Loop 202
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Or The Ongoing Search for Story and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part III.


    In case you're wondering what's going on here please feel free to take a moment to visit Parts I and II in this ongoing series where I unpack the syllabus for Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century and the thinking behind it.


    Welcome back.


    As we enter the enter the middle section of the semester we begin discussing the tools needed to find a job. But we also talk about love.

    More on the latter in the moment.

    Things at this point in the semester tend to kick-off with a Mixer organized by the administrators who run the In the Loop Program. There have always been two Mixers during the semester, but we now work together to integrate them into the syllabus. The Mixers gives the students the opportunity to meet Lake Forest alumni and both start, and practice, the process of connecting with those who might help them as they craft their careers, and narratives, as well as building a network of contacts they can (re-)connect with over time.

    The focus on thinking about how best to make connections begins during the first part of the semester as we both read, and talk, about pieces on "networking, or as one guest speaker on storytelling described it, 'connecting,' because as he said, networking is 'tired-ass" language.' All of which can be found in the previous post in this series: "Did I Mention Story: Or The Ongoing Search for Story (maybe I did mention story) and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part II."

    We debrief the Mixer(s) in the following class and explore a mix of questions focused on assessing individual behaviors/connections (or lack there of) and the structure/content of the mixer itself. Questions discussed include:

    What went well? And what didn't?
    What would you do differently? And what you like the school to do differently?
    Which of your goals did you achieve and how did you go about doing so?
    What next steps have you taken, or will you be taking?

    Any one of these questions can be taken as leading questions, though the final one is the most bluntly so. I ask it because I want to know if the students asked for numbers or emails, attempted to schedule discussions with anyone of interest, or formally thanked any of the Alumni they spoke to for their time?

    If not, why?

    We then talk about love.


    As the semesters have evolved over time I have been struck again and again, and in looking back over my own work life, am reminded again and again, how much pressure there is to take the jobs that are available, pay well, suit what one's parents' want one to do, and on and on.

    But what about doing work we love? Do we even know what we love?

    I was always interested in bringing this kind of thinking into class, and when and where I could, I did, but it never felt quite formal enough. Until that is I ran into a brief piece in the New York Times titled, “The Incalculable Value of Finding a Job You Love.”

    This piece eloquently speaks to identifying what you love and making it your work, and so I now assign this piece as one of the Response Papers due during the semester (more on the Response Papers here), and I ask the students to address any questions they want in response to the article, but to also consider the following:

    What task(s) has absorbed you completely? Said, differently, what do you love?

    This assignment has also come to serve multiple purposes. First, and most obviously, talking about how we do work we love in a more formal fashion, but also as an exercise to begin laying out a structure for the next class presentation, and more on that later, which focuses on the field or industry the students are intrigued by or already immersed in.

    The intent here is to launch a conversation about what one might want to know about an industry of interest, if one is trying to figure out what one will need to know if one is going to "love" their work. My goal is that through the discussion of this article we get to a point where we more or less idenitfy the below elements about the world of work, which then also provide a framework for the presentations themselves:

    Types of Jobs
    Culture/Work Environment - for example, values
    Location - particularly top companies
    Opportunities for Advancement
    Requirements - skills, classes, degrees, training, licenses


    I'll come back to the presentations themselves in a moment, but before we get to them, both here, and during the semester, we take a field trip. One field trip we've consistently taken over the years - respective schedules permitting - is to the studio of Carlos "Dzine" Rolon, who talks about how he draws on everything from the ideas he loves, his childhood, inspirations, and personal connections - as we do in class - to create art, and run his business.

    More recently, though I've also built-in a field trip to the IO Theater to watch the Improvised Shakespeare Company, which allows the students to see professional improvisers at work. I've written previously how I strongly believe that the skills, games, and expectations that make for effective improv are an important part of this class and by extension the job search.

