Archive for June, 2009

Thoughts on how to leave a job

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Transitions in your career are inevitable. You’ll not only have to negotiate and navigate the details of accepting and starting a new job, but necessity also demands that you bow out of your current position with grace, humility, and professionalism. Following up on a request from a reader, my thoughts on how to best leave a job (and I’d love to hear more, as all situations are different and may require unique steps and strategies):

—If your departure is most likely imminent, but you still haven’t completely decided you’re leaving, don’t mention it until you’re 100% sure. Don’t say anything to your coworkers (unless you trust them to keep a lid on it) and certainly don’t tell your boss. This may seem obvious but I mention it because when I was once considering leaving a job, I thought about telling my boss before I’d made the final decision. A new opportunity had popped up unexpectedly, one that I was pretty sure I couldn’t pass up, but I really valued my relationship with my old boss and didn’t want him to think that I was bailing on him. So I thought that cluing him into to my decision-making process would be an honorable thing to do. I was promptly talked out of this, which was for the best, I think.

—When you are ready to go, tell your boss/supervisor immediately and in person. Do it early in the day so you don’t spend all day thinking about it. Have your intended “departure strategy” thought out and ready for discussion (i.e., “my last day will be…”), but be flexible if you can.

—Once you’ve told the boss, tell everyone else in person too. If you work in a small office, this won’t be a challenge (at least logistically). If you work in a larger office and it’s not feasible to tell everyone in person, consider a different strategy: I’m a proponent of making sure everyone hears it from you, so you may wish to tell a select number of colleagues (those to whom you are closer/have worked with closely) in person, and then send emails to the rest. I would recommend avoiding the mass email if possible and instead composing one message that can be copied over and over again into individual emails to each of your coworkers. This is a small but effective personal touch that will make the email notification of your departure seem less distant or cold. (I’d prepare the emails before you tell anyone of your departure, so once you’ve told your boss and others in person, you can fire the messages out immediately.)

—Submit an official resignation letter to your boss, with your last day noted in it. Most organizations require this, others may not ask. But it’s probably best to do one regardless. I suggest not bringing the letter into the meeting with the boss when you inform him/her of your departure—I’d prefer to keep that meeting more personal and less formal, and dropping a resignation letter on the desk seems very stiff and formal. Instead, submit the letter later, after you’ve hashed out the details of your departure in person.

—As best you can, get your work in order for your successor. If time permits, leave a position “guide” behind, outlining the general nature of the job as you experienced it, the projects that are currently underway, and a list of important contacts that your successor should be in touch with. (Depending on the situation and your relationship with the organization, you might also wish to make yourself available, on a limited basis, for questions and for some in-person training of your successor. But I should also stress that you want to be very careful about how much you make yourself available in this way and, if you’re worried in any way that such an offer might be taken advantage of, it’s probably best to avoid it altogether.)

—Make sure loose ends are tied up. For example, if your organization owes you any money, such as a reimbursement for travel, get that taken care of before you leave. If you can’t, take copies of paperwork and documentation with you for proof down the road.

—Take with you whatever you might need for the future: contacts, business cards, examples of work you’ve done, etc. Document your work in the position as soon as possible, so you remember what it is you did (how extensively is up to you, but at least enough to flesh out your resume).

—Let your former coworkers who you’d like to keep in touch with on a professional basis know this. No need to promise them anything, but if you’d really like to stay in touch with them professionally, it’s good to put that on the table. Then make sure to follow up once you’ve gotten settled into your new job.

And now just as I’m finishing this post, I see that Alanna’s posted some suggestions on how to leave a job you hate.  A key there, as Alanna notes, is resisting the temptation to vent as you walk out the door.

Any other suggestions on how to leave a job? Things to avoid? Horror stories?

Language fellowships for graduate students…

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

…are available via FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships), a Department of Education-sponsored program that provides fellowship allocations to IHEs (institutions of higher education) to assist grad students in foreign language and area or international studies. The IHE applies for the FLAS allocation, then you the grad student apply to your IHE for a summer or year-long fellowship. Check eligibility requirements on the website and talk to your school to see if they are FLAS-enabled.

[The Department of Ed also sponsors an Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program, but it looks like this is more of an institutional foreign language instruction capacity building program than a vehicle for awarding individual grants.]

