In Working World, Mark and I discuss the importance of having “building blocks” on your resume. These are experiences that show you have survived a rigorous vetting process and are capable of working effectively in a challenging or fast-paced environment. For example, when I was interviewing candidates at the Institute of International Education or NCIV (now Global Ties U.S.), I was always pleased to see Peace Corps volunteer, Experiment in International Living Group Leader, or study abroad experience on a resume.
A recent email I received from a Working World reader went like this:
I am interested in a career in international education and exchange. I had hoped that my own personal experiences abroad – one year on an exchange program in Europe, three years of university, and one year of English teaching abroad – would be enough to land me a position in the field. I have applied to a number of positions in the field in the DC area, but am starting to feel that almost all of these entry-level positions give preference to graduate degree candidates. Do you have any recommendations for gaining pre-Masters, salaried work in the field?
Some excellent questions packed in here, ones that I hear regularly. My response to this reader went something like this:
It sounds like you’re building a good resume for work in the international education/exchange field—don’t let yourself by deterred or disheartened if you’re applying for but not landing these jobs. The difficult fact is that the people hiring for these positions likely received a large number of applications, including a lot of qualified ones (when we recently hired for an entry level position at my organization, we received 400+ applications). Just because you didn’t get those jobs does not mean you aren’t qualified for them, or other ones like them.
While some positions may prefer or even require a master’s degree, my honest opinion is that a Master’s is not the (or even a) key criteria most organizations are looking for, especially for entry/junior level positions. I think “Master’s preferred” has become something of a reflexive criteria included in many job descriptions, whether or not a higher degree is actually necessary to be successful in the position. For my part, I’d much rather hire someone who has the right combination of experience, skills, disposition, and who I feel will be a good fit for the team, regardless of their higher education situation.
A few further thoughts:
- How well are you highlighting the skills and experience you do bring to the table? Sounds like you’ve had a number of varied experiences in the field—so ask yourself: why should they matter to potential employers and the specific positions you’re applying for?
Cover letters are very important, and I’d encourage you to look back at your own and see if they truly convey what you hoped they would. A good cover letter should seek to impart not so much what you’ve done, but why you’re a good fit for the positions you’re applying for and why your particular skills and experiences are relevant. I often see cover letters that are nothing more than a recitation of a resume. No need for this duplication. Rather, use the cover letter to interpret your resume for the potential employer, to let them know why they should care about your particular skills and experiences–why those skills and experiences are relevant and will put you in a position to succeed in that particular job.
- Do informational interviews. I’m not sure where you’re based, but if you’re able to meet directly with people at organizations in cities (like DC) where you’re interested in working, do that. I’ve seen firsthand how successful this tatic can be. People want to hire known quantities, candidates who they’ve seen in person and can judge to be good, reliable, quality people.
People are also typically more than willing to talk with you for 15-20 minutes and tell you more about their jobs and their organizations. This is a great way to get to know organizations better, as well as to network and to put yourself in front of those who might be hiring later on. So don’t worry if an organization isn’t hiring at the moment (in fact, informational interviews often work better if it’s not attached to a job opening—makes the conversation more relaxed and natural, and the person you’re talking with doesn’t feel like you’re trying to get something out of them, rather just hoping to connect and learn). Target organizations you’re interested in working at and try to locate a mid-level person (not a CEO or senior leader) who is doing interesting work and you’d be interested in talking to. Email them and ask them for a short informational interview (at their office, or at a coffee shop convenient for them, or even via phone or Skype if you can’t be in DC). Then after your conversation, stay in touch with them by email. If a job does open at their org, they should be the first person you talk to before applying. And they may even pass along job openings to you that they learn about, since they know you’re looking.
I’ve admitted it before: I can be awkward at networking events. While I’m an outgoing person, I’m reluctant to randomly approach people I don’t know. If I attend an event with a group of colleagues, I’ll talk mostly to them. If I’m by myself, you might find me near the bar or slowly circling the room to avoid the embarrassment of standing alone. I’ve heard from many other professionals who’ve expressed similar feelings.
