Basic Rules of Civil Communication

Starting in 1971, we spent 18 months in Thailand. My parents decided they wanted an adventure, so they took three kids and traveled half way around the world for my father to become the Deputy Director of Peace Corps in Thailand. I was 8 years old and my little brother and sister were 7 and 4. We stayed in the Indra Hotel for over five weeks waiting for our household goods to arrive. Some memories fade, others stick around.

There was a baby elephant tied up in front of one of the luxury hotels to attract tourists. Took-tooks careened around corners on three wheels weaving in and out of traffic. A driver was assigned to us, because no foreigner wanted to brave the road rules in Bangkok. The Saturday-Sunday market was one of my most memorable spots.

Each weekend the poles and weatherworn pieces of material were erected over individual vendors to cover their goods and provide a bit of protection from the intense sun. As we wandered through the marketplace, people would stop to stroke my little sister’s pale skin and note her blue-green eyes. The cacophony of tonal Thai bombarded us on top of the honking cars and the noises from loose livestock. Once in the market, each direction you turned filled your eyes, nose and ears…pig snouts displayed, slaughtered chickens tied together at the throats-three to a bundle, shiny tin animals ornately pressed, and hollow, heavy jeweled decorative plates, and the puppies. Live ones.

Our driver told us that we shouldn’t bargain unless we were truly interested in buying. Most prices were instantly raised at the sight of our white “Pharang” skin. We couldn’t hide our foreignness, but we were advised to bargain the price down to half. The driver told us it was an insult if we didn’t bargain, even if we thought the original price was dirt cheap.

Vietnamese ate dog, not Thais, at least that’s what I remember being told. We each left with a hollow tin animal and I was so excited about my bejeweled dragon. But the prize purchase of the day was actually alive. That afternoon we smuggled a small cocker spaniel looking puppy, in an antique brass bucket, back to the Indra hotel suite.

The puppy stayed in the bathroom, and the entire cleaning staff colluded with us. Duchess Lady, as my sister & brother named her, proceeded to explode everywhere. Worms was declared the cause, and after several weeks of treatments, the explosions and smell disappeared.

The dog return home to the US with us after our school year finished. Our time in Thailand was cut short. But the lesson that our driver taught us, stayed longer,

“Don’t negotiate unless you are buying, it’s about respect.”

Recently, I worked with a client to identify a director for their research operations. We identified several potential candidates and they picked two to interview. They liked them both so much that we were asked to do references to help them decide. In the end they went with the candidate who was less costly only to find hidden obstacles. For the first time in many years, this candidate refused to be transparent with us and share their present compensation information. I’m direct with my clients, the companies, and with the professionals that I work with, but this person was not. Their references were excellent so I tried to put my concerns aside.

My mistake. 

The candidate decided they felt more comfortable negotiating directly and proceeded to push not once, but twice, and then turned the position down. Before I work with anyone, I normally share two things,

“My fees are paid by my clients-the companies, and my fees are based on the salary you receive, so there is a relationship there”.

This search was a favor to a client and different from most of my searches. To the best of our ability, we estimated this person was earning around 90-100K, the offer came in around 125K. I typically recommend that a 10-15% increase on the base is an excellent offer. If you stay put with your firm a COLA (2-3%) raise or one based on merit (5-7%) are lower. The company liked the candidate. After the candidate said they wanted more, they decided to act in good faith and raised the base to 130K. In the end, the candidate wasted everyone’s time by negotiating not once but twice and didn’t accept anything. This person may have even used the offer to leverage a counteroffer at their current firm. Counteroffers are a whole other topic.

This story is not unusual. 

Regardless, it made me wonder where common courtesy and professionalism begins and ends in present times. You hear people talk about applying to jobs online and not hearing anything back, ever. Other professionals complete an interview and then don’t hear a word. No note about if they got the job, or someone else was hired, or even an acknowledgement of their thank you note. I’ve prepared a candidate for an interview only to get feedback that they didn’t even know the basics about the role and came in khakis and sweater rather than a suit and tie. You leave a message or send an email, but don’t receive a response. These are all actual behaviors I have witnessed or stories that have been shared with me.

Are these acceptable behaviors?

Is this behavior indicative of the modern technological age? Is there too much information coming at each of us all the time and does this make us become numb? Is there a way for us as professionals and companies to retain our sense of compassion and treat people who come in contact with us through work with respect? Phone calls, emails, FaceBook, texts, LinkedIn, Snapchats, Tweets, IMing, and Instagram…so many ways to communicate and not enough time. Is there a way to limit communication, still get the information to each valued stakeholder, and accomplish daily tasks? Plus, can our messages be expressed or delivered in respectful ways? Appropriate behavior between genders requires another entire discussion but it is a part of the conversation about communication.

