Your Career “Comfort Zone”

wordleIt seems like every magazine, newspaper, or journal is discussing topics like: Big Data, Information Overload, and Consumer Choice.  The general theme relates to the exponentially increasing amount of information and choices available everywhere.

Every business or industry has its own “shorthand” language, terminology, and nuances. In academia, we sometimes get trapped in discussing “Learning Outcomes”.  In business, the focus is on the quarterly results, ROI and EBITDA.  In politics, the overnight poll results lead the evening news after every debate with qualifiers about response rate, accuracy, and confidence.

Recently, I attended an event at our Forestry Building where a variety of Forestry and Natural Resources companies had gathered to meet with students.  Just like any other networking event, companies and students were trying to get to know one another.  As I joined conversations, some portions of of the discussions were like a foreign language to me!  I was amazed by how many abbreviations, jargon, and “Three Letter Abbreviations” (TLA’s) we use to be efficient in our communications.  I am sure I’ve had conversations with my peers that were confusing to others throughout my career.

In January 2015, Michigan Tech had our first ever “Medical Careers Week” on campus.  This year, in January 2016, Career Services has again partnered with different departments across campus for another week designed to help students understand all of the different aspects of careers in Medicine, Allied Health, Informatics, and Biomedical Engineering.  These days are structured with both afternoon and evening components to allow students to fit these topics around their busy class schedules.

Many Michigan Tech students assume that their degree in Engineering will lead to a job in manufacturing or design.  However, as trained problem solvers, an Engineering degree can be an excellent starting point for a career in medicine.

As we continue to build a Career Culture on campus, the depth and breadth of these career explorations are great learning opportunities.  At a minimum, participants become aware of the complexities of something beyond their specific field of study.  Ideally, these events help everyone expand their career “comfort zone” to have a better understanding of the world we live in.

Recruiting Trends 2015-16 Conference

On October 20, 2015, I attended the “Recruiting Trends 2016” survey in Chicago.  This survey has grown and evolved over the years.  Dr. Phil Gardner (Michigan State University) has conducted the survey for many years and did an excellent job of explaining the data to everyone who attended.

Because I work in Career Services, I like to think none of this information was surprising to me!  However, there is always information in national data that is shocking when you broken down regionally.  Hiring in the Midwest is driven by manufacturing — specifically, the resurgence in the Automotive market.  Contrast that to areas hit hardest by low oil prices and you see the drastic disparity within a range of national averages.

Our Career Fair attendance has been at record levels for company attendance.  Michigan Tech students are highly demanded and sought after.  We hope these trends will last forever – but all things are cyclical.

This Fall, our focus was to help develop a “Career Culture” on campus.  The creation of hands-on, interactive, networking events with companies to help students feel comfortable in a job market.  Our partnership with corporate volunteers to review resumes, provide practice interviews, or just be available to listen to students created many individual connections.  The active promotion of our Learning Center to coach students through the process.

These events help students “find their fit” for the first stop on their career journey.  Whether the economy is strong or weak, an alumni that is passionate about what they do and has clear expectations about what they want to accomplish will always be a positive contributor to any company.

(The “Collegiate Employment Research Institute” (CERI) has consolidated this information into a series of short reports available on their website at: http://www.ceri.msu.edu/)

Passion + Purpose = An Engaged Workforce

Gallup conducted a workplace poll 2014 and found less than a third of employees were engaged in their jobs. Gallup defined an engaged employee as one who is enthusiastic about performing their job and committed to being successful at it.

Imperative inc. sought to identify those in the workforces that approached their job as a source of personal fulfillment and a way for them to help others. The Imperative survey found 28 percent of the workforce qualified as these purpose-oriented workers, and these individuals produced a highly positive impact on their organizations.

Purpose oriented workers in comparison to their peers are:

  • 50 percent more likely to be in leadership positions
  • 47 percent more likely to be promoted by their employers
  • Expected to stick with their jobs 20 percent longer
  • 64 percent more likely to have higher levels of fulfillment from their work

The value of purpose-oriented workers are they are self-motivated role models who see their work as making a difference in the world. They want to grow both personally and professionally to support this goal. These workers are often described as dynamic and curious, embracing changing dynamics in the workplace as an opportunity for improvement.

I have had the honor to work with purpose-oriented workers on Michigan Tech’s campus, which include: Mike Meyer, Ed Laitila, Glen Archer, and Susan Liebau, just to name a few. Mike heads up the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning. A successful high school teacher and Physics lab supervisor and instructor, he now leads a team whose mission is to work with faculty to develop transformational learning experiences in the classrooms and labs across campus. Ed brings his contagious passion for learning to each materials science lab he enters. Glen develops and executes lessons in electrical engineering that bring clarity and understanding to complex engineering concepts. Susan leads a team at the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success that helps students discover their talents and interests, in the midst of personal and academic challenges. Each of these purpose-oriented workers also share another trait, modesty and gratitude for the support of their teams and peers.

The Imperative study found the workforce of each industry contains at least 16 percent purpose-oriented workers. These workers tend to be educated beyond high school and increase in numbers with age. Researchers have also found that these unique workers had parents that spoke favorably about their careers.

The millennial generation is filling the workforce. Known for being confident, self-expressive, liberal, open to change and upbeat, they also have the nickname of Generation Me! As the begin having children of their own, a recent study found their top priorities are: being a good parent and having a successful marriage. This is an opportunity for them to develop themselves as purpose-oriented workers through their actions as a parent. Generation Z is the next to enter college and the workforce. Known for being conscientious, hard-working and concerned about the future, this digital generation has the foundation to become the first purpose-oriented generation.

