Dos and Don’ts of Applying to Grad School

Do take the time to visit the school you are applying to and connect with faculty and prospective supervisors.  Having that face time with a member of the selection committee or a prospective supervisor can go a long way in helping you to get into a program.  Many programs will not admit a student unless they already have a faculty member who is willing to supervise his/her research.  If you take the time to research who is out there, and connect with him/her about your area of research interest and he/she seems interested in your ideas and approach then you are half-way, at least, to getting in.

Do take time before you start the application process to reflect on what you would like to research while in grad school.  The most successful applicants are those that have a clear research interest, one that is innovative, or takes a new approach to an old question.  You need to know how you want to conduct your research, what resources you intend to use, what the burning question is that you want to address and why it is important.  I know it is difficult at this point in time to know the answers to all of this, but the closer you can get, the better.  Take time to chat with your current professors and to get their insights on your research.  This is also the sort of thing that you can connect with prospective supervisors on.  They can direct you to other resources that may be of use to you.

Do write a statement of purpose that is personal and well thought out, not cliché or filled with broad sweeping statements and random flattery of the program to which you are applying.  Know what your purpose is? Explain who you are, what you want, and why you want it from where you are applying. Follow the department’s directions to a tee. Rewrite, give drafts to your family, friends, etc. Make it punchy, personal and free of TYPOS.

Do apply early. Programs get flooded with late applicants who are making sudden life changes or who have just received a rejection letter from law school or med school or dentistry or . . .

Do give the people writing your letters of recommendation at least 4 weeks’ notice.  You want them to be thinking of you positively when they write that letter so the more leisurely and the more prepared they are the better the letter will be.  If they are rushed at the last minute they may be feeling frustrated and stressed and that will have a negative impact on your recommendation. As the American Psychological Association states, “Too often, admissions committee chairs said, students received unflattering letters because they failed to ask whether the potential recommendation author would write a “strongly favorable” letter.” To help in getting a good letter, be sure to take the time to get to know your professors: Go to drop in hours, have good attendance in class and be an all around engaged and diligent learner.

Don`t just apply to a whole bunch of programs hoping that one has got to work out. Students need to learn the key details of a program-including faculty research interests and specific courses offered-before they apply. It is better to take the time and identify the programs that are best suited to you, tailor your application to that program and make connections with people there.  Take the time to do your research and know who their faculty members are and what they are known for and play to those strengths in your application.

Don`t hand in an application that is unclear, disorganized or contains spelling or grammatical mistakes.  This will give the impression that you are not clear about your purpose or do not take this application seriously.

Don`t overdo the flattery. “A number of admissions committee chairs have cited distaste for applications that include insincere flattery, such as praising the program in an obsequious manner. Other chairs added inappropriate name-dropping or blaming others for a poor academic record as potential kisses of death.”  (APA, 2006, The don’ts of grad school applications)

Is Grad School Right for Me? Or do I Prefer Joy?

It is that time of year when you start contemplating whether you are going to apply to grad school or not.  Having been a graduate student myself and having spent over 8 years as the Manager of Recruitment and Retention for graduate programs at a large university, I have some great insight into what it all entails.

After many years immersed in grad school culture I came across the book Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to go to Grad Schoolby Dr. Adam Ruben.    The book is hilarious and a must read for anyone in academia or thinking of entering academia.  I have taken, and slightly modified, a quiz that he has in this book.  This will help you determine whether you are cut out for grad school.  If you answer (c.) to the majority of these questions, then you just might have what it takes.

Despite the sarcastic tone, I can honestly say that my years of grad school were some of the best and most intellectually stimulating of my life.  Further, having a graduate degree has certainly helped to open up further career opportunities for me.

Good luck!!

To determine whether grad school is right for you, take this simple quiz.  Here’s a criterion to start you off.  This quiz is like the ones you see in Glamour or Cosmo.  If when you see those titles you picture them in your mind like this . . .
Glamour: (J. Glam 6 (23): 13826 -8 )
Cosmo: (Cos Rev Lett B 167 (1): 220-9)
… you’re ready to enroll.

