Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Preparing for Your First Year at College in Pursuit of Your Future Career Path

Now that it’s the end of April and most college-bound high school seniors know where they’re going next year, it’s a good time to start planning for what you’re going to do once you reach the campus.

Of course you’re going to register for and attend classes, check out the parties, find the best places for off-campus food, maybe even meet with your college course advisor. Yet what are you going to do about working on your path through life?

Now don’t groan. I know you’ve just finished the hassle of applying to colleges and you deserve some downtime. Yet if you do a little pre-planning before you arrive on campus, your next four years and beyond in the job market could be easier.

First, have you updated by email everyone who helped you in your college application process, especially people outside your school who wrote recommendation letters for you? These people would probably like to know where you’ll be going next year. And in the case where it’s to a school to which they wrote a recommendation letter, be sure to thank them for their part in your acceptance. This is both a polite thing to do and a good strategic move in case you want another recommendation letter from them in the future.

Second, check online to find out the location of your college’s career center. Read online what’s listed as available for freshmen. (I’m not talking about deciding your major or your career path now, I’m talking about knowing what resources are available.) And then plan to stop by the career center during freshman orientation or the first weeks of school to pick up pamphlets and other information about possible opportunities.

Third, consider in your summer plans whether you have time to explore a possible new passion or interest – something that you might want to pursue while at college and beyond. For example, your passion up to now has been music, and you’ve done a great deal in the music field. Yet you’re also interested in the subject of biology. Why not try for a short summer internship or work experience in the vast field of biology? This way, when you visit your college’s career center in the fall, you’ll have two possible areas of interest to explore.

As with many things in life, the better prepared you are the more you can expect to achieve.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Even a Simple Email Offers the Opportunity for a Positive Impression

If your most frequent communication is IMing your friends or text messaging them on your cell phone, the concept of email etiquette when sending a “professional” email might seem something you don’t have to consider. Yet, if you’re applying for an internship, a job or to college, any emails you send must be professional ones.

In fact, even the briefest of emails can tell the person on the other end a great deal about you. And you want that “great deal” to be a positive impression.

First, use spellcheck before sending any emails. And after you’ve used spellcheck, personally check for the most frequent errors that spellcheck doesn’t catch, such as their and there. Go to the Flipping Burgers website at for a list of some of these frequent errors.

Second, use correct grammar and punctuation. And, yes, the word “I” must be capitalized. (The above list also has some tips for this area of concern.)

Third, it’s probably a good idea to leave off those cute emoticons that you use with your friends.

Fourth, if your email address is not your full name, make sure you’ve included your full name at the end of the email. Do not expect an employer, for example, to remember your full name from an email you sent three weeks ago.

Fifth, be prompt in responding to a professional email. If someone offers you an interview, do not wait two days to say yes. Check your email several times a day and, as soon as you read a professional email sent to you, hit reply and write a professional response.

Sixth, say thank you. It’s always a good idea to show appreciation for getting a response, for example, to an email you sent requesting an interview.

I’m stopping here for today. There are many other points to be considered when writing a professional email. Yet, if you work on doing the six things above, you’ll be off to a good start when we next discuss this all-important topic.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Strive for a Growth Mindset When Considering New Things

A lawyer I know mentioned to me a first-year law school student that we both know. I asked how he was doing, and the lawyer replied that he didn’t take advice well.

It was obvious my friend meant that he hadn’t listened to her. So I asked why the young man hadn’t listened. Her reply was that young people think older people (she’s not that old FYI) don’t know anything.

I’ve been puzzling over this conversation for several days. It seems to me that this doesn’t make sense. Why would a first-year law school student in his search for a summer law job not take the advice of someone older who has been there/done that?

I truly believe that this is an example of a fixed mindset, which is the focus of Carol Dweck’s book MINDSET: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS. Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford, and her students encouraged her to write this book based on her years of research. The book is well-written in language easily understood by those of us not in her field of expertise.

According to Dweck, a person with a growth mindset – the opposite of a fixed mindset – eagerly tackles new experiences even if that person knows he/she may not at first be successful. A growth-mindset person understands that what’s important is the learning that takes place in trying new experiences. It’s not a question of how smart or how stupid someone is. It’s a matter of willingness to learn new things even at the risk of failing.

