Finding Your Professional Voice

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

Many times, the word professionalism conjures thoughts and images of workplace dress, norms, and habits. However, there is yet another consideration for people  who speak more than one language and/or have mastered more than one dialect of English. This includes reconciling notions of professional voice.

Given the various dialects of English and the purpose of this article, I will refrain from calling some “proper English” and others “broken English.” These are value statements that detract from how the English language is actively shaped by both context and community. Yet since navigating language depends on context, we also must think about how students and staff negotiate language in the workplace and/or other professional settings (i.e. student meetings with university staff, interviews and interview prep, presentations, etc.)

For example, one afternoon I was chatting with a student in a dialect form that we both shared. (To be clear, this is not slang, catch-phrases, and/or lazy forms of standard English. By shared dialect, I mean “a systematic, rule-governed (form) of English” that we both could navigate well despite regional variations of said dialect; Jones, 2015, p. 404). We had a long conversation about what was happening on campus, goals for the next year, and more, until I was interrupted by a phone call from a colleague. This colleague happened to be able to navigate the dialect we were speaking. However, because it was a colleague, the conversation moved to include more formal / standard modes of English. The student commented, “You’ve got your work voice on!”

This does not just happen in our colleges and universities. We’ve seen this on the stage of arts and entertainment as well. If at all possible, briefly suspend your understandings of Kanye West’s canon of art and/or personality antics, to take a closer look at how he uses language. In recent interviews, Kanye slips into an extremely different mode of English than in his body of music. In the past, this has prompted strong reactions in news publications and on social media about “Who is Kanye trying to be? Why isn’t he using his real voice? Is this Kanye’s ‘interview voice?’ The choices that we make about language in the workplace often hold implications about who we are AND how we are perceived. It’s important to draw students into conversation about some of those things.

Communication and Career Capital

Dr. Tara Yosso (2005) poses an interesting question in her work, Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth. Quite often, when we think of capital, or various forms of wealth, we have limited views and understandings of what these forms of wealth can be. Many of our students hold a great deal of linguistic capital, defined by Yosso as the “intellectual and social skills attained through communication experiences in more than one language and/or style…Reading, literacy, oral histories, cuentos (stories), dichos (proverbs), sophisticated linguistic code switching (2005, p. 78).” This comes in very handy inside and outside of the workplace, as they navigate the different communities that they hold dear. So, when we talk about our modes of communication in interviews, in the workplace, and for career goals, there may also be opportunities to talk with and learn from our students about their understandings of professional voice.

Each day, our students navigate home dialects and standard English workplace/academic dialects. Thus, navigating multiple languages and dialects of language is a part of career capital: What are we saying? How are we saying it, depending on the context?

My “work voice”  and even the work voices of my colleagues can change, depending on how we need to function in that moment. At any given moment, you may hear standard American English (SAE), Spanish and dialects of Spanish, African-American English (AAE, which encompasses various sets of rules, depending on region), and more as we have conversations about student success, retention, persistence, and career capital. In a meeting with executive leadership, we might slip into more standardized dialects of English, due to context and shared understandings. For students finding their professional voice, it’s important to talk through these contexts, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be difficult to do so.

Learning from Creative Reflection

One of my favorite activities to take students through is an auto-ethnography of how they use language and how they are currently developing their understanding of professional voice. It’s easier to do this activity around written language, since they can access that from their phones and/or e-mail accounts. I ask students to observe and reflect on the language they use in the following contexts:

  • Contacting someone from your professional field (for students, this can be any current supervisors they have, mentors, etc.)
  • Contacting a family member
  • Contacting a peer or a close friend
    (you can also add other categories as appropriate)

It’s best if you can show them an example from your own life, to provide a template for the activity. Students may notice themselves code switching: slipping into and out of various languages, different forms of language, and even the use of imagery as communication, i.e. memes, emojis, emoticons. This prompts conversations about when they choose to use standardized/formal English dialects and when they choose to skillfully use various forms, as well. In many cases, this has also prompted conversations about authenticity in the workplace. (What makes someone authentic? How do we communicate in authentic ways, regardless of context?) This is also an activity that you can do with staff, especially if you are in the early stages of understanding. It’s important to stay away from value statements on how students are using language, but to help students to simply reflect on how they are already using language and how they might make sense of their own linguistic and career capital.

