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.

 

Career Services Becomes a Primary Focus for Student Affairs

Heather TranenHeather Tranen, Associate Director, University of Pennsylvania Career Services
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heathertranen

With increasing attention on return on investment in higher education, it’s no wonder that the pressure subsequently increases on career services professionals to deliver. As a result, career services becomes a more central point of discussion within the realm of student affairs.

My former colleague, Leah Lattimore, and I submitted a career services focused workshop for National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) to explore the effective communication strategies that promote lifelong career development.

Luckily, our crawfish dreams were answered and our proposal was New Orleans-bound for NASPA 2015: Navigating Courage.

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We felt excited about presenting on our topic to a different audience. What I did not expect to find was the plethora of other career-related sessions throughout the conference. I was able to learn more about data/assessment, the future of career services, the importance of early engagement, and recruitment trends. Sessions were also well attended by a cross-section of departments (housing, student activities, and alumni relations to name a few).  Undoubtedly, other student affairs professionals are recognizing career development as a high impact area of their field.

A few weeks later, I am now fully able to digest (literally and figuratively), the main takeaways from the conference as they relate to our work as career services practitioners. None of this information is surprising. However, it all provides interesting insight into where the industry is at the moment, and reminds us how to focus our work.

Data, data, data. As you might suspect, data and showcasing ROI through hard numbers was a hot topic. I don’t mean to brag, but Penn collects data and showcases it in a way where it frames a story for its students (e.g. What can I do with my major, or Where are people with my major working geographically?). One question posed and potentially worth considering to include in your placement surveys would be, “Why didn’t students use career services?” I enjoyed learning what offices at John Jay and FSU are doing during these discussions, and think it is worth thinking beyond just our placement statistics to explore how the data creates a story.

Customized, targeted services. Thought leaders from RIT, NYU, Stanford, and George Mason talked about the future of career services. The need for the core services with a targeted approach will only become an increasing pressure on us as career services professionals. Additionally, Georgia State discussed their targeted programming/niche career fairs. This was also a leading theme in our presentation.

Early engagement. Schools like UConn are offering credit-bearing First-Year Experience (FYE) courses. This definitely seems like an interesting way to tie career services to the academic enterprise and to put career services at the forefront of students’ minds from the very beginning of their college experience.

Recruiting trends. Employers pursuing a “soft” recruiting approach by targeting candidates via social media and at career development events vs. the more traditional recruitment events (e.g. career fairs and information sessions) is also a trend schools are seeing.

That career services has become a central focus within higher education came when speaker Trudy Steinfeld addressed a standing-room only group. She said, “I presented at NASPA many years ago. Guess how many people were in my session? Six.”

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Trudy Steinfeld said to a standing room only group, “I presented at NASPA many years ago. Guess how many people were in my session? Six.”

Now it’s up to us as professionals in the field to continue delivering top-tier work, and to innovate ways that connect our students to the placement numbers society seeks and to the careers that lead them to fulfilling work.

 

 

Continuing Professional Development: The Key to Success

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

In today’s microwave culture students have been misguided to believe that great careers are built overnight. It’s true, a decade ago a student could find success by merely completing their academic work and showing up in the career center spring of their last semester and still land a great job. However, in today’s competitive, fast-paced world, the labor force evolves rapidly and students need more than their degree and a few job-search tips to obtain lasting career success. Today’s graduates must embrace life-long learning beyond the classroom in order to reap the benefits of their academic work. Knowing how to develop one’s self professionally and identify the best professional development opportunities is the “new” employability skill for graduating seniors.

In some industries, like information technology (IT), employers have made it clear that education alone will not land you a job with their company. Instead, employers are seeking IT candidates with three attributes: experience, education, and professional certifications. Like IT students, all new graduates who want to thrive in their careers will have to identify the attributes employers in their industry are seeking beyond their degree.

Professional development opportunities are plentiful and include: attending conferences, joining professional associations, registering for MOOCs, reading books, receiving mentoring, volunteering, taking assessments, accepting a leadership opportunity, conducting research, etc. Employability skills are not always learned in the classroom. For instance, attending a conference can teach a student how to network and deliver a professional pitch; becoming involved in a professional association can provide an opportunity to build leadership skills; and reading a book about employability skills or biographies of successful individuals can provide examples and testimonies of successful business behaviors.

Students experiencing barriers to employment can also benefit by working with a career adviser or mentor to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP). An IDP is a great goal setting and professional development tool that can supplement academic learning and increase employability skills. By being proactive, students can gain a competitive edge and remain employable throughout their career.

Career Services Competencies, Predictions for the Future, and Hugs

kevin grubbA post by NACE Guest Blogger, Kevin Grubb.
Assistant Director at Villanova University’s Career Center.
Twitter: @kevincgrubb
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/kevingrubb
Blog: “social @ edu”.

 If I had to sum it up what happened today at the NACE conference for me in as little words as possible, there you’d have it.  Let me cut right to the chase and tell you some of what I have learned today in my sessions, mixed in with some commentary on my part.