It is quite possible that the lawyer suggested something to the young law student that he felt uncertain about whether he could be successful. Rather than admit this concern and then add he was willing to try new things, he shrugged off the advice. It is easier for many people not to try something new because of the fear of failure. But if you have this kind of fixed mindset, you will be closing off many opportunities for learning and for success.

The next time someone offers you advice: listen carefully, make sure you understand fully, then if your immediate reaction is to ignore the advice, first carefully consider whether trying to follow this advice may seem somewhat scary. If so, consider switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset and be willing to try out new things. The person you help will be yourself.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wounded Warrior Project Offers Opportunities for Volunteering

If you’re looking for a project for which to volunteer, consider the Wounded Warrior Project, whose purpose is:

  • To raise aware and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of severely injured service men and women
  • To help severely injured service members aid and assist each other
  • To provide unique, direct programs and service to meet their needs

Right now the organization’s three-day Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride “White House to Lighthouse Challenge” is taking place.

The ride began with an address from President Bush at the White House, and the website for the Wounded Warrior Project gives this schedule for the three days:

  • On Thursday, April 24th, Soldier Ride will start at the White House, stop at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and continue to Baltimore. This day of riding is by invitation only.
  • On Friday, the ride will begin with a "support the troops" rally at Baltimore Maryland's Inner Harbor Harborplace Ampitheater at 10 am and proceed to Jonas Green Park in Annapolis. The kickoff event will honor the wounded veterans and the recently redeployed 58th Infantry Brigade of the Maryland Army National Guard.
  • On Saturday, the ride begins and ends at Jonas Green Park in Annapolis. The riders will ride through historic Annapolis, the US Naval Academy, and along the Chesapeake Bay.

On the website under “Get Involved” are many different kinds of ways to help, and volunteering can address the organization’s slogan “the greatest casualty is being forgotten.”

Wounded Warrior Project is one organization that lets severely wounded soldiers know that the general public cares about them. This project deserves to be supported – learn more at

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Before Interviewing for an Internship or Job -- Do Research on the Web

Before Interviewing for an Internship or Job -- Do Research on the Web

If you’ve answered an ad for an internship or job and then been offered an interview, you need to do research BEFORE the meeting.

Of course you probably won’t be able to research exactly what you might be doing if you got the internships or job. That kind of information will hopefully be provided at the interview.

What you can research is information about what the company does and, more importantly, if there are any possible connections to you.

By possible connections I mean the kinds of things that create rapport in an interview, because employers like to hire and work with people they like. And if there are 10 equally qualified applicants, and one applicant has a special connection to the hiring person, that applicant will probably get the position.

Let’s talk about what kinds of connections I mean. You first check out the company’s website. Yet for some reason, even though there’s cool flash animation on the site, there’s no name or information about the people running the company.

You do a Google search using the company’s name, and you find links to articles about the company. You read the articles and find out the CEO’s name.

You do another Google search of the CEO’s name. And at the same time you check out MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and any other social or professional online networks to which you belong. You may find out something very interesting, such as the CEO graduated from the same college as your parents.

This little piece of information that seems so unimportant can establish a connection between you and the hiring manager – “My parents went to the same college as the CEO” (which shows you’re interested enough in the position to do some research) – or between you and the CEO who shakes your hand after the hiring manager introduces you – “My parents went to the same college as you did” (again demonstrating an interest in the company).

Especially for young people who are very comfortable surfing the web, use all the resources at your fingertips to prepare for an interview. The better prepared you are, the better chance you have of getting the position.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Learning How to Say No Instead of Flaking

I’m experiencing what I know is a fairly typical behavior pattern for teen unpaid or paid interns. The disappearing act.

I’ve seen this pattern before. A teen applies for and gets an internship and is gung ho. Then homework piles up, or hanging out with friends becomes more important, or parents want some chores done at home.

Instead of being professional and emailing or calling the workplace and admitting the teen can’t fulfill the internship, the teen takes a powder. Doesn’t answer emails or phone calls – and just doesn’t show up. Or worse – the teen comes up with such a lame excuse that everyone knows it’s a lie.

