by Samantha Haimes
Samantha Haimes won the 2016 NACE/Spelman Johnson Rising Star Award.
Last summer was a bit of a personal and professional whirlwind for me. Within two months, I left a job that afforded me growth, opportunity, and some of the best co-workers I could ever imagine, took my dream trip to southern Italy (let’s chat if you need any convincing on taking this trip for yourself), and moved to a new state, 1,700 miles from my friends and family in south Florida. In the midst of all of this, I also achieved one of my biggest professional accomplishments to date: receiving the NACE/Spelman Johnson Rising Star Award at the 2016 NACE Conference & Expo.
Since beginning in career services about six years ago, I have enjoyed learning about the recipient of the Rising Star. Perhaps it is because some of the people I admire most in our field have won this in years past (they know who they are, I gush over their accomplishments and amazing personalities everytime I see them). But I think it is also because there is something really motivating and inspiring to me about professionals getting recognized for strong leadership and contributions to our field, even just a few years into their career.
Contributions to the field… only four to seven years in? It may sound like a tall order, especially if you’re newer to the field. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there have been [many] moments when I’ve questioned myself: Am I significantly contributing to the field? I am not running my own department or division. I am not single-handedly restructuring an office or offering consulting services to other career centers. Am I making significant contributions?
But what I’ve realized is, there is so much that goes into making positive, impactful, and meaningful contributions to the field career services. Among many things, being a leader in this field also has a lot to do with the way that you carry yourself, your willingness to learn and take risks, the relationships you strive to build, and your ability and openness to reflect.
As I said, I have always enjoyed hearing about what has influenced the path of past recipients, as I’ve tried to apply some of those things to my own professional practice. So when asked to write this blog post, I thought it was only appropriate to share a few tips of my own that I strive for each day.
Ask questions. This is something I actively work on. The Achiever in me loves to get things done, so it can be easy to just start tackling a problem or issue at work without asking critical questions. Newer professionals may sometimes shy away from asking questions as well, concerned that it might appear they lack knowledge, skills, or moreover that they are questioning something inappropriately. However, we have to get past all of this and realize that taking the time to ask well-thought-out questions will actually yield greater results. Not to mention, you will seem that much more engaged in whatever you’re working on in your office and will likely make others feel comfortable to ask questions themselves. One of my mentors taught me a lot of lessons in asking questions. I notice that whenever I ask for her advice or guidance, she doesn’t actually give me the answer. She simply asks me questions until I process things out enough to make my own decision. It’s tricky, but effective!
Become your own advocate. Throughout the earlier years of my career, I had a lot of difficulty asking for things that I wanted. I never wanted to appear selfish and I definitely did not want to inconvenience or bother anyone. This all came from a good place, but can be a debilitating mindset to take on as a professional. Just because you know what you want and ask for it, doesn’t mean you are being selfish—if you ask for it in the right context.
Funny enough, I learned a big lesson in this area when it came to attending the NACE conference. In 2013, the conference was just a few hours from my then-home in Miami and I was dying to go. The trouble was, sending me to the conference would be costly and I knew some key players in my office were already attending. At one point in my career, I would have accepted this as defeat, assumed I couldn’t attend, and felt disappointed as I followed the conference on social media later in the year. But instead, I printed out the conference program, outlined specific goals, and went through each session identifying which I would attend and the direct contributions I could make to the office after attending. I made my “pitch” to the executive director and left his office feeling exhilarated. There was something so energizing about making my case. I almost didn’t even care what the outcome was because at the end of the day, I knew I had done everything I could to try and attend. I reference this example, so many years later, because it was truly a turning point for me. It afforded me a level of professional confidence and maturity that made me realize the importance and impact of advocating for myself. Whenever I find myself feeling intimidated to ask for something, I think of the feeling I had when I left his office (and the subsequent feeling when he approved me to attend later that week) and channel that same energy.
Be genuine. We are lucky to work in a field with some outstanding professionals who are even more amazing people. Getting to know your colleagues as individuals and not just for their roles is an all-around strategy that will help you accomplish more in your work and likely help you enjoy everyday at the office even more. It is so important to stay genuine to who you are. I really believe people can tell the difference between someone who is genuine and someone who is being fake—we’ve all seen it right? I show people the real Samantha, pretty much right up front. I have a lot of energy and passion, I’m upbeat and positive, and dare I say it, am a bit of a raging extrovert. The relationships I’ve built, with colleagues and mentors within my own departments and across the country, are in large part thanks to my willingness to be my genuine self in front of others. Think of someone who you would describe as genuine in your life. Chances are, you likely enjoy their company, trust their judgement, and appreciate their character, confidence, and communication style. If you break each of these things down, aren’t these all qualities we want from the people we work with? Be genuine yourself and you’ll attract others who are genuine.
Practice gratitude. Maybe I am influenced by all of the resolutions of 2017, but I think that gratitude is something we may not always think about when it comes to the workplace. But we have a lot to be thankful for. We work in a field that makes a lasting impact on students’ lives, has consistent national attention, and is filled with inspiring innovators and thought-leaders for us to all look up to. Hopefully you work in an office where the work that you are doing day-to-day is something to be thankful for, along with your colleagues, co-workers, and supervisors. I would advise that whether you are a newer or more seasoned professional, making a conscious effort to practice gratitude in the workplace can be a gamechanger. It is easy to get caught up in the “busy season” and anxiously await for summer and holiday breaks when things slow down. But isn’t the business of it all what makes us thrive? Without students on campus, none of us would have these roles.
In 2016, when I knew there was the potential for some personal and professional change in my life, I made an intentional effort to start each day with a grateful heart. Well, I challenge everyone, including myself, to start each workday with a sincerely grateful mind. When you go into work, and you have a busy day with back-to-back Outlook calendar invites, I guarantee there is still something to be grateful for. Maybe you finally secured a meeting with a faculty member you’ve been trying to get in front of, or perhaps you’re hosting a new program in partnership with a student organization that could lead to something great. Whatever the case may be, adopting this mindset can have a positive lasting impact not only on the work that you produce, but on your professional reputation and brand.
In the end, strive to thrive. You know your role better than anyone, so challenge yourself in this next year to thrive as a career services professional. As I now settle into my new home in Vermont, post conference and post Rising Star, I am consistently striving to thrive as a professional, thrive in relationships I build with both new and existing colleagues, and thrive in my own self-reflection.
The NACE Awards honor members’ outstanding achievements in the career services and HR/staffing professions. Excellence Awards are judged on program needs/objectives, content, design, creativity, innovation, measurable outcomes and ease of replication. Win honors and recognition for yourself, your staff, and your organization. Awards submissions close January 31, 2017. Details: http://www.naceweb.org/about-us/awards.aspx.
Samantha Haimes is a career services professional with a passion for connecting and educating both students and employers. She works in marketing and communications at Middlebury College’s Center for Careers and Internships. Prior to her current position, she was employed at the University of Miami in various roles at the Toppel Career Center, most recently as the Associate Director for Career Readiness. She earned a master of science in higher education from the University of Miami and a bachelor of arts in advertising and public relations from the University of Central Florida. She has also worked at Cabrini College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.