me to think more deeply about the role of introversion in higher education career services. As both an introvert and the career liaison for the liberal arts student population at my university, I recently began to include material on introversion and extroversion in the semester-length career exploration series I facilitate, The Seekers. To my surprise, student feedback about these sessions has been nothing short of profound. For many students, there is a powerful sense of self-recognition accompanied by relief that they don’t need to reinvent themselves to enter and thrive in the world of work. I began to consider the implications for career advising overall, given that up to 50 percent of the general population describe themselves as introverts.

It often helps to start by defining terms. It can be easy to take for granted my Myers-Briggs training and decades to make peace with my own introversion. In informal polling I have found that most students still associate introversion with shyness or social awkwardness rather than with primary energy source. More disturbingly, they may view introversion as a flaw or deficit that warrants correction.

I like to start with basic MBTI definitions and then pose a classic question that can help students differentiate their preferred style. For example, “If you had an unexpectedly free weekend, would you rather attend several parties or catch up with a couple of friends individually?” I like this question because it challenges the false dichotomy of alone versus with people. Introverts may also prefer to spend time alone (as do extroverts at times). The difference lies in where they gain their main source of energy and how they prefer to recharge.

Our career services office, like many others, offers career fairs, speed networking events, and practice interviews for jobs or internships. With the best of intentions, we teach students to “put themselves out there,” to navigate cocktail/mocktail conversation, to develop compelling 30-second elevator talks, and to formulate responses to both hardball and softball interview questions. This is all helpful and necessary. But the nagging question remains, are there different and potentially more effective ways to broach these topics with students who identify as introverts? Do I as a counselor—albeit an introverted one—jump too quickly to tactics without first acknowledging and exploring how students feel about these processes and their perceptions of what society expects of them? I think that too often we treat introversion as something to be overcome rather than celebrated for its potential contributions.

As one example, last semester in The Seekers, I conducted a mock interview clinic in which we practiced responses in five common question areas. Halfway through the session, one brave student interjected that while she appreciated the tactical advice, none of it helped with trembling hands during actual interviews. Another student, who projected as poised and self-assured throughout the semester, jumped in and offered that the responses made her feel phony. Their comments led to a lively and connected conversation during which the students listened to and coached each other about how to reconcile internal feelings with external expectations. While their concerns were perhaps not unique to introverts, they created an important “aha” for me: that I needed to create more space within the group to be reflective and introspective about professional skills development.

I have recently started to draw on Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution research on introversion, showing excerpts from her TED talk on The Power of Introverts where she laments external pressures to “pass” as an extrovert and helpfully differentiates introversion from shyness. One of my favorite lines is that “the key to maximizing our talents is to put ourselves in the settings that are right for us,” an exhortation to consider work environment and career choices through the lens of temperament as well as talent.

Ms. Cain’s poise and presence in a public speaking situation tends to surprise students and can start conversations about how introverts not only function but thrive in visible and influential positions. Similarly, Wharton professor Adam Grant’s research on effective leadership, The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses, includes the finding that introverted leaders are more likely to engage their teams by encouraging individuals to develop their own ideas. I have found it useful to offer examples of well-recognized role models from all walks of life, from sports to business, who describe themselves as introverts, from Bill Gates, Mahatma Gandhi, and Rosa Parks, to Michael Jordan, Christine Aguilera, and Julia Roberts .

These are some additional strategies that I have found effective in provoking both reflection and discussion:

  • Combining personalized career assessments to give students more self-insight. I have found that StrengthsQuest and MBTI play well together. For example, a student who shows a preference for introversion on the MBTI may also hold “individualization” as a top strength. Integrating a “strengths” perspective into an introversion/extroversion discussion encourages students to move away from a deficit mindset.
  • Designing more intimate networking forums. This semester our office will pilot a home-based gathering for a limited number of students and alumni in selected fields to interact over a leisurely meal. Our hope is that such forums can complement the larger speed-networking formats and that each will each hold appeal for different types of students.
  • Scheduling one-on-one follow-up appointments. While this may sound like a no-brainer, students are typically more inclined to make appointments keyed to specific deliverables rather than more open-ended discussion about areas of discomfort. While not every student needs or wants this type of support, I think it is important to remind students that the suite of career counseling tools available to them goes beyond resume tweaks.