    This is followed by an in-class Improv skill-building session, which comes during a stretch of classes where we focus on specific tools and skills. A series of guest speakers join us in class, and speak to:

    Improv - history, exercises, applications to the job search;

    Creating a public profile - everything from personal websites to utilzing Twitter and LinkedIn;

    LinkedIn itself, inlcuding upgrading their LinkedIn pages and enhancing their understaning of the platform's tools for job search and making connections;

    As well as staff from Lake Forest's Career Advancement Center to talk about how the students can enhance their resumes, drawing on current best practice, which has proven to be one topic that is continually changing.


    We also hold the field, or industry, presentations during this time, and with this presentation I invite the students to present individually or in groups. The important thing is that they explore work that excites them and I use the following Expectations/Grading Rubric to assess their work:

    Expectations/Grading Rubric - All categories are scored from 1-5, 5 being the best.

    I. Preparation

    Have you organized your thoughts in advance and have you been thoughtful in doing so? Please take this seriously.

    II. Presentation

    Are you taking your time, speaking clearly, and allowing yourself to breathe, and the words to flow? Further, is what you're saying aligned with what your actually sharing with the class in terms of the final product?

    III. The Basics

    Please look to answer questions such as:

    The top companies in the field.
    Where they are located. And the cost of living.
    Academic requirements.
    Skills and experience.
    The range/types of jobs.
    Organizational structure.

    IV. The Amenities

    Please look to answer questions such as:

    Salary range. Or ranges.
    Updated systems.

    V.  Organizational culture.

    Please look to answer questions such as:

    What does a day on the job look like.
    Dress code.


    A - 24-25 points

    A- - 23 points

    B+ - 22 points

    B - 20-21 points

    C - 19 points and below

    CONCLUSION (for now)

    I will save the final part of the semester for a final post on the class, but one last thing we do before heading into the final stretch, is we start examining how all of these steps, tools, and  strategies hang together when it comes to the job search. I also assign an article by an author I love, myself, to help the students further organize their thoughts, and that piece is titled “The Search: Obtaining the Right Job, Finding Yourself, and Crafting a Career.”

    I hope you read it too.

    If you have any questions or thoughts on any of this, please let me know.

    Otherwise, speak to you soon.

    Control Your Own Narrative: Or The Ongoing Search for Story and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part I.

    Did I Mention Story: Or The Ongoing Search for Story (maybe I did mention story) and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part II.

  • Origin Stories, Organizations, and What Comes Next.


    I was invited to lead a memoir writing workshop for a group of teenagers on a recent Sunday afternoon, but I'm not so sure anyone was asked to sign-up, or even that it was quite advertised, which is to say that it's possible that no one showed-up. Okay, no one showed-up, but that doesn't mean I hadn't borrowed some cool ideas and exercises for the workshop from the storytellers that come speak to the class I teach - Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, or that I can't share the outline with you. More importantly, as I prepared the outline I was struck that from a storytelling perspective, this outline could easily be adapted for individuals and organizations looking to explore their stories, and reflect on not just what makes them them, or what inspires them, but what they might focus on as they look to the future and what comes next.

    The Outline

    First, begin by clearing some space in whatever space you're in, give people room to move around, get physical, blood flowing, and connecting with the energy of the room and one another.

    Places of Origin

    Think of the room as the world and ask people to go to the part of the world where their family is from. Don't limit them to the places they or their parents were born or moved from. Or even the place where their grandparents came from. Ask them to think about the places of origin they associate with their families, and the origin stories that have been passed along to them. And then ask them their associations with those associations. What do they think they know about place however they define it, and their place in it? How did they get from there to here, the journey, the decisions? What drove those who came before them?

    Life Line

    Next, ask the participants, assuming you have some, to line-up to one side of room. Tell them that where they are standing is when they were born. Have each of them tell you in 30 seconds the story of their birth based on the stories they were told by family, whether it's their biological or adoptive family, or the family they've built for themselves.

    After that, you, or me in this case, stand on other side of the room, and announce what the moment is right then, both the date and time.

    Identify a small group of participants to walk towards you, and say to them by name, if that moment is your birth and this moment is now, you are walking across your life and everything you've experienced - crying, laughing, heartbreak, love, loss - and this point - and then you point - is when you were 5, 10, 15 years old and so on. Now give yourself ultimate permission to think about what comes to you, and resonates with you, about what was happening then.

