Assessment Tools and Career Decision Making

KKathryn Douglasathy Douglas, Associate Director Career Development Office, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/douglaskathy
Twitter: @fescdo
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Yale-FES-Career-Development-Office/134339426609741
Website: environment.yale.edu/cdo

I regularly get questions about the value of assessment tools from the graduate student populations I work with. The follow question came to me via e-mail:

Q. What do you think about aptitude, personality, and interests tests in helping to guide career decision making? (Examples: Johnson O’ Connor Research Foundation’s aptitude testing program, Myers Briggs, Strong Interest Inventory, etc.). How do I align my interests and background with the results of such tests? And does following these test results really lead to a more satisfying career?

A. In general, a higher degree of self-awareness is always a good thing in terms of career development. Aptitude, personality, and interests tests, or assessments, can help define aspects of yourself that you may not already have a good sense of, and may save years of making less than ideal choices about career direction and focus, i.e. from learning the hard way. Many of us are strongly influenced by supposed-to-be’s, cultural ideals and other external forces. Having a better understanding of one’s proclivities and making career choices accordingly, you are likely to be more directed, satisfied and productive.

In an interview with The New York Times career columnist Marci Alboher, Peggy Klaus, author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner, groups self-awareness with other “soft” skills: “The hard skills are the technical expertise you need to get the job done. The soft skills are really everything else—competencies that go from self-awareness to one’s attitude to managing one’s career to handling critics, not taking things personally, taking risks, getting along with people, and many, many more.” Self-assessment tests are a good way to boost your self-awareness as well as to identify areas you might want to work on.

Different assessment tools measure different qualities and leanings, and can be useful in helping to discover strengths, weaknesses, and preferences that you may not be fully aware of or perhaps assume that everyone possesses, i.e., they can help you take a more objective view of yourself. They are part of self-assessment that can help you define and articulate career goals, but are not necessarily going to give you hard and fast answers regarding direction. You are the final interpreter and arbiter of any such tests, but going through the process will likely lead to some personally resonant and new information that can inform your career planning, areas for personal and professional development and goal setting.

To illustrate the application of self-assessment tools to career development, let’s look briefly at the Myers-Briggs personality test, which is based on Jungian psychology and which identifies 16 personality types. In addition to discovering your own type, knowledge of personality types can be extremely useful for navigating interpersonal relationships when you are working on teams, collaborating with colleagues, and interacting on all levels with individuals and groups.

Here is some basic information on the INTJ (Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging), a rare personality type:

“Hallmark features of the INTJ personality type include independence of thought, strong individualism and creativity. Persons with this personality type work best given large amounts of autonomy and creative freedom. They harbor an innate desire to express themselves; that is to be creative by conceptualizing their own intellectual designs. Analyzing and formulating complex theories are among their greatest strengths. INTJs tend to be well-suited for occupations within academia, research, management, engineering, and law. Differentiating the INTJ personality type from the related INTP type is their confidence. They tend to be acutely aware of their knowledge and abilities. Thus, they develop a strong confidence in their ability and talents, making them “natural leaders.” It is this confidence that makes this personality type extremely rare. According to David Keirsey it is found in no more than 1 percent of the population.” Source: http://www.wikidoc.org/index.php/INTJ

How can this understanding be applied to career choices and personal development?

If you are an INTJ, you might want to be looking for positions where you have a high degree of autonomy and can work creatively on long-term strategic planning, rather than one where you are doing highly energetic short-term management as part of an interdependent team. You might want to focus on organizations that have a reputation for being extremely well-managed, as opposed to one where your role will be to efficiently create order and be a mentor to young people. INTJ’s are often “surprised when others don’t see things the same way.” If this is something you newly understand about yourself, you might spend some time developing the ability to build consensus around your ideas, an area that might not come naturally to you.

This kind of introspective work can certainly help in career development and in other areas of your life, can bring a depth to understandings you may already have about your personality, interests and aptitudes, and can be especially helpful if you find it difficult to accurately assess yourself.

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.

Professional and Business Attire…It Can be Confusing!

Kathleen Powell

Kathleen Powell, Assistant Vice President, Student Affairs, Executive Director of Career Development, Cohen Career Center, William & Mary
President-Elect, National Association of Colleges and Employers
Twitter: @powellka
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/kathleenipowell/

Can you show up to an interview in a tank top—with much exposed—“statement” jewelry as an accessory, three-inch heels, and a skirt so short that one could describe your choice of undergarments? Or, argyle socks, wingtip shoes, shorts, and a dress shirt? It was hot the day of the interview!