For career development, though, these events can be important. And sometimes we just can’t avoid them if they’re a part of our jobs. We can’t always count on going with colleagues or running into people we know. So how can those of us who struggle with networking events get the most out of them? Here are three easy steps that might help:
- Head straight to the bar. No, no, not because you need booze to make it through. This move provides you with an immediate destination when you arrive and something to do when you first walk into the room, other than stand there awkwardly. (Also, you never know who you might meet at the bar.)
- Once you have a drink in hand, briefly survey the room. Look for someone standing alone, or a small group of two or three people. I usually look for people at a standing table, which provides a set location and somewhere I can set my drink or a plate of appetizers. It also makes it easier for other people to join the group.
- Once you’ve identified a target, simply approach and introduce yourself. Do so not too aggressively—don’t startle or abruptly interrupt a conversation. But be confident. Don’t linger and wait for your target to notice you. Use body language to indicate your intention to join (like setting your drink on the standing table). This cold-turkey approach can be hard for some of us, I know. It is for me. But I’ve discovered, lo and behold, people go to networking events to meet other people (I know, a groundbreaking insight). Approaching a new person and starting a conversation is, in fact, something that’s kind of expected at networking events.
Where can you get up close and personal with more than 60 authors including: a Real Housewife of New Jersey, a Living Legend, a Former Governor of Maryland, a Presidential Nominee, a Two-Time Pulitzer winner, and Sherry Mueller, co-author of Working World?
The University Club of Washington, DC’s 25th Annual Meet the Author Night and Book Fair!
Wednesday, December 3, 5:30 — 8:00 pm
The University Club of Washington, DC
1135 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC
If you’re in DC, come on out and meet Sherry, along with many other interesting authors. The event is free!
Attending CIEE’s annual conference last week in Baltimore, I had the opportunity to hear Michele Norris of NPR speak. Norris talked about how she “had it all planned out” but ultimately had to set those plans aside, when life pushed her in a different direction (a sentiment I’m sure many of us can relate to). Specifically, Norris meant she thought she never wanted to be “the reporter who was always talking about race,” but ultimately came to embrace her passion for encouraging candid conversations among Americans about race, ethnicity, and cultural identity.
To that end, she began the Race Card Project, an effort to encourage these conversations. She asks people to distill their thoughts, feelings, and observations about race into one six word sentence. She challenged the CIEE audience to try. Mine came out like this:
Norris tweeted me back, asking to hear more. So here it is:
I grew up in a mostly white suburb north of Cincinnati, Ohio. My grade school was not diverse. I remember one black classmate in my year – we played baseball and basketball together – and one girl of Asian descent, but that’s about it. My high school was more diverse, but not by much.
When I was 15 and a half, going on 16, I enrolled in a driver’s ed course, as everyone at that age does. The driving school was in a diverse neighborhood that was also central to many other neighborhoods – so the school drew students from a variety of different places and backgrounds. Which meant a variety of races. Which meant I was in class for the first time with a lot of black students.
I didn’t think much about this in the broader sense of racial politics or diversity. But I do remember being aware of it, aware of the details, like the way my black classmates talked to one other, interacted with the teacher, and approached the learning environment – which was often different than what I was used to at my mostly white school. Not wildly or uncomfortably different, but different enough that I can, 18 years later, still remember being in that classroom.
One day in class, the teacher asked a question. I couldn’t tell you what that question was, but I guess I knew the answer, so I volunteered. I was correct, and the teacher said well done. I remember one of my black classmates turning around and praising me for my correct answer. I don’t remember exactly what he said, and I don’t remember his particular tone or intention. Meaning, he might have been actually praising me, or maybe he was gently giving me shit for being a know-it-all, or more likely somewhere in between. Just one teenager talking to another.