    Remind them that everything they've ever experienced is available to use and that personal narration is full of life experiences. Then have them walk to that age, and while they don't need to tell the room everything, ask them to share their story for 30 seconds.

    For the next small group, share some prompts: Go to the moment that rocked your world. Go to the moment that changed your life. Go to that moment where you learned a lesson. Coach them to try to focus on place, to put themselves back in that moment, and then have them walk towards that moment and tell you 30 seconds about it.

    After you're done engaging everyone, take a moment to have them assess the experience, how it felt, what they learned, and always taking a moment to reflect.


    Now have the participants form two circles, and if the group is really big, multiple circles, but the idea is that there is a circle of participants facing outward, and another circle circling them, standing face to face, and facing inward.

    Start by having the members of the inner circle tell whatever story has captured their imagination, the moment, and what has come to them since the exercises began to the person facing them in the outer circle. Remind them to think about dialogue, what rooms look like, smell like, who was there, their stories too, and to think about contect and texture.

    Give them two minutes.

    Then have the inner circle rotate one person over and tell the same story again to someone new, but now give them one minute. Encourage them to concentrate on what's most important to the story they want to tell. What's the actual story? Which details, characters, feelings, and conversations are most pertinent?

    After that, its the outer circle's turn. Two rotations, rinse, repeat.

    And then take a moment to have the participants reflect, again, this time as both storyteller and listener. What worked, what didn't, what did you want to know more or less of?

    All of it.


    Now we write. Ten minutes. Again, whatever story resonates most with the participants, have them channel it, and write it, no editing, just writing.

    Maybe though nothing has quite resonated yet, or inspired them, maybe this has been a warm-up for the story they most want to tell, which is great. But maybe that story hasn't taken form yet. The idea is to liberate these ideas, to take action, to keep pushing, and so give them more prompts - one of the happiest days they can remember; their first crush; when they learned to do something new; when they were scared but overcame it.

    Just write, feel something and seek to capture it in words, and on paper.


    And then, and again, assuming you have participants to share their work, ask each person to read what they wrote, and the group to share their thoughts on that work.

    I always encourage people to share something positive first, but then be thoughtful, push people, offer constructive comments about the characters, and point of view, what made sense or didn't, the gaps, and issues around continuity.


    At this point, we would be done. People would have been on their feet, talking, sharing ideas, moving, digging, reflecting, and writing.

    They would leave with a story, and if the day went really well, stories.

    But that would be it.

    For now.

    And that would be cool.

    But in preparing for this workshop and mixing and matching these different ideas, I started thinking about how this kind of exercise will benefit writers, but my initial interest in these exercises was in helping my Loop 202 students learn their stories.

    We only brief touch on these exercises in class, but why couldn't there be an extended stand-alone session such as this for any individuals who are looking to better tell their own stories as they think about work and what makes them happy?

    Further, and full-disclosure, this has very much been on my mind lately, how do we even know if we are on the path we want to be on professionally?

    Are we happy, effective, and motivated by our work?

    Are we energized?

    When's the last time you asked yourself that? I've been thinking about this alot, and if you aren't certain how to ask yourself that question, or even how to start, why not engage in a series of exercises like these that focus on your origin stories?

    With some tweaks they could be focused on work. Instead of your place of birth for example, what was the first place you ever worked? And what if we asked ourselves not what was our happiest day in general, but what was our happiest day at work?

    Do you know even know the answer to the latter question? Might you want to find out?

    I know that in personally exploring these questions, much of what I have been doing recently is not what made me happiest and most energized earlier in my careet when I first started finding some direction and my voice.

    How do I, you, get back to those things? The first step is making sure you recognize them for what they are and why they meant something to you.

    Further though, why stop with individuals?

    I've worked with many organizations over the years who no longer quite realize, or recognize, who they are, or why they're doing what they're doing, much less how they got there?