NACE career advisers, are you having these conversations in your offices? It would be interesting to learn more about employer perspectives as well.

 

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

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search
Career Liaison to College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University
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.

 

Turning No-Shows Into Teachable Moments

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search
Career Liaison to College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

Do “no-shows” represent a routine annoyance for career centers, or are they teachable moments for students learning about the world of work in all its dimensions?  I’m not thinking about the student with a legitimate last-minute conflict or emergency, or a one-time memory lapse. Rather I’m referring to the students with serial career appointment amnesia.

One school of thought holds that students are just learning time and life management skills, and that we can’t hold them too accountable for a relatively minor transgression liked a missed resume review.

Besides, what would holding “no-shows” accountable really look like in practice? Denying future services? Putting them to the back of the line when they have a critical deadline like a live interview? This would seem to run counter to the very mission of helping students get to that all-important first destination (and candidly, would not help department usability numbers either). 

And yet…by not acknowledging chronic no-showism, practitioners do both their students and themselves a disservice. For students, we are providing a false sense of latitude about the greater world off campus. As a longtime recruiter, I can attest that in the absence of an extreme emergency, being MIA for a job interview is a non starter—and not likely to lead to a second chance.

For career practitioners, enabling no-shows with no consequences also sends the message that we undervalue our own time and services. I would propose that there are ways to help students unlearn poor habits without taking punitive measures that run counter to everyone’s objectives. For example, one might be to hold a (mandatory) workshop for all career center users on the consequences of no-showism in the working world. Bringing in an employer or two as a guest speaker would drive the point home that much harder.

Another might be scheduling a targeted educative workshop for the chronic no-show-ers (think The Breakfast Club without the really mean proctor) in order to retain access to account privileges such as job postings. Talking points might be framed in terms of:

 Empathy: Helping the student see the missed appointment from another’s point of view (say, a good friend who could have been seen in the time slot) or projecting how an employer might feel about being stood up.

 Self-recognition: Asking how the student would feel about being stood up by a faculty adviser, a career coach, or a friend.

 Relating to other on-campus expectations: Asking about the  consequences of missing a class or a deadline without prior communication with the professor.

The point, of course, is not to shame the student, but rather to use no-showism as an opportunity to further what we teach about professional development.

 NACE career practitioners, how does your office handle no-shows? NACE employers, what suggestions can you offer?

Find another article on no-shows on NACEWeb.

 

Challenging the Omniscient Career Adviser Role

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search
Career Liaison to College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.
Sometimes life runs in parallels. As I approach month six of in-house career counseling after 20 years as a business owner and executive recruiter, I’m learning that my students are not the only ones navigating new terrain. It is helpful to hold that perspective—and sometimes to share it outright—when encouraging them to push beyond their comfort zone. This makes me less of the all-knowing adviser and more of a human being who can speak to and perhaps model getting to the other side of major life transitions.

As an executive recruiter, even starting out, I often found an automatic presumption of authority and expertise—role power, as a friend and colleague would call it. Role power allowed job candidates to disclose salary and other intimate life and career details to a virtual stranger within minutes. It also positioned me as a trusted confidante and adviser to hiring organizations, and along with that, the one expected to know.

Much earlier, growing up as the daughter of psychologists, I recall that when asking my mother what I should do in a challenging situation, she would often reply, “What do you think you should do?” While this was maddening in the moment, it prepared me to weigh choices from an early age. Her approach sent the message that I was a capable person who could start the thought process on my own.

Putting these experiences together, I’ve been reflecting on the role power inherent in career counseling, and the reflexive temptation to problem solve from a position of expertise. I’m learning to differentiate skills development (resume and cover letter writing, interview preparation, networking strategies) from the leadership that comes more from listening than imparting wisdom.

As an example, I recently advised a midlife student who had just completed an associate’s degree and was torn between continuing on for her bachelor’s in either human resource management or liberal arts. Even as the counselor and huge champion of our traditional liberal arts undergraduates, the recruiter in me admittedly had concerns about short-term employability at a different life stage.