How does one transition from being a student or graduate student to a professional?

There are so many choices available today to complement your wardrobe. You’ve see leggings with a dress, heels without hose, popped collars with a suit jacket. Skinny pants and jeggings. How does one decide, really?

I’m sure you’ve heard, “I just want to stand out,” or “I’m my own person,” or “I’ve got my own style of dress,” or “I don’t want to be put in a box and be mandated a wardrobe.” I started to think about all the styles and clothing choices available. Interview season is upon us and there seems to be a need for individuality on the part of the interviewee and the need for professional attire on the part of the interviewer. I’m certain there is a happy medium. I’ve seen it.

Do we give new college hires a bit of a pass—understanding they don’t have a large budget for their professional wardrobe?

But, at some point, do we sit that young professional down and explain the expectations of professional attire? Do we assume they’ll figure out what is appropriate—or note—by observing those around them? It seems there is a need to set expectations for all professionals in the work force.

Where one works and what they do will dictate the wardrobe, but being transparent about expectations and appropriate attire will win the day.

Do you have a no jeans or leggings policy at work? If it is your preference/policy that your team not wear jeans? Make it clear to them, up front, that jeans are not a part of office attire.

You’ve heard something like, “IT wears jeans all the time, why can’t we wear jeans?”

Ask the questions: Who is our customer? Is our work outward facing? How do our clients want to see us? How do you want to see yourself?

Do a Google search for professional and business casual and you’ll find varying degrees of what that means. First and foremost, set the standard you want for your team. However, be open minded to the work at hand on any given day to help your team, and especially young professionals, to determine whether they should continue to invest in buying shorts that match their argyle socks or skirts and tops that reveal too much. New professionals need support and guidance and helping them “dress for success” will win the day, every time!

First impressions count. Dressing conservatively for your interview or your first day on the job is always the right choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers

 

 

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.

 

 

Offer Deadlines for Students

Kayla Villwock_Kayla Villwock, Manager of University Outreach and Recruitment at SAS
Twitter: @KaylaRenee8
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaylavillwock

 

Striking a Balance Between Deadlines and Decision Making With Grad Offers

In a previous blog post, I shared my perspective on the potential implications surrounding a student’s decision to decline an offer after accepting. This blog gained a lot of attention from both the career services and employer audience, and even resulted in The Wallstreet Journal reporting on the topic. It became clear that it wasn’t only the implications of offer reneges that was a hot topic of discussion, but there was a great deal of commentary around one of the root causes of this trend—offer deadlines.

So what is the proper amount of time an employer should allow students to thoroughly assess an offer? I’m certainly not going to claim that I have all of the answers here, but I would like to give my perspective on toeing the line between reasonable and unreasonable when it comes to offer deadlines. Also, I would like to touch on some trends I have seen specifically regarding the decision-making process students go through when selecting their first career post-graduation. Lastly, I will provide some advice for employers, students, and career services in relation to offer deadlines and the offer decision-making process.

The Highly Sought After Talent—Earlier Recruitment and Multiple Offers

The organization I represent targets two of the most sought after skillsets in the student market today: analytics and computer science talent. With a growing need for these skills, students in these fields have many choices when it comes to potential employment opportunities thus resulting in multiple offers…. especially for the top talent.

It is a race to access this top talent as early as possible. Most employers that are seeking May grads are recruiting in the fall for their openings. Employers are also using internship programs as pipelining opportunities to lock in the top talent before they begin their final year of school. I have even recently heard of employers actively interviewing graduates over a year before they even graduate! Not all employers have nailed down the proper work force planning that is needed in order to understand hiring needs this far in advance, especially those new to university recruiting. This said, they may be jumping in to recruit students in late fall or early spring. You can see the recipe for issues: offers are going out earlier, and students are being asked to make decisions before all companies have put their stake in the game.

So what timeframe is considered reasonable for offer deadlines so students can feel comfortable accepting an offer without regrets?

Here’s my take on it: when employers are making offers for May graduates in early in the fall, say August—October, giving students until at least Thanksgiving before they are required to make a decision is reasonable. Universities typically host fall recruiting events in September, so students should be well-educated on employer opportunities by that time. I envision a student sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table with their family talking about their offers and coming back from the holiday with a decision.