Corporate America and American society at large will benefit from developing more purpose-oriented workers. The cited role models illustrate that passion and purpose can help students build their careers around the three sources of fulfillment: developing meaningful relationships, impacting the lives of others, and personal and professional growth. The opportunity lies in the other 72 percent!

College to Career: adapting career services for students on the spectrum

This Fall, Career Services, in collaboration with Student Disability Services, launched a new pilot program, College to Career, which provides specialized career development programming to students with unique needs. Those needs are students on the spectrum who may need specialized instruction in their career development.

Now half-way into the semester, this program is already making great strides, with plans to continue into the spring, and then provide an even more extensive program starting Fall 2016. The agenda for this past fall’s career fair season has been similar to what all students have been focusing on (personal introductions, resumes, career fair prep, and interviews), but each with a twist. After just four weeks together, the College to Career group attended the career fair, handed out their resumes and introduced themselves to the company representatives. For students who may have difficulty with social situations, the Michigan Tech Career Fair can be one of the most challenging situations ever encountered, but they did it. And we could not be prouder.

When we plan for this group, there are no assumptions about what a student should know or should do, rather each topic is approached and presented with a keen sense of the individual needs that are represented in the group. To be on the spectrum may mean there is a need for a different focus, but the needs represented even in a small group can be vastly different. Some students need the opportunity to talk through all of their thinking while others remain silent. There are students who require additional coaching in their mannerisms and gestures while for others it is something they just instinctively know to do. All of this has caused us to rethink our plans, every week. You cannot generalize the teaching methods for this type of group., because what is natural for one may be very unnatural for another.

As we navigate with our group and work to strengthen this new program, we pride ourselves on our awareness, and it is only through this awareness and the goal to learn more about our students that we can offer career preparation that accounts for all students’ needs. Career prep is not a one size fits all, and we are thrilled to be able to offer other sizes.

Want to learn more?
Contacts:  JR Repp jrrepp@mtu.edu or Kirsti Arko karko@mtu.edu

Information Sessions – Know your audience!

What is important to you at age 3 is different than what is important to you at age 30.  Similarly, when students are 20 years old, their priority is to get that first paycheck.  Up until graduation, their largest decision was which college to attend.  Now, after studying for countless hours, they are transitioning from being a student to joining the “real world” that they have longed for since becoming a teen.

I remember my first paycheck after I graduated.  I couldn’t wait to get that check.  In fact, I bought a stereo that was bigger than my car and just financed it because I knew I would have cash in my checkbook soon enough.  (I should have read the details on the financing arrangements, but that is a different story!)

In many Informational Sessions, companies talk about their rank in the Fortune 500, their medical benefits, the matching percentage of the 401(k) program, etc.  These are all important pieces of information.  They are crucial to an employee who has a mortgage, car payments, a wedding to pay for, and family medical deductibles.  But, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

However, at age 20 or 21 – students are more interested in the projects they will be working on.  They can’t quite imagine retirement because they haven’t even started a job yet!  In your information session, don’t forget to focus on what is front-and-center in the kid’s minds “What will I be doing every day?”

As I listen in to different Informational Sessions and talk to students afterwards, they want to know what they are going to “do”.  Michigan Tech students have a reputation for being practical, hands-on, get-it-done employees.  Help them visualize what that looks like by sharing descriptions of projects that your interns are doing, projects the full time employees are working on.  Share projects that were success and failures.  Put all of this in context so students can understand what it is like to work for your company.  You will find that they are much more engaged and find it easier to ask questions.

The Keys to Mid-Career Success

Michigan Technological University just hosted a record 360+ recruiting organizations at its recent Fall Career Fair. Michigan Tech students engaged with 1,300 corporate recruiters that were looking for unique qualities such as the ability to work in diverse teams, possessing the resilience to learn from failures, and having the ability to clearly communicate their ideas. But what are the skills you need to be successful in your mid-career?
Susan Keihl, Vice President of Product Development at Lockheed Martin offers four cornerstones to live by to advance your career. They include: deliver value, drive innovation, increase efficiency, and develop the talents of others. You need to learn to make decisions and take ownership of those choices. You and you alone are responsible for the quality of each decision, so be thoughtful in choosing each action you take. As you make decisions, follow the process of execute, monitor, and course correct, then begin the process again.
As you build your career you need to continue to add ‘tools’ to your tool box. Lisa Genslak, a leader in Ford’s IT Strategic Services Division, notes that these tools will vary by individual, based on your personal needs and career path. Developing the ability to be emotionally resilient will be of great value. Don’t take criticism personally, but learn from it. A byproduct of this lesson is to make sure you consider the feelings of others in your everyday interactions with peers. This is a process of continuous learning. Each situation offers a learning opportunity so make sure you take time to reflect on them and capture the lesson learned.
If you wish to advance your career, push yourself outside your comfort zone. Take on projects that challenge you both personally and professionally. Gone are the days where you can expect to work at the same job you started when you graduated from school. Today corporate America encourages cross-discipline experiences. Each of us sees the world differently, has been involved in a unique set of experiences, and possesses a unique skill set. Diverse teams are able to visualize a broader set of possible challenges, while identifying a wider set of possible solutions to consider.
Networking is becoming a vital tool for career success. A recent Forbes survey found that over 70 percent of mid-career jobs are fill before they are ever posted publicly. Building this network starts as soon as you hit your college campus. Building relationships with you professors, with recruiters at career fairs and other networking events on campus, and in your industry experience from co-op experiences as a student to full-time jobs are all part of the process. These people become not only friends but resources for you personally and professionally, providing you access to these mid-career job opportunities.
Mid-career success is determined by actions you have taken to increase your value to others. That value must be communicated using the personal and professional network you have built. It is sustained through your efforts as a life-long learner, constantly achieving the