Further Reading:
Jones, Taylor (11/2015). “Toward a Description of African American Vernacular English Dialect Regions Using ‘Black Twitter.’ ” American speech (0003-1283),90 (4), p. 403.

Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth
Wofram. Sociolinguistics Definition from the Linguistic Society of America.

 

Here’s How to Prepare for #NACE16

Marc Goldman, Executive Director, Career Center, Yeshiva University

Marc Goldman, Executive Director, Career Center, Yeshiva University
Twitter: @MarcGoldmanNYC
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/marcjgoldman

 

Hello, NACE blogosphere friends. It’s me, the prodigal blogger. It has been a roller coaster of a year in my shop, so I have not had a chance to post anything new and exciting to the blog recently. And for that, I am sure you are most grateful. But with another fabulous NACE Annual Conference on the horizon, I have come out of semi-retirement to offer some tips on making the most of this year’s conference. Of course, you can revisit my past blog post about people you should meet at a NACE gathering. It’s always a fun, diverting read.

What do I recommend you do in preparation for the conference? Here are my top five suggestions in no strategic order:

  1. Pack for anything and everything: Of course, this IS a professional conference, so you will need to present as polished and ready to work. But it is also a social event, so bring your party outfit or whatever you need to paint the town red. And because you will want to continue your fitness regimen, bring your best walking shoes or workout clothes. We will be in Chicago, but it will be June, so you make the call on a swimsuit. For a big twist, there is the splashy and flashy 60th Anniversary Gala, where cocktail attire is required. Please now refer to Google or Wikipedia for a good definition and examples of cocktail attire.
  2. Target your must-see programs: You have probably realized that a list of conference programs has already hit the interwebs. Review that list with care and try to prioritize which sessions are your “must haves” and “have nots.” That way, you can mark them down ahead of time, strategize how to get to most of them within the three-day program, and actually get a seat in the room. Yes, arrive early and scope out your spot. The rooms fill up fast.
  3. Make contact before the trip: Many of you use the NACE Annual Conference not only to educate, inform, and enrich yourself, but also to reconnect with colleagues and make new contacts. Don’t wait until June 7th to arrange your meetings, get-togethers, coffee chats, and breakfast catch-ups. You might find that everyone else’s calendars are booked solid. If there are people you definitely want to speak to live and in person, shoot them an e-mail now and get them to mark you down on their calendar. You’ll find a list of attendees under MyNACE > Events.
  4. Study the tech: If you are looking to discover what the latest and greatest resources, apps, and technology tools are for our biz, the conference Exhibit Hall is an awesome and mind-blowing venue. There is A LOT to take in, and it can sometimes feel so overwhelming, you just sort of float in and out of the room, never knowing at which booth to stop or to whom to pose a question. Do some homework ahead of time if you might be shopping for information or products and research the vendors to target and narrow down accordingly.
  5. Be ready to record and share: Whether you are cutting edge and have your handy iPad, laptop, or mobile device, or you prefer the old school approach of a pen and pad of paper, be ready to take notes. You will hear so many good ideas, nuggets of information, websites for future reference, and names of people to hunt down later on LinkedIn. And of course, your staff and colleagues left behind to hold down the fort will want a recap and for you to share with them all your pearls of wisdom gained. Make the report–out easy by doing the work up front at the conference. It would be challenging to bring back a deep dish pizza slice for everyone, but you can bring back a great number of takeaways nonetheless.

What Is Professionalism?

Ross WadeRoss Wade, Director of Career Development, Elon University’s Student Professional Development Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

I was recently asked to present to Elon University students participating in the Executive Internship program (an internship for Elon undergraduate students interested in pursuing careers in higher education). I agreed without a second thought, assuming talking about professionalism would be a breeze. Turns out it’s not. I struggled to put this presentation together. What is professionalism? What is a professional? How did I become a professional? Workspaces can include professionals from four different generations—does each generation define professionalism differently? How does race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, etc. tie into professionalism? Yep…I fell right down that rabbit hole.