  1. I want my significant other to:
    1. Love me forever!
    2. Stick with me through good times and bad!
    3. Abandon me after two or three frustrating years of incompatible schedules
  2. To me, money is:
    1. Very important
    2. Somewhat important
    3. Wholly unnecessary and loathsome. Fie upon thee, o vile money!
  3. If I were an animal, I would be
    1. A tiger
    2. A bear
    3. A tiger or a bear who is in grad school
  4. At least half my conversations include the phrase
    1. “It was the best time I’ve had in my entire life”
    2. “It was the drunkest I’ve ever been, ever”
    3. It was one of the more thoughtful pieces I’ve heard on the CBC (NPR)  this week”
  5. The most beautiful thing in the world is
    1. A rainbow
    2. True love
    3. Archival materials
  6. When I was little, I always wanted to be
    1. An astronaut
    2. The Prime-Minister
    3. Someone who designs a small valve on an astronaut’s shoe or publishes esoteric analyses of political policy
  7. I see a tray of free pastries. I think,
    1. These look pretty good. I may eat one.
    2. I’m not very hungry.  Oh well.
    3. Well that takes care of this week’s breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
  8. I’d love to earn fame and notoriety
    1. Right now!
    2. During a long and successful career
    3. For someone else
  9. I hope
    1. Someday to achieve greatness
    2. For a secure, stable future
    3. Rarely.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as I provide those of you who have passed this test with lots of tips and strategies for getting in to grad schoo.

12 Tips for Managing Stress and Maintaining Happiness

happinessThe fall can be an overwhelming time for everyone.  You are starting a bunch of new courses, settling back into routines, assignments, part-time work . . .   Here are 12 tips that will help you balance the work-load, get into a grove, and stay motivated.

Happiness is a Choice:

There are some people who seem to choose to be miserable regardless of their circumstances and others who choose to be happy regardless of their circumstance.  Choose happiness; there is an abundance of research that proves that if you take a positive approach to life you will be healthier and more successful.

Give Up Perfectionism:

Because there is no such thing as perfection, if you constantly strive for the unnatainable, you will innevitably suffer from poor self-esteem.   The reality is, if you want to get everything done that you need to get done then you are going to have to just let some things go even if they are not perfect.  Getting an imperfect assignment in on time is better than a perfect assignment that is late, gets marks deducted anyway and compromises your sanity.

Stop Procrastinating:

Delaying completing a task that you need to attend to is only going to cause more stress and drain your energy.  You may try to ignore them, but you know they are there, and they eat up your energy.  Get those little things done.  The most effective and efficient people are those who attend to the details quickly.

Learn to Say NO!

Although you may feel that you are being selfish if you refuse a  request, you need to learn to distinguish between self-centerdness and self-care. Alternatively, if you have a hard time saying “no”, then just don’t say “yes” right away.  When someone asks you to help with something or do something say “that sounds great, I will check my calendar and get back to you”.  Then if you really do have the time, go for it and if you don’t you can let them know that “you are sorry, but you just can’t make it work, or you can’t help this time.”

Take Time for Simple Pleasures:

This can mean something different to everyone; for some it is a hot bath, for others eating a decadent dessert, or going for a walk.  Whatever it is on a daily or weekly basis that makes you feel good, take the time to do it.

Take Some Time to Get Organized:

Your physical space is a reflection of your mental space.  If you want more inner organization and clarity, take the time to establish an organize and uncluttered physical environment.

Re-adjust Your Thought Patterns:

Some suffering is unavoidable, and other suffering is self-inflicted. You may not be able to control everything that happens in your life, but you can control how you respond to life’s challenges.  So stop beating yourself up over every little thing and get on with it.

Be an Optimist:

Switch your thought patterns from

This is personal and it always happens to me (a victim mentality)

To

This is a challenge, but I can control how I respond

Reframe Your Life:

Change the frame of reference through which you choose to see things. Try to see the silver-lining.  Remind yourself that even when things seem bad, they almost always could be worse.

Are You Having Fun Yet?

Life is a journey, not a destination.  Enjoy each step.  What would you rather it said on your grave stone?

“Finished everything on her list, and died totally pissed off”

Or

“She loved a lot, was kind and silly, was a friend you could count on, knew how to play, and did a reasonably good job even though she didn’t return all of her emails.”

Misery Loves Company:

We all have the choice of throwing ourselves a pity party every time something doesn’t go as planned, or we can pick ourselves up and keep going.

Don’t forget, complaining can compromise other people’s sanity as well as your own.

Take the Time to be Grateful:

When you are feeling burnt out and sad, take some time to list all of the many things that you are grateful for instead of focusing on all the things that are not the way you want them to be.