After two in-depth meetings and a series of self-assessments, it became clear that this decision was not a 50/50 proposition. While my student expressed feeling entirely capable of fulfilling the HR program requirements, she voiced much stronger feelings of apathy toward the curriculum. While we had a candid discussion about potential pros and cons, she was powerfully drawn to the liberal arts, and was willing to integrate experiential learning into her already full-time-plus schedule to weave the pieces together.

My student confirmed her decision with her academic adviser shortly thereafter, and copied me on a note that generously described my role as a supportive sounding board. This felt strange at first. Had I done her a disservice by not providing more active advice? What if her decision didn’t lead to the financial security she was also seeking?

Then the realization hit. My role was not to absolutely know what she should do, nor to provide a consultant-like recommendation with supporting bullet points. It was, in fact, to listen and to give her the space to reach her own decision, her own knowing, weighing available data with what already felt true for her.

NACE career counselors, have you confronted this distinction within your own practices and student relationships? What have you learned along the way?

 

The Trouble With Job Postings

Janet R. LongJanet R. Long
Principal, Integrity Search Inc.
Blog: http://inyourownvoice.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch

Teaching students to navigate and reply effectively to job postings—whether through internal referral systems or external job sites—is a tenet of most career development curricula. There are valuable skills to teach, from developing pointed, persuasive communication to learning to think from an employer’s perspective.

The question is, do these skills go far enough?  Are we preparing today’s emerging graduates to become tomorrow’s passive and complacent  job seekers? The trouble with job postings is that they represent only a snapshot of potential opportunities out there. What’s more, they drive large volumes of traffic to a relative handful of jobs, creating instant and intense competition for every role.

When working in private practice with mid-career job seekers, I encourage them to use the 80/20  rule when it comes to postings. That is, to spend about 20 percent of search time replying to advertised opportunities, and the remaining  80 percent using these postings as a springboard to inform a more pro-active approach.

It’s not too early to give our students the gift of this perspective.  Beyond first-destination landings, it will empower them to propel their efforts beyond the too-frequent black hole of applicant tracking systems designed to weed out rather than invite in.

Here are three ways to help our students look at and leverage job postings to get ahead of the curve:

1) Target employers of interest. Never mind if there’s not a current posting related to a specific area. If this employer is in hiring mode, more relevant roles may develop at any moment. Encourage your students to follow companies on social media, seeking  informal introductions to  internal recruiters. This helps the recruiter as well, who is often measured on metrics such as “time to fill” open roles. Having a talent pipeline for tomorrow’s openings is a strategic advantage—and it allows for informal dialogue before a cast of thousands applies to a specific posting.

2) Looks at what’s trending. On Twitter and beyond, the advertised portion of the job market is a researcher’s paradise! For instance, your students can look for common job titles and descriptive language, even in areas outside of their target geography. This gives them the right vocabulary to use when seeking out networking connections as well as to suggest potential titles and skill areas on their own resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

3) Go for the bold.  Many students already have a dream company in mind when they come to you for help and guidance. Take a tour together of the company’s website and job listings, Twitter feed, LinkedIn page, etc., and help them learn to identify challenges waiting to be solved by a smart, passionate new graduate. Show them how to put this insight to use with existing institutional resources such as alumni networks as well as their own emerging networks. Sometimes it pays to take a risk and reach out to higher-level individuals—it’s an old hiring tenet that you can get referred down the food chain but rarely up!

Have your students tried these techniques?  What are some success stories?

Of Rousseau and Resumes: Helping Humanities Students Gain the Home Court Advantage

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search
Career Liaison to College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

Collaborating with and supporting humanities students may represent some of the most challenging—and rewarding—opportunities for career advisers.  Outside of applying directly to graduate programs, these students can face challenges because their paths to internships and permanent employment are often not as well defined as those for more career-specific majors.

