Higher ed: Branding your campus

Recently, my family and I traveled across two states to the Gulf Coast to visit the beach. My daughter is still at that wonderful age of resisting the notion of “potty breaks.” Half an hour after a pit stop, she insisted on stopping again–immediately. We passed two exits, no buildings or signs indicating businesses in sight. As we neared the third exit near Goodman, Mississippi, I encouraged my husband to take the exit. We were in luck. Three miles after exiting, we came across Holmes Community College. We’d hit the jackpot.

I’ve worked at four colleges/universities as a director of career services, academic advisor, and English faculty member. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about institutions of higher education–or any educational institution, for that matter–it’s this: you can form a pretty accurate first impression within five minutes of walking on campus. How? By paying attention to the way people treat you. Let’s extend this to any place of business. How many times have you walked into a restaurant, physician’s office, or boutique and been almost immediately turned off by the lack of warmth? How many times have you walked in for a job interview and felt immediately welcomed and at ease because of the way people treated you in the parking lot, the lobby, and hallways? If this isn’t proof that interpersonal skills–soft skills–make or break an organization’s ability to earn business, I don’t know what is.

32736559_670392302152_1795969454182498304_nCampus brand = people

Immediately after driving onto campus at Holmes Community College, people–faculty, staff, and students–waved, nodded, and verbally greeted us. When we entered the student center to find a restroom, the security guard smiled and asked if we needed help, a student opened the door for me and greeted me, and a woman walked out of an office to ask if we needed assistance all within a matter of 30 seconds. The women who worked in the bookstore were equally as friendly and helpful (and I insisted on purchasing a Holmes Bulldogs t-shirt to represent their excellent soft skills and campus brand).

Losing sight of people

Too often in higher education, we’re obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses. Bigger state-of-the-art buildings. Rad new programming ideas. Next, newer, tech. More students. I get it. It’s a business, right? We’re obsessed with the bottom line. We’re bean counting, as one of my former VP’s used to say as he shook his head sadly. We’re counting beans–and I understand why–but we ought to be careful that we don’t become obsessed with numbers. If we lose sight of people, our ability to attract and retain quality employees and students wains. If we sacrifice the quality of our human resources in order to boost the quantity of our student population, our students will ultimately suffer, too. 

And remember that first impression I was talking about, the one you feel when you walk on campus, the reflection of your campus brand? That’s not something you can fake. Students are smart. If your employees are content thanks to a positive workplace culture, your students (and potential students, their family members, potential donors, and alumni) will sense it. That becomes part of your brand. The opposite is true. If your employees are disgruntled, frustrated, and showing up simply out of obligation (or worse, to continue earning a paycheck), that is your brand.

The solution

The bottom line is this: the soft skills your employees possess translate into the vibe they emanate. That vibe becomes your campus brand.

If you want to improve your campus brand, improve your workplace culture. If you want to improve your culture, take a look at your employees’ soft skills. If you’re a higher education administrator, and you want to improve your employees’ soft skills, start by taking a look at your own. 

Ready and willing to take action to improve your campus brand by seeking soft skills solutions? Reach out to me for help.

 

 

Before writing your resume, do this:

I often work with clients who want to jump right into writing a resume. I understand that desire because a resume is one of the most important tools in your job search and career development toolbox. Many clients are also skittish about spending too much time or money working with a career coach, and they assume working on their resume may be their first and final step to career success. Before you start writing your resume, make sure you’re truly ready. Don’t bypass key steps which will ensure a stronger resume.


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Before you even consider revising or creating a resume, you have to do one thing: define your career goals.

Get clear about why you’re unhappy with your current job or feeling motivated to change careers, seek a promotion, or switch jobs. If you don’t know the why, the “how” won’t help you in the end. Creating a solid resume is a pertinent part of your job search. But if you try to create a resume with no clear career direction in sight, your resume will, at best, be a generic list of your experience, qualifications, and accomplishments. It won’t include a concise professional summary because you must consider your career goals when writing a professional summary. It won’t feature keywords matching jobs you’re applying for, because you won’t know which jobs you hope to land. Because it lacks keywords and phrases matching the positions you’re applying for, you may not receive any offers for interviews because your resume will never make it past the ATS (applicant tracking system). And you’ll have to include all your experience rather than hand-picking which experiences best match the position you’re applying for.