I’d say modernity is wonderful, each generation builds upon the previous one. Cures are found, technological advances are made. We have found that new ways don’t always make the old ways obsolete. Many times there’s room for old and new-like streaming music through a bluetooth speaker, and hearing the scratch of a needle as it touches down on vinyl. It doesn’t have to be either or. An email/text can be short, direct and to the point, but sometimes a phone call or a face to face meeting can really clarify the message.

Setting respectful boundaries for communication and professional interactions is imperative.

I pick the most widely used mode of communication to reach the audience I need to get my job done. I can’t be on all of social media all the time, I don’t have the bandwidth. I communicate on the major ones so that I can reach multiple generations. Then I retain the common courtesy from the days of chivalry, or the advice from Ms Manners, and despite technology, I respond to each phone call, each email, and most texts, with honest clear answers. It’s time to remember what basic respectful behavior looks like and act accordingly.

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Make Quality Career Choices

We can do all the right things… study, get a job, work hard, and still be dissatisfied. Many of us go on autopilot and wake up 20 years later wondering where all the time went. If you pause and reflect, you can change your career trajectory by becoming an active participant on your journey. Or you can take it to the next level by having a career conversation with a professional. Dare to share your hopes, dreams, and dissatisfactions. Brainstorm and don’t judge. Include all and any ideas about skills, interests, passions, and priorities. Think about which ones exist in your life presently (personally and professionally) and which ones you’d like to add or drop. This is where we start our exploration, by building a list without judgement of our interests and abilities, and finding where they overlap with how we can earn a living.

This limbo-land can also mire us down at any point of our career; beginning, middle or end. Recently, my daughter was at a crossroads with her nascent career; either go back to school and stick with a job that wasn’t ideal, or to find something totally different. It’s hard to find the path when we have so many different interests, skills, and desires. We discussed the situation and I agreed to hire a career coach for her. We picked someone that was working with one of her friends because we thought it would be a good match. What we didn’t think about is that each coach has a different style and different way of approaching careers.

Here are some thoughts about being proactive in designing your own career pathway and how a coach or counselor could impact you in a positive way.

SELECTION

How to best identify your own work/life priorities, and how to find the best possible guide to reach this goal made me to think about other coaches I had worked with in the past. I thought about who I clicked with and who I didn’t. When you select a career navigator, it is a very personal thing. You don’t want a spineless “yes” person, but you do need to find someone who has a compatible style to yours. Someone simpatico, but willing to challenge you. Definitely compare expectations in advance. A career change can be a very emotional experience. If you explore your career choice options with a rational approach but consider emotional factors too, the right guide can help you reach a point of clarity that can be very rewarding.

Ask questions of yourself:

What are you looking to get out of the coaching?

Are you seeking a traditional career path?

Do you want to identify alternative career options?

Are you seeking a consulting gig or a longer term commitment?

Ask questions of the coach:

What types of clients does the coach work with typically?

Do you specialize in an industry?

Are your clients newly entering the workplace or heading towards retirement?

Is there a curriculum, structure, or program you offer?

Do you have open-ended sessions?

The more communication there is up front, the more satisfaction there will be with the outcome.

EVALUATION & ACTION

Many people have never spoken to a therapist or a career coach. This isn’t good or bad, as some people like to noodle through ideas on their own. Other people like to bounce ideas off friends or colleagues. I’d suggest that working with a career advisor or navigator can help you reflect on more choices, learn new skills, and explore different approaches. Personally, I would say that having another perspective to brainstorm ideas can increase the odds of positive outcomes.

Definitely take time to jot down ideas about what your skills and interests over several days or weeks. Digest the lists, and then split them into personal and professional preferences. Next, narrow down the top 3 to 5 preferences in each category. Rank them in order of strength or interest. Let these ideas come together and be a gauge as you consider various options. This may seem simple but sometimes you can get stuck and make this more complicated. I have helped countless people sort through the noise or the tangle of thoughts to see that there are several common themes, skills, or interests.

GATHER MORE INFORMATION

Come back to the list of interests and skills to review it multiple times. Then go out and collect more data. Start with informational interviews. Yes, you can Google to find out lots of details about companies, professions, and people in the professional world. Regardless, nothing beats meeting with a real human being. Informational interviews are the first step where you learn about what options exist out there. These types of interviews help you build your network, and eventually can lead to a job or career change. Each time you meet someone new, you gather more information and different perspectives. This can help you recalibrate your list of personal and professional priorities. It can also ground you in reality about what options exist. Or if they don’t exist, can you create them? Is there space in the market and/or do you prefer something outside the traditional 9 to 5?

EVALUATE YOUR OPTIONS

Check each opportunity you learn about to see if it has the various components listed on your priority list. Here are examples of possible areas of interest:

Will it feed your creativity?

Does it let you mentor people?

Can you use your tech skills?

Are you able to continue to learn?