I decided to start with reflecting on my own “professional evolution.” What have I learned over the past 20 years? How did I learn it? Where? My foundational experience, regarding professionalism, was as an intern for a documentary production company. I was unpaid, worked 60+ hours a week, was challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone everyday, and I LOVED it. Through this experience, and over the next few years, I created (though at the time unconsciously) a set of rules for professionalism for myself:

  1. Be kind
  2. Never come with problems, only come with solutions
  3. Always work hard
  4. Think before you react
  5. Before asking others, try to figure it out on your own
  6. Think smarter not harder
  7. Recognize feedback, in all the ways it comes to you, and use it to your advantage
  8. Be authentic

These rules have always worked for me, but I wondered what others have learned over their careers. So I asked my contacts on LinkedIn, and received over 100 comments in less than 48 hours. Below is a list of the top five:

  • Be on time
  • Be curious, a life-long learner
  • Be honest, and do what you say you are going to do…have integrity
  • Treat others with respect, patience, and kindness
  • Be authentic

Next, I did some research on generational differences in the workplace (Lindsey Baker’s dissertation on intergenerational knowledge transfer has some great information). I discovered that professionalism is comprised of three key principles: motivation, work ethic, and communication—each generation bringing their own versions of these principles to the workplace.

In a nutshell, there are some differences that can lead to conflicts when it comes to “professionalism.” For example, a Generation X worker is more likely to be intrinsically motivated, whereas a Baby Boomer worker is more likely to be externally motivated (promotions, awards).

What about work ethic? A Millennial worker may feel their contribution to their employer is not based on time spent in the office, whereas a Baby Boomer worker may think a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday reflects a strong work ethic and professionalism.

Communication? A Generation X worker may be more inclined to using text or e-mail to communicate, whereas a Baby Boomer worker may prefer face-to-face discussions and formal meetings.

All this said, employers and employees find great value in working in multigenerational workplaces. Why? Because we can all learn a lot from each other. As a Gen X supervisor, managing a handful of Millennial staffers, it is important for me to remember they may be more extrinsically motivated—so knowing the raise and promotion structure as well as opportunities for professional development is very important to them. This helps me motivate them to do their best work.

Bottom line? Everyone is different, so the quickest and best way to find out is to ask. This information can be gleaned during job interviews or when a worker is newly hired and meeting colleagues and leadership. Asking these types of questions will not only reflect empathy and conscientiousness, but also professionalism.

How to Fly Higher in Higher Education

rubinaRubina Azizdin, Career Services Associate, Central Penn College

I work at Central Penn College as career services associate and teach various humanities classes as an adjunct professor. One of my main responsibilities is to help students and alumni with job pursuit issues. I prepare them to attain their professional goals. We have conversations about what an ideal job would look like and obstacles that may have prevented them from reaching that dream job and other career goals.

After being my in role here at the college, I started to think about how I might apply my advice to myself? What are my goals? Where do I want to be in five to 10 years, career wise? One thing I know for sure is that I would like to stay in higher education. There are many of us who work in academia and aspire to make career moves within our institutions.

The big question is, how do we do this?

Think About Options

When you are in a field like higher education, you need understand the numerous opportunities that exist.

Every college is diverse and operates differently. Core values, student population, and even programming may differ. What department interests you? If you decide to change positions, will the institution offer such an option?

Specific job descriptions and scope of work might vary depending upon the type of institution in which you work. For example, differences may occur if the university is a research, doctoral degree granting institution as contrasted with a liberal arts four-year undergraduate institution. The former might place greater emphasis on grants and scholarship productivity than the latter institution (Enomoto & Matsuoka, 2007). Also remember that salaries may not be competitive, but the entire package of the position may be enticing. Know why you are attracted to the college and be able to evaluate opportunity in its entirety.

Make Sure That You Are a Viable Candidate

A 2013 Gallup study found most Americans are unhappy at work, stating “only 30 percent of American employees feel engaged or inspired at their jobs and the vast majority of U.S. workers—70 percent—are not reaching their full potential.”

Sometimes in higher education, professionals feel that they have a better chance of receiving a job offer if they apply for a position that may be lower than their current experience/job. There is nothing wrong with taking a position that may be below your standard qualifications or experience—only if that will allow you to achieve your ultimate goals.

You must always remember what your ultimate end goal is. Factors that are important in determining the value of your end goal include; the length of time you can sustain a position that may have shortcomings such as a lower salary, decreased vacations time and miscellaneous benefits, as well as diminished career growth. The value of these factors can impact your decision on pursuing your ultimate end goal. If you do not have solid answers to these questions, then it may be a sign for you to consider other options.

On the flip side, some professionals will apply for higher level positions that they may not be qualified for, but feel that they will learn the position and be groomed by their administrators.

