Facing Decisions

“As a first or second year student at U.Va., what’s the toughest decision you’ve made?” I recently asked my Liberal Arts and the World or Work class.


Guest lecturer Lily West, Director of Sales and Marketing at The Scout Guide, challenged Lily Westthe group with ethical dilemmas she has faced in her career. Lily engaged the students and forced them to think about their decisions and the ramifications—I enjoyed how she toyed with them, as she took the opposite side of the decision when a student had the courage to take a stand.  I saw them stretching and learning.  Here’s a few responses from their blogs:

I found the ethical decisions that we had to debate in class to be a little overwhelming.

This class has made me realize that I’m not the one who screwed up, the other person was and at the end of the day if I can go to sleep with a clear conscious at night that’s all that really matters.

One of the biggest takeaways I received from the class was that it is possible to follow your own moral code and achieve success in your career.

All of this being said, I don’t think there is a cut and dry answer.

So when I prodded on the “toughest decision” question, eventually someone acknowledged that choosing a college was a tough decision, or choosing a sorority recently was tough. We discussed how they made those decisions, who were the stakeholders involved, why the decision was tough.

But when I read the blogs, I learned that a few if these students have already faced tough ethical decisions, and that while difficult, making ethical decisions is not optional for these guys. Which makes me proud to be a part of their lives and growth and development.  And which challenges me to grow and develop along with them.

Who are you?

What a great question to ask first and second year students at U.Va.! And here’s the catch–no words allowed, only pictures. The ensuing activity, and then discussion, was fascinating. Not only is it difficult to determine who you are, and to illustrate it, it’s difficult to listen while someone tries to interpret your sketches. But the more important point, as led by guest lecturer, Lindsey Helpler, associate director of U.Va. OpenGrounds, is that it’s questions, not answers, that motivate us to action. In the next exercise, every student wrote a question with which they were wresting: the range of questions included “How will I make sure I live a life worth pursuing” to “Who should I ask to my upcoming date function, and the all important, and what should I wear.” Then students walked around and read each other’s questions, and placed their email address next to questions that they too wrestled with, presumably leading to connections and conversation. Class certainly left me pondering: what questions am I facing. I guess that’s why I love this class.


Take 2: Liberal Arts and the World of Work

So I had great aspirations of blogging every week about my new class semester. I think I made it four weeks, maybe five. New Years Hope (that’s instead of New Year’s resolution): that I blog every week.  Shorter posts maybe. Really insightful.

I have 30 new first and second years. Three are weak ties as I knew their fathers in business school. Two are related to members of last year’s class. One is daughter of one of our guest speakers. Weak ties are powerful, as we heard from Dr. Meg Jay’s Ted Talk yesterday. I think her headline, “Thirty is NOT the new twenty,” might have scared a few of them. That’s okay though. Every student spoke in the first or second class. If they didn’t speak about identity capital (see here), then maybe they spoke about Jimmy Buffet (only three had ever been to a Buffet concert—what a travesty!) and whether they consider his life a success.

But I hope all of them thought about what success will look like for them.

What’s your definition of success?

Career Vision

Liberal arts students just need vision. Did you know that if you put a hungry frog in an aquarium full of dead flies, the frog will starve?  Frogs only see four things—including rapid movement.If the flies don’t move, image the frog won’t see them.  UVA Professor Denny Proffitt spoke to Liberal Arts and the World of Work undergraduate seminar last week—his lecture entitled “The Ecology of Vision.” The frog was just the beginning. He got me thinking though—liberal arts students just need career vision. One of my mentors, Sally Robling, also spoke last week. Sally is living what another mentor calls “a life of variety” now—she’s consulting to non-profits, mentoring women in business, and assisting start ups. She challenged the class with decision-making by demonstrating how she relied on the decision-making principles defined by great leaders in history.  Her vision was through the lenses of history.  Professor Proffitt’s was through the lenses of cognitive science.

Career vision—where does it start? I think it starts with getting to know yourself. The course started with each student writing his/her life story.  I find this exercise provides significant insight into who you are. Next week students get the results of their Strong Interest Inventory and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Two more glimpses into who they are. I hope by the end of the course, students career vision will have a kick start—that they’ll have new insights into who they are.  Perhaps through the lens of their own history, and the lenses of liberal arts from some of UVA’s best professors, they’ll have a clearer look into their own future.

Der Erlkönig: Parents as Career Protectors, or Monsters

Would you believe my Liberal Arts and the World of Work course featured decorated UVA professor of German, Gordon Stewart, facilitating a discussion on Der Erlkonig, a famous German poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe?    What, you ask, are the lessons about the world of work in Der Erlkonig?  Well, none I thought.  The purpose of the class was to expose the class to German literature through an outstanding professor who loves German lit and his craft of  teaching. Additionally, through a short assignment and class discussion, students might be exposed to and required to exercise the critical liberal arts competencies of critical reading, analysis, research, and written and oral communication.