What’s important to you will be different from what’s important to me. Be honest with yourself. Remember as you learn and grow, your list can evolve too. Each opportunity will include some of your priorities and preferences. Our goal is to evaluate each option to see how closely it comes to meeting our overall goals. If you keep this in mind you won’t get as distracted, take a job for the sake of having a job, or put yourself in a situation that is less than ideal.

There’s a quantitative way of looking at this process; you need to gather data and make statistical comparisons. There’s also a qualitative part of career exploration. After you have done the math, you then need to use the intuitive side of your brain. You need to trust your gut, because there are intangibles that help us make decisions. Go back regularly and check your personal and professional priorities; your level of satisfaction on your next job will increase exponentially if you keep these in mind. There’s no right or wrong way, just what’s best for you. Remember, we are looking to find the sweet spot in the Venn diagram where our interests, our skills, and our ability to make a living intersect.

Communicate Your Creds

The Merriam Webster dictionary definition of a résumé is short, or “a summary”. The origins of the word are French and date from the early 19th century. Humans have been creating résumés or “Curriculum Vitas” (CV) for hundreds of years. Like music, the notes have all been played before, but the way you put them together is key to how you build a powerful, useful tool for yourself.

If you Google to find rules, a format, or a sample of a résumé, you will get gobs of information. There are thousands of résumé writers, coaches, and books about the subject. There are lots of good resources out there, and if you ask four people, you will get four different opinions on what and how to present information. It’s one of the topics that I receive the most questions about during the process of identifying the next opportunity. The reality is that it’s a piece of paper that is supposed to summarize who we are. How is it even possible to sum up, in words, paper, or electronically, the essence of who we are?

Remember that the purpose of a résumé is to share a summary of your many talents with a potential employer, but the true goal is to make the person reading your resume WANT TO MEET YOU! We are not striving for a perfect résumé, but to translate or share enough of our essence to get an audience. I’d like to propose that we remind ourselves of why we create a résumé (to earn an interview) and then concentrate on how we create a résumé (best summary of our skills) that is focused on the basics.

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS

I suggest creating a core resume that is all inclusive. Regularly add to this document; additional roles, increased responsibilities, ongoing training, publications, presentations, and extracurriculars. Keep it up-to-date. Think of a core resume as your portfolio. The next step is to tailor it. It’s your responsibility to craft a document for your specific audience. A résumé is the first item that introduces you to a potential employer, but along with it goes an email or cover letter.  The content matters as much as the presentation. Trust me… they are looking at your format, your ability to write and express ideas, and your attention to detail. Your resume is a tool to gain an interview so you can deliver a marketing presentation of yourself, face-to-face.

How creative you are, what format you choose, what information you share; all are personal choices. Be consistent whatever you choose. The core stays the same. You can customize your résumé for your audience each time you use it. This means selecting the items from the all inclusive résumé that are going to appeal the most to your potential employer. Don’t combine too many ideas or make the resume so busy that it detracts from the content.

KEY CONCEPTS

Pick one style, keep it simple, and stick with it-check your entire document for consistency. Bold the same things, italicize the same things, layout the same format, but don’t use all the “bling” at one time because it can overwhelm. Remember, be consistent. I’m going to repeat this again and again. Be consistent. Neither of these examples below are wrong, but all the positions must be presented in the same way throughout the document.

Account Executive

RRLLC, McLean, Virginia

January 2010 – present

or

Account Executive Jan 2010 – present

RRLLC, Mclean, VA

Present the information in powerful ways, traditionally in third person. Boring doesn’t get you an interview. “Show, don’t tell” is key. Use a strong opening statement that shares skills, describes accomplishments, and translates how you add value to an organization.

20 year market research executive with a proven track record of successes

or

Innovative 20 year market research leader who’s deep industry knowledge has successfully attracted and retained clients.

Clearly present the facts with powerful details that express the depth and breadth of your experience – quantify and qualify any information you present. Pick a paragraph or use bullets (I prefer bullets).

Managed 7 staff members.

or

  • Hired, trained, and managed 7 professionals with a 80% retention rate over a five year period.

Proof your work.  Make sure to check grammar or for spelling errors and typos. If this isn’t your forté, find someone who can help. Content is important, but your presentation matters too. Most of your tasks on your resume were completed in the past, so make sure to use past tense. If you are presently in your job, that is the only description that will be in the present tense. Be specific and share details.

Lead teams on a variety of successful projects for a client.

or

Led teams of five on simultaneous business analytic projects that were delivered on time, within budget, and client requested additional work.  

STRONGLY SUGGESTED

Include pertinent information in the resume. The opening statement is important. Highlights or a showcase of special skills can be valuable. Descriptive powerful statements about your roles, responsibilities, and accomplishments is crucial. Skills, certificates, licenses, education, continued training, memberships, or extra curricular activities add impact. If the item adds depth or demonstrates an additional dimension to your candidacy, include it.