    Couldn't we adapt exercises like these for the individuals running these organizations, inviting them to spend time reflecting on their organization's origin story, it's history and timeline, what happened when. What it felt like? What energized the staff? Why people want, or wanted, to come work? What the organization did well and may have gotten away from?

    I'm sure we can and I think this would be really cool, and really doable. I'm still thinking about what it could look like, but if you have ideas about this, or interest in making something like this happen, and you want to talk about it with me, let's do that.

    Just give me a shout, share your thoughts, and we will get down to business.

  • Did I Mention Story: Or The Ongoing Search for Story (maybe I did mention story) and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part II.

    Did I Mention Story?

    When I kicked-off this series I wrote the following:

    "It all starts and ends though with the push to increase self-awareness; the need to be able tell one's story, and control one's narrative; and making the effort to build the tools necessary to engage prospective employers. Not to mention, how one engages in a process of applying one's story and tools in an professional environment, whether attending a networking event, an informational interview, or when presented with the opportunity, to be interviewed for the job one is interested in pursuing.

    "Did I mention story?


    And that is good, because while "it," it being the course, that paragraph, and the point of any of this, "all starts and ends... with the push to increase self-awareness...," the class starts with "story," literally, and today I want to talk about story, and how we start to unpack that.

    The Danger of the Single Story

    We open the semester in many ways, but there are two ways in particular I want to focus on here:

    First, the first reading assignment and response paper (see Part I for thoughts on that) is not actually a reading assignment, but a watching assignment. I ask the students to watch the Chimamanda Adichie TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story." My hope is that they reflect on how often they assign a single story to the people they meet, and that where appropriate, they check their privilege. But I also hope they start to recognize that the world will only be too happy to assign a single story to them as well, and that their responsibility, especially if they want to separate themselves from the job seeking clutter, is to ensure that those they meet, and interview with, are clear that they possess multitudes, and many stories of their own.

    And second, we start building our own stories, and narratives, while building-up to the first presentation of the semester, which is titled, "What's Your Story?"

    Subtle, yes?

    We'll come back to that in a moment, but during the second and third classes the students, and myself, present shortened versions of our stories in a modified Pecha Kucha 20x20 presentation, which is also known as the "Art of precise presentations."

    You can learn more about the coolness that is Pecha Kucha here, but the idea is that presenters share a story, idea, or passion in 20 images, but only have 20 seconds to describe each image.

    In my class we take a 3x20 approach, and I ask the students, and myself, to choose among the following story elements for their presentations:

    Milestones – trips
    Influences/Inspirations – family, books, movies

    We do this over two weeks, and the goal is two-fold: thinking through the building blocks of one's story, but also learning how talk about these building blocks in a concise and focused fashion. It's also an opportunity for public speaking, which I believe can be a learned skilled that allows workers in any industry to shine.

    That said, one thing I've noted semester after semester, is that these students as a whole are terribly comfortable presenting.

    Also, a side note: I'm well aware that every semester there are students who are introverts, and I will come back to this as well, and some even choose not to take the class after learning the expectations around public speaking. One thing I try to stress, however, is the class is intended to be a lab, and a safe space, and that if they cannot otherwise bring themselves to speak publicly anywhere else, I hope they will take the chance on doing so in Loop 202.


    In the same way that later during the semester I don't think it's enough to talk interview skills without spending some time learning about Improv, I don't think it's enough though to unpack one's story without spending time talking about storytelling.'

    With this mind, I always invite a professional storyteller to come to class to run the students through exercises that professional storytellers use to prime their creativity. These exercises vary from the semester to semester, as do the storytellers themselves, but the one element they all have in common, is that I recruit storytellers from the most excellent Chicago storytelling institution 2nd Story and I encourage you to learn more about 2nd Story here.

    I follow the storytelling segment in the next class with another form of storytelling through art, always wanting the students to push themselves, looking for interesting parts of their own stories, and cool ways to say them. I have invited a "professional" Zinester, and for those of you shaky on what Zines are - home made, and usually personal, "magazines" - do check this out, as well as an art teacher, and in both cases, the students are run through hands-on exercises, making Zines, drawing, maybe creating an Exquisite Corpse, and again, pushing, having fun, and thinking about themselves, likes and dislikes, influences and milestones.