And anyway, that’s not really important. What’s important – and what I do clearly remember – is my reaction. I gave him the wink and the gun. You know, the wink and the gun: that gesture where you stick out both hands like mock guns, thumbs raised and pointer fingers pointed ahead, while winking and making a little clicking sound with your tongue and your back teeth. The reaction to this was instantaneous: raucous laughter all around. Someone yelled with glee, “Oh, he gave you the wink and the gun!” The teacher called for order, things quieted down, and class continued.
I was left burning with some combination of embarrassment and confusion. Why the wink and the gun? Why did I just decide on a gesture I’d ever done before and probably haven’t done since (at least non-ironically)? Did I think this was something black kids my age did? Did I think it would make me “cool” with him? Did I just not have any idea how to relate to a black peer, so I crashed around searching for something, anything, I thought to be appropriate?
In the grand scheme, a small moment. But one that has, for whatever reason, stuck with me. I’m not even sure there’s a broader point here. But if there is, maybe it’s this: when we’re getting to know people different than ourselves (different race, gender, neighborhood, country, culture, etc.), it’s probably best to just be ourselves. And maybe even more importantly, best to allow those we’re getting to know to be themselves too—and avoid imposing upon them our own (likely erroneous) notions of who they are.
Oh, and also, don’t give the wink and the gun. To anyone. It makes you look like an idiot.
Are we really as busy as we say we are? Hanna Rosin doesn’t think so.
In Working World, Sherry and I talk about a condition familiar to many, known as “the overwhelm” (a term also mentioned in Rosin’s article). The overwhelm may be not only something we all deal but also something many of us (perhaps unconsciously) strive for:
“Busyness of a certain kind…became a mark of social status, that somewhere in the drudgery of checklists and the crumpled heaps one could detect a hint of glamour.”
This makes sense to me. How many times have I responded to the question of “How’s work?” with the barely-thought-out answer of: “Busy.” And this comes whether I’m actually particularly busy or not. Why am I compelled to characterize things as busy, regardless of reality? Likely because answers like “slow,” “not too bad,” or “you know, I’m actually pretty bored at the moment” aren’t the right ones. I might come across as unengaged, lacking passion, like a slacker. It’s “busyness as a virtue…a conviction that the ideal worker is one who is available at all times because he or she is grateful to be ‘busy.’”
This trap is hard to avoid. We stay late at work or check/answer emails immediately not always because we need to or are required to, but because we think this is a mark of productivity. And this leads us down a path where we confuse being a hard worker with being a smart or talented or efficient one.
One aspect of the international nonprofit world that I am grateful for is a commitment to work-life balance. To ensuring that excess hours and unnatural email response time expectations are not a part of the package. Some of this stems from being in an industry in which salaries are typically lower, and thus some extra “compensation” can be gained from humane hours and expectations. But part of it also comes from working with and around a group of people who are innately curious, restless, and inclined toward a broad interest in the humanities. And what I mean by this is: the international education and exchange community is full of people who like to travel and do other stuff good too. So it’s often not a challenge to get them to listen when you say, “stop working and go do something else.” They’ve likely already booked a plane ticket.
Sherry and I try to give our own antidotes to feeling the overwhelm in Working World: Disconnect. Take a walk, read a book, see a movie, plan a trip (go on a trip!), spend time with family and friends. I think we’d both stand by these recommendations. But I also love this solution from Rosin’s article:
“The answer to feeling oppressively busy…is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are.”
Just a brief note: I was made aware that USAID has posted their Summer 2015 Pathways Internship Announcement on USAJobs. There will evidently be multiple opportunities in various offices throughout the agency, so take a look if you’re interested and apply!
In many cases, corporate “global pro bono” programs are able to deliver real, tangible good in the communities in which they operate. How are they able to do this? By focusing not on “dropping in a solution,” but rather on “the transfer of skills,” according to Deirdre White, the CEO of PYXERA Global.