For more tips on Managing your Stress Check Out:

Dr. Joan Borysenko  

A New Student’s Guide to Career Planning

At our fall and spring open houses I offer sessions on career services and planning.  There have been many times when I have been standing outside of the room encouraging prospective students and their parents to join me and I have been told “Oh, we don’t need that for another 4 years.”  This is exactly the mentality that results in a student sitting in my office a month before graduation feeling completely lost and desperately looking for answers to the question “What do I do now?”

You need to begin the process in your first year.  Here are some suggestions on how to get from admission, to graduation, to career.

Keep in mind that finding a career that you love is not a strait path from point A to point B.  It is a process of self-discovery, assessment, exploration and pursuit that requires you to re-cycle through these stages time and time again.

ASSESS – In your first and second year, in particular, you should be focussing on discovering your interests, skills, values, and personality.  Understanding yourself is critical to finding a rewarding career.

  • Book an Appointment With a Career Counsellor – Ask about doing some personality and career assessments that will start to give  you some ideas of career direction
  • Take a Look at Your Aptitudes – Your natural talents and things you are good at. We sometimes assume that something that comes easily to us comes easily for everyone, but this is usually not the case. Ask friends, family, and others who know you to suggest some areas they see you succeeding at or having natural abilities in.
  • Book an Appointment With an Academic Counsellor – For those of you in your first year you are going to need to start thinking about degree options and what you want to major in.  Get some help with this process.  An academic counsellor can advise you of your options and guide you to resources that will aid in making the decision.
  • Understand Your Values – The last place you want to be is in a career that does not line up with your personal beliefs and priorities.

Some questions you may want to consider:

  • Do you value security and consistency or variety and risk-taking in your work environment?
  • Is social interaction and being part of a group or independence and autonomy important to you?
  • Do you value achievement and recognition or being “behind the scenes”?
  • Is your work environment, pace, and/or location important to you?
  • Do you value financial independence? Status? Creative expression? Contribution to society?

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of self-discovery to career planning.  Usually when students are feeling lost it is because they have not spent enough time figuring themselves out, identifying their talents, what they enjoy doing, what motivates them.  Once you have an idea of who you are it will be easier to identify potential options, to network with confidence and to get out there and explore.

EXPLORE – At each stage of your degree you should be looking for opportunities to get involved and explore your interests and options and build your resume.

  • Get Involved in Campus Clubs and Organizations or Volunteer in the Community – This is a great way to meet new people and to build your hands-on experience.  Taking on a leadership position with a club or volunteering with a not-for-profit agency can help you with your project or event management, leadership and interpersonal, communication and organizational skills, just to name a few. These experiences will help you to get an understanding of different types of work and what elements of it you enjoy.
  • Participate in Career Development Workshops – Every campus organizes usually dozens of workshops each year that can help you develop your resume, cover letters, interview prep, networking strategies etc. Check with your career centre for dates, times and locations.
  • Attend Career Fairs – Regardless of whether you are at the point where you are looking for a job, attending a career fair will give you an idea of what companies are out there and who is hiring for what types of jobs.
  • Go to Employer Information Sessions – Throughout the year numerous employers will visit your campus to present information on working for them and what positions they are hiring for.  This is another great way to explore options and to begin networking and making connections.
  • Check out the Graduate and Professional School Fairs – Most campuses are now offering post-graduate fairs where you can explore what options are out there with respect to continuing your education.  You will likely be surprised at the abundance of options and may discover an exciting opportunity or program that you didn’t even know existed.

The more experiences that you can draw on the better prepared you will be for going after your career goals.  You will have a clearer understanding of what you would like to do, where and for whom.  This focus will enable you to pursue your goals with poise and conviction.

PURSUE – As you move closer to graduation it is time to start pursuing your goals.  This will involve Preparing, Planning, and Acting.  This can be the most intimidating step in the career process as it means that you need to really put yourself out there and accept that you are likely to get shot down a few times before you get the outcome that you are searching for.