UPDATE: A September 2008 report from the Department of Ed on the effectiveness of four of its grad fellowship programs, including FLAS. A summary of points on how FLAS fellowships affected participants’ careers:

—Nearly all fellows (92 percent) worked after completing their fellowships, and a majority of fellows (71 percent) worked in jobs that involved expertise they had gained through their FLAS-supported study. Nearly all fellows who reported working in a related job considered that job to be part of a career they were pursuing.

—Among fellows who had held at least one job related to the field they had studied with FLAS support, three-quarters of fellows worked in education, one-fifth in a U.S. private sector job, and one-fifth in foreign or international jobs. About one in nine worked for the military or other Government positions.

—Of fellows who had worked for pay since completing the fellowship, 68 percent worked in a job in which teaching was a major responsibility. These fellows had taught for an average of 3 years at the time of the survey, and 86 percent of them had taught in a field related to the FLAS-supported study.

—FLAS fellows believed that FLAS was very helpful in their degree completion and at least somewhat helpful in obtaining employment in a desired field. Over one-half reported that receiving a FLAS fellowship influenced their occupation and career choices.

Friend Hillary

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Or sort of. The State Department has a careers page on Facebook, including a careers in foreign affairs group.

Hat tip: DiploPundit

The pursuit of happiness

Monday, June 8th, 2009

“Happiness, like peace or passion, comes most when it isn’t pursued,” writes Pico Iyer in a “Happy Days” dispatch from yesterday’s Times. (In a roundabout way, it’s Iyer who’s responsible for me being where I am and doing what I do: his May 2002 essay in Time on the necessity of travel was the inspiration for my graduate school application essay, which began the series of fortuitous accidents that has led me to this point. So thanks, Pico.)

Iyer’s an established journalist and travel writer now, but what does he remember of his life and career at age 29, an age I’m about to turn in a matter of days?

I’m not sure I knew the details of all these lives when I was 29, but I did begin to guess that happiness lies less in our circumstances than in what we make of them, in every sense. “There is nothing either good or bad,” I had heard in high school, from Hamlet, “but thinking makes it so.”

Iyer doesn’t ask us to take the same road or approach to life or career as he did—he only implores that we look for our peace and passion not by struggling for certainty, but rather by listening to ourselves.

America’s first global citizens

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Pollster John Zogby says that college students and young professionals are “more globally aware and less concerned about material wealth than were their predecessors.” A growing proportion are “earning less than they did in their last job,” but are happier and more spiritually fulfilled because of it:

Zogby, who is president and chief executive officer of the marketing and research firm Zogby International and has been conducting polls for more than 20 years, said college administrators should keep in mind the priorities of “America’s first global citizens” — those now 18 to 30 years old. Fifty-six percent of people in that age group, he said, have passports and have traveled abroad: “They are as likely to say they are citizens of the planet Earth as they are to say they are citizens of the United States.”

…Instead of focusing on material wealth and professional status, people in their 20s and early 30s are more likely to seek a rewarding and spiritually-fulfilling life, he said.

True, globalism and altruism are defining characteristics of the jobs and careers many young people are seeking. But are comparisons to previous generations on the points of materialism and ambition—that millenials are “less” materalistic and “more” driven by altruism in their professional life—productive, necessary, or even true?

For sure, we should recognize the desire of young professionals to be globally aware, to work past national and cultural boundaries, and to pursue careers that are fulfilling and give back in some way—these are aspirations to be encouraged. But we probably shouldn’t fawn over the inherent goodness of the millenial and his or her career choices—most millenials have good intentions, but we’re selfish too. Necessarily selfish, in my view. We may forgo a (more lucrative) career in law for a (less lucrative) career with a nonprofit, but when it comes down to it, we’re all still a little materialistic. We want to do good, yes, to serve a cause, yes; but we also want to be adequately and comfortably compensated for the good work we do. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting both.

[Note: The Chronicle article linked above is subscription only, sorry.]

Final thoughts on NAFSA

Friday, June 5th, 2009

A few last thoughts and then I think I’m done discussing last week’s NAFSA conference:

—The Irish universities reception was tamer than I expected (it’s apparently gotten pretty out of hand in the past) but was still a great time—how couldn’t it be with all you can drink Guinness, roving plates of corn beef quesidillas, and lots of happy Irish people?

—I didn’t go through nearly as many business cards as I thought I would (I was actually embarrassed at the number I brought and then had left at the end of the week). I don’t know if this is a result of exaggeration on the part of those who told me to bring a huge stack, or my general crappiness as a flesh-pressing, business-card-flinging networker.

