Business

How to stick out like a sore thumb (in style)

Warning: This post concerns some serious topics of race and gender. And it will most likely make you uncomfortable. If you’re fine with that, read on. 

In case anyone who reads my blog hasn’t noticed, I’m an African-American female.

This is 100% true, I promise. Feel free to check my profile if you’re still not sure.

And I’m a double major in economics and religious studies at a liberal arts college. And I’m a perfectionist, a social media obsessed millennial, and a fan of mystery novels.

In other words, I’m just like you! But at the same time, I’m not.

It’s not a concept that many are comfortable talking about, but if we’re being honest, being black and female makes me stick out like a sore thumb. I’m currently serving as a trustee student representative and I’m taking a high-level business econ class this semester and guess what? I am the only non-white person there. This often means that I’ll get a nearly hilarious barrage of questions related to my perception of Lafayette – because it’s presumably different? – or whenever the topic of race/ethnicity/gender/etc. gets mentioned, everyone uncomfortably shambles around, hoping to not make eye contact with me.

This originally made me feel special – I’m the only person like me in the room! Then I got really annoyed – why does it always have to be me? Then I got self-conscious – now I have to be the best because otherwise, I’ll get stereotyped! And now, I just look at it for what it is: an unfortunate, but current reality of my situation.  In many situations, I will be the odd one out. And I’m not shy about offering my opinion based on my ethnicity and gender, but I will most certainty call people out for making generalizations on who they think that I am.

I can’t be anything other than who I am. And I choose to go into the fields that I wanted because I want to be a face or a voice for people like me, and people from a variety of backgrounds. Even though 99% of the time any accolades I get will be prefaced with [the first African-American female X] I’m surprisingly comfortable with that. I’ll never claim to speak for every community that I’m a part of, and I won’t let people assume that I do (or can, really).

Oddly enough, by being an individual voice – or sore thumb – I’ve learned how damaging generalizations and dichotomies can be.  I used to think in that fashion about my own identity – still do at some points. There’s no checklist that will capture who you are completely, and I urge you to give that same leniency to others.

Until then, you can stick out like a sore thumb – just like how I do.

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Did I wear purple lipstick to a job interview?

Alternatively known as my reflections on 2013.

As your typical college student going through an existential crisis, I decided to reflect on how 2013 has gone for me. After listing out things, I’ve come to realize that 2013 was pretty rough. Lots of family and personal crises, and the first semester I was consumed by my fear of almost failing a class ( I didn’t, but that’s not the point. It’s the thought that matters). Also I still don’t have a job yet. Lame.

But, I absolutely loved 2013 and everything it brought to me. Because 2013 has been such as quintessential year of growth for me, that I feel so inspired from it. And that kind of made me re-think all of the career related lessons I’ve learned. And naturally, I want to share them all with you.

1. Never be afraid to take an unconventional path

This summer, I discovered that my grandfather had dementia. At the same time, my grandmother was going through cancer treatments. It hurt me unimaginably, and I ended up resigning from a paid internship in NY to care for him and help her. To compensate I took a virtual internship with a company that I didn’t necessarily feel connected to, and left that early due to the stress of dealing with family issues. It was incredibly stressful and chaotic, and I didn’t have any control over my life at the time. So I did what 95% of college students would do: I started a blog. I volunteered at my local library. I networked with some pretty interested and powerful contacts. I started learning Chinese vocab. I practiced coding HTML and Python on Codecademy.

And I had one of the most fulfilling summers of my life. I gained tons of skills, experience, and learned more about my personality and self. I learned that I actually kind of liked this whole programming thing. And that I love working with people more than I thought. These experiences helped me to become a more well-rounded person, and may even become influential as I fill out even more job applications.