Obviously this is a poor approach for resume writing. Instead, work with a career coach (or if you’re a college student, a career services professional on-campus) to define your career goals.

  1. In order to define your career goals, you might need to take some career assessments. Assessment tools can help clarify your interests, skills, personality type, and workplace preferences. Review your results with a career coach. Spending a few hours on career assessment can save you years of wasted time in a job you hate.
  2. Take a look at your branding efforts. Your brand is basically your reputation, both personally and professionally. How do others see you? Why not ask them? Ask three colleagues, former supervisors, fellow grads, or friends to tell you what they identify as your greatest strengths and weaknesses. Ask them what careers or jobs they imagine you would love and succeed in. This feedback—paired with your assessment results and personal reflections—can help you write an effective branding statement, bio, and elevator pitch. If you’re not a great writer, that’s okay. I have professional writing experience, and we can work on developing these pieces together.
  3. Reach out to me for a free consultation. Explain your job search snafus and career obstacles, and answer questions as honestly as possible. This brief conversation helps many of my clients to gain clarity and direction. It can also help identify which areas you need to improve most.

If you feel unclear about where you’re going—but know you don’t like where you are—taking these three steps can help point you in the right direction for you. Reach out to me to schedule a free consultation.

How to own your career journey and keep peace with your helicopter parents, too

I spoke to an incredibly bright, hard-working, promising senior in college yesterday. She told me about her summer internship with a major corporation in northwest Arkansas. She seemed excited about the possibilities of applying for graduate school and working full-time after graduation, too. With a solid GPA, plenty of leadership experience in athletics and extracurricular activities, and excellent soft skills, this girl will not have difficulty landing jobs. She’s top talent.

graduation-2276495_1280Whether you’re a college student who has it all together or not, senior year is still an exciting time full of promise if you’re completing graduation requirements and embarking on the next steps in your career journey.

One thing can really slow you down, generate drama and confusion, and inhibit your ability to make clear, strong decisions about your career, whether you’re top talent or not. And that’s a helicopter parent who refuses to stop hovering and insists on interfering in your career process.

Many helicopter parents recognize their children’s lack of soft skills—communication skills included–and inability to make decisions quickly, clearly, or easily. They want to help their children (soon-to-be adults), particularly when it’s time to choose a career path. Our world is evolving, in large part due to the role of technology, and many parents understand this and feel antsy about it. They want to help their children select a career path which provides stability, great earning potential, and solid benefits.

If you have a helicopter parent, it might not make you feel better to hear that your parents have your best intentions in mind. You probably don’t want your parents’ input regarding your career choices, the job application process, or your resume. Even if you love your parents, you may not love your parents’ opinions and steady stream of advice. You just want to own your own career process, whether you make perfect decisions or not.

Brandi Britton OfficeTeam District President
Brandi Britton, District President for OfficeTeam

Brandi Britton, OfficeTeam District President, advises college students to strike a balance when dealing with parents and to avoid shutting them out of the process completely. “It’s perfectly fine to talk through potential job opportunities with your parents. Since they have more experience, they may bring up factors you hadn’t considered.”

Britton also points out the importance of utilizing parents as valuable points of contact when networking. “Family members and others in your network can alert you to job opportunities and help set up introductory meetings with employers through connections. After all, networking still can’t be beat as a top way to get a job,” Britton notes.

Mike Caldwell, Director of Business Careers and Employer Development at William & Mary, suggests keeping parents informed but retaining ownership of the job search process. He offers three tips for college students.

Mike Caldwell
Mike Caldwell, Director of Business Careers and Employer Development at William & Mary

“1.  Inform your parents of the progress in your job search and what you’ve done to prepare. E.g. ‘I recently met with a career coach/advisor who helped me update my resume and structure my search process.’  Parents may assume you need help getting started if you don’t let them know!

2.  Ask your parents to help in specific areas which may be beneficial to your search. E.g. ‘I could really use additional networking contacts in XYZ field. Do you happen to know anyone who might be able to help?’ Your parents may have not written a resume in several years, but they may have great networking leads.

3.  For company selection, ask for input, but realize that your parents may focus on employers who are familiar or have existing name recognition. When discussing your selection process, it may be helpful to let them know a bit about the company or organization.”