White focused on this topic of the global pro bono in her talk at American University’s School of International Service on October 14 (a talk organized by my co-author, Sherry). Deirdre (also a profilee in Working World) and PYXERA work with corporations around the world to develop and implement corporate, cross-border social programs that work to contribute the corporate employees’ skill sets to a local program or project. Since 2008, PYXERA has worked with 26 corporations, sending 8,000 employees (usually for a month) to 80 countries on five continents. This is impressive. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently spent the weekend with a close college friend, Brian. My university buddies are scattered around the country and world, so any chance to spend a few days with them (as individuals or a group) is rare and cherished. During our time talking and catching up, Brian and I realized that, as we both approach our mid-thirties, we’re each feeling a sense of stasis, a stagnancy that’s hard to pinpoint but is clearly present. It’s a professional stagnancy, it’s a personal stagnancy, it’s a combination of both.
Both of us have good jobs we enjoy. We are both married to awesome people. We have supportive families, good homes, plenty of books to read and music to listen to, a college football team that’s finally doing well again…so what’s with the complaining? Fair enough.
We realized this stagnancy comes from reaching the end of that first ladder, the “young professional” ladder, and not knowing where to climb next. As scary as being a young professional can be—with all of its requisite challenges and uncertainty—I’m realizing that entering mid-career territory comes with its own set of difficulties. I’m no longer worried about getting my first job, or paying my rent with a meager entry level salary, or learning how to move from operating in an academic environment to a professional one. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m very pleased to be hosting a conversation next Tuesday, October 14th with Deirdre White, President and CEO of PYXERA Global (and a profilee in the second edition of Working World). Deirdre is a renowned leader in the field of international economic development and will be speaking on the topic of “corporate volunteerism: the nexus between citizen diplomacy and development.”
In addition to its international development work, PYXERA is also the base for the Center for Citizen Diplomacy. I served as one of the founding board members of the Center and now am honored to continue as a board member of PYXERA Global.
I wanted to pass along this very interesting position that just became available: Director of Alumni Engagement at World Learning. As the idea of alumni engagement becomes increasingly recognized–by nongovernmental and governmental entities–as an essential way to extend the impact of exchange programs, I won’t be surprised to see more and more of these kinds of positions being created/coming available.
Note preference for someone who has participated in a World Learning Program.
On the heels of Sherry’s great post that included discussion of employer perception during interviews (i.e., how are tattoos and piercings perceived during an interview?), I was intrigued by this article over at QZ.com: awkward questions asked during Korean job interview, including:
- Are you dating anyone?
- How long does it take you to do your makeup?
- How much alcohol can you handle?
- What do you plan on spending your first paycheck on?
Although the article notes that such personal questions are no longer typically asked in interviews at Korean companies, the reason they were ever asked in the first place is illuminating: to get a sense of the job applicant as a person and determine whether he or she would fit into company culture.
Working in a small organization with a staff of only four, I’m keenly aware that personal fit matters. When we hire, we’re looking for someone who is not only smart and skilled and accomplished, someone who can get the job done, but also someone who will mesh well with the team. We don’t all have to be best friends, but it is important that we are cohesive both professionally and personally. Our performance as an organization depends on it.
And thus our interviews reflect this fact. We ask questions that are not awkwardly personal or borderline inappropriate, like those listed in the article, but ones that are meant to draw out personal interests and activities, especially those related to our industry. Talk about a particularly meaningful experience during your time studying abroad. Where did you go on your most recent international trip? If you could study one language you don’t currently speak, what would it be? What’s the last book you read and would you recommend it? (That last one’s not international, but I think it’s an interesting conversation starter anyway.)
The point is that anyone prepping for an interview would do well to prepare for some personal discussion. No need to disclose your dating history or your drinking prowess—but if you can talk compellingly about some of your personal interests, and paint a fuller picture of yourself as a person beyond the professional realm, you’re more likely to make an impression in an employer’s mind as someone they want to work with.