  • Set Up Some Informational Interviews – This can be an extremely important part of building your network and finding a job.  Often people are interested in a particular career or corporation but do not have any contacts.  By setting up an information interview, you can make a contact, find out more about the company and the career, and get a foot in the door for future job openings. Talk to a career counsellor to get more information on how to set up an informational interview.
  • Review, Revise and Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter –  The more time that you invest in preparing impressive documents and tailoring them to specific companies and jobs, the more likely you are to have success.  Attend a drop-in –session or set up a one-on-one appointment to review your resume and cover letter.  Be sure to bring a job description with you.
  • Book a Mock Interview – No matter how prepared you feel for an interview, you will always benefit from a dry-run.  A mock interview will simulate a real interview and you will likely be surprised at how nervous you feel.  It will give you a chance to sort out your thoughts, prepare your responses and get feedback and tips on how to best present yourself.  Most career centre’s offer this service.
  • Use Campus Job Postings – Most institutions have career/job boards where employers ask specifically to have positions posted.  This is a good place to start.  Be aware that often employers will post positions in the fall that they expect to fill in the spring or summer.  If you wait until the second semester of your 4th year, you may have missed out on a lot of opportunities.
  • Network, Network, Network – This is often the hardest task and yet is the most likely by FAR to result in you finding employment.  Like dating, you need to just get out there and do it.  Meet as many people as you can, be considerate, polite, and respectful and you are sure to see the results.  Check out your career centre for workshops and resources on successful networking.  You can also see if your Alumni Association offers networking opportunities.

If you get started in your first year by reflecting, deciding, and evaluating yourself and your career options, then you will be well ahead of the game.  Remember that this is not a strait path; be prepared for detours and unexpected turns.  Finding a great career is a combination of planning, assessment, determination and serendipity.  Put yourself out there with confidence and conviction and see what the world gives you back.

An open letter to employers (well…anyone, really) – Guest Blogger

I am delighted to introduce my latest guest-blogger Jenn Nelson.  Jenn graduated from Huron in 2010 with a BA in History and Political Science and then went on to complete an MA in Public History at Western University.  She has a abundance of experience and expertise in the promotion of museums and cultural institutions through the use of social media.  You can check out her blog unmuseum at http://jennnelson.com/

I am writing this letter, on behalf of History graduates (both undergraduate and graduate) to explain the benefits, to you as an employer, of hiring someone with a History degree.

“[A] ny fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.”

Oscar Wilde

I am sure that you have read many resumes and CVs (hundreds if not thousands) during your time as an employer and have dismissed those who have had said History degree.

**STOP RIGHT HERE**

Firstly, ask yourself why you may have dismissed said application. Is your first thought, “What can someone who knows everything about the War of 1812 do to support and contribute to our business?” This is the first mistake. Don’t think about the subject matter; focus on the skills. As Historians, we can’t tell you everything that’s happened in History, that’s not what we do. Among other things, we study trends, theories and problems, that are very relevant to today, and communicate and interpret them.

Secondly, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having a History degree means that we are qualified for everything.

Yes, for the most part (and I’m the first to admit it), Historians are HUGE Geeks, but most of us don’t love the History Channel (that’s another blog post in itself). That aside, we develop a wide variety of skills that are applicable to any workplace.

So, what are some of these skills?

1. We analyze and interpret research. Throughout both of my History degrees, I sifted through hundreds (if not thousands) of documents; primary and secondary sources. I learned how to evaluate what research was valuable and what was garbage. I always had a back up to a back up and learned how to use these documents to my advantage.

2. We are awesome communicators. Personally, I’ve developed this from studying Public History (how we communicate the academic stuff to the regular Joe on the street, who has no knowledge or background in History). Historians develop key presentation skills when studying History. We learn how to speak in a concise way, as well as write clearly and to the point.

3. We pick up on the little things. We pick up on things that you might not event think of! We also develop this through years of writing papers and sifting through the research.

4. We analyze trends. As stated previously, we reflect on the present by referring to the past. This can be very helpful when looking at business success or failure.

I could go on…but this is a blog post and not a book.

Key skills to take away from this (I’m not saying every Historian will have these, but the majority do):

  • Effective communication skills (both written and oral)
  • Key problem solving and the ability to critically analyze situations
  • Independent thinking
  • Highly organized
  • Ability to work with others and on an individual basis
  • Manage time, stick to deadlines and work under pressure

…and the list goes on….

I’m not saying that studying other subjects can’t give you these skills, but sometimes you have to point them out when it isn’t so obvious 🙂

I’d also like to say, don’t rule out extra curricular activities and the skills that can be developed from taking part in them. Just because it isn’t paid, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

In conclusion, I hope I’ve shed some light on the skills that Historians develop.

Sincerely,

Jenn

Job Search Survival – 3 Tips For Maintaining Motivation

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.”  Confucius

I try to teach this to my children when they are learning to skate or running on the soccer field.  It is not easy to get up and get back at it especially when your ego and your knees are bruised and scraped; but, if you want to succeed, that is exactly what you need to do.  The same applies in a job search, particularly these days when the economy is in tough shape.