2. Desperation is not the new black.

As mentioned in my earlier example, I’ve become a bit more comfortable with chaos. A lot more comfortable. Even though I’m not a big fan of it. Yet that level of chaos has helped me to become a lot more flexible with my attitude and opinions. And when conducting my job search, it’s helped me to be more open-ended and targeted. To elaborate, it’s allowed me to realize that my skills can transfer over to many fields, instead of pigeonholing myself while also realizing that I can’t apply to everything and hope that it sticks. I did that earlier in the semester, and surprisingly only heard back from one or two places (who would hire a financial analyst who looks miserable at the thought of working for their company? I wouldn’t).

Be segmented in your job search. Yes you can do many things, but do you want to? Allow for some chaos, but don’t rush to find just anything in the hopes that it’ll lead to a job.

3. At the same time, come up with a money making backup plan.

I wish following your dreams made money, but not always. One of my friends graduated the top of her class, but tried to find a decent writing position in NY. It took her a year, as she tirelessly interned until she found a paid position. At the same time, she could afford to stay with her family and work for no pay for over a year until she located a job. Many of us can’t. So if you’re in the latter category, figure out a backup plan for making a living until you get a substantial job. Mine is to work as a temp accountant. No joke.  Until I decide whether I want to go to grad school for econ or accounting, I have to make money at some point.

Don’t wait until the last minute for these decisions. Even if your plans are ‘become an entry-level barista at Starbucks’, good for you. Do what will further your long-term plans. I wish interning for free was an option for the masses, but until that happens, I recommend finding a decent wage and using the off hours for the job search.

4. You’ll make mistakes during your job search. Cry it out and move on.

This semester I went into an interview with a major company, walked out later on, and realized 5 hours later that one of my job descriptions had a typo. I knew that I hadn’t gotten the job anyway, but I spent three days mourning over my mistake. And it sucked. Because even though I wish I had done better, I didn’t. And sometimes you have to suck it up, prep for the next time and move on.

5. Networking is (can be) fun. Play to your strengths.

I’m a pretty introverted and shy person, so I’d rather write to a person over talk to them. But that’s not really how life works. It involves talking to a lot of people, and I’m sure we all have heard that networking is the only true way to get a job, 95% of jobs aren’t posted online, etc. I honestly have little clue whether these facts are 100% correct, but I do know that I have learned a lot from networking, and it really depends on how you approach it. I like to think of networking as writing a biography or industry profile: I’m writing a story about a person or industry, so I need to learn everything that they have to share. Approach people with a wide sense of interest and respect, and you’d be surprised on what you’ll find.

6. Take a break. Remind yourself why you are amazing.

I would’ve never gotten through the job search process if it wasn’t for my friends and family. Having people that I can sit back and talk to when things get crazy is an undeniable resource. I have to pull through for many reasons, but the strength of those I’ve surrounded myself with has helped immensely.

7. Gather all of the career-related materials you have. Learn. Study. Practice.

I’m currently reading Can I wear my nose ring to the interview? by Ellen Gordon Reeves,  Resume 101 by Quentin J. Schultze, many other career books, and perusing TIME Magazine, the Economist, and the Wall Street Journal. Why? Because there’s always room for improvement (though that may be a typical INFP thing. Not sure). It’s not that I think reading these materials will give me any incredible insight, but you never know what might come up in a job interview, networking session, or a chance meeting. When I eventually do get hired, I want to give my company my all.

Well that, and I just like reading.

What are your tips for job searching?

The Minority Millennial: Intern Extraordinaire, Part I

internship

The Life and Times of Many Interns (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Note: This is a post for everyone that has done an internship, or for those who are hoping to do one soon. 

Here’s the facts about internships:

  • Interns come in the paid and unpaid varieties. You can naturally assume which one is coveted, but even the paid ones are struggling to cover the cost of living (as not all of them pay a decent wage).
  • There’s been some debate on the legality of unpaid interns, and whether their exploitative or helpful. Due some of the legal claims, this may change the nature of unpaid internships within the next 5-10 years.
  • For most majors, internships are the new reality. The recommendation is to do 2-3 before graduating, but it depends on a lot of factors.
English: CBO interns