When it gets later in the recruitment season, say December/January, I think it is appropriate to give shorter deadline windows, but in my opinion, no less than two weeks.

Here’s the challenge: most employers cannot wait for an indefinite period of time to hear back from students regarding their offer decision, and the longer the student has to decide, the likelihood of finding another great fit will be lessened. The key here is transparency. Regardless of the deadline selected, it is important that recruiters explain to the student the reason for the deadline. I have phrased it this way with students before:

“The offer you have received is filling a spot at our company. The later the deadline we give, the harder it will be for us to find another rock star like you who is still available to fill the position. You may have a classmate or friend that is very interested in this opportunity and if we give you too much time, they may not have access to the opportunity if you choose to decline (which we hope you do not do).”

This helps the student better understand the reason for the deadline instead of thinking that the pressure is being put on them for no reason. It also helps them understand the bigger picture regarding the opportunity cost of them sitting on an offer.

 “Exploring All Options” vs. Strategic Career Goal-Setting

Many times I find that students want to “explore all of their options” before they commit to an offer. The more options the better, right? Or is that true? I personally get overwhelmed when I have too many options to choose from.. so why is exploring all options such a common direction for students seeking full-time employment? Is it so multiple offers can be put up against one another in order to negotiate a higher base salary? Student loans are crippling these days (I speak from experience!) so I can understand why this would be a factor.

Then I think about the heightened attention around the cost of higher education and how this may play a part in influencing students to shop around. The Higher Education Opportunities Act requires universities to conduct first-destination surveys, which provides data regarding the career outcomes of students at a particular university. What college does not want to report that they have the highest starting salary in the nation? And that their students, on average, receive 10 offers? I am not insinuating that this is definitely happening, but this would motivate the universities to advise students to shop around. But is this the right thing for the student?

I would much rather that students be guided to spend time prior to the job search figuring out what is most important to them in the career they are seeking. Is it the company? Is it the role? Is it location, compensation, the culture of the company? If students are well-educated on what they are looking for and then seek out the roles that meet these criteria, then they will have a basis for accepting the right opportunity once it is offered, or declining an offer to continue to seek out the role of their dreams.

It seems that much of the time students are asking for offer deadline extensions because they want to continue to “explore all of their options.” I would rather that the student proactively know their career goals and seek them out rather than explore all of their opportunities and then make a selection.

Career Services Policies—Providing a Baseline for Offer Deadlines

Several universities have begun enacting policies around offers that I find to be very beneficial in regulating the pressures that students are feeling from overly-aggressive deadlines. I have noticed a trend where universities are implementing an “earliest deadline date,” so an employer cannot require a student to accept an offer prior to the November timeframe. I have also worked with a few career service centers not allowing students to hold more than a certain amount of offers at the same time. I think these are great policies to put in place that help level set expectations around timing of offers between employers and students.

In summary, here are some thoughts on how we can support students in being able to make the most thorough and appropriate career choice for them:

Employers:

  • Give deadlines that are reasonable to allow the student the opportunity to fully review the offer and understand if it is right for them.
  • Be transparent regarding the business justification behind the deadline date.

Career Services Professionals:

  • Educate employers on the importance of reasonable deadlines so students do not feel pressured to make a decision.
  • Help students narrow their focus and target employers and roles that align with their career goals so the decision-making process can be clearer.
  • Consider implementing policies such as an “earliest deadline date” to ensure that employers allow ample time for decisions, and so employers have a benchmark on when they need a stake in the game in order to access the talent.

Students:

  • Spend time prior to the job search to understand what is important to you. There are many aspects of a career. You should know your top three career priorities, and do your best to accept interviews only with the companies that meet your career goals.
  • Be transparent with recruiters about your career goals and any reservations you have about accepting the offer. This way, they can set an appropriate and fair deadline that allows you to feel comfortable with making this very big decision in your life.

Below is a sample list of job factors to rank in order to help you evaluate offers:

Compensation
Benefits
Location
Type of work
Manager
Work/Life balance
Culture/Values of the company
Industry
Travel as part of the job
Opportunity for advancement
Global opportunities
Job stability

A student-directed version of this blog is available to NACE members for their websites.

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?