Britton also reminds college students that asking parents for assistance on interviews and resumes is fine but cautions students about allowing parents to become overly involved. “Your parents can help you practice for interviews by posing questions that’ll likely be asked. Get their constructive feedback after mock interviews – how were your responses and delivery? Any parental involvement in the job search should be behind the scenes, such as using them as a second set of eyes for materials. Have your parents review your resume and cover letter for typos and to ensure you’ve highlighted key information.”

Ultimately, college students, particularly seniors, must strike out on their own and forge their own career paths. Not all career decisions will please your parents. That’s okay. We all make our own choices since we’re the ones living with the outcomes and consequences of those choices. Today’s college students have a wealth of resources available to them via career services, too. There’s no excuse for making uninformed career decisions, for not having a resume upon graduation, or for being unprepared for a job interview. Students should take full advantage of the career services office on campus, which ought to provide assistance with all this and more.

With the help of career services, faculty members, advisors, and yes—even parents and other family members—you’ll find that landing your first entry-level job after graduation and making career decisions probably isn’t as overwhelming as you thought it would be.

If you reach out to career services and don’t receive the help you were hoping to find, feel free to contact me for resume writing assistance, career development coaching, interview preparation tips, and more.

 

4 reasons you might need a career coach

We live in a contradictory world. An interview with a woman who constructed her entire home DIY-style via YouTube instruction went viral recently. On the other hand, many of us hire experts to take care of our every need and desire, ranging from preventing our wrinkles by injecting Botox into our foreheads to varnishing our toenails to scrubbing our toilets and changing the oil in our vehicles.

The exhausted, overworked, “I just want to zone out, watch countless episodes of my favorite show, and consume a pint of ice cream” feels relieved when we learn that career coaches exist. The proud “I think I took a course about this in college or at least read an article about it online” part of us frowns upon the notion of hiring an expert to walk us through any part of the career planning or job search process.

You’ll have to decide which part of you ultimately wins out, but I’ll respond to four of the most common myths and hesitations you might have about working with a career coach. I think you’ll find there are at least four solid reasons here why you should consider working with a career coach.


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Myth #1: It’s way too expensive to hire a career coach.

You might be right. And you might be wrong. It depends on a number of factors, including the specific career coach you hire, how many hours the coach spends working with you, your level of experience, the variety of services provided, and even where you live. As the saying goes, it’s never safe to assume; you run the risk of… well, you know the rest.

Do a little research instead. Check out at least three career coaches’ websites. Request free consultations. You will likely find that their pricing models vary, sometimes vastly, and their services may be similar or quite different. Chances are, you’ll find a career coach with a very logical, affordable pricing model. You need to find a coach whose qualifications, services, and pricing model work for YOU; you also need to work with someone who feels like a fit. Even if you work with someone remotely (via phone, Skype, or email), you will interact with your coach quite a bit. Never work with someone who makes you feel rushed, judged, unimportant, or uncomfortable, even if the price is right.

Myth #2: You already know everything about job searching or have your future career mapped out. There’s really no need to hire a career coach.

You’ve taken personality and skills inventories. You’ve mapped out your career plan. You’ve determined which companies to apply for and updated your resume. You have already created a LinkedIn profile. What else is there? You have no need to hire a career coach. You even read articles regularly posted on The Muse site. You might as well brand yourself with the hashtag #careerexpert.

While that may seem laughable to some, it’s not a far cry from how many of you feel. It’s okay; stay with me. There’s beauty in recognizing you don’t know everything you think you know. If you work with a career coach, you might find that the resume you recently updated and have proudly paraded around is, in fact, sorely lacking in its ability to sell you to potential employers. A career coach has expertise in interviews and can prepare you to not just answer standard interview questions but to also tailor your responses when preparing to interview for specific positions (hopefully when interviewing for your dream job). And a great career coach—one without a gigantic ego—will refer you to another expert if she sees you need help with a specific issue outside of her coaching expertise.

There are so many genuinely legitimate reasons to work with a career coach even if you believe you don’t need help. Most of the people who believe they don’t need help are the people who need it most.

Myth #3: You’re satisfied with your current job or career field.

Why would you consider hiring a career coach if you’re happy where you are?

Even if you have no intentions of changing jobs, working with a career coach to improve your workplace communication skills, conflict prevention and resolution skills, or writing skills can significantly improve your work performance, time management skills, and team effectiveness.  While you’re happy now, you’re never promised tomorrow. How many times do we read stories of companies closing their doors unexpectedly or of giving employees nothing but the minimum number of days’ notice before shutting their doors?