English: CBO interns (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So for students, finding an internship is a must. But for many, working for free is financially impossible. I completely understand, as I’m only able to do it because I’m working roughly 4 jobs every semester. For those worried about the intern squeeze, here are my top tips for you:

Set goals, set money, and make a choice

If you don’t have the money for an unpaid internship, don’t kid yourself. Look for available resources such as if your school offers stipends. There’s also INROADS for minority students looking for potential work. Many schools require internships – and you have to pay for it. Make sure you know the basics as early as possible, and then create a budget

Paid Intern? Maximize your time

You’ll hear a lot of discussion about it, but there’s little benefit to being a paid X intern at prestigious company if you’re just shuffling papers all day. Don’t be afraid to speak out to your coordinator, and ask if you can attend a marketing team meeting, take a day to observe the trading floor, or shadow the programming staff for a day. It’s great that you’re being compensated for your time, but remember that most paid internships are similar to entry level positions: they’re testing you to see if you’re a good fit for the company. Take the initiative.

Unpaid? Budget, negotiate, maximize, and power through

Under any conditions, please do NOT take an unpaid internship and stay with it if you think your time isn’t being maximize. There’s a lot of talk about not burning bridges, and many will tell you to stick with the internship for recommendations, but for those who can’t afford to provide free labor for little benefit, it’s not worth it. A mediocre recommendation from a supervisor that barely involved you within the company is of little benefit.

That said, don’t scoff at the internship immediately because it’s unpaid. I’ve had to work during all of my unpaid internships, but I can definitely attest that most of them gave me valuable skills that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else (like interviewing the head of the American Firefighters Association at a rally in Philadelphia).  But I do think that many of them can be questionable. Ultimately it’s a judgement call, and one that we have to make with little preparation.

Word of Caution: While the debate concerning unpaid interns is ongoing, I severely caution potential interns to throughly research companies, their reviews, and the corporate culture before taking on an internship. It is not worthwhile to be exploited, and protect yourself from taking on an exhausting and fruitless task by defining your goals and keeping in close contact with the media and your career center. And even then, the judgment calls will have to be on you.

Next week, I’ll post part II of the Intern Extraordinaire, giving you some more tips on finding, choosing, and surviving your internship!

The Minority Millennial’s Guide to Networking

Networking is hard, especially for the millennial generation. Unless you’re in a STEM field, you have to stretch through a lot of loops to get employers to notice you (and thousands of articles/friends/family telling you that you picked a useless major), and even those in STEM fields deal with other troubles, such as the rapid evolution of technology and outsourcing. But this is for a sub-sect of the Gen Yers, the minority millennials.

While it’s often ignored, many minorities of different racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and social groups are given less pay and less recognition. (Article of interest: http://www.thedailymuse.com/career/the-other-pay-gap-why-minorities-are-still-behind/). And while some may not find that specifically interesting, it paints a grim picture within the American economy. But still, as a Gen Y minority, we’re known for being persistent. So if you’re looking into building connections, here are a few tips.

To start off, I want you to face 3 points of reality:

  • You’re going to have to work 3 times as hard, for 1/2 the credit, and probably 1/3 the pay.
  • You may be a target of scapegoating, uncomfortable office chatter, and many other types of backlash against your very presence.
  • You may feel lonely as the only one in your speciality, or even may feel as though you have to compete against other minorities to fill a “quota.”

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about networking. Here’s a few posts by the great website the Intern Queen to get you started on the basics of networking: http://internqueen.com/blog/tag/networking, and now we can discuss how it relates to the minority experience.

1. Brave the shock, stand out, and push forward.

I’m an African American female Economics major who is also trying to learn chinese and coding in her free time. None of these things are noteworthy on their own – at least in my opinion – but attach these things to my face a *bam*, there you are. Most people as me why, or give me a look of disbelief. If I’m really lucky, I may get a few comments about how ‘intellectual’ I must be.