The bonus extra was a few students ability to connect the dots in ways that perhaps von Goethe and Gordon Stewart had not imagined.  Here are a few quotes:

I think that as we get older and seek desperately for stability and safety in economic ventures and lifestyle choices, we lose more and more sight of the childhood dreams. 

The future wants outside the box thinkers who see magic where others see a pen and paper

One should never dismiss the observations of another, no matter how impossible they seem.

The boy as his own life to live and his father cannot make all of his life decisions with the security of his own hands.

Throughout the college years, young adults will experience outside forces that will add stress and frustration to the journey, such as tests or the pressure of graduating with an admirable resume.

The poem suggests that we never truly know what obstacles may stand in our way.  We are often unsure of our futures and what lies ahead (i.e. our careers), so we should be prepared to act on any opportunities or deal with any obstacles that may arise.

Often times risks lead to break out opportunities in which case the risky choices actually become the safer choices because they lead to better opportunities. 

When finding a career and establishing adulthood, it’s important to take control of the situations you are in and not to depend on others to take you through the journey with them. 

Wow, that last quote gives me hope that we are making progress.

Even more importantly: parents, read the poem.  Who are you in the story?  Are you allowing your student to explore, make decisions, fail occasionally?  Or are you helicoptering?  What’s your intended outcome? And what is theirs?

Identity Capital—Do You Have Any?

Well, of course you do. Is it working for you?  LASE 1559 spent some class time last week discussing how they plan to build identity capital the next four years. In her book, The Defining Decade, UVA assistant clinical professor Meg Jay talks about “identity capital” and defines it as “our collection of persona assets. It is the repertoire of individual resources that we assemble over time.  These are the investments we make in ourselves, the things we do well enough, that they become a part of who we are.” 

Contrast this term with identity crisis.

Which is what can happen if one doesn’t start young building identity capital.

As first and second years, you have the opportunity to build capital with many decisions your are making—class selection, clubs and other student organizations, summer experiences, even friend choices and time investments.

What have you done today to build your identity capital?  Kind of heady, but worth thinking about.  Maybe start by reading Professor Jay’s book.

Teaching the Value of the Liberal Arts

Really? Me?  A chemical engineer with an MBA? And I’m even allergic to the word “liberal”. But earlier this week I welcomed 25 UVA studentsphoto to my new course Liberal Arts and the World of Work.  This course is designed to give liberal arts students the confidence that their liberal arts degree will stead them well in their future endeavors. Why will it? Well, you can do your own research. Much has been written—here are a few good sources: the aacu site, an essay on LinkedIn, and an HBR blog

A better question is why do I believe it—because I wholeheartedly do. I still chuckle when I think of my best friend at Vanderbilt, Jon, and his interdisciplinary communications degree. In my naiveté I thought he was wasting his parents’ $50,000 (Vanderbilt now is $50,000 per year—what a bargain we got!). But upon graduation Jon and I took the exact same job: selling potato chips out of a Frito-Lay route truck. Frito recruited us not for our major, but for our leadership experience and potential, our ability to communicate and work in teams, our problem-solving ability and personal presence.

My chemical engineering courses taught me these things. So did Jon’s interdisciplinary courses.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers confirms such findings and has found in its 2014 Job Outlook survey that the top five personal qualities/skills employers seek include:

  • Ability to work in a team
  • Verbal communication skills
  • Ability to make decisions and problem solve
  • Ability to obtain and process information
  • Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work

Your major, it seems, is not relevant.

Coincidentally, the AACU talks about similar core competencies developed in a liberal arts education in its article: Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP).

My goal is UVA LASE 1559, Liberal Arts and the World of Work, is to help students identify these competencies and build a plan in their liberal arts curriculum to develop the competencies in their four years at UVA.  I want them to have confidence in their major—that after four years of a liberal arts education, they will have developed the skills necessary to compete in today’s marketplace, and that they will have a narrative that is compelling and convincing to employers.

We’re on our way.

Let’s All Be Fiddlers on the Roof

One of my favorite shows on stage last week here in Charlottesville: Fiddler on the Roof. Tradition! Sunrise…Sunset. Matchmaker, Matchmaker. If I Were a Rich Man.

Every song is a classic; every line full of double meaning. One of my favorite lines comes from Tevye, the father:

“Every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck.”

Job search can be discouraging, lonely, even humiliating (when pushing my room service cart into the hallway outside of my hotel room the night before a critical interview, I once locked myself out of my room—in my underwear!).  But the Fiddler has a lesson for us—life (and job search) is a balancing act—there will be ups and downs. We’ll face challenges, but make it an adventure.

In my work building new career services at UVA, some days I feel like the Fiddler.  Change is not easy.

“On the other hand…”

Tevye says, “how do we keep our balance (on the roof)?  That I can tell you in one word: TRADITION!”

“On the other hand…”

“The world is changing Papa!” says daughter Chava, when she asks to marry outside the faith.  Well, to keep stretching the analogy, the world of career services is changing.  Legislators, parents, students and employers are demanding better skill development from Universities in order to produce better outcomes. So, career services must change. We must keep the tradition of focusing on students, while building around them a community of connections to help them build relevant skills and competencies for success.