What is it about human nature that makes people more likely to choose being a weasel or a liar rather than telling the simple truth?

If you’re a teen in a similar situation, tell the truth. Thank the person for the opportunity and explain that you can’t give the position your all at this time. Most people would rather not have an intern than have an intern who is distracted and not really “into” the position.

If you bow out gracefully, you’ve probably left with your reputation intact. If you just disappear into thin air, you risk leaving a lasting negative impression. And especially in the age of the internet, a negative impression can be broadcast far and wide.

Practice speaking up rather than keeping quiet. The reputation you save will be your own.

Be Careful What You Post on Your Blog

I often talk to young people about the importance of being sure that whatever they post on their pages on MySpace or Facebook or any other public social networking site can be seen by a prospective employer or current employer without running the risk of being passed over for a job or being fired from a job due to inappropriate internet material.

Yet, until I started reading “Blogging for Dummies” by Susannah Gardner and Shane Birley, I hadn’t thought about the risks associated with thoughtless blogging.

As I blog myself, I can see that there’s kind of a tempting feeling of security that you’re really just “writing for yourself.” The fact that anyone in the world, literally, can read what a blogger has just written for himself or herself seems to fade into the background as we’re typing away on our keyboard.

Especially for young people starting out on their path through life, it is very important to realize that anything can be taken the wrong way. I’m not saying you can’t have controversial opinions. I’m saying that it’s important to really “hear” what you’re putting out there.

And it’s even more important not to talk about other people or your workplace without permission. One of the warnings in “Blogging for Dummies” is this:

Don’t reveal trade secrets. This includes confidential information about how your employer does business that will impact revenue or reputation. If you aren’t sure whether something is bloggable, ask whether you can blog about it or run it by your boss first.”

You obviously need to be blogging when you’re not at work (unless you’re getting paid to blog). But even when blogging on your own time, you still need to be very careful of the rules regarding revealing information of any company for which you’re working.

When considering what topics are safe to blog about, the best advice is that which is good for many situations – when in doubt, don’t.

If you plan to rant and rave on your blog about having to make the coffee AGAIN at an internship, make sure that you haven’t identified the company in this post or any previous post (or future post). And, in fact, maybe forget about complaining to the world about having to make coffee – that’s a typical intern or assistant task. Better to share your thoughts about world peace – or some equally universal topic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Have the Courage to Let People Know What You’re Looking For

Most of us are brought up not to toot our own horn, as the saying goes. We’re taught that it’s not polite to “brag” about one’s accomplishments.

Unfortunately, we then allow this reasonable advice about “bragging” to be confused with the equally reasonable goal of “putting it out in the universe” when we’re looking for something specific.

What’s an example of “putting it out in the universe”? Most of us would agree it’s easy to ask a friend or even someone we just met for a referral for a good running shoe. We’re putting a request for information out in the universe with the hope of getting the answer we need.

Then why do most people tremble at the thought of saying to friends or people just met: “I’m interesting in talking with architects to learn more about their career paths. Do you know anyone who might be willing to talk with me?”

Both buying a good running shoe and talking to architects about their career paths are examples of “putting it out in the universe” and both are requests for information for oneself. Yet for most people asking about a physical product is less scary than asking for information that could help with one’s career.

In fact, when we ask people for information that can help us in our careers, we are giving those people the opportunity to feel good about themselves if they help us out. In most cases they won’t help if they don’t want to help, so you’re really not imposing on others.

Obviously, it’s important not to overdo requests of the same person. And the requests shouldn’t be outlandish. Yet if the request is in keeping with information that the other person may know, go ahead and politely ask your question. The career you help may be your own – and you could give the other person a well-being feeling of doing good.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Following My Passion – Introducing My Novel MRS. LIEUTENANT

Whenever I write about preparing for college applications, I stress that the most important activity during the high school years is to follow your passion. And by passion I mean doing something or learning to do something or learning about something that you truly love.

I coach high school students to follow their passion without worrying about the passion’s career potential. And I coach parents of high school students about facilitating the passion of their children.