YouthDialogue1

YouthDialogue1 (Photo credit: International Monetary Fund)

Regardless, after they get over their shock,  most are very curious. No matter what, be sure to smile, nod, and comfortably answer their question. It may get tiring after a while, but use it as a chance to update and evolve your elevator pitch for different situations. “Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ve been used to managing my family’s tax returns for a while, and my love of economics and finance began in college when I participated in an accounting program…” 

If you’ve caught their interested, take it and run with it. Networking is about creating a memorable connection in a short amount of time, so don’t hesitate to be proactive about what a person finds unique about you.

2. It’s OK to bring up your minority related affiliations

Are you a member of the American Association of Black Accountants? The LGBTQ association? President of your International Student Association? I say leave it on the resume. It’s a tough call, and could make or break a potential application, but if you have job relevant skills as either a treasurer or PR person, I don’t see a reason to leave it off.

Think of it like this: if a company cares that much about your affiliation, would you really be comfortable working there? I have no desire to be praised or scorned for my involvement in multicultural organizations, it just reflects a part of my personality that I’m truly interested in: social justice awareness. If you’re passionate about that as well, it could be a great talking point in your interview as well. I’ve had plenty of recruiters who tend to look at my resume and like to use that as a talking point.

3. Cut bridges if you begin to feel uncomfortable

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sad to say that I’ve had a variety of things said to me by faculty, students, and coworkers regarding my race, gender, and profession. Some were mild, some we’re more colorful in nature. As much as I hate leaving any networking opportunity, it is fine to cut bridges when you feel as though a line has been crossed. It’s not your job to stay in a negative or uncomfortable environment, and I most certainly would not advise it. Take considerable time to consider your final decision, and be polite if a networker or recruiter just isn’t a good fit.

Ultimately, networking is about finding your brand. You want to be able to have a steady image that you can put forth to the public. I’m not saying that you need to make everything about your minority status, but be realistic and understand that it will come up, whether you like it or not. Accept the facts, be brave, and know your boundaries. You’ll succeed no matter what.

5 Habits of Highly Effective 20 Year Olds

Churchill College, October 2009

Churchill College, October 2009 (Photo credit: Caramdir)

I’ve already mentioned my love of Stephen Covey on this blog, and his most famous book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I think it’s a great book, and while I didn’t agree with some of his personal philosophies, it’s definitely a book that everyone should read at least once. And because I’m at the ripe age of 20, I decided that maybe there are different measures that we all should be taking. This list is geared towards college students, but I’m sure plenty of people would be happy to give it a whirl.

1. Finances are more important than grades

I know, blasphemy. But once college is over, your GPA may be a foot in the door, but all of the important things (buying/renting a house, taking out loans, purchasing investments) depend on your credit score and your managing of personal finances. Many banks offer programs to help college students manage the brand new world (for some) of finances, and if not, see if your school offers any courses on it. Your bank won’t care about your 3.9 GPA, so start building a good credit score now.

2. It’s time to be something else than the drunkest girl (or guy) at the party

You, I, nearly every college student have had those moments. And if you haven’t, congrats! You have much more common sense then me. But regardless of your class year, you’ve probably figured out the drinking scene. Some will claim mastery level, I’m sure. Take those hours and try to find out someone more productive. I have confidence you can do it.

3. Decide on your (temporary) career path

If your major doesn’t lead to a direct career path or is in a field with slow growth, plan now on how you are going to get there. Interested in being a fashion journalist but can’t find job offers? Take a job at Starbucks/Target/IHOP and volunteer or intern at a newspaper company or fashion house. I know plenty of people who took multiple unpaid internships and didn’t have at least a part time job, and complained about finances. Well, duh. Customer service isn’t a glamorous lifestyle, but neither is making $0 per year.

4. Cut the drama

You’ve probably gone through the friendship fights, downward spirals, and disappointing events. Crying on people’s shoulders and causing chaos is fun for a while, but your potential employers probably won’t be so mirthful. There’s no need for constant drama. Take that energy and network instead.

