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  • 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?

    "Good."

    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
    Work/Internships
    Hobbies/Passions

    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.

    Storytelling

    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?

    Grading:

    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.

  • 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.