Another way to increase your chances of that in-person meeting are to allow the reader to connect with you. The prescreen person needs to be able to see you have the skills and abilities to do the tasks, and it’s a plus if they can relate to you too. The rule of thumb has been if you have under seven years of experience, stick to a one pager. After that, try and keep it short but you can have a two to three pager. Professionals in more research or academic worlds often use a longer style or the CV format. It will never be perfect, but good enough is what you want. The true test is if you get results: interviews. Do your best or get help from someone who can. Then get out there and start the conversations.

We have about 30 seconds to capture someone’s attention, use it wisely.

Networking is a Necessity

In 1992 I moved, as a young mother and dependent spouse, to Guatemala City the capital of Guatemala in Central America. I tell you these details because I was asked a lot of questions before we relocated. Where is it? What language do they speak there? Why do you want to leave the US? I still remember the sound of the 3 year olds voices, and the reverberations of their feet as they jumped around the 40 foot container that pulled up in front of our apartment building about six weeks before departure. My son’s pre-school class took a field trip to see what our moving container looked like as a way to say good-bye and understand what moving meant. I’d taken seven years of French and studied for a semester in Brussels, so wasn’t quite prepared for a Spanish speaking country. Some days I’d pinch myself to see if this was really going to happen. Other days I wondered why we were doing this. Bottom line, I wanted to get out of the horrible economic situation of the late 90s, and I wanted my kids to have a cross cultural experience.

The five and half years we spent in Guatemala City were formative. I arrived with a 14 month old and a 2.5 year old. They mastered Spanish in about six months, I took quite a bit longer to adjust to my new home. I didn’t know enough to pack my toolbox with my career skills. I hadn’t given much thought to how my knowledge of talent acquisition might enable me to work in another country. Things started gradually. First, I had a crash language course. Next, our belongings finally arrived and then we moved from temporary housing. As we got settled, the kids entered school. Then I was able to pick my head up and consider my options.

With five years of headhunting under my belt and a four year degree, I wasn’t sure what I could do in a country where we didn’t have a bi-lateral work agreement. It turned out my years of playing soccer and attending a summer camp were my first skills to be used in the new place. I started a summer camp for American kids who were on the opposite school schedule to their peers. Eventually we started girls soccer teams in the middle and high school for the American school. It caught on in several of the major private schools. I coached and helped organize the first Central American girls soccer tournament amongst American Schools. This was contract work and my second taste of entrepreneurism.

It was a random call from a Peace Corps Volunteer while I visited my spouse’s office that changed everything. He wasn’t available to talk, so I took the call. This conversation led to several others. Eventually I was referred to the Deputy Director In-Country and we started to discuss a three day workshop for the volunteers. The goals of the workshop would be to bring closure to their 2.5 years of service and help them think about how to re-enter the workforce in the US. I leveraged my 5 years of experience as an executive recruiter to develop the various pieces of the three day workshop. Did I have any previous experience as a workshop facilitator? No. I had recruited and trained people to work on my teams, and trained to be a camp counselor. Plus, I had knowledge of the US business world, but formally I did not have direct experience.

I just did it.

Five years later, I had run 3 weekend workshops per year, plus started a full semester class at one of the private universities. These workshops became the back bone of my training and coaching in the US. One in particular struck a chord with the Peace Corps Volunteers, it was about building networks. They felt very cut off and back then the internet was just coming onto the scene.

Often I’d hear a volunteer say, I built effective wood burning stoves to stop deforestation of the Guatemalan forest, how does this have value in the US? 

Or another volunteer might share that they built latrines to reduce the contamination of the water supply and reduce water borne disease. Why would they care about this in the US?

Los Tres Anillos workshop was born. The Three Rings.

The term referred to the rings of influence that surround each of us. Some are more obvious and easy to tap, others are harder to build. Returning to the US, the volunteers had to revive their existing networks and needed to be taught how to do this. I had to teach them the skills to build a powerful story and to realize they had the responsibility to translate their experiences into terms others would understand.

The volunteers thought they had it tough, but I have seen other populations have even bigger obstacles to overcome. The refugee, immigrant and American born women-entrepreneurs-to-be that I delivered these workshops to for Empowered Women International, worried about the same thing. They weren’t sure how to translate what they had done elsewhere into something that would be valued or understood in the US economy. Plus, they didn’t have networks to revive or fall back on, they had to build from scratch.

BUILDING LOS TRES ANILLOS

Los Tres Anillos starts with you. Each person has family and friends in their inner circle. Each of these different members have different educations, different professions and different spheres of influence. It’s much easier to start these kinds of discussions with people we know and hopefully will want to help. Begin a conversation with family and friends by letting them know you are trying to learn about what kinds of professions, companies, and options exist. By creating this list you can then reach out to them for informational interviews or conversations.