For example, if a high school student wants to option a book for a possible movie, her parent does NOT say: “But, dear, you’re way too young to do this.” Instead her parent helps find out how to do this and to follow through. The knowledge learned from doing this project can be quite valuable regardless of what happens.

Another example: If a high school student wants to become a chess expert, his parent does NOT say: “But, dear, do you really think that will help get you into Harvard?” Instead his parent helps the student work on his chess game and encourages participation in local and regional chess tournaments. Again the knowledge can be extremely valuable. And, hey, Harvard may need a champion chess player the year the student applies.

Today the result of following my passion for many years is on Amazon. Almost 20 years ago two women producers optioned my story about my first weeks as a new army officer’s wife in the spring of 1970. When they couldn’t “sell” the idea, they told me I had to write a book. By the time the first draft of the book was written, the producers had moved on. And that started the many long years of rewriting and rewriting and rewriting.

Now persistence and hard work have paid off. The book was just recently a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. And I’m confident that this book is the story I’ve wanted to tell since the spring of 1970.

You can find my passion on Amazon: Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel -- enjoy!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Suggestions for How Best to Follow Your Boss’s Instructions

This sentence of career advice caught my eye: “When your boss makes requests or gives instructions, what should you do to exceed his or her expectations?” (from the book “How to Succeed in Your First Job: Tips for New College Graduates” by Elwood F. Holton III and Sharon S. Naquin).

Probably why I paid particular attention to this sentence was because a friend had just complained to me about a young person she’d hired for temp work. She said that she hired him to help her get organized in her home-based business, and he hadn’t been good at following instructions.

Thus the concept of “following instructions” got me thinking:

First, it’s important to follow instructions before exceeding expectations. While this may seem obvious, it isn’t necessarily so. If you’re so concentrated on what a good job you’re going to do, how you’re going to do even more than your boss asked for, you may actually miss doing what he or she actually did ask for.

And what if those instructions are confusing? My friend complained that her helper asked for too much clarification. But she admitted that she knew what she was referring to when she gave instructions, and he didn’t.

Thus you need to make sure you understand the instructions, yet do this in a way that doesn’t tax your boss’s patience. If, for example, your boss emails you instructions that aren’t quite clear, you can email back and say you’ll do x and y. Plus did he/she mean for you to also do z or a? This reply will show that you understood most of the instructions and you only need one piece of clarification. This is a reasonable clarification request.

This clarification strategy works the same if your boss tells you instructions. Either repeat back what he/she has said and ask for one piece of clarification. Or shoot him/her an email that outlines what you are doing per his/her request and then asking for the one piece of clarification. Whatever approach you use, if your boss gives you instructions orally, write them down immediately before you forget anything.

What if you need two pieces of clarification? Try to choose the most important clarification now for starting the project. Then you can send a follow-up email briefly reporting on your progress and asking for the additional piece of clarification. And, in fact, as you work on a project, you may discover the answer to the second question without asking your boss.

Second, once you have completed the instructions BEFORE the requested deadline, you can then contemplate exceeding the instructions – extra revenue graphs, more examples of competitors’ products, whatever.

And if you are new to the organization, you may want to check out – with a trustworthy more-seasoned colleague – your plan to exceed expectations. It may be you have a boss who wants what he/she asked for and nothing more! (The boss’s reasons for wanting nothing more could be as varied as no extra reading or no opportunity for others to be embarrassed at being upstaged.)

Know what is expected of you – and deliver the best work per your boss’s instructions. Once you’ve accomplished this in a timely fashion, you can consider going the extra mile on that project.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Maximum Effort Helps to Achieve Maximum Result

A good friend called me to report on the illustration submissions she had received for a children’s book project of hers. “I’m planning to go with the person who put in the most effort,” she said.

She went on to say that, in order not to ask for too much on spec, she had only requested the finalists to each submit one drawing each for the children’s book. Some people had submitted the one requested drawing, and several people had submitted two or three drawings. Then there was the person who submitted several drawings in different styles, complete with connecting these drawings with the book text.

My friend had already selected the illustrators whose style she liked best. Thus she already knew she liked this person’s style when he put in the most effort. She said to me, “It just goes to show that maximum effort can often win the deal.”