Know your skill set and potential when applying for a higher level job, remembering that job titles come with the expectations and responsibilities that you should already be well versed in and there may not be time for to you to learn and absorb information.

Reach out to a career mentor who will help steer you toward an accurate path and will eventually help move you toward the higher level executive that you aspire to be.

Make Connections—Network, Network, Network

Higher education is in a world of its own. The more you network and meet professionals from this world, the more you will learn and hear about opportunities that may be a good fit. Attend events that are hosted by other institutions or conferences where there will be other college professionals. There is something unique about the relaxation and bonding that occurs when people eat and socialize together outside of the office.

Trust can develop when you have an opportunity to personally interact with another individual in your field. These conversations can develop an in-depth professional relationship that phone and office visits alone cannot achieve. Luncheons and other face-to-face activities provide you with opportunities to build trust in your relationships (Boyd, 2011).

Create social networking accounts such as a LinkedIn account. Make yourself and your name visible. Build rapport with recruiters. Let them know that you are searching and interested in opportunities, and provide each with your resume, cover letter, and business card. Get involved in community-based professional development organizations, run for board positions, and attend local chamber events. Practice and have an elevator speech ready, so that you can point out your professional background and set a good impression. 

Cultivate Your Reputation

If you are interested in growing within your present place of employment, get involved! Have a servant leadership mindset. Think about ways you can help your colleagues and be successful together. Attend campus events, help fellow colleagues with programs, and serve on committees. Get involved with strategic planning, accreditation steering committees, and employment search committees. Build relationships with faculty, staff, and students.  This supports building professional connections and helps put a face to your name. 

Be Inspired

Make of a list of five to 10 people who hold your dream job titles. Look them up, read about their professional progress and background. See who they are connected to and how you too can be more connected. Seek out the people who you are inspired by within your institution and chat with them about your aspirations and ask about career tips. There is a plethora of published information to help you understand and build tactics and understand your options. Listen to webinars and join professional organizations that are related to your academic department.

Emulate successful leadership styles. People who want to advance need to examine closely the behaviors of successful leaders in their organizations. Determine what it is that these leaders do that makes them effective and respected. When compatible with their personal styles, individuals should adopt a few of those successful behaviors to see if they will be effective for them. 

Be Honest

Have a clean and updated resume with your latest work and professional data. Don’t inflate it with false credentials. When information does not line, up it can lead for hiring officials to think that bigger things may not line up either. Be ready to explain any gaps, be ready to talk about what you did and what you learned during that time. If you were asked to be a guest lecturer in class, you were not an instructor. If you were asked to fill in as interim director or dean to help cover a colleague’s place, that did not make you a dean or director on your curriculum vitae. Integrity is very important and highly critical in academia, so make sure you preserve it.

Be Able to Face Reality

You already know working in higher education is highly competitive, so be prepared to face the competition. You may be educated and have loads of experience and still be rejected for a position. Do not take a hiring decision personally: The search committee is there to find a candidate that will be the perfect fit and will be able to tackle the position without hesitation.

Achieving your dream job does not happen overnight or even with years of working. It takes time, skill and precise execution. Remember what your priorities are and what makes you happy and also know that you are in a field that is wonderful and filled with opportunity. With time and patience you will be able to thrive and achieve your goals.

Fly high with higher education!

 

 

References

Boyd, J. (2011). The Illustrated Guide to SMART Living: Custom Design Your Life. Tremendous Life Books.

Blacksmith, N., & Harter, J. (2011, October 28). Majority of American Workers Not Engaged in Their Jobs. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/150383/majority-american-workers-not-engaged-jobs.aspx

Enomoto, E., & Matsuoka, J. (2007). Becoming Dean: Selection and Socialization Processes of an Academic. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 2(3), 31-31.

 

 

All Play and No Work?

board-christiangarcia

Christian Garcia, Associate Dean and Executive Director, Toppel Career Center, University of Miami LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christiangarcia     Twitter: @christiangarcia

How does an office that seemingly only has fun not only get work done, but get it done with such a high level of quality and innovation as well?

I get asked a variation of this question all the time and while some people are being snarky, I believe most are genuinely curious about the fun, yet hard working culture we maintain at the Toppel Career Center. What I find interesting is that for many, play and work are mutually exclusive. Well, I’m here to tell you that that is certainly not the case at Toppel! So, if you’re wondering how we make this happen, read on.