I’m excited to be part of this change, especially at a university with such great traditions.

Connect, Compare, Collaborate

The first night’s opening keynote here at the annual NACE conference built the conference theme: Connect, Compare, Collaborate.  What an engaging and broad theme, and how can you bring it to life in a new and fresh way?

Three speakers stepped up to the task:  Sarah Michel (author, speaker, consultant), Tim Sanders (author, speaker) and Henry Cisneros, former HUD secretary and former mayor of the conference host city, San Antonio.

Sarah talked about connect:  certainly a word that career professionals know well and sometimes even tire of, yet she brought some new ideas.  She sited research in his book Social by Matthew Lieberman that shows we crave connection biologically.

She introduced a new word for me—connexity which equals community plus connection. Humans, she says, are seeking tacit knowledge which best gets transferred face to face.

And then another new concept:  networthing: the art of adding value to relationships. How can you add value to others and therefore increase your net worth. Use the "strength of new weak ties" to learn more and increase your net worth.

The next speaker was author Tim Sanders (Sarah Michel recommended Love is the Killer App. Tim Sanders spoke on compare. The essence of compare is to listen to others without judgment. What makes us similar allows us to innovate and find the points of passion.

Two ideas: developing interest in other people is connecting passions.  He suggest that you try his exercise: tinyurl.com/fiveexercise .

I loved one of his buzz lines:  Teach people to find each other’s beat.

Henry Cisneros was the third speaker on collaborate. He related collaborate to the story of San Antonio and its emergence as a prominent city, beginning with hosting the Olympics in the 60s. That collaboration was key to bringing people together across racial lines.

The evening ended with a poem by poet/performer David Bowden.  David writes poems on technology and wowed and inspired the group with a poem about our mission and the conference’s theme.  What a great ending to a conference first day!

Developing Career Professionals

Recently I assumed the position of Associate Vice President of Career and Professional Development at University of Virginia University Career Services. Wow! What a humbling responsibility! While I am confident that I bring much to the party, I also know that I have so much to learn. Timing is perfect, because this week I get to attend my first National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) conference. This conference will be four days of drinking from a fire hose–learning about undergraduate career services. I plan to attend as many workshops that will help me develop as a leader of this incredible team. And I plan to use this blog to communicate some of the things I’m learning.

So, its the first day and I’m in a four-hour session entitled "Developing Your Career Services Team without Breaking the Bank."

Bottom line: professional development must be a priority in order for it to happen. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. And I plan to make it a priority.

Ray Angle of UNC, leading this training, is my new idol–he believes in training and invests over 120 hours of training in his team every year. He gets excited about training. I do too, but I don’t have a grasp on how to approach this in my new position.

The place to start is the NACE competencies. To start the workshop, 25 career professionals brainstormed the characteristics needed in successful career counselors. Over 50 competencies were identified in session. But NACE has already done this work for us and has developed competencies around eight key areas: career coaching advising and counseling; brokering, connecting and linking; information management; teaching, training, and educating; program and event administration; research, assessment and evaluation; marketing, promoting and performing outreach; and management and administration. I plan to get intimate with the NACE competencies. When I went through the competencies and did a self-evaluation, it was really easy to see that I’ve got work to do in order to become a great leader in the world of career services. Wow, what a great tool for developing our career team at UVA.

Then Ray shared a spreadsheet that he has developed from the NACE competencies, which he is allowing us to adapt for our use. The spreadsheet is a tool to track each person’s training on each of the key areas that he has identified as important for UNC career counselors.

Here’s what else I learned:

  • Every single person has a plan;
  • Every person in the office is completely cross-trained (the employer services folks go through the counseling training and vice versa);
  • Much of the training can be free, or low cost, by using university resources;
  • Have the team members reflect on the NACE competencies as a starting point of identifying their development areas and add up what is needed for the team;
  • Mentors are important–help your team develop mentors, and their professional development will be more effective;

And now, just some ad hoc ideas for training that I heard and loved:

  • Presentation Skills that all faculty use
  • Using Microsoft Outlook
  • Using Presi
  • Bring employers in the teach us about career paths

Ideas for Low Cost Training

  • Partnerships across campus: library, Disability Services, Computer training, multicultural awareness, human resources for management skills, deans.
  • Peer-to-peer Coaching: have your counselors sitting in sessions with one another to provide feedback to one another.
  • Informal Learning: Ted Talks as a learning break throughout the day, team meeting competitions with "trivia" questions that relate to keeping up with the industry, hot topics discussion on articles (or similarly, show and tell from team members) Career Services vendors: many will do training for free. a few examples: Symplicity training videos or monthly webinars: CareerShift bi-weekly webinars or custom webinars, and social media coaching; CPP, Inc. does free live webinars and recorded webinars; StrengthsQuest offers tools right on the Gallup site; LinkedIn: Webcast on PreparedU Project (millennials in the workforce); NACE.org: knowledge center (best practices, program development and strategic planning), webinars.