She and I then went on to discuss a different situation – one in which a young person we know is applying to a post-baccalaureate program. We discussed how going the extra mile in this case could also possibly cinch the deal.

My friend makes a good point. While I advocate, for example, applying to an internship that doesn’t exist and therefore there are no competitors, if there are lots of competitors, it is very important to stand out. And one way to stand out is to do more than the other applicants. In other words, clearly demonstrate by your actions that you really, really want this job or internship.

The next time you are applying for something – be it college or an internship or a job – don’t do the minimum asked for if you really want what you’re applying for. Go the extra mile – do the maximum you can do to prove your interest. You may be surprised what going the extra mile may achieve for you.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Importance of Time for Your Job and Career

There are so many things that we can’t control in life, especially when it comes to our job or career. Frequently we’re even evaluated based on things that are out of our control.

It is for this reason that things that are in our control become even more important to do right. We need to get those “did-good chips” in order to compensate for the times that things outside our control go wrong.

What’s the one thing you can control? Being on time to work.

If the company where you work starts the workday promptly at 9:00 a.m., that means you have to be there by 9:00 a.m. In fact, this means you should be at your desk a few minutes before 9 so that there’s no question you were on time.

What if you’re the kind of person who invariably misjudges time? You always think you have five more minutes at home to check Facebook or watch another YouTube video. Then you get to work to discover you’ve misjudged and you’re actually late.

The answer is to get to work early – to convince yourself that this is the “official” starting time. For example, if you have to be at your desk by 9:00, you must act every morning as if you must be there by 8:45. You can’t ever think the start time is really 9:00. You have to always think it’s really 8:45.

When you arrive at your desk at 8:50, you can’t think “I’m 10 minutes early.” You have to think “I’m five minutes late.” Because you are five minutes late on your own time schedule. Meanwhile your boss is pleased because you’re a few minutes early.

Do not assume that being a few minutes late each day goes unnoticed. It rarely does. And while no one may say anything to you about perpetual tardiness, when it comes time to assign an important project with a deadline – a project on which you might really want to work – your name might be passed over because there’s the perception that you aren’t good with deadlines (9:00 a.m. starting time is a daily deadline).

If you’re working hard to get a promotion, do not undercut your own efforts by getting a reputation as someone who doesn’t take his/her job seriously because you’re always sliding in a little late. Better a little early than a little late.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Question of Cubicle Manners: Crossing the Divider Between Cubicles

Last week a young person asked me a question: When you work in a cubicle that only has a waist-high divider, when is it appropriate to respond to something you’ve overheard?

It’s a very interesting question and the answer probably has several components.

When I started out as a journalist at college in the late 60s and then on a weekly Philadelphia newspaper in the early 70s, all our desks were crammed together. I would never have thought twice about saying something in response to what I heard the reporter at the next desk say to someone else.

Nowadays there are these dividers between desks. Does it matter if the divider is waist-high or taller? Does it matter what kind of business is being conducted? Does it matter whether the other person is having a personal conversation as opposed to a business conversation?

Or does it all come down to something much more basic – considerate manners in the workplace?

Scenario 1:

If you overhear your next-door-desk neighbor trying to find something and you know the answer, wouldn’t it be appropriate to offer the answer in a polite manner? (In other words, not shouted for everyone to hear.) It would probably be best to get up and poke your head around the entrance to the neighbor’s desk as opposed to standing up and speaking over a waist-high divider. When someone speaks from above your head when you’re seated, that can feel somewhat intimidating. If someone pokes his/her head in from the entrance to your cubicle, that’s a different feeling.

Scenario 2:

If there’s someone else in the next-door-desk cubicle and the two people are discussing their weekend plans, it’s probably not a good idea to join in about your plans. If for some reason you’d like to be included, it would be more polite to send an IM or email asking whether it would be possible to be included. Rather than putting the person on the spot by popping up or around the divider, you’ve given the other person time to consider before replying.

In fact, perhaps even in the first scenario above it would be better to IM or email the person. Yes, you’re sitting next to that person. Still, there are boundaries that should not be arbitrarily crossed.