Don’t be Fooled: Play Is Work

Let me be upfront: the “play” takes “work.” Consistent work. There was a time when it wasn’t a whole lot of fun to work at Toppel. Sure, we had our exciting moments and yes, we tended to produce some great work, but the fact of the matter is that we had some toxic individuals and behaviors that routinely undermined the important work we were trying to accomplish. The question became: how do we right the ship?

Strengthening Teams Becomes a “Thing”

Once we had the right team in place (read between the lines here), we tackled our issues head on and without any filtering. Staff members openly and honestly shared their feelings about the culture: the good, the bad, and lots of the ugly. The caveat was that while everyone was encouraged to be completely honest, we also had to share responsibility for our part in the bad and ugly. Using Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, we began our never-ending journey into what we call Strengthening Teams. Every other Tuesday, the leadership team led a discussion/activity on one of the dysfunctions in a direct and honest manner:

  1. Absence of Trust
  2. Fear of Conflict
  3. Lack of Commitment
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
  5. Inattention to Results

The following semester we did it all over again, except we had staff members work in pairs to lead the team through activities and discussions on the dysfunctions. Seems like overkill, right? Wrong. Repeating it not only drove the points home, it also created buy-in because we shared ownership with all team members. The best part of all of this is that almost instantly, the walls started coming down and that’s when the play began. And I’m not talking about the “fake fun” we see in so many places; I’m talking about genuine appreciation for each other’s well-being and truly wanting to spend time with each other in and out of the office. Several years have passed since that initial meeting and we still have our Strengthening Teams meeting every other Tuesday and yes, we dust off Lencioni’s book regularly to not only keep us on track, but to bring new staff members into the fold.

Crazy Staff at Toppel

The crazy staff at Toppel Career Center

But Don’t Take My Word For It

Sure, I’m the leader of the office and this whole blog post can just be me bragging about how great my organization is. But I’m more honest than that and therefore asked folks— both within and outside of Toppel—for their thoughts on why our culture is the way it is.

Ali Rodriguez, Director of Employer Engagement says, “By taking advantage of people’s strengths, the joy simply comes through.” and “It’s become so natural and organic that it’s hard to put our culture into words. That said, what it comes down to is that we don’t lose our sense of humor in spite of all the work and stress that comes with the job.”

Chris Hartnett, Director of Residence Life says, “Toppel exudes an energy and enthusiasm that is both palpable and contagious.  The staff is passionate about the work they do and strives every day to better their events for student excellence.  Working with Toppel is a highlight of my job; the talented and creative folks in their office are some of the best and brightest on campus!”

Kim Burr, Assistant Director at Toppel, is one of our newer staff members at Toppel and after a week where the majority of the leadership team was away on business, she told me, “This isn’t an office where the mice play when the cats are away. I’m so impressed at how seriously everyone takes their work, while at the same time not taking themselves so seriously.”

Devika Milner, Director of Study Abroad says, “Toppel is a place where ideas are generated, where you feel like a valued part of a community, and where you consistently learn something new. I have never seen a group of individuals who exude such passion and excitement for the work, while also truly caring for each other much like a family. I love being around them!”

Gosh, This Is a Long Blog Post! What’s the Moral of the Story?

The moral of the story is that ALL work and ALL play is possible, but only if you commit to it. You have to hire the right people; people who are positive and passionate (everything else can pretty much be taught). But it doesn’t end there. You have to get to know your people: what makes them tick, what are their strengths, and what pisses them off. You have to let go of your own ego, be vulnerable, and ask the tough questions without being scared of the real answers. You have to take risks, allow your people to take risks, and above all, be okay with failing hard. You have to spend quality and consistent time working on the team, the same way you spend time running your programs, events, and initiatives. You have to relinquish control and give it to your staff. And remember when I said this was a never-ending journey? That wasn’t hyperbole. You have to realize that to maintain this type of culture, the work never ends. And therein lies the irony: the “play” takes a great deal of “work” in the very same way the “work” takes a great deal of “play.”

In Closing

We have our detractors. We have folks who think we’re silly. We’ve had people call us the “Toppel Cult.” You know what I say to that? You can’t spell culture without CULT.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Things We Don’t Think About

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

Janet* came into my office as a senior in college and as per usual, I asked her how she was doing. However, at this particular meeting, she seemed a bit more nervous and on edge.

