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  • 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.

    INTRODUCTION

    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.

    (Pause)

    Welcome back.

    CONNECTIONS

    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.

    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:

    Hours
    Diversity
    Training
    Travel
    Benefits
    Types of Jobs
    Flexibility/Telecommuting
    Salary
    Culture/Work Environment - for example, values
    Location - particularly top companies
    Opportunities for Advancement
    Requirements - skills, classes, degrees, training, licenses

    SKILLS

    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.


    FIELD PRESENTATIONS

    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.
    Benefits.
    Hours.
    Advancement.
    Updated systems.

    V.  Organizational culture.

    Please look to answer questions such as:

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

    Grading:

    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.

  • 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 mostly, though not entirely, 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

    Interviews

    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.

    Contacts/Networking

    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.

  • How about a brief pause to celebrate motivational exercises and Keidra Chaney dropping the hard professional development science in Loop 202?