    It is at this point that I start introducing the Response Papers, and seeding the classes with the more explicit tool-building skills that we will build on during the semester, in this case a piece on networking, or as one storyteller described it, "connecting," because as he said, networking is "tired-ass" language.

    There are many good pieces out there, but I favor "10 Tips for Successful Business Networking,” because it is short and to the point. 

    I've also made an adjustment over time, which is to acknowledge the introverts in class, and the challenges "connecting" may involve for them. And so, I also assign  “How Introverts Can Network Without Changing Their Personalities.”

    And I ask them to consider the following questions as they read these pieces:

    What are your questions and goals? Where are the opportunities?

    "What's Your Story?"

    It as this point that we move on to the "What's Your Story" presentations. The idea is to craft a true presentation, focused and tight, and any format is cool, PowerPoint, video, Zine, as long as the students build on the work already done during the semester, while pushing themselves to look to the future and what is yet to come.

    With the help of my 15 year-old, I've even designed a "Grading/Expectations Rubric:"

    Expectations Rubric - All categories are scored from 1-5, 5 being the best.

    I. Preparation

    Have you organized your thoughts in advance and have you been thoughtful in doing so? Please take this seriously.

    II. Presentation

    Are you taking your time, speaking clearly, and allowing yourself to breathe, and the words to flow? Further, is what you're saying aligned with what your actually sharing with the class in terms of the final product?

    III. Story/Connective Tissue

    Does your presentation tell a story, and do the parts of that story feel connected to one another?

    IV. Incorporation of Elements from Class

    Have you integrated the topics and themes - milestones, inspirations, work/internships - we are discussing in class?

    V. Looking Back. And forward.

    Does your presentation look to your past as a foundation for what you're presenting, while pointing forward to where you want to go, what/who you want to be and how you're going to get there?


    A - 24-25 points

    A- - 23 points

    B+ - 22 points

    B - 20-21 points

    C - 19 points and below

    After the presentation, I send everyone their grades and personalized notes on what went well, and where else they can improve.

    Which Is It, For Now, Mostly

    One final thought before I say good-bye, for now.

    We will talk next time about the tools phase of the class. But for now, I have thrown a lot at you, and at the class, and they have a lot being thrown at them already.

    So, at this point, I ask them to ask themselves what it means to be busy, and how one moves from busy to effective, and then I have them read a blog post from my friends at The Montana Institute titled "Move From Busy To Effective."

    I hope you will read it too.

    And if you have any questions or thoughts on any of this, please let me know.

    Otherwise, speak to you soon.

    Control Your Own Narrative: Or The Ongoing Search for Story and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part I.

  • Control Your Own Narrative: Or The Ongoing Search for Story and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part I.


    One thing I do is teach Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, which is part of the Lake Forest College In The Loop Program. The stated goals for this class focus on providing context in three professional development areas: 1) the trajectory of a student’s career and intellectual aspirations, 2) the development of effective professional communication, both oral and written and 3) the curating and management of a public facing profile as it applies to the work world.  

    Since I first began teaching the class in 2015, I have continually focused on honing the content and flow of the class, seeking to create a real time, organic vibe, with lots of energy and interaction.

    It all starts and ends though with the push to increase self-awareness; the need to be able tell one's story, and control one's narrative; and making the effort to build the tools necessary to engage prospective employers. Not to mention, how one engages in a process of applying one's story and tools in an professional environment, whether attending a networking event, an informational interview, or when presented with the opportunity, to be interviewed for the job one is interested in pursuing.

    Did I mention story?


    How about controlling one's narrative?

    Also good, because that's big, if you don't control it, someone else will be happy to do it for you, and that we just cannot allow.

    Ultimately, one needs to separate oneself from the pack and we do that with story, preparation, the proper tools, and when the moment comes, pulling all of that together with a cohesive, kick-ass narrative.

    What does all of that look like however? In the coming weeks I will unpack the syllabus for you, but for now, what follows are the key elements of the class.