“How’s it going? What have you been up to as far as your professional development goes?” At the point of this meeting, I was no longer working in career services (though I had at a previous institution), but I always checked in about my students’ professional progress.

“Well… I don’t know. I’ve gotten really involved here at the university and have really explored my identities. I’m a peer mentor at the LGBTQA Resource Center. I’ve joined the Latino Caucus and more. I’d like to think that future employers will count that as positive, but…”

She cast over a knowing glance. “I guess what I’m really asking is… should I list things on my resume that may inform employer’s perceptions about my identity? How can I really assess a company’s culture of diversity? How do I know if they are inclusive?”

After exploring what her previous steps had been (she’d gone to a career counselor, asked a few mentors, etc.), we spent some time searching employer websites, identifying her LinkedIn contacts to discern:

  • If EEO statements were prominent,
  • Where information about professional affinity groups and spaces were,
  • Company organizational structure, and
  • Different levels of diversity (i.e. structural diversity in number AND how equitable staff hiring practices were through networking contact info).

And then some…

After about 15 minutes, the student was able to come up with a few concrete things she would be looking for. But one of her comments really struck me,”When I’d asked this same question before to another adviser I was told, ‘That’s interesting… We never thought about that.’ ”

Although that sounded like an isolated incident, I couldn’t help but reflect on the times many of my students, particularly students who held marginalized socio-cultural identities, told me they’d gotten a similar answer. For example:

Q: “How should I wear my natural hair in the workplace? I’ve heard accounts of natural hair not being professional and being stereotyped as not as groomed?”
A: We’ve never thought about that before! You should talk with ______.

Q: “I regularly wear my traditional cultural and/or religious garments, jewelry, or head wraps. But when I look at what many have told me professional dress is, I’m feeling like maybe I won’t fit in. How should I deal with this in the interview process and beyond?”
A: You should talk with _____________.

Q: “I am a first generation college student and I am from a working class background. I’ve been looking at average salaries for my field and my family and I have been talking about what it means for me to potentially make more than them. I’m wondering how I can have that conversation with my family in ways that doesn’t make them feel further marginalized or make me feel isolated”.
A: “I’ve never thought about that before…”

It’s simple to pinpoint, “Advisers probably shouldn’t verbalize that they hadn’t thought about that before…” (which is a fair statement). But what’s helpful is to reflect back on how not thinking about these things impacts our overall ability to serve students in a well-rounded way.

There are career decisions that happen at the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality/sexual identity, and more. While we may love to believe that we are sending our students into an altogether equitable and just world, we understand that this is not always the case. They are relying on us to assist them as they think through how their sociocultural identities show up, are perceived, and are received in the workplace. While we may have colleagues that specialize in these areas, it’s insufficient for us to operate without basic levels of understanding in these areas.

One of the things that is integral to student affairs, and particularly career services/career discernment programs, is continual, professional development. In order to serve all of our students, we need to grow in cultural competencies that allow us to see how personal identity intersects with professional identity. Directors of career centers, those who have the power to institute learning benchmarks and policy, also have the power to ensure that our students are being served by our own professional development and learning toward cultural competencies and how that impacts career decisions.

Another important piece is the art of referring. While we do have institutional experts in these areas and can call on their expertise, we also need to have a full understanding of what our colleagues do. This way, we serve our students by making intentional referrals, instead of deferring to whom we think might assist that student based on a title or a name.

Lastly, we have to take an important look at who we have as staff and leadership in our career centers. In his work on overcoming stereotype threats, Claude Steele identifies as concept called “existence proof,” which I think is also helpful in this context. Steele explains that fostering the sense of belonging in an academic space and/or professional space requires both positive mentoring from that space’s community members AND role models who may share similar sociocultural identities as the student. This is existence proof. As we look at our staffing choices, we are also making statements (even if they are unconscious ones) about who belongs in that space, who we serve in that space, and who is left out of that space (intentionally or unintentionally).

As practitioners and professionals, we are called to expand our consciousness, learning, and growing so that we can always be in tune with what our students need. As we think about our goals for the year, let’s also think about how we can better serve our students at the intersections of their needs!

Resources:
Steele, Claude. (2010) Whistling Vivaldi and other clues to how stereotypes affect us New York : W.W. Norton & Company

Morell, K., & McCune, B. (2011, December 11). Interview with Dr. Claude Steele. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://depts.washington.edu/trio/triotrain/topics_steele.php