—I saw zero celebrities in downtown LA (even before the Lakers game). I thought I saw Tom Colicchio once, but turned out it was just some bald guy.

—NAFSA is a great resource for career seekers in international education and exchange. Membership and attending both the national and regional conferences are incredibly valuable ways, I’m now convinced, of meeting people in the field and seeing the vast number of international career opportunities that exist (though I recognize that both membership and conferences are expensive). At the very least, though, take advantage of the NAFSA Career Center—it’s free and packed with good stuff.

The Interns descend…

Friday, June 5th, 2009

If you’re interning in DC this summer, try to avoid doing this.

Dangerous isn’t the same as authentic

Friday, June 5th, 2009

I’m genuinely puzzled by Nick Kristof’s bizarre column from this past Saturday’s Times. While the guiding thought behind it—that we should encourage students’ wanderlust and push them to see worlds far outside their own borders—is a good one, didn’t at least one editor read this, scratch his or her head, and consider that Kristof’s 15 tips for avoiding bandits abroad are self-indulgent and silly? And I’m generally a Kristof fan—his China writing, including his column yesterday on the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen, is top-notch. But here he is, either trying to scare travelers into being safe, or shame them into believing that if they haven’t been in a serious bus crash, roofied, or robbed at gunpoint, then they haven’t really had a true experience abroad. Either way, it’s just not productive.

I’m all for self-awareness and keeping it real when you travel—you should absolutely know into what kind of place you are stepping and how to keep yourself safe. I also agree that “authentic interactions with local cultures…enrich a journey and life.” But the kind of authentic interaction most people seek when traveling—and the kind we should probably be encouraging young people to look for—is not catching malaria and getting robbed, the kind of thing that unfortunately does happen but in which I don’t think it’s healthy to revel as deeply as Kristof seems to.

2008 ForeWord Career Books of the Year

Friday, June 5th, 2009

You’ve probably noticed the little gold seal that’s been floating in the right hand column for the last few months—proof that Working World was a finalist for the 2008 ForeWord Career Book of the Year award. Well, the awards ceremony was last Friday and, well…we didn’t win. But it was an honor just to be a finalist! I know, that’s what we’re supposed to say, but Sherry and I actually mean it. And some great books did win. For sure check them out:

First place: My So-Called Freelance Life by Michelle Goodman

Gold: My So-Called Freelance Life by Michelle Goodman

Second place: Self Marketing Power by Jeff Beals

Silver: Self Marketing Power by Jeff Beals

Third place: The Nonprofit Career Guide by Shelly Cryer

Bronze: The Nonprofit Career Guide by Shelly Cryer

Honorable mention: The Soul of a Leader by Margaret Benefiel

Honorable mention: The Soul of a Leader by Margaret Benefiel

Three international orgs in San Francisco

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

After the NAFSA conference in LA, I bounced up to San Francisco to visit with three Alliance members, all of whom are involved in international exchange in different ways. Check these three orgs out if you’re looking for international opportunities in the Bay area, or if you’re just trying to get a better feel for the kind of international work that is out there:

Camp Counselors USA, or CCUSA: Bringing foreigners to the U.S. to work as camp counselors is only one part of what they do. As official J-1 visa sponsors, CCUSA also runs Work Experience USA, a program that facilitates the State Department’s Summer Work and Travel program, on which participants come to work in the U.S. for four months during their summer holidays from college (you know those Chileans who operate the ski lifts in Vale, or those Poles who work the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach? All participants in the Summer Work and Travel Program). CCUSA also sends Americans abroard for work experiences. All told, they place about 35,000 participants in summer camps, ski areas, hotels, restaurants, and other work environments around the world.

CCUSA has a staff of around 40 or so, many of whom are young. The atmosphere around the office was laid back yet hard-working, somehow fitting (at least I thought) of their location in Sausalito (which I associate with beatnicks, though it’s mostly tourists these days).

The Institute of International Education/West Coast Center: An affiliate of the larger IIE, the West Coast Center brings international leaders from around to world to San Francisco on such programs as:

The West Coast Center has a staff of about 30 employees (again many young, all internationally-oriented) and, importantly, 20 volunteers. I talked with several of their volunteers and many of them were doing three-month stints with the organization to gain experience and contacts that would hopefully help them move into full-time international work. They emphasized that they are only “volunteers” in name, but the work they were doing was essentially that of a staffer (the regular staffers emphasized they couldn’t do it without the volunteers). The volunteers also spoke in gushing terms about the benefit of such a professional volunteer position in gaining practical career experience.