    For one, students in the class work on response papers throughout the semester written in reaction to assigned texts, which are synched-up with the themes we are exploring and building-on throughout the semester. The model itself is articulated like this:

    "Response Papers of 1-2 pages, and a word count of approximately 500 words, on various course texts will be composed of (1) two questions you have about the readings and (2) your answers to those questions – unless there are specific questions assigned. The questions you may ask yourself, may be as straight forward as, “Why do I think Professor Tanzer even cares that I read this article?” Or, “Despite Professor’s Tanzer’s great interest in my reading this article, why should I care?” And, if you feel stuck and can’t think of any questions, 'Why do I think I’m stuck, and how might I become unstuck?'"

    And the goals are straight forward: one way to grow more self-aware is by asking one self the hard questions, putting what we think we know or are stuck on into words.


    I will share the assigned texts noted above in future posts, but one thing I want to note here, is that I strongly believe that being comfortable leading discussions, facilitating, and tackling ideas are integral to leadership, and again separating oneself from one's peers. I also want the students to be engaged at each step of the class in opportunities to speak in front of their classmates, and so where I once led the response paper discussions, I now have the students volunteer to do so, asking them to prepare in advance for class, and then seeking to create a safe space for them to do so.

    I also work with Lake Forest to hold two Mixers during the semester where the students interact with alumni, practicing how to network, and tell their story, all the while connecting with professionals even when they might not immediately seem helpful to their own job searches.

    In addition, and more than becoming comfortable speaking in front of a group, I feel the students must be comfortable presenting ideas, and we build towards a presentation early in the semester titled "What's My Story," where I ask the students to think about the pivotal points, people - family, teachers, coaches, mentors, opportunities - be they work or travel, decisions, cultural, and if applicable, political, influences, that have made them who they are and what they want to be. I also ask them to articulate where they think they could be going and how they think they might get there.

    I will also share the grading rubric and expectations for this presentation later, but what's important to me is that this exercise combines two elements that are key to class: crafting one's narrative and creating both self-awareness about what's important to them and the process for getting there.  


    The students also do presentations on the fields they picture entering, more on that later as well, but one key element to making this presentation a success, is prodding them to not only explore the kinds of fields they might work in, but what they want from a job to be happy and successful.

    I also want them to start thinking about what they don't want.

    The students must also enhance their LinkedIn pages and Resumes during the semester, and I bring in experts to assist with this, along with an expert who helps them think through creating a public profile. The semester ends with the students creating a public portfolio, that integrates all of the work that has preceded it.  


    I strongly believe in bringing in experts to talk the things they know best, so the students can learn from the best. I also believe this is important for not only maintaining the kind of energy that is required for both attending a three-hour class and staying engaged for an entire semester, but the job search itself, which requires an ongoing level of focus, connection, and positivity.

    Along with that however, is the need to be interacting with professionals, learning about they operate, their paths, successes and challenges, and what they expect when they meet professionals new to the job force.

    So we create these interactions in class itself, at the Mixers referenced above, by encouraging informational interviews and how to approach them, practicing interview skills, and by introducing Improv to the mix.

    I should state here that I have no Improv training myself, but in watching it and meeting performers, I have come to believe that the ability to think on one's feet, to react in a postitive manner to whatever is being thrown at you, and accepting the reality being created, the "Yes... And...," approach to situations, one is better prepared for whatever comes at them. 

    CONCLUSION (for now)

    Again, I am always tweaking the flow, and looking for more ideas, more energy, asking how a three-hour evening class should be run, when it's the right time for a field trip, and how many presentations can be held in a row in one class. All of this will be covered in more depth in the coming weeks. But for now, please let me know what you think, and please let me what questions you might have.


  • I am gearing-up for the new semester of Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century and in doing so I want to share with you a piece from the syllabus that I may have once wrote.