 WHY BUILD THE RINGS

The goal is to learn about the person, their role, but also more broadly about their field, and where they think the economy is strongest. Practice and share some of your experiences that you have translated into what you feel are valuable skills in today’s market. See if they agree or if you need to retool the statements. Ask if they can refer you to others who might be interested to speak with about what you have discussed. Sometimes, you have to make suggestions to help trigger ideas about who they might know; former colleagues, classmates, etc. Start recording who you have had conversations with and the outcomes in a tracking tool.

Take this exercise seriously. This doesn’t mean don’t be yourself, but do prepare for the meeting like it is an interview. Follow up with a thank you note, post conversation.  Make sure you add any suggested contacts to your tracking sheet. Keep notes and schedule follow up on whatever calendar you use regularly.

SECOND RING

Once you’ve exhausted the inner family and friends circle, the next ring is still people you know. Colleagues, classmates, and people you know through professional channels. This ring should be easy enough as well. You have an existing relationship or connection with each person. Don’t be concerned if you haven’t been in touch for awhile, reach out and let people decide if they are willing to help. Remember, it takes several attempts to connect. Don’t be a pest, but you will need to be persistent.

THIRD RING

The third ring is the one where you are building a relationship without a previous knowledge of the contact. Before the internet this was much harder. With the availability of information from Google or other engines, you can find almost anything with a keyword search.  Through professional networks like LinkedIn, association membership, reading business papers, you can gather information about almost anyone or any company. This requires a different kind of effort from the other circles, but with research you can create potential links to almost anyone. There are no cold calls anymore. I’d call them warm informed connections.

Networking is imperative to find the right opportunity. During these discussions, you will learn about opportunities or roles that you may not even know existed. It’s a wonderful time to gather information about requirements, skills, and education needed for an industry or specific role. You can start learning the jargon of a sector. Gather details about what industries are strong or skills that are in higher demand. A network can lead to many things, internships, jobs, referrals, and more. Even though you may think you don’t have one, don’t give up! You can build one-all it takes is effort.

Work got you down?

I’ve received several calls with requests for conversations lately. Once I scheduled the calls, there was a commonality to what was voiced. I recently participated in a series of interviews for a non profit (I’m on the board) where I heard similar stories. Each person voiced, in a slightly different way, a discontent or lack of connection to their work or a feeling that what they were doing lacked value or meaning.

Often the statement about, a feeling of emptiness or exhaustion at the thought of waking up and going to work in the morning, would be followed by,

“I work with really great people.”

“My company has taken great care of me.”

“I’m good at what I do and enjoy it.”

I recognized the pattern and the problem because I had faced it several years ago.

As a recruiter for over 25 years, my role has evolved but really not changed much. My title or responsibilities haven’t really shifted. Yes, I have been more involved with training and mentoring. Plus, I have been more of a rainmaker and brought in clients so other colleagues could work on my projects with me. In my business, it’s the depth of the relationships with clients and candidates, along with knowledge of the sector that deepen, rather than a ladder to climb.

About ten years ago I hit a wall. I was stuck. Getting motivated in the morning was tough, picking up the phone or opening my email, even harder. Big time doldrums. To keep myself focused I set a goal-six years till you have paid for your second child to be done with college, and then you can do something else. Six years seemed like a long time. In the scheme of things it was, but then again in a 25 year career it’s barely a fifth of my time as a headhunter.

Two things happened. First, I was able to put my head down and work through the rough spot. Then before I knew it I wasn’t hating my job any more. As I got closer to the deadline, I wondered why I had set it.

Why did this happen?

First, my job hadn’t changed, I had lived through two recessions and it wasn’t the economy that had put me in the doldrums. My clients evolved but were still in the research world. My daily activities were also similar.

When I focused I was able to realize that I did make some changes during those six years, and I believe these actions were crucial to shifting my situation.

I explored several other career options through informational interviews. Found out what other companies or positions would value my skills and what the compensation would be like. A friend suggested I volunteer with a few organizations to find one that caught my fancy. After I selected one that I was most passionate about, the friend suggested I get more involved, and potentially join a nonprofit board. I put more energy into participation at my children’s schools. Increased my exercise. Started writing blogs to share my career expertise from my work as an executive recruiter. Did more career workshops and took more career coaching calls.

Basically, I did things that fed my soul and expanded the activities I did to leverage my areas of expertise.

What I realized is that I was good at my job. That I had lots of flexibility to make my own hours, select what clients I worked with, and how I built my networks. That I was contributing to the success of my client’s businesses and my candidate’s careers.

The other suggestion about finding a non profit that I was passionate about was a piece of the puzzle. My search for a non profit resulted in a successful match with Empowered Women International. A group using entrepreneurial training to help immigrant, refugee and American born women gain economic stability. My work in the classroom with the students, as a Biz Pitch Judge, and on the board, was incredibly rewarding on so many levels.