As in many things in the workplace, it comes down to thinking about the most considerate way to do something. Just like you should give negative feedback in a positive way (no, this is not contradictory), you should join in your desk-neighbor’s business and personal life in the most civilized way possible.

Next time you’re tempted to jump up and scream “I loved that movie also!” – remember that those cubicle dividers are there for a purpose: to set up boundaries between individuals. Cross these dividers at your own risk. If you’re not careful to be considerate, the reputation you get as a meddler will be of your own doing.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Good Manners in the Workplace Needed by New College Graduates

Yesterday I began reading the book “How to Succeed in Your First Job: Tips for New College Graduates” by Elwood F. Holton III and Sharon S. Naquin.

The premise of the book is that, because new college graduates have spent the last 17 years in school, their mindset is not the mindset necessary for success in the work world. Therefore, according to the book’s authors, these new college graduates risk stumbling badly because they react to the work world as they would a school environment.

Although I’d only read the preface and first four chapters, I found myself disagreeing with the book’s premise. The specifics of college that the authors list as radically different in the work world didn’t resonate with me.

For example, the authors listed “frequent, quick and concrete feedback” in the school world compared with “infrequent and less precise feedback” in the work world. I find this the exact opposite.

In most colleges today, students get very little feedback. In a large lecture course there may be one midterm and one final. The midterm can be six to 10 weeks into a course, at which point you could be failing without knowing it. In the work world, if you mess up your first day of work in an obvious way, you hear about it immediately from colleagues if not your boss.

The more I thought about the premise of the book the more I disagreed. Even the amount of flexible time a college student has in comparison to the structured time at work (another of the book’s comparisons) can be advantageous. If a student has learned how to manage his/her own time to complete deadline projects when there’s little structure, how much more so can this same student manage his/her time in a structured environment?

So, you’re thinking, why do young people often have a hard time at first jobs after college?

Number one, I suspect these people haven’t ever had an unpaid internship – a chance to get inside a professional work environment without the accompanying expectations of already knowing what they’re doing. This is just one reason I feel so strongly about internships for teens starting in high school, continuing in college, and whenever someone wants to make a career change. Unpaid internships can be an important learning experience for young people.

Number two, in my opinion the basic problem (other than total unfamiliarity with a professional work environment) is lack of MANNERS. That’s right, I said manners. The things that parents used to teach their children in those bygone days when children weren’t so distracted by 24-hour television and music channels, the everything-always internet, and so many after-school activities that there’s not even time for a sit-down family dinner every evening.

Basic manners training could go a long ways towards helping college graduates do well in the work world. Just the simple acts of saying “please” and “thank you” to colleagues, of showing appreciation for help (rather than taking help for granted), and offering to help others could all earn good marks for a new hire. Unfortunately, basic manners have not been taught to many young people.

What’s the moral of this post? Young people graduating college this spring shouldn’t panic that their years in college haven’t prepared them for success in the work world. These young people should, instead, buy a basic manners book and try very hard to practice good manners from the moment they step inside a workplace.

If these new young hires practice good manners in the workplace, they will be much appreciated by their colleagues – and perhaps these new hires will even be an inspiration for spreading good manners throughout the entire workplace. Now imagine that!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sports Can Play a Part in College Acceptances

The April 5th Wall Street Journal had an interesting “Golf Journal” article by John Paul Newport about teen girls having a good shot at college golf scholarships.

Newport said: “….girls have better odds than boys do” (of getting college golf scholarships. “Only a third as many girls as boys play competitive golf in high school and on the junior-tournament circuits (the same gender ratio as for adults), yet there are substantially more total golf scholarships available for girls.”

Newport goes on to explain that the reason for more golf scholarships for girls is Title IX, the 1972 federal legislation mandating gender equity in college athletics. In many colleges, all-male football programs reduce the number of scholarships for boys in other sports.

Yet before any teen girls dash out to local golf courses to take up the sport, check the statistics of how good a girl has to be to get a college golf scholarship. “Unless they can regularly break 75 on 6,000-yard courses,” Newport says, “girls shouldn’t even think about applying to elite programs like those at Duke or UCLA.”

So why am I bringing up this topic if this opportunity is available for so few teen girls?