One of the joys of traveling around the country promoting the second edition of Working World is that I have the opportunity to meet with extraordinary young people who already have a strong sense of wanting to be of service. I share the comments of the New Visions high school group (and their teacher) whom I wrote about last week less because of their positive comments about my presentation (although I greatly appreciate them), and more because of what their comments say about them and what they hope to achieve. It is always heartening to get beyond the beltway and beyond the headlines to restore one’s perspective and renew hope.
We are often buffeted by so much bad news and tragedy that is is instructive to be reminded that there are many fine young people getting ready to be a force for good in our turbulent world.
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us. I learned a lot about the interview process I didn’t ever think of and in the future I know that will be helpful when starting a career.
- Madison Pagano Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I enjoyed giving my first series of presentations on the second edition of Working World. Diane Conroy-LaCivita, the Executive Director of the International Center of the Capital Region in Albany, NY (a member of Global Ties U.S.), organized a great schedule. It included appearances at Siena College, The School of Public Health (University at Albany), and The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. The Book House is a welcoming and independent bookstore with many appealing books, games, and book related items. (I did my part for the New York economy by shopping after the discussion, which focused more on issues relevant to mid-career professionals.)
The photo below was taken after a lively discussion about careers and Working World at the Center for Global Health at the University at Albany. This group of high school seniors – participating in a “New Visions” advanced placement enrichment program—has already decided that they want some kind of career in global health. It was truly a privilege to share the structure and highlights of Working World with them. The Q&A section morphed into a spirited dialogue. They asked some thought-provoking questions. Mark and I welcome your answers to these questions.
Q: How are tattoos and piercings perceived during an interview?
A: Various managers will react differently. In my opinion, however, you do not want to distract the person interviewing you from focusing in on your experience and abilities. I remember interviewing someone with a tongue piercing and my mind kept drifting away from what she was saying. I kept wondering, “Does that hurt?” It’s always best to err on the conservative side until you can assess the culture of a particular organization.
Q: What is your greatest regret regarding your career? Read the rest of this entry »
On a recent flight from Washington, DC, to Minneapolis, I enjoyed one of those now rare occasions—they used to happen quite often—when I had an interesting conversation with my seat partner. In this time of headphones, ear buds, and other cocoon-creating tech devices, it was fun to exchange ideas once again with a random stranger.
Being co-author of a book on careers, I am keenly interested in ways people make a living, how they view their jobs, and the extent to which they deliberate about their careers.
The conversation began the way so many in Washington, DC, start. I asked, “What do you do?” My seat partner replied: “I work for an organization that brings high school students to Washington, DC, for a week’s immersion in government.” “The Close Up Foundation?” I guessed. “Yes,” he replied. I then learned a great deal more about this remarkable nonprofit organization founded in 1971. When I worked as a program officer at the Institute of International Education (IIE) early in my career, I often scheduled appointments with Close Up staff for participants in the (then USIA sponsored) International Visitor Program. It was the ideal meeting for foreign leaders interested in how young Americans learn to participate in a democracy. I even remember thinking at the time it would be rewarding to work for Close Up.
My seatmate was Jon Gerst who started at Close Up as a program instructor in 2010, advanced to program leader, and now serves as an Outreach Representative as of last August. Jon travels around the country—and sometimes to U.S. territories, such as Guam, as well as other countries—meeting with teachers and principals to help recruit the 16,000 students who participate in Close Up programs each year. Most programs (one teacher per ten students) begin on Sunday and end on the following Friday evening. Activities range from a day on Capitol Hill to Embassy visits.
“Inform, Inspire, Empower” is the Close Up mantra. Learn more at www.closeup.org.
When I asked Jon what he liked best about his job, Jon noted he totally embraced the mission. “I love that students from around the country learn to tackle weighty issues with in-person civil conversations.” He works with teachers who become community activists, not just for one week, but all year long. We agreed that it is vitally important for young people to get engaged in the political process.
“What characteristics do you need to work for Close Up?” I asked. Jon answered: “The ability to improvise and be quick on your feet, a willingness to work long and hard, and open-mindedness. You must not write anyone off too quickly. This is surely a set of traits any employer would appreciate.”