The people I admire most are those that have the determination and resilience to keep going even when times are tough.  Often I find that those who are most deserving of success are the ones that complain the least when things do go wrong.  They are not the students that are in begging for leniency, but instead, are the ones that are rallying themselves, using resources to get things together and then moving forward.

Our ability to do this stems from our capacity to set goals, look at things from a positive perspective, and find the motivation to move on.  Overall, having a positive outlook and approach to life will help to carry us through difficult times.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a researcher at the University of California, has conducted studies that illustrate that although a percentage of our happiness and resilience is determined by genetics and circumstance a significant portion, about 40%, is within our direct control.  Furthermore, in their book Positive Psychology Coaching, Robert Biswas-Diener and Ben Dean assert “you can manifest your own happiness by making smart choices.  Time and again goals, relationships and positive thinking have been shown to be important contributors to individual fulfillment and a life well lived.” (61)

When you are on the job market, faced with putting yourself out there and facing rejection time and again, you will need to stay focussed on what matters to you, set smaller attainable goals, and find internal motivators that are sustainable.  If you are going to have the ability to pick yourself up, you will need to manage the 40% of your propensity for happiness and resilience that is within your control.

To do this, focus on 3 main strategies that will help build the stamina you need to keep going.

1)Set Modest Goals:  Rather than striving for a potentially unattainable dream job, set your sights on something that is within your grasp and see it as a stepping stone rather than a final destination.  Also set goals that relate directly to the search and not just the final outcome.  This way, even if you don’t get a particular job you can still feel a sense of accomplishment in making it to the interview stage, or making a new contact, for example.  You need to give yourself some credit for the effort if you have any hope of sustaining yourself throughout the process.  Set the goal of making 5 new contacts this week, or conducting 3 informational interviews.  Developing those relationships will help to build your confidence and broaden your network.

2) Focus on Intrinsic Rather than Extrinsic Motivators:  Think about what makes you feel satisfied, interested and rewarded (intrinsic factors) and set your sites on those jobs.  Because those sorts of goals are based on your values and things that you care about you are going to find that it is easier to motivate yourself to work towards them.  If you are looking for a job that is going to impress others or make you the most money (extrinsic factors) then you are less likely to be genuinely motivated to achieve those goals and may burn out sooner.

3) Frame Your Goals Positively: Rather than striving to avoid something negative like unemployment or being dissatisfied at work, (“avoidance goals”) think of yourself as moving toward something positive such as finding a fulfilling job (“approach goals”).  As Biswas-Diener and Dean explain, “There is a preponderance of research evidence linking avoidance goals to increased distress and anxiety, decreased levels of happiness, lower levels of social satisfaction, and poorer perceptions of health.”(66)  By focussing on moving toward something positive rather than avoiding something negative you will find that you have more energy to focus on action and you’re using less energy on worrying.

No matter how you approach it, searching for a job is hard and potentially disheartening work.  You need to do all that you can to look after yourself and find the motivation to keep going.  As hard as it is, try not to take the rejection as a sign of your failings.  Many times, there may already be someone in mind for the position or there just may be really stiff competition.  Do, however, ask for feedback so that you can improve with every attempt and bring yourself closer to getting that job.

For more on this topic check out:

How to Survive Looking For a New Job:

http://expertbeacon.com/how-survive-looking-new-job

How to Survive if You Cannot Find a Job:

http://www.wikihow.com/Survive-if-You-Cannot-Find-a-Job

Sonja Lyubomirsky

http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~sonja/

Positive Psychology Coaching:

http://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=JJmYN9ZYSgsC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=positive+psychology+coaching&ots=mX7a4anMFi&sig=XSVg6AmRjoD3Cx5HoXoZEhHe0bM#v=onepage&q=positive%20psychology%20coaching&f=false

 

8 Steps to Ace an Interview

An interview is a conversation about possibilities, a chance to learn and an opportunity to share information. Make the most of your interview: relax, take the time to respond clearly, and be yourself. The more worked up you allow yourself to get about an interview, the worse you will perform.  Remember that the interview is not just an opportunity for a company to decide whether they want to hire you, it is an opportunity for you to decide whether you want to work for that company.  Keep this in mind so that you feel empowered and confident in the interview.  Follow these 8 tips and you will be well on your way to getting that job.

