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  • Beginning, Middle, and End: Or The Ongoing Search for Story and Flow in Loop 202: Professional Development in the 21st Century, Part IV.

    The End.

    “Good cover letters tell a story. Beginning, middle, and end.” -Hannah Frei, Career Advancement Center, Lake Forest College

    And so we are at the end... for now.

    I concluded the last post by speaking to what the final part of the Loop 202 semester looks like, and where we start examining how all of these steps, tools, and strategies hang together when it comes to the job search. Also, how I 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.”

    But there is also what what was, and what is, which is to say, that even as I revisit the syllabus from semester to semester, revising and refining it, some times we do so during the semester as well.

    For example, this semester I wanted to introduce a greater focus on having the students grapple with how they can apply their story to thinking about their brand and looking forward. And so in that vein I've introduced simple branding exercises such as the following:

    - What 3 words would I use to describe myself when I first meet someone?
    - What 3 words would someone else use to describe me having just met me?
    - How do they compare, and are there words that work better?

    Refining.

    I've also sought to keep refining our focus in a more granular way however on skill-building and enhancing connections from class to class and tool to tool.

    Last semester as we talked about crafting resumes I got stuck on the idea that we were building out stronger resumes, but only briefly talking about cover letters... they go together though, and so I added a cover letter section this semester, where we spent time breaking cover letters down by component, looking at language, honing the craft.

    I was also struck that the students need to be able to tell their stories in all spaces, and in all ways, and that called for insights into how we break our story down and into an "Elevator Speech."

    And so we have have introduced a section on that as well, which might I add, is still to come, so more on that soon.

    Interviews... Informational and Otherwise.

    We focus on Information Interviewing as well, recognizing that while informational interviews may not yield jobs, one can still learn a lot about the jobs and industries, one wants to know more about, make connections, and work on their narrative. One thing I ask students to do when we cover this section, is Identify three orgs/people they want to schedule informational interviews with... and then go out and do so.   

    We move on to applying these skills through meeting with professionals from out in the field by hosting a career panel and Q&A. There are also now so many graduates of the program out in the work world, or looking anyway, that I hold a similar panel populated with Loop 202 grads as well.

    We further hone in on interview skills, by bringing back our Improv instructor, runnning warm-up exercises, and then swapping out interview questions for the usual Improv scenarios so everyone is thinking on their feet, engaging in active listening, and having fun.

    I added a section on salary negotiations in recent semesters too, because like with cover letters, if we were going to keep talking about somethinig, I felt like we ought to be sure we were actually covering it and learning something.

    We finish with a final project focused on building an online portfolio/web presence. Not everyone may need one, but with the marketplace transforming more and more from the traditional into something digital, one has to show what they've done and make it accessible. So why not start here, now, putting your best self, and ongoing narrative out in the world, and at worst, though ideally at best, be ahead of the curve?

    Finally.

    And so we are beginning, middle, and end ourselves.

    This has been intended as a love letter to this class I love, and these students who rock, where we talk about a topic I find endlessly fascinating.

    My ongoing goal is that the class becomes a lab and a piece of performance art, always, on and always thinking, creating, and becoming its best self.

    With that in mind, I will always tweak it, seeing some kind of ephemeral perfection.

    This semester I tweaked the response papers students have historically submitted, and we now do those in class, and in long hand, the facilitation, and facilitators, as well as the direction of the discussion unknown before the start of class. The first time I suggested this, no one volunteered to facilitate, but the second and third times both yielded results in terms of facilitation... and great discussion.

    Ultimately then, and on good days, there is a beginning, middle, and end to class as well. It is both tightly constructed, and loosely implemented, and we repeat it and build on it, and keep honing the craft.

    And with that we are end, and if you want to know more about any of this, you know what to do.

    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.

    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.

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

    INTRODUCTION

    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?

    Good.

    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.

    WRITING

    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.

    PRESENTATION AND FACILITATION

    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.  

    TOOLS

    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.  

    PRACTICE

    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.

    Thanks.