Because there are many other sports in colleges that need team members. And leaving scholarships opportunities aside, the coaches of these college sports teams may have a say in student acceptances.

Before you assume that your playing on your high school’s lacrosse team wouldn’t interest anybody, check out the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s website at to see which schools have college teams in your sport and gender. You may be surprised to learn that a college that interests you has a need for lacrosse players of your ability.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Proper Etiquette for Returning a Business Phone Call or Email

I admit I get seriously annoyed when I’m in the midst of doing a favor for someone in a business arena and that person doesn’t respond to my phone call or email for several days. (For example, someone may have asked me to make an introduction. I get the other person to agree to a brief meeting. Yet when I email the person who made the request in order to check on times for a brief meeting, I don’t hear back for days.)

One of the most basic of business etiquette rules is to reply promptly to emails or phone calls from people who are helping you. And this is so easy to do in this day and age. (I started working in a world without fax machines and self-correcting typewriters; cellphones and email would have been science fiction.)

Part of the problem of people not returning calls and emails promptly may be that they do not check their email and voicemail at least once a day. These same people may be on Facebook and IMing their friends every day, yet forget that business communications usually go through emails or phone calls.

Although some calls and emails require a higher priority and prompter response than others, here’s a good “return policy”:

If someone leaves a phone message or emails you to set up an interview, return that message/email as soon as possible after you receive it. If you’re in school or at work and can’t return the call/email until later in the day, that’s okay.

If you don’t reach the person when you return the call/email and must leave a message, then also add when is a good time for you to be reached. You could also leave your email address – spoken very clearly – on a phone message, offering it as an alternative to another return phone call.

If you’re engaged in business communications, check your voicemail and email at least once a day and then respond promptly. (If you’re going to be away from email access for several days, you might consider having an automatic reply sent to people who email you. The automatic reply would explain you’re away from email access and when you’ll be back in touch.)

First impressions are very important. You don’t want to tarnish your reputation before you’ve even met someone because you weren’t prompt to respond to your business communications.

If it’s not natural for you to check your email and voicemail every day, paste a reminder somewhere where you will see it daily. It does take several days to change a habit, so it will take time to make checking your email and voicemail a natural part of every day.

There’s a definite reward for adopting proper business communications etiquette: The person whose image you keep shiny is your own.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

If You’re a Junior in High School Now -- Don’t Panic About College Acceptances

Today The Wall Street Journal had it annual doom-and-gloom article about how low the college acceptance rates were this year at prestigious colleges and how many high school seniors didn’t get into the schools to which they applied (“Bad News U: Colleges Reject Record Numbers” by Anjali Athavaley).

Here’s a reader beware caution: You almost have to have a degree in mathematics and the mind of a copyeditor to truly understand the numbers behind the alarming headline.

Yes, the acceptance percentage rates are down at some prestigious schools. But this does NOT necessarily mean a smaller number of students has been accepted this year. These schools had higher application numbers this year, which affects the percentage of applicants accepted.

Simple math – if you accept 10% of 20,000 students applying one year, that’s 2,000 students. If you take the same 2,000 students out of a larger applicant pool of 24, 000 students, that’s only 17% of applicants accepted. BUT THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS ADMITTED TO THE FRESHMAN CLASS IS STILL THE SAME – 2,000!

The reasons applications are up so high include:

  • elimination of early decision programs at some prestigious schools
  • larger number of students graduating high school and going on to college
  • the push for students to “apply at 10 to 12 schools, with some applying to as many as 20,” according to the Journal article

This trend for students to apply to so many schools is something with which I heartily disagree. Colleges know students are applying to so many schools, and colleges have an emphasis on yield (the percentage of admitted students who actually attend a college).

This means it is vitally important for colleges to be on the lookout for which students really mean the statement “This college is my first choice” and other such college application essay statements – and which students are using computer software to insert these statements in 20 applications.

Hold on a minute! Of course, students should not put all their eggs in one basket, or even three baskets. I think students should apply to six to eight colleges in a range of “difficulty” in terms of academic level in conjunction with well-considered appreciation of what the student has to offer the university.