1.   Be prepared! Learn as much as you can about the company and position in which you are interested.

2.   Practice potential responses out loud, in front of a mirror or patient friends and family members. Discover various strategies, transitions, and lead-ins for answering certain kinds of questions, talking to one person or a group, and changing topics or focus. Practice asking questions. Employers will expect you to ask about matters that concern you.

3.   Anticipate commonly asked questions by interviewers and develop a set of related responses that you can mold to a variety of individual situations.

Some interviewers may ask, for example:

  • How does your previous work experience relate to this job?
  • What suggestions have been given to you to improve your performance?
  • Have you had experience working as a part of a team?
  • What accomplishment has given you the greatest satisfaction?
  • How do you organize and plan for major projects?
  • How do you handle conflicting priorities?
  • What three things are most important to you in your career?
  • What contributions can you make to this department?
  • How does this job fit into your career path?
  • How has your education prepared you for this career?
  • Why did you choose your particular area of study?
  • Do you feel you will be able to adapt from an academic environment to a corporate one?
  • Give me an example of a major problem you have solved?
  • Give me an example of how you respond to professional criticism?
  • How would you resolve conflict in a group situation?

When answering questions try to use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result).

Situation: give an example of a situation you were involved in that resulted in a positive outcome

Task: describe the tasks involved in that situation

Action: talk about the various actions involved in the situation’s task

Results: what results directly followed because of your actions

4.   The interview is an opportunity to share information. You will have to talk about yourself, your interests, and your values. Don’t be shy about your accomplishments and experiences. Practice ways of phrasing replies about yourself that highlight your talents in a way that feels comfortable to you.

5.   Demonstrate to your interviewer your engagement in the conversation. Ask perceptive questions, be alert, make eye contact, provide relevant information, and relay your knowledge of and interest in the field and the organization. They want to know not only are you qualified, but that you are interested in their field, their company, and will be a dedicated member of their team.

6.   Observe all rules of courtesy and respect. Be punctual. Dress appropriately. Call people by their titles unless specifically directed to do otherwise. Express your thanks for the organization’s consideration of your candidacy.

7.   Arrive at least 15 minutes before the interview to collect yourself and take a few deep breaths. You’d be surprised how much that will help as compared to rushing in at the last minute. If you’re at the company location, use that time to observe what’s going on. Does this seem like a place where you’d like to work?

8.   Bring an extra resume with you. This process is by no means an exact science and you will learn to expect situations like . . .”We seem to have misplaced your resume.”

Rest assured that both interviewers and job seekers enter into the process hoping that it will proceed successfully. It is possible, though, that in spite of this good will the interview might not go as well as planned. To the greatest extent that you can, muster your courage, keep your chin up, and keep your confidence, dignity, and humor intact. Interviews are great ways to learn about career fields, particular positions, and, perhaps most importantly, yourself, whether or not you get a job offer.

To Be Out or Not To Be Out? That is the Question

Coming Out at Work

When completing my master’s degree I lived with three other roommates, all of whom were gay.  Being immersed in the life of three partially-closeted women gave me great insight into how challenging it can be to manage your personal and professional life.  Some were not ‘out’ with family but were at work or at school; some were only ‘out’ with a close-knit group of friends . . . This made managing how I spoke about my roommates very challenging, what information I could and could not share, to whom and when, when parents and friends called was a constant struggle. Thankfully, all three of my roommates have gone on to fantastically successful careers and are now leading lives where they are “out” in all contexts. I have been to two of their weddings (although all 3 are now married) and have the pleasure of raising my kids alongside one roommate who had twins just one year before my second child was born.  There were certainly many steps along the way that were challenging and infuriating, but the end result for all of them has been a happy, open life.

I would love to write a post on this topic that says that you should not have to come out any more than any heterosexual should have to come out; that you should be able to just exist as you are and that your personal relationships are of no more bearing on your career than anyone else’s.  That being said, I want to advise based on the realities of our world, not an ideal reality that may not exist, yet.

When reading some statistics on this topic that were published in the Harvard Business Review, I was feeling pretty optimistic:

85% of fortune 500 companies have protective policies that address sexual orientation

42% of closeted employees said they felt isolated at work verses only 24% of openly LGBT employees

52% of closeted employees felt that their careers had stalled, versus 36% of ‘out’ employees

Based on these numbers I was feeling pretty confident about recommending coming out at work.  Then I read the last statistic.

There are still 29 US states in which workers can be fired for being gay. WTF!!!

After a huge exhale and a few choice words, I re-thought what I should write.