Intrax Cultural Exchange: A unique organization in that it has both for-profit and non-profit arms (CCUSA and IIE are nonprofits). Intrax is also a J-1 visa sponsor and the umbrella organization for several affiliate organizations: AYUSA Cultural Youth Exchange, the nonprofit arm, which runs State Department high school exchange programs such as the Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES); Intrax Career Development, which runs Summer Work and Travel, Intern, and Trainee programs, all of which are State Department sponsored and J-1 visa programs; and Au Pair Care, which facilitates the placement of foreign au pairs with American families.

Intrax has about 250 staff worldwide (130 or so in San Fran), (yet again) many of whom are young and all of whom are internationally oriented. While CCUSA’s office somehow fit its Sausalito location, the same can be said of Intrax fitting its downtown, Financial District location. It struck me as a smooth, well-oiled organization filled with passionate people who truly enjoy the work they do.

Is a year abroad better than just a semester? ctd. again

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Here’s something I didn’t come across during the NAFSA conference (I can’t imagine how I missed anything there…[note sarcasm due to exceedingly large scale of conference proceedings]): research reporting that “even short-term study abroad seems to lead to improvements in students’ sense of ‘global citizenship’ and their attitudes, knowledge and skills about cross-cultural issues”—especially pertinent in light of several discussions (here and here) on the topic of short-term v. long-term study abroad.

The most intriguing comment: “At least in the reflection of the participants 5, 10, 15 years down the road, profound growth can happen.” Study abroad can and often is about learning skills in the short run: language and cultural skills, regional and country specific knowledge. But the longer effects of a study abroad experience on a person’s worldview and career choices, though never the most immediate, are often the most profound.

The challenge of supervising your peers

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching high school English in northeast China was supervising my students, establishing and maintaining some kind of authority over them without succumbing to the desire to try to be their friend. Similarly, in my previous job, a significant challenge was supervising a staff of two regular employees and three students employees, all of whom were about my own age (or in one case, older). How was I to establish authority when I felt like I didn’t really have it in the first place?

Another NAFSA session I attended focused on this difficulty young professionals can face supervising our peers. It’s not easy to manage those who aren’t that much younger than us, or our own age or older. Several suggestions presented at the session for dealing with this challenge included:

  • Ask for feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask those who might know more, even if they are younger than you/those whom you supervise.
  • Seek training for a professional supervisory role.
  • You might be self-conscious of your age, but typically those whom you are supervising won’t perceive your doubt if you don’t show it. So don’t show it.
  • Many of us (as I did in China) have a tendency to want those we supervise to like us—friendliness is fine, but drawing a balance is important.  “Don’t share drinking stories,” as you aren’t there to be friends with those you are supervising.

These last two points are especially important. I found that the best way to establish authority was to project it, even if it made me uncomfortable. Eventually, however, by projecting authority, I came to believe more and more that I actually had it, and thus became more and more comfortable as a supervisor.

Should I stay or should I go now? ctd.

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

One of the many sessions I attended at the NAFSA conference was “The Young and the Restless,” a panel of young professionals discussing issues of being a young professional in international education. A rundown of a few worthwhile points from the session:

  • Establish a network of peers and mentors: this is not only beneficial for your career but also helps keep you from reinforcing a negative stereotype of millenials as know-it-alls
  • A sense of entitlement about salary will get you nowhere—”it will take you awhile to get to a decent salary in this field,” said one presenter. I agree with both of these points (unfortunately the latter is often true), but I also cringe when I hear them, as I worry that they reinforce the perception that, when you’re working in these fields (and especially for nonprofits), you’re obligated to accept the salary that’s offered, no matter how pitiful. While none of us are in this work to get rich, I would argue (and have argued, actually) that you still have every right to lobby for yourself when it comes to suitable compensation.
  • Get involved with NAFSA and other professional development opportunities. (If this NAFSA conference was any indication, associations definitely give you access to an overwhelming world of contacts and organizations and career possibilities.)
  • Multiple and diverse international experiences will give you an advantage. (Although as one presenter also noted, “‘I studied abroad and loved it!’ isn’t enough to get you a job.”)
  • Get a grad degree. (Sherry’s and my take on the necessity of getting an MA a few graphs down in this post.)