5. Know that it’s OK not to have all of the answers

Kind of funny that I’m saying this given the title of the post, but you just turned twenty (or twenty-something). While I hate when people use the excuse of being young to ignore Kristen Stewart levels of scandal, you are young. It’s OK to panic sometimes. And you don’t have to have all or any of the answers right now. You just have to keep searching. Don’t let the unknown weigh you down. Embrace it.

Factors contributing to someone's credit score...

Factors contributing to someone’s credit score, for Credit score (United States). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Intern Anomaly

The Intern Anomaly

For all of you struggling college students out there, this link gives an interesting insight into internship opportunities related to the federal government. Personally, I believe that the logic could be similarly tied to non-profit and for-profit institutions as well. I’m currently participating in a non-federal virtual summer internship at the moment, and I’ve had to critically reflect on my time as an intern, and assess the level of experience I’ve gained working as a virtual and non-virtual intern (I’m also interning at my local public library this summer). In my opinion, the quality of an internship is absolutely tied to three factors:

1) the effort an intern is willing to make in a company/institution

2) the desire of the company to educate its interns

3) the ability between both parties to evaluate and revise their current procedures if any conflicts come up

Without all three of these options, I don’t believe that an internship can successfully take place. I was lucky that with one of my internships this summer, I felt that I could carefully discuss matters with my supervisor if any issues or conflicts arose. Plus, the general experience of helping people led me to realize what I wanted to pursue in a career, and influenced my decision to apply to graduate school for library and information science.

At the same time, I believe that completing a variety of internships is the best way of figuring out exactly what you want to do. It’s a way of understanding the trials, joys, and ultimately disappointments that come with working in a professional atmosphere. While I may have done things a bit differently if my life situations had been less complicated, I believe that all students should have a mix of physical and virtual internships, especially for those of us who can’t afford to travel long distances or pursue unpaid opportunities during the summer.

What do you all think?

College, Interning, and the Abundance Mentality

Recently I’ve been rereading (more like completely finishing) Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s an incredibly amazing book and it seems to change my perspective on life every time I read it. So in case you couldn’t tell, I would wholeheartedly recommend purchasing it.

I just finished looking over Habit #4 of the public victory mentality, which deals with thinking “Win/Win or No Deal” meaning that we must use strength and empathy to come up with a decision that benefits all parties involved. If we can’t, then we will walk away from the situation entirely.

As someone who is almost ready to leave college and has mixed feelings on the institution and my time there, I wonder how much of the educational system is built upon the Abundance Mentality versus the Scarcity Mentality. To clarify, the AM is a worldview that promotes the ideas of partnership and opportunities out there for everyone. The SM focuses on the ‘there’s not enough out there for everyone’ idea, and that there are always winners and losers. One of the examples Mr. Covey gives is that only so many people can be ‘A’ students (p.219, paperback edition).

But when I thought about it, even though he uses that as a negative point, that’s relatively true in higher education. Many institutions promote the scarcity mentality, and say that there’s not enough X to go around. Whether its grades, awards, accolades, etc. there’s a distinction between the best, and every one else. To a certain extent, I don’t believe that is a bad thing. Everyone cannot get A’s in a course realistically, and many don’t do the work that merits it. Still, the education system as it is promotes antagonism and the Win/Lose mentality, and with the amount of debt college grads are piling up, its becoming increasingly hard to say whether the educational system is even worth it.

In my opinion, this is where interning comes in. I don’t really think that the Scarcity Mentality of education will ever go away, but instead of focusing on the flaws in education we can move into other situations that will serve us much longer. Interning is a great way to show how to work for yourself and your boss. You’re in a lower position (and hopefully practicing humility as well) which means that you might feel the need to go into lose/win positions, or get goaded into doing something you are uncomfortable with to appease your boss. In this situation, I really support focusing on Win/Win or No Deal, and calmly, effectively, and thoughtfully explaining to your boss what you thought your defined roles were, your goals, and what you believe their aims for you are.

This probably comes off as another one of those “college isn’t everything” posts – probably because it is – but I believe that the skills of Win/Win and the Abundance Mentality are applicable no matter what stage of life you’re in.

Cover of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effectiv...

Cover of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People