In addition, it’s great to be prepared for fabulous opportunities for promotion within your company or organization. Right now, many Baby Boomers are retiring, leaving vacant upper-level positions. Who’s going to fill their shoes? You are, if you’re prepared to apply and have your ducks in a row. You need a polished resume, a great cover letter you can tailor as needed, and solid interview skills. You need to brand yourself well right now; ideally, you shouldn’t wait to establish your social media presence when you begin searching for jobs. And if you aren’t already building a professional network in the workplace and beyond, get busy. If any of this gives you pause or intimidates you, reach out to me for help.

Myth #4: You’re a high school or college student. You have free help available, so why would you hire a career coach?

This myth is the closest to a truth of the four in this article/video. In fact, at least 8 times out of 10, I find that students who come to me for help don’t need my help or the help of another career coach because they can receive adequate assistance through high school or college counselors or career services professionals if they’ll only ask for it.

There are always exceptions, but I encourage students to start by reaching out to the professionals closest to them. I worked in career services at two institutions in the past; I believe career services is highly beneficial to most students in most cases, and I’m a huge advocate obviously.

If you’re currently enrolled in school, reach out to professionals on campus for assistance. This help is included in the price of tuition. It’s not actually free. You’re paying for it. If you’re receiving a scholarship, grant, or loans, someone is paying for it, or you’ll be paying for it eventually. Take advantage of the benefits available to you before paying someone to provide you with similar services. While working with a career coach isn’t the same, I personally don’t feel it’s ethical—as a career coach—to work with you without asking you if you’ve given career services a chance. If you’ve reached out to career services or counselors and have been disappointed in the help they provided, come back to me, and I’ll be glad to help.

Do you have more questions about whether career coaching is right for you? Request a free consultation and let me answer your questions.

Resume templates: Just say no (and why)

I recently read an article explaining why using resume templates is a bad idea. At the end of the article, the expert quoted in the article admits that most resume writers use templates themselves and that “they’re not starting with a blank sheet of paper every time.”

This depends on the resume writer, I suppose, but I must protest!

resume blog for career coach bethany
Photo by Pixabay.com

Let me explain my own resume writing process and the rationale behind the old school approach I take to resume writing.

First of all, I believe in helping people write resumes. I do not write resumes for people—I write resumes with clients. As a career coach and as a former faculty member and career development director, I believe in helping clients create documents they can send to employers as honest representations of themselves. If I do all the work and 100% of the writing myself, I don’t believe the end products (resumes and cover letters) are honest representations of my clients. For this reason, I work closely with clients to create well-written documents (that’s where my expertise as a professional writer comes in). The end products reflect my clients, featuring their own unique voice and tone. I probably spend more time with clients than the average resume writer or career coach during the resume writing process, and that’s okay with me.

When you need help with your resume, you contact me. Most of you already have a draft of a resume or an existing resume on hand. You send it to me to review, and we begin working to create something much better together. In this case we’re not starting with a blank page, but we’re not starting with a template either.

Let’s say you have absolutely nothing created and that you’ve never drafted a resume in your life. We would literally start with a blank page, but I’d ask you to gather documentation to help me understand your work history, your educational background, and other key components to help us create a killer resume.

I want to be clear that when I say “killer resume,” I’m referring to the CONTENT of your resume, not to any fancy design elements. Resumes are not meant to be pretty or graphically impressive. They should be streamlined and easy for recruiters and hiring managers to read. After all, the average recruiter spends about six seconds reviewing your resume. Your resume layout should be ATS (applicant tracking system) compatible. If it’s not, you will not likely receive many interview offers.

At no point in time would I suggest that any job seeker—whether a college student, entry-level candidate, or executive-level candidate—use a resume template. Not only will templates reduce the likelihood of ATS compatibility, but they will also reduce the odds of your resume standing out from the stack of resumes on the recruiter’s desk. How many candidates do you think used the same template, including the same suggestions for wording? In addition, editing resumes created in templates is almost always clunky and time-consuming.

Your resume is the key which opens the door to potential job opportunities. If you’re using the wrong key, you can try as many doors as you like, but you won’t make it into the lobby for the next phase of the process—job interviews—if recruiters don’t respond well to your resume.

Let’s get to work on your first step toward success.

Need help editing or creating your own resume or cover letter? Reach out to Bethany for assistance or to ask questions about how career coaching might help you.