Yet, as a longtime recruiter (and full disclosure: former English major) who has successfully placed hundreds of one-time English, philosophy, and psychology majors, I propose that the greater challenge may be an initially uncomfortable fit with traditional job-search methods. The philosophy major who has thought far more deeply about Rousseau’s writings than resume writing may not instinctively pivot to a dialogue about “branding” or self-expression through scannable keywords.  For career advisers, the real gold lies not in portraying these tactics as a necessary evil but in helping students discover how their natural strengths and inclinations can best serve them in the search process.

For starters, amid the ongoing debate about the marketability of a liberal arts education, employers say they want the critical thinking skills that are, in fact, the cornerstone of a foundation in the humanities.  In the well-publicized 2013 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities more than 90 percent of employers agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”

The real question is how to guide our students in applying the well-developed critical thinking muscle to navigating the job marketplace.  Without suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach, here are some places to jump in:

1. Start at the Beginning—Before talking about a student’s resume or a specific job posting, probe for the thought process behind the original selection of a major or course of study—and how that thinking has evolved.  Recruiters like this question too, even for more experienced candidates, because it helps to construct a useful narrative. The reasons are less important than the student’s/candidate’s ability to demonstrate such qualities as self-reflection and an interest in both acquiring and applying knowledge.

2. Open the Floodgates—As West Chester University Assistant Director of Career Development Amanda Mitchell astutely shares, “the key is to help these students understand the capacity of the degree they are pursuing.  Liberal arts students in very specific courses of study may underestimate the breadth of their career options.  For example, while a psychology major could pursue an advanced degree to become a counselor, he or she could also immediately apply an undergraduate degree in a variety of fields, including marketing or business.” As a recruiter, I can validate this perspective:  some of the most impressive candidates I have interviewed for early-career roles in marketing and management consulting have roots in the humanities and social sciences.

By just changing the lens through which they view their major from restrictive to expansive, our students may experience the kinds of “aha moments” that blow their job explorations wide open. You might recommend Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads by Sheila Curran and Suzanne Greenwald for a highly accessible, case-study based approach. The format will also expose your students to the kind of storytelling that will serve them well in job and internship interviews—did you know that Chief Storyteller is an actual corporate job title?!

3. Become a Translator—Help your student demystify jargon-y sounding job-search terms like “branding” and “value proposition.” Draw parallels between these phrases and verbal constructs that are more familiar to liberal arts students.  For example, finding central themes in a work of literature really isn’t all that different from identifying common threads in your student’s academic and co-curricular experience to date.

4. Compare and Contrast—While other students might find the following suggestion the ultimate in geekdom, no one aces the classic compare and contrast exercise like the humanities major.  Leveraging strengths in research, analysis, and written expression, consider encouraging your student to draft a very informal essayor even a steam-of-consciousness-like journal (the actual format is less important than the exercise)examining prospective career options.  For example, a political science major might compare and contrast opportunities in government service versus nonprofit associations and foundations.  You can guide your students to core resources such as  “What Can I Do This Major?” as a starting point, and encourage them to deepen their explorations through online publications, associations and informational conversations with alumni.

Added bonus: Should this process lead to a targeted career direction, your student will already have lots of meaty data to draw on during actual job or internship interviews. Recruiters love to probe for such qualities as sincere motivation and resourcefulness.  What better way for a student to demonstrate these attributes than by walking a recruiter or prospective employer through a thoughtful research process and key learnings about a field or specific organization?

5. Highlight Communication Skills—I may have saved the best for last.  While many humanities students take their strengths in oral and written expression for granted, employers are bemoaning the lack of these skills in the workplace.  As a recruiter, this is probably the number one complaint I hear from employers about recent graduates.

From cover letters to resumes to LinkedIn profiles and electronic portfolios, humanities students have a clear home court advantage. You can help them to recognize this and encourage them to differentiate themselves through the sheer power of the written word. In a future post, I will explore some concrete ways to help them maximize this advantage.

And here’s some really encouraging late-breaking news to share with your students—the Association of American Colleges and Universities just published a survey showing that the long-term return on investment for liberal arts majors, reflected in annual earnings, actually exceeds that for some “pre-professional'” majors.

There is so much more to say about this topic. NACE members, what practices have worked best for the humanities students you advise and support?  Your responses need not be in essay form.