Career Services Competencies

This morning, members of a NACE task force on career services competencies, Laura Melius and Sam Ratcliffe, debuted the association’s career services competencies.  What a cohesive, thorough document.  It describes, from basic to intermediate to advanced, the skill set needed to be successful in career services.  There’s no way I could possibly explain it all in a blog post, so let me tell you where to find it right now: on your mobile device, download the NACE conference app.  From the home screen, click on “More” in the bottom right corner.  Then, click on “Resources,” and then click on “Career Services Competencies.”  There you’ll have it!  NACE will also be releasing this on their website soon.

What I definitely can share with you is all of the ways our group thought the competencies would be helpful in our everyday practices.  Here’s just a little bit of what we brainstormed:

The competencies can help us…

  • With the performance management process and staff development, using the competencies as a benchmark to start from
  • Create and change job descriptions of positions within offices to match what is needed at a college or university
  • Demonstrate where staff or the office needs to get resources, to improve budgets for professional development and staffing
  • Show senior leadership at our institutions what we do and what we need to do
  • In the recruiting process for our offices: we can assess candidates’ competencies in interviews

And where do we see the competencies going from here?  Sam made it clear that this is a “living document” – one that we should consider for revision and review regularly.  As our jobs and the career services landscape continues to evolve, so should the competencies.  There will be a feedback form on the NACE website with the document for us all to add our voices.  In addition, NACE plans to build a continuum of learning & resources based on this competency guide.  There is talk of creating a certification program based on the competencies, though that will take time to properly develop.  After looking at the document myself, I am excited to see where this could lead us.  Take a look!

The Future of Career Services

One of my afternoon sessions was this one, led by Tom Devlin, Tom Halasz, and Marilyn Mackes.  I’ll start off by saying – this was packed!  Here’s a quick shot of the room which does not do it justice (I tried):

Tom, Tom & Marilyn put together a thought-provoking, conversation-starting, and funny presentation.  Smart & funny is a combination I think of like cookies & milk – they are good alone, and even better together.  Each of these three had that mix of both.

The presentation centered around three major points, and I’ll the cliff notes version here to help you get a flavor of it.  Would love to hear your thoughts on the future of career services, too, so please share in a comment!

The higher education landscape is dramatically changing.  Colleges & universities have limited resources and revenue.  The growth period for high school graduates is officially over, and will be in a decline for the next 10-20 years.  MOOCs, social media, and other technologies are shifting how work gets done and the expectations of students.  On top of that, there are several initiatives at the state and federal level that seek to define the outcomes or “ROI” of higher education.

Sounds pretty grim, yes?  I almost hid under my chair (…kidding).  In challenge, lies opportunity, and that’s there we, career services, come in.  Cue emphatic and uplifting trumpet sounds.

Now, we have the opportunity to define ourselves as campus-wide career services leaders, partnering with faculty who may need us more than ever.  For many, we may want to consider focusing on more than just the first-year experience, but consider the sophomore experience.  How are we providing support to students at a critical time in their academic lives – when many choosing or honing in on majors and some of the tough decisions?

Where could this all be going?  Tom Devlin provided some of his thoughts going forward, which included: online appointment scheduling with an interactive and customized response to the appointment scheduler’s needs.  So, when a student consider pre-med enters that in to their appointment notes for the counselor, a sort of “road map” for exploring pre-med options appears and suggests ideas for the student.  Tom suggests we may be focusing as much or more on internships as we are right now on post-graduate opportunities.  They are becoming the “first job” for everyone.  Perhaps we will develop better relationships with third-party providers who can help us perform some tasks we need to complete, but are not as high on our list of priorities.

What I thought was most interesting about this session was that Tom, Tom, and Marilyn opened up the floor to hear our thoughts and “predictions” for the future.  I’ll share mine and hope that it allows you to share yours on this blog in a comment.

One of my specialties is definitely social media.  Yes, I am a millennial, but no, I don’t spend all day on it – I promise.  Anyway, I teach a 1 credit class I created at Villanova on how students can use social media in their job searches.  What I am noticing from that, when I reflect on the bigger picture of a lot of their questions and concerns, is this.  We need to help students jump this psychological hurdle of looking at themselves as students to begin considering themselves as professionals.  With social media, the “personal” and “professional” world collide, and it happens for students faster and sooner than ever before.  Whereas one funny, perhaps not most impressing moment was private before, now it might be public and online for unknown others to view via social media.  If we can help students understand themselves, their skills, and their experiences as professional and valuable, they are much more likely to feel proud and confident talking about all of this online.  Then, they attract others with similar professional interests to them, and thus become better networked and viewed more favorably by those in seats of recruiting.

At the end of the first full day at the conference, the only other big reflection I have is that today there was so much hugging.  Hugs and warm greetings around every corner I turned, and I am actually not exaggerating.  So, if I can send you one non career services or recruiting related item from Orlando, it’s a hug from everyone at the NACE conference.