    When I was (somewhat) fresh out of graduate school The New Social Worker invited me to write a piece for them about finding your first job. I have since started using that piece which I titled "The Search: Obtaining the Right Job, Finding Your Self, and Crafting a Career" in the class I teach for Lake Forest College - Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century. There are a number of places in this piece that I can, and do, in class anyway, go more in depth, and I plan to revisit some of the ideas herein down the road, but for now, and with this piece not being available online, I decided to share it in its original form here. It still speaks to me, and I hope it speaks to you. I also look forward to your thoughts. Thanks.

    The Search: Obtaining the Right Job, Finding Your Self, and Crafting a Career

    The successful job search is about more than focusing on whether or not we can obtain a job. It is also about focusing on oneself, our story, exploring what it is we need from work, and who it is we want to be as we craft a career.

    The Search

    Field of Choice vs. Skill Development

    When searching for a job, many try to find any opportunity they can in their field of choice. While this is important, it is equally important to identify the types of skills and experience you are interested in acquiring, whether the job you ultimately land is in your field or not. I say this for two reasons. First, when you do this you dramatically expand the opportunities you can choose from at a time when the last thing you want to do is limit such opportunities. And second, for work to be satisfying, it must be stimulating, and if you cannot identify what it is about work that will stimulate you, it really does not matter whether you land a job in your field of interest or not.

    Job Descriptions

    Do not assume that a job is unobtainable merely because you do not fulfill all the requirements and experiences listed in a job description. Job descriptions are written with the ideal candidate in mind, but that does not mean that (a) that person is going to apply, (b) the employer expects him or her to, and (c) they are even out there. If anything, assume that you are the best candidate your prospective employer is going to meet. While you risk nothing by submitting your resume, you will never know what you risked by failing to do so.

    Developing Your Story

    You need to get your story together early and then be sure to weave it into and throughout every interview. We tend to spend a lot of valuable time in informational and job interviews trying to figure out who we are and what we want to do with our careers. Engaging in this process during an interview however, not only wastes precious time and opportunities, but does little to enhance your chances at being hired. What makes an interview successful is your ability to sell yourself, and you cannot sell yourself if you have not taken the time to figure out who you are, where you came from, your influences, and who you want to be.

    The Job


    While there are many things to touch on when it comes to interviews, as an interviewer and as an interviewee, I have found the following two things to be particularly important: First, do your homework and learn something, if not everything, about the organization. While this has always been important, when every organization now has a website, you have no reason why you cannot do so. And second, prior to the interview, develop questions of your own about the job and the organization. Prospective employers may or may not expect you to know much about their department, much less their organization. They may not even expect you to ask questions. However, they are certainly thrilled when you do, and when every organization has a website, and most do on LinkedIn, you have no excuse not to look proactive.

    The Job Search, The Job Wait

    When it comes to job offers, I recommend waiting, if you can, as long as you can, before accepting your first job, because the temptation to take a job, any job, during this time of desperation tends to outweigh your common sense and better judgment. Human nature tells you to take the first job offered just in case it is the only one that ever comes your way. But if it doesn’t seem like a good match for you, don’t do it. Wait for the right one if you can, because it will come, and you will know it when it does. Long-term job happiness will always be more important than a short-term sense of calm.

    The (not exactly what you want) Job Offer

    Not all jobs you are offered offer all that you are looking for, but you may still feel conflicted about taking them, either because you feel you have to – see above – or because they truly offer things you are looking for in a position or organization – mission, office culture, what have you. When you find yourself in such a position, I suggest that instead of settling for what you are being told the job’s roles and responsibilities are, question just how flexible the job description is and whether there are ways you can make the job more interesting and challenging. Do not forget that jobs are not fixed objects, and interviews are meant to be interactive. That said, when a job is being treated as immutable, or an interviewer will not discuss it in a flexible manner, it is worth asking yourself whether this is the kind of job you want and the kind of environment you want to work in.

    Supervision (and mentoring)

    It is very important that with any first job, one factors in whether supervision (and mentoring, if possible) is available and embraced. If it is not clear whether your prospective boss does in fact embrace supervision be sure to ask whether he or she will build it into their weekly calendar. It may be cliché, but you don’t know what you don’t know when it comes to starting your first job out of school. There is no replacement for experience, much less guidance, and you can only hope to gain and learn when there is someone available to support your growth and decisions.