Finally, there was a lengthy discussion of “job jumping,” a conversation that’s been had here before as well. The panel brought up an ever present question for young professionals: “How long do I need to stay in any particular job?” One slightly older man in the audience made the comment that it’s better to pass up an opportunity to move to a new job in order to stay in a place 3-4 years so you’re not perceived as a job jumper. I found this to be overly simplistic and was moved to chime in with another perspective: if you’re languishing in a job that you don’t like, aren’t learning anything from, and don’t see going anywhere, there’s no reason to stay for longer just because, especially if you have a better opportunity where you can learn and move forward.

But as my friend and former grad school classmate Susie said, “Of course it all depends”—on the particular timing, the particular jobs, the particulars of your life. I like her overall assesment, though: “Sometimes you have to go with your gut and seize those open door opportunities when you find them, even if it seems risky.”

The long and winding (career) road

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

I’m back from California and digging out from the under the real work that awaited me, but have a lot on tap, mostly thoughts and reactions from the NAFSA conference in LA and my jaunt up to San Francisco. But before I try to get some of stuff down and out, one short anecdote that struck me and that encapsulates a key Working World mantra, that a career path is never straight:

This past week I was introduced to a colleague who started her career, many years ago, working with the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ New York Programs Office (located at 666 5th Avenue, 6th Floor; phone: 212-399-5750). She moved on from that position to become an illustrator for children’s books, then to be a courtroom illustrator, at first abroad and then here in the United States. She eventually moved on to work in university alumni relations. Talk about a winding (yet for her, satisfying and fulfilling) career path—and one that there’s no way she could have planned out.

Thoughts on a Spirited Discussion in San Diego

Monday, June 1st, 2009

When Mark and I were consumed with researching, writing, and polishing our prose, I never gave much thought to how we would eventually promote the book once it was published. One of the unanticipated joys of the publication of Working World for me is participating in a series of “book events” around the country. Sometimes Mark and I are together. These joint events are a lot of fun because we just continue the intergenerational dialogue we started in the book, laced with some added humor and recent experiences. We play off of each other well, and people seem to benefit from our contrasting yet complementary perspectives.

Sometimes — due to geography — I find myself doing an event solo. Despite missing Mark, I always enjoy the give and take with my audience — and their varied reactions to some of the ideas Mark and I share in the book and that I review in opening remarks that launch spirited discussions.

Last Friday was a particularly interesting occasion. Initially, my trip to San Diego was planned so I could speak at the 30th anniversary celebration of NCIV’s member organization there — the Citizen Diplomacy Council of San Diego (CDCSD). That festive event was held May 28 at the San Diego Yacht Club. CDCSD is a dynamic collection of dedicated citizen diplomats, and it was a privilege to be present in person to recognize their three decades of service to their community, our country, and to the foreign leaders whose lives they have touched and entwined with their own.

Last Friday evening, as part of CDCSD’s effort to draw more young people into their work as citizen diplomats, The Internationalists (a group designed to bring young professionals with global interests together) hosted a book event that turned into a lively discussion and a classic networking opportunity. The audience ranged from newly minted University of California, San Diego and University of San Diego grads to a Latina woman who works for Univision Radio to a Navy SEAL with experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I learned so much from each of them as I visited with them before and after the formal program.

I’m always quick to point out that we wrote Working World for idealists. Our target audience from the outset was readers who want to make a positive difference in our turbulent world. Now I am discovering how uplifting it is to interact with our readers who indeed are idealists. In this time of grim headlines and somber sound bites, it is truly heartening to interact with such impressive young people (and those seeking a mid-career change or an “encore career”) who are determined to be forces for good in this chaotic world of ours.

My thanks to Enrique, Mel, Christiana, and Eric — and all of your CDCSD colleagues for making the event such a success. The welcoming audience, the buzz in the room, the excellent questions and comments — all combined to provide inspiration and new connections.

Knowing I had a number of recent grads in my audience, I opened my remarks with a reference to Secretary of State Clinton’s commencement address at NYU (described in an earlier post—with a video— by Mark), where she said she hoped we could “harness the energy of a rising generation of citizen diplomats…My message to you today is this: Be the special envoy of your ideals…be citizen ambassadors using your personal and professional lives to forge global partnerships…”

It is a source of great satisfaction to know directly from our readers that Working World is helping them do just this.