Thankfully I live in a country where we have come a long way in promoting and protecting the rights of LGBT individuals and couples.  However, across the world and from one workplace to the next the reality is going to be dramatically different.  Because of this I would recommend taking a close look at governmental and company policies, paying keen attention to the attitude of your boss and co-workers and making a decision based on how you feel when you have taken all of that into consideration.

Another factor in the decision on whether to come out at work is not only the impact that it can have on your personal happiness but the affect it can have on your professional growth.  People are more likely to get promoted if they have good solid personal relationships with their colleagues and bosses.  Many people that are closeted at work go to great lengths to avoid conversations that are personal.  Because of this, you may be losing out on developing those strong professional relationships and may be more likely to be passed over for opportunities.  This is likely reflected in the statistic above regarding the percentage of closeted employees that felt their career had stalled.

I have had students in my office who have questioned whether or not they should include participation in LGBT campus organizations on their resume. My advice is that if you include it and an employer chooses not to hire you because of it; would you want to work at that company?   If you include it and a company sees it as an excellent example of your community involvement, event planning abilities . . . and they hire you based on that and all of your other accomplishments; would you want to work for that company? You should have your answer.  Plus, this makes the coming out process much easier as the message has been set at the outset of your employment.

However, if you want to break into an industry or company that is renowned for being conservative, you may not want to put that on your resume and may want to wait until you get the job to negotiate the tough decision of whether to be out or not.  Sometimes once people have an opportunity to get to know you and respect you for your knowledge and work-ethic it is easier to break down some of those barriers.

As much as I would love to say just live a completely open and out life, I know that there are many individuals that, based on their misguided beliefs, may hold it against you.  All you can do is make the best decision you can with the most and best information you can find and then, trust your instincts.

I would love to hear your insights and experiences with being out at work, so please post a reply to this post.

Lastly, to those of you who have come out at work and have helped to create a more open and inclusive workplace for all I want to say a big THANK YOU!  It is your bravery and determination that are making the future brighter for others.

Below are a couple more articles on this topic that you may find useful:

Coming Out

Seven Views of Coming Out at Work

Being ‘Out’ Brings Advantages

Do’s and Don’ts for On-line-Networking

We have all heard of some of the worst-case scenarios that can happen when you are not careful about your virtual-image and what you or others post to the internet.  At my institution there was the now infamous case of the “Saugeen Stripper”. An 18 year old, who performed a striptease in a dorm room, resulting in digital photographs of the party being uploaded to the Internet.  Now, over 6 years later, the story of the Saugeen Stripper is documented on Wikipedia.  It is not just the young woman who will have to deal with the fallout from that night, but all of the young men in the photos are implicated as well.

Hopefully, in the past 6 years, we are becoming more aware of the long-term implications of one bad decision, but students still need to think carefully about what they are posting to the web and what impact it may have on their or their friends’ careers.

More and more employers are using social networking sites for recruitment purposes.  In fact, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management, 76% of companies said that they use or plan to use social networking sites for recruitment.  Although companies do have to be careful, as they do not want to be facing complaints of discrimination based on marital status, religion, politics etc.  I would not want to throw caution to the wind and think that they won’t Google me.

So what should and shouldn’t you do?

DO:

Set up a LinkedIn Account – Of all of the sites I have used, this one seems to be the best and most-used for professional networking. Take time when you are setting up this account to ensure that the information that you are adding is eloquent, accurate and error-free.  This is essentially an on-line resume so you want it to be good.  Work towards ensuring that your profile is 100% complete.

Set up an About.Me page – This site is free and easy to use.  As long as you create a professional page, that highlights your skills and abilities in a warm and friendly manner, you are set.  In addition, they will provide you with an offer to get free, super-sharp business cards printed that can help you with face to face networking.

Be careful about who you add to your network – You want to have people you trust in your network.  Prospective employers may base opinions about you on the company you keep, the groups that you join etc.  Also, if you have friends that are not as sensible as you, they may think it funny to post embarrassing photos of you to their pages and then tag you in them.  If this happens, be sure to ask that they remove them.

Upload a professional business headshot – It is worth spending a little money to get a professional photo taken.  You want one that shows your work image, so be conscious of what you are wearing and what is visible in the background.  You also want the image to be inviting and relaxed, so be yourself.  You don’t want it to look like a mug-shot or an always terrible passport photo.

