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.

 

 

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.


If the video is not playing properly click here.

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.

5 ways to connect with alumni at networking events

If you’re a college student or recent graduate, and you’re not connecting with alumni from your college or university (or alma mater) at networking events, you’re skipping over one of the most valuable networking resources available to you.

Alumni care about helping you. You already share something in common so you’ll find it easy to strike up conversation. And most of the time, your college or university hosts networking events on campus, in the community, or even virtual networking groups/chats online. There’s no reason to sit back and observe any longer. Here are five ways to start connecting with alumni.


If the video is not playing properly click here.

Don’t be intimidated by alumni.

Alumni often have earned impressive job titles, have years of experience under their belts, and have polished their soft skills. Don’t let those things intimidate you (or at least pretend you’re not intimidated when networking with alumni). Believe in your gut that alumni want the best for you. They do. Sure, they attend alumni events to network with other alumni. They also attend alumni networking events to network with college students and to give back, to share their experience, and to mentor others.

Spend more time talking to alumni than to your fellow students.

It’s easier to chat with other college students than to launch into your elevator pitch seven times while shaking hands with alumni. It’s also probably less lucrative in terms of ROI. You’ll invest the same amount of time at the networking event talking to other students as you will talking to alumni. Why not invest that time talking to professionals who may add long-term significant value to your current or future job search?

Connect with alumni online immediately following networking events.

During your job search, if you don’t apply for job openings within 72 hours after positions are posted, your chances of being considered drop considerably. The same goes for following up after networking events. Reach out to new connections within 24 hours after networking events if possible. Send an email or invitation to connect on social media. Personalize your greeting whenever possible because at networking events, alumni meet multiple people and may not remember every college student’s name or face.

Consider asking alumni for advice or to serve as mentors.

If you meet someone and make an immediate, genuine, strong connection, don’t be afraid to invite that person for coffee and visit about the possibility of mentorship. Finding a mentor is key in the early stages of your career, and workplace mentors are not the same as career mentors. How great would it be if you could identify a career mentor while still in college? Even if you’re not sure you want to ask someone to serve as your mentor, there’s no harm in asking someone for an informational interview or running a few questions by a person who has great bits of advice to share. Be sure to meet in neutral, public locations and to arrive on time, respecting the other person’s work schedule and/or personal time.

Follow up and say thank you.

No matter what, follow up and say thank you. There’s no act of kindness too small that you should ever brush it off. Always say thank you. The same goes for following up. If you’re timely, gracious, and grateful when networking, you will rarely fail to make and maintain genuine relationships.

If you need help building your networking skills, preparing an elevator pitch, or understanding the ins and outs of mentoring or informational interviews, reach out to me for a free consultation.

Does your major really matter?

Today I presented a workshop for high school seniors about selecting a college major and career options for English majors. I provided them with a list of over 20 career options.

But most importantly, I ensured they understood this truth: which degree path you choose doesn’t matter.

I noticed many raised eyebrows at this point in the presentation, and for good reason. We’re taught all our lives to contemplate the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And later in life, during elementary and high school, we’re asked, “What are you going to study in college?” or “What are you going to major in?”

Aside from highly technical career paths, it simply doesn’t matter much which degree path you choose. Sure, it’s better to major in psychology than history if you’re interested in working as either a social worker for a private agency or for the Department of Human Services someday. Think of degree paths and majors as umbrellas. Aim to huddle under the umbrella which suits you best. If you find yourself interested in social services, pursue a degree in either criminal justice, social work, psychology, or counseling. Which one should you choose? Good grief. Just pick one. Seek wise counsel, of course, from mentors, faculty members, advisors, a career coach, career services professionals, and others, but the choice is ultimately yours.

A bachelor’s degree is a gate opener. There are very few instances when your selection of a bachelor’s degree path is going to make or break your ability to earn the right to land a job.

Even if you have worked for 20 years and want to transition into a new career field but find that your degree/major doesn’t match with your preferred line of work, don’t sweat it. Take a look at your skill set. Work with a career coach to revise your resume to highlight your skills and experience to match your preferred field. Seek volunteer or part-time experience in your preferred field.

In today’s world, employers value soft skills and experience at least as much—if not more than—they value the type of degree a candidate possesses. Hiring managers look for work experience on a resume—internships, externships, job shadowing, volunteer work, and part-time and full-time jobs. Candidates make or break the opportunity to earn interviews by their ability to write a quality resume/cover letter, to network appropriately at job fairs and during on-campus interviews, and by branding themselves online. During interviews, employers ask questions which allow candidates to showcase soft skills, including communication skills, problem-solving skills, team-building skills, and time management skills.

Today’s employers understand they’re not going to hire entry-level candidates and interns with every single qualification out of the gate. However, competition is fierce in this job market, and candidates need to showcase themselves as quick, willing learners. Employers simply don’t have time, energy, or funds to train candidates extensively.

Ultimately, just go to college. Just earn your degree. A degree is a door opener; you can always fall back on it when you find yourself unemployed and searching for work. And lastly, select a degree path you ENJOY. Life is too short to waste four or more years studying material you despise.

Need help discerning your future career path? Contact me for a free consultation.

The spirit of coaching: Paying it forward

I never set out to become a networking expert. I’ve simply always applied a few basic principles instilled in me at a young age. By my mid-twenties, I earned the title of Director of Career Development at a private liberal arts institution. Most of the other directors were in their fifties. I should have felt like a fish out of water, but I didn’t. My boss mentored me and surrounded me with great mentors, and because of his wise leadership, I learned one of the greatest truths about networking: it’s not always about what I can get from the relationship but what I can give. I am forever in debt to the dozens of higher education and recruiting professionals who answered my calls, returned my emails, and visited with me over dinner during that time. I’m still paying it forward.

11695536_10101687271446497_3658427641815678578_nSince then, I’ve worked in various fields, in both private and public sectors, in higher education and in the corporate world. Helping college students, recent graduates, and other job seekers in need of guidance take the next best steps for them in their individual career journeys still thrills me. Whether writing content for students and grads or teaching college students how to write, I still find myself circling back to the questions, “What do you want to do with your life? And how are you going to reach that goal? Do you need help to get there?”

I can’t tell you how many of my former students’ resumes and cover letters I’ve edited and how many friends, former students, and coworkers I’ve advised regarding career choices before starting this business. I don’t regret one minute of that time. I have invested in their careers; I have invested in their lives.

This is the crux of networking.

For this reason, striking out as a career coach was an easy decision.

My goal as a career coach is to offer you the same level of genuine care, consideration, and thoughtful reflection as I have shared with my students, friends, and coworkers in the past and yet to take things to a deeper level. I won’t just share thoughts with you; I’ll ask you to take actions. The goal of our time together is to work, after all.

I recently shared this networking tip of the day on LinkedIn, and I think it captures the spirit of my goal when working with clients. I certainly look forward to applying these principles when working with you.

Networking tip of the day: Do more than is asked of you on a daily basis for clients, colleagues, and supervisors. You never know when someone you’ve gone above and beyond for will do the same for you when you least expect it (and really need it). This is networking at its finest, but it only works if you suit up and show up with a high degree of ethics, passion, and kindness on a daily basis.