Yes, you heard me correctly. What a student has to offer a university and NOT what a university has to offer a student. (It goes without saying that a potential college application list should only include schools that appeal to a student on whatever his/her own list includes – location, size, public or private, etc.)

The topic of what a student has to offer a college deserves its own post. What I want to emphasize here is that students should spend their time writing persuasive applications for six to eight well-chosen colleges – rather than using the scatter-shot approach of applying to 20 colleges in the hopes that some shots will hit the marks.

The normal high school senior just does not have enough time to do a good job of persuasively applying to so many schools. He/she should put in the time “up front” to carefully choose, and then do the best job possible applying to his/her well-chosen list.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Rectify Any Negative Perceptions of You in the Workplace

I remember the moment in junior high school when I had an epiphany about my public image. Contrary to my belief that no one was talking to me, I realized that I wasn’t talking to anyone.

At that moment I determined to be the first to speak to my fellow students and to appear to look “open” to talking to others.

I wish I could say that, with my new outgoing persona, I became very popular. But that wouldn’t be the truth. I still had hair that wouldn’t rat, not very fashionable clothes, and in general wasn’t a very “cool” kid. Yet I did make friends and – all-important in those days – have other kids to sit with in the lunch room.

What does this story from long ago have to do with your career goals now? Perception. In other words, what you may think is how people perceive you may be very far from the actual truth of how they perceive you.

In my March 20th post I talked about thinking you smile at work when other people do not perceive the expression on your face as a smile.

This same disconnect between people’s perception of you and your own perception of you can cause unnecessary problems in the workplace. It’s important to be alert to signs that this disconnect is operating.

For example, let’s suppose your boss says to you that you’re never on time to work. You can’t believe this! You’re always on time. But, wait, the following morning you pay attention to figuring out how the boss might have this misconception. Lo and behold, you realize that, while you’re always at the office on time, you’re also always at the coffee machine when the clock strikes 9.

Yes, you have a problem of perception that only you can solve. In this scenario, you have two choices: Get in early enough to grab your coffee and still be at your desk at 9. Or buy coffee somewhere on the way in so that you can be at your desk at 9.

Regardless of how good a job you’re doing, if your boss has a negative perception of you, your chances for raises and career advancement will be adversely impacted.

Always make sure you’re open to finding out any disconnects between the perceptions people at work have of you and your perceptions. Then work hard to correct any negative perceptions.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Avoiding Spelling Errors on a Resume

I was reading the April 1st Wall Street Journal “Managing Your Career” column by Joanne Lublin about a 34-year-old man’s switch from the factory floor to a desk job in a different industry.

I was impressed with everything the man -- Christopher Pearsall – did during this job transition, including taking college courses and applying for a product-management internship (yes, at his age).

Then I came to this sentence in the article: “A resume sprinkled with misspelled words, however, nearly killed his candidacy.”

Lublin went on to quote Michael Harvey, the Concursive executive vice president who responded in an email to Pearsall after receiving the misspelled resume: “This is not, frankly, a good way to impresses a potential employer.’ A product management internship requires ‘an ability to check your own work before forwarding it to others.’”

As Lublin describes it, Pearsall was lucky. He “immediately sent a revised resume, letters of reference and an apologetic note reiterating his desire to join the start-up.” And this helped – Pearsall got the internship.

The point I want to make here – and the point I make in FLIPPING BURGERS – is that a resume should never, ever be sent with spelling errors. If, after using spell check again and again (especially any time you make even the slightest change to the resume), you have any concerns about your proofreading ability, have someone else check your resume.

And this procedure also goes for any professional emails or letters you send. In my book I suggest having what I call a grammar buddy. Your grammar buddy checks all your important emails, letters, etc., and you do something else for him/her in return. (Pick up the laundry, walk the dog.)

There’s one more important step – try to learn from mistakes. Instead of having a grammar buddy correct mistakes without showing you what these mistakes were, ask the person to tell you the specific mistakes being corrected.

For example, if you tend to confuse you’re (noun and verb: you are) and your (possessive, such as in your book), then keep a cheat sheet next to the computer with examples of the correct usage. Every time you type you’re or your, check the cheat sheet.

The professional image you’re (noun and verb) protecting is your (possessive) own.