    Salary Negotiations

    When it comes to salary negotiations, I have two primary pieces of advice: First, always assume that your potential employer has more money to give you than their initial offer. Do not forget that the phrase is salary negotiation, and a negotiation means all involved are trying to walk with the best deal, including your future boss. There are exceptions to this of course, but you have to ask, rarely is anything lost by asking, but sometimes, often, something is gained. This brings me to my second point. Always try to ensure that the person you are negotiating with makes the first offer. Negotiations are all about coming from a place of power. And whoever names their price first relinquishes that power, because they must respond to counter offers the rest of the way. The approach I’m suggesting here is one centered on yourself and your needs and not on your prospective employer’s demands and requirements. You must ask yourself what it is you need to feel good about accepting the job being offered and it is only when you are clear about this with yourself and the person you’re negotiating with, that you can start a job with a clear mind and a focus on the work itself.  

    The Path

    Who Will You Meet, What Will You Produce

    When considering that first job offer you are interested in, there are two questions you should always consider: (a) Who will you meet internally and externally and (b) What will you be able to author (reports, articles, papers, etc.)? While I am not trying to imply that you should be thinking about your next job even as you take your first, it is likely that at some point you will decide to, or have to, look for one again. Who you have met, or not met, along the way, and that which you have authored can only serve to expedite and enhance your job search the next time around. In one sense, you are looking at one job as a building block to the one that will follow, and when you do, you begin to build a career.

    The Bad Job Choice

    You may well choose a job and then may find shortly, or not so shortly, thereafter that you are unhappy with your choice and my advice it to leave as soon as you can. This does not mean that you should not try to make it work or spend time assessing why the position has not worked out. However, you are trying to build a career and develop skills, and the amount of energy you will expend on being unhappy is a waste of time. Your first job is not likely to be your last, but it should provide you with both the foundation and catalyst for your career. If it doesn’t, why wouldn’t you get out? I would add two things here. First, rarely does a good interview lead to a bad job choice. There is a good chance that you had a bad vibe during the interview about the job, the organization, or the interviewer. When you have such a vibe, ask yourself why? If you do not like the answer, do not take the job. And second, jobs go bad long before we finally leave them. If you are resistant to leaving, ask yourself why and whether you are repeating a pattern of bad choices and bad habits.


    A key to searching for that first job, and any job that follows, is not just retaining, but nurturing the network of contacts you made while in school and working on internships. People not only rely on word of mouth to spread the word about jobs, but look to their peers and staff for “so who do you know” recommendations when looking to fill a position. Given this, the relationships you form in school, and in internships, represent valuable connections for not just your initial search, but your career path. Who knows where they will end-up, who they will know, or what they will hear? Regular networking with them is key and whether you do so by phone, email, or lunch, just be sure you do it.

    Professional Development

    This may involve reading, going to conferences and seminars, volunteer opportunities, second jobs, or meeting with peers to talk about work. Whatever appeals to you, do it, whether the organization you work for encourages it or not, because work alone does not professional development make. The crafting of a career entails lifelong learning and an insatiable curiosity. To accomplish this, you must expose yourself to a steady flow of new information and new possibilities. Doing so will not only make you more marketable, but more interested in what you’re doing. While the former is so very important, there may be nothing more important than the latter. Crafting a career means constantly being excited about the challenges before you and constantly seeking to learn more. When you stop finding yourself excited about your work, and when you stop wanting to learn, you generally stop crafting a career as well.

    Concluding Thoughts

    What I am asking you to do then is focus on yourself and not just the demands and expectations of the market and your prospective employer. The job search must be conscious and thoughtful. When it is not, we not only fail to find work we like, we fail to take care of our work-related needs. While your first job is not likely to be your last, you do want to find one that is satisfying and stimulating. While you do not necessarily know where you are heading, you always need to be thoughtful about what you think you will need whenever you get there. The tips and strategies discussed here will help you with this process. Use them as a scorecard and use them as needed.