Take time to understand site culture and etiquette –   Some sights are geared more towards making friends, dating etc. and you can add people randomly.  Others, such as LinkedIn, are more for business and you need to be able to demonstrate some sort of connection with people before adding them.  Do not be pushy or overly persistent in trying to add people to your network.  This can backfire and end up making people want to avoid you rather than connect with you.

Follow your dream-employer on twitter – some companies will have a channel or feed that is dedicated to communicating job openings.

Write recommendations for others – It is always great to have recommendations and if you write a recommendation for someone else on LinkedIn when they receive your recommendation it asks them to return the favor.  Nine times out of ten, they will.  So rather than just going and asking people to write a recommendation for you, you are doing them a favor and just hoping that it will be returned.  Reciprocity is essential to good networking.

Don’t:

Post anything on a public forum that you would not want a prospective or current employer to see – Your posts, tweets and comments are public information that just about anyone can access.  If you are bragging about going out partying on a Thursday night, a prospective employer may view this as an indication that you party too much and may not be relied upon to show up for work on time.

Make negative comments about your current employer – What you do now is considered to be a good indication of what you will do in the future.  Posting complaints about business practices, company politics, or your coworkers may feel good for airing out your frustrations, but it will certainly come back to haunt you. Prospective employers will likely feel that you will do the same to them if they hire you and, therefore, you are not worth the risk to their corporate image.

Upload photos of you at the bar last night drinking with your friends – For many this will be common sense, but the number of embarrassing photos that I see is still staggering.  Maybe you realize this now, but didn’t when you were 18.  If that is the case, take some time to do the best damage control you can on what has been posted in the past.  Ask for images to be deleted, set stricter privacy settings etc.

Discuss controversial topics and information – whether it is in your profile, your comments on blogs etc. you want to try and avoid things like politics and religion that can be divisive.  Keep those conversations private by having them off-line or in protected areas with close friends.

From Classroom to Career – What Skills Will I Take With Me?

backpack to briefcaseLast Thursday we hosted a Campus/Community Roundtable where we invited business and not-for-profit managers and leaders to join with faculty and administration to talk about Liberal Arts degrees and their transferability and applicability to the world of work.  Before the session we conducted a survey to discover what attributes are most frequently needed in order to be successful in a variety of fields including: education, insurance, banking, legal, not-for-profit, marketing, communications, business consulting, and government.

The skills that were ranked as “very important” included:

  • Communication oral and written (93%)
  • Teamwork (87%)
  • Problem-solving (87%)
  • Critical thinking (87%)
  • Ethical decision-making (87%)
  • Analytical thinking (87%)
  • Work ethic (87%)
  • Passion for excellence (86%)
  • Accountability (80%)

We also asked our community partners about the frequency with which these skills are used.  The skills that were cited as being used daily by the largest number of people were:

  • Communication written (87%)
  • Communication oral (80%)
  • Problem-solving (73%)
  • Critical Thinking (73%)
  • Teamwork (73%)
  • Time management (73%)

After reviewing the survey responses, we worked in groups on real-life case studies, where we looked at how the skills that students acquire during their degree and the teaching methods used, can help prepare our graduates to deal with a wide variety of work situations ranging from dealing with difficult clients in a call centre, to developing and running targeted promotional events.

What was abundantly clear is that the skills that you use to succeed in a liberal arts degree are the same skills that you will need to succeed in your career.  That being said, many of you do not realize or are not confident in identifying your value to employers.

As we have heard time and again, the careers that exist today are not the careers that will exist 5 years from now.  Even if the job title is the same, the type of work and how it is done is likely to change dramatically as our culture, economy, and technology evolve.  Thus, what employers are looking for most of all is someone who can learn and adapt quickly.  When you write a paper, or prepare a group project, when you participate in a community-based learning course, or deliver a presentation in a class, you are demonstrating and refining many of the same skills and attributes that you will be required to use in your career. It is the process, perhaps even more than the theories and concepts, that is important.  Whether you remember that on this date in 1429 Joan of Arc raised the siege of Orleans or that the protagonist in Much Ado About Nothing is Beatrice is not likely to have a dramatic impact on your career trajectory. However, your ability to work with others, conduct research, synthesize information and convey it in an articulate and concise manner will.

If there are other ways that you think a liberal arts degree helps prepare you for the “real world” or if you have a personal example, please post a comment.

For more information on skills that employers are looking for check out these links:

Top 10 Skills Employers are Looking For

Employability Skills

What Do Employers Really Want

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