I didn’t realize that a void had been filled in my life. Teaching the workshops, coaching, and my continued blogging on LinkedIn gave me intellectual stimulation I had been missing. These changes for me personally shifted the way I looked at my job. I no longer hated it and was counting down till my daughter graduated.

I discovered that sometimes we need to make a career change, but sometimes we need to shift our attitude or perspective.

I’d take these ideas a step further. What if you approach your supervisor or mentor and make suggestions about ways to improve your situation or the way things are done in the company? What if we like most of what are doing at work, but there are some things that bug us, why not work to change them first? Is looking for a new job the solution? Why not suggest a mentoring program? Maybe consider additional training or education, does your company have an education reimbursement program? What about lobbying to create a committee to work on an issue that you see as needing attention?

Most of all realize that while some people get to do what they love for a living, many of us do interesting work or have solid jobs, but need to do other things to gain fulfillment. Not one thing can provide all.

A researcher I know said companies must evolve or go extinct…education is a big part of the equation

Despite the gray thick sky, our hike across campus filled me with interest as I noted the old mixed with new-sometimes even within a single building. My guide was a recent graduate who supported the Georgetown University Graduate Student Career Symposium. Upon entering the mod Healy Student Center, we walked through an airy high ceilinged hall where students sat at banquettes with computers in front of them, and buds plugged into their ears. The large social room was arranged for the Employee Advisory Committee Panel with four seats equipped with water and microphones. Tables surrounded the seats for the multidisciplinary gathering of deans, assistant deans, department chairs, and other administrative leaders poised to engage in our lunch discussion. This was the first meeting on the topic at Georgetown University, and founding chair, Caleb McKinney and co-chair Owen Agho were excited to see how the panel would be received.

A conversation about how to train students to be better prepared for the workplace is timely.

During my daily work as a recruiter, I speak with lots of education and labor researchers. Recently, I had a discussion with a researcher who works on both education and workforce topics. The researcher felt that the educational system wasn’t broken as many claimed, but needed to evolve to meet the demands of our 21st century economy. She added that we needed to rethink what our goals are for continued education post high school. Most students, she stated, don’t have the luxury to earn a liberal arts degree because they need skills to become gainfully employed. This discussion about the value of liberal arts education versus earning a technical degree is not new, but when she presented it this way, I had to pause and think.

Throughout the day, my conversation with the researcher stuck in my mind. When the panelists shared similar thoughts with the administrators, I knew we needed to give this idea more attention. Later in the day it was confirmed again, when I interacted with the grad students in my session on interview prep, the students shared similar worries about their ability to land that first job. Educators, researchers, students, and business people all had the same concerns. I realized the gap between education and jobs needed to be bridged.

It seems to me, we need to consider a better collaboration between our educational systems and our evolving economies so we can prepare workers to have the skills for the jobs that exist today and in the future. An evolution of the entire ecosystem might be just what we need.

SYMPOSIUM SYNOPSIS

My fellow panelists included, CEO and Founder of Benevir Biopharm, Matthew Mulvey, PhD and Georgetown grad; Senior Specialist from Cadmus, Scott Teper, MPH, doing consulting in biomedical surveillance; and Director, Talent Acquisition and Planning, Celeste Chatman with the think tank, The Urban Institute. We tackled several questions from the administrative group. The goal of the discussion was to share insights from the business world on what we needed/wanted to see from recent graduates. Basically, the educators/university wanted to make sure their students were prepared to meet the needs of their future employers. Here is a sampling of the conversation.

How do we know if our students skills are meeting the needs of organizations like yours?

Celeste described a new program Urban recently launched that let students see inside an organization by visiting and shadowing a professional. Georgetown was one of the institutions who had been invited because their graduates demonstrated exceptional skills. She said it was a win-win. Urban got to meet students and evaluate if they are a good fit for them in the future, and the students got to gain insights into what research jobs are like.

Matt added that his organization looks for PhDs who have specific skills related to the development of pharmaceuticals. They hope to hire other professionals for more diversified roles once they expand.

Where can students go to find out more about positions and companies that might have options for them?

I responded that the best way I knew how to do this was through internships or informational interviews. These opportunities allow students to see what a job is really like through experience or with contact by a real professional who can share their insights. When you network in the field, students are able to ask questions about a role, ask about what skills are most important, and find out what credentials they need to be successful. Networking is the best way to find the right position.

Celeste added that this is a major reason why they created their shadow program.

What are some of the biggest mistakes students make when looking for jobs?

Celeste commented that students want to be the president instantly.

I added they don’t understand that they have to learn and do what is required by the most junior person in an organization.

Scott said his concern was that new graduates don’t understand the connection between compensation and business finances. He said there are sometimes disparities in salary within government contract firms despite equal skills (not bias). This happens because a particular contract can only be charged at a certain rate. Newbies often compare salaries and get upset without a good understanding of the business aspects that shape compensation.

There were nods of agreement from the attendees. There were many follow up questions, and we shared valuable insights into how a business might look at new grads. If the students could learn to not focus on themselves, and think more about how they could add value to an organization, all the panelists agreed it would be invaluable in their job searches.

DO WORK/EDUCATION DIFFERENTLY

If we take these ideas a step further, maybe we need to think more about how to change the education and workforce paradigm.

What if we consider different ways to gain skills based on what opportunities exist in the marketplace and balance them with individual interests…

  • Post high school training could be a certificate program learning mechanical skills, or health technician skills, or financial skills. Any of these skills would increase an individual’s value and earning potential in less time and cost (than a 2 or 4 year program), but would still elevate earnings and provide a career path.
  • An Apprenticeship could be another option with a cabinet maker or fine jeweler, and the results could lead to a well trained and productive artisan.
  • Consider if a two year nursing program is better for an individual than a four year program. Both programs are required to pass the same licensure exam, but require different amounts of time and cost. (please note there is an earning potential difference)
  • Examine a four year program and make sure it has a strong core curriculum that requires solid writing skills, technology, analytic skills and math, regardless of major. These core skills prepare each future employee to have the basic work skills needed across any organization.
  • Earn an advanced degree to specialize (MS or PhD), but consider what you want to do, what are the loans you can bear based on future earnings, and the skills you need to perform the role you want to be in.
  • Delay further education….volunteer in the field for a 1-3 years. Military service, AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity, etc., there are many ways to gain experience and learn more about what you want to do.

CHANGE YOUR APPROACH

When you are exposed to the world, and see the challenges plus the skills required, you gain a better understanding of what you need to know to be employed. With more maturity, we may find our post high school students looking at their educational opportunities in a different way.

I’ve often advised young adults or professionals in mid career, who want to make a change, to go talk to someone in a job that is appealing. Learn about how they earned their position, what they studied, and how they might do things differently. In other words, go out and experience a real job, internship or informational interview. Talk to professionals and work backwards. Find out what skills you need to succeed, and then go get them.

Googling or taking profiling tests to identify skills/interests, can only get you so far. Why invest time and money into a short term training program, a certification series, or an advanced education program, to find you can’t get the job you thought you wanted or even pay back your student loans?! Do your homework. Be an active participant in your future.

We have a “spiritual crisis of disconnection”… Brené Brown

As I climbed onto my barstool next to my hubby at B-side on Friday, I could smell the talc of the barber shop from his fresh haircut. I laid my leg across his lap so he could examine my foot and see my blue toes. It was a guilty pleasure to have a warm cream and stone massage with pedi after a really long week.

Beer and burgers are the best way I know finish a hectic schedule, so I joined him to look at the menu for our favorites. We like to sit at the bar so we can engage the bartender and sometimes converse with other patrons. Tonight we had a hipster, minus a beard, with a wrinkled plaid shirt that lifted to show a dingy white undershirt and the edge of his skinny chinos every time he reached for a bottle or glass. We are big craft beer fans and enjoy a sample before committing to a pint. After my third taste and no winners, I told Andrew,

“I’m not feeling it. Tomorrow we are headed to a sour beer fest, and I think I will just have some booze this evening. Can you mix me a drink, please?”

He perked up. “Where are you headed? I”m a big sour fan.”

“Denizens, over in Silver Spring.”

He scratched his chin, looked puzzled, and said, “I don’t know that one.”

Being the huge fans we are, we proceeded to tell him all about our favorite Denizens flagship beers, a Southside Rye IPA and Oud Boy (a Flanders Sour), and how they made special batches for the Make it Funky Festival, plus host lots of guest brewers. Then I paused and it hit me why none of the male brewers or bartenders seem to know Denizen’s beers: They have boobs, they are a woman-owned brewery!

“Do you think they don’t get any traction with the other breweries and craft bars because they are women? I blurted out loud.

“Totally,” Andrew responded. “It’s definitely a male-dominated arena.”

It blew my mind. I sipped on my lemon, black pepper, and basil cocktail while my husband wisely was quiet. After a moment I turned to him.

“You know, everywhere we have traveled, from Richmond to Rochester, Santa Rosa to Philadelphia, all the small breweries tell you about their friends in the business. I mean, they refer you to other breweries who are really their competitors. They even go as far as to share which are the particularly good beers someone should try. I guess they don’t share the beer-bromance with the female owned breweries. Wow, that stinks!”

He said, “You are just realizing this now?”

I glared at him. “I mean, no, but really?! I thought we’d got past this and it was all about the quality of the product.”

He sat up straighter. “You know I’ve been thinking, your next blog needs to be about translating.”

“I don’t get it, what do you mean?”

“What you really need to write about is the huge gulf between different groups of people, like men and women brewers, or in the workplace with technical teams and creative teams. There are huge gaps of communication that need to be bridged by someone…” he trailed off.

I looked at him and waited for him to explain further.

“Folks who can translate what one group is saying into terms the other group can understand are really important. It’s like a foreign language or different cultures are dividing people these days, even when they are from the same country,’” he added.

“The inability to communicate is keeping us from functioning. Everything is broken down, politically, economically, inter-personally…”

It was food for thought.

***

The morning dawned clear and the sun promised to warm things up to the 70s. We headed to Denizens on Saturday afternoon for the festival. We got in early with VIP tickets, so the beer garden was populated but still quiet. Before the crush, we ran into Emily (one of the co-owners) and chatted her up. She was glad to see us.

“How’re things going? Business been hopping?” I asked.

“Steadily growing things,” Emily responded.

“We loved celebrating our 15th anniversary here for Empowered Women International. It was a great turn out; thanks again for hosting!”

“Our pleasure, we like to support the community,” Emily said.

Then I remembered our conversation with Andrew the night before. I wondered about his comments.

“Emily, do you think it matters that you are a woman-owned brewery in terms of growing and collaborating with other beer makers? Do you find the field dominated by men?”

She laughed. “Big time! Even with my brother-in-law Jeff brewing, we have a hard time networking in the community… he isn’t really good with guy talk.”

My hubby looked at me and raised his eyebrows… “Translator,” he mouthed.

“Geesh, that’s really frustrating to still be facing that divide. We tell everyone we meet to come taste your beer or that they should have a line of your product when they are serving.”

She smiled. “Thanks for the support. Go enjoy the day ‘cause there are lots of good beers to taste!”

He didn’t say, “I told you,” so we started to wander and taste. One of the first tents held the folks from Black Narrows. They make beer on Chincoteague Island, VA. Their approach was very unique—the brewer’s parents described how they fermented oysters in their base to get their unique taste. They also shared that they hadn’t even opened a locale to serve beer, yet their beer was amazing.

There were the always consistent, bigger, more established breweries too, like Allagash and Avery. Then we tripped over Graft Cider from New York who were making a sour cider-like beer, Shared Universe (in conjunction with Charm City Meadworks in Baltimore). It was divine. Sarah, one of the business owners, was there and was really knowledgeable. Other than Emily, she was the only other female we met, other than servers, who seemed involved with the business of making beer. There were at least 50 breweries represented at the festival.

But the fun wasn’t over, and you are probably wondering where I’m going with this. I was equally surprised as the theme of communication and the need for translators was driven home again.

On Sunday I had a non-profit volunteer board meeting that lasted for three good hours, with engaged volunteers who were all mission-driven—easy stuff. Then we headed to my son’s football match and enjoy more of the beautiful fall weather. To top off the entire weekend, we went downtown to a sold-out book talk by Brené Brown, PhD Social Work.

Damn, she’s funny. She’s colorful, loves to cuss, and with her third-generation Texan accent, tells a mean story about her extensive research. Guess what she was talking about?

That we have a global “spiritual crisis of disconnection”. How we have become a nation of the “sorted.” That we have built balkanized communities of people similar to ourselves who are against everyone else. A collection of people who view others as outsiders while they are trying to find belonging, and in the end find themselves lonely behind self-constructed bunkers. That by not talking to people who have differing views, we have disabled communication totally. That there is a difference between hate speech (it’s destructive, hides fear, and is de-humanizing) and freedom of speech (guaranteed by the first amendment and crucial for democracy to flourish).

Brené was talking about the same thing my husband and I had started out with earlier: that unless we have a translator, a connector, or something drastic to bridge the gap between us (all people), we will continue to be disconnected. Human beings as a species are social and crave true connection to thrive. If we could only be vulnerable, look beyond the hatred that often masks pain or fear, and engage those who are different from us, Brené said, and if we do it with genuine, curiosity, and civility,we might survive.

She had started the discussion with a quote from one of her favorite writer/poets, Maya Angelou (Bill Moyers Interview 1973):

“You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

Brené challenged us to show up and join her in “Braving the Wilderness” (Her latest book that just made the bestseller list) where by being true to our individual selves, we can lower our barriers and reconnect with others—both those who are like us and those who are different from us. We can open communication and find that we are more alike than different. We have to start somewhere to repair the world—both professionally and personally.

Good beer making doesn’t require a specific gender or orientation. Neither does remembering to pull our neighbors (regardless of who they voted for) into the boat when the flood hits, or digging through the rubble for survivors (regardless if they are rich or poor) when the earthquake strikes, or rescuing survivors and mourning the dead (while trying to empathize with the perpetrator) when a gun-toting man fires his semi-automatic into a crowd of country music lovers. Here’s to the translators and connectors in the world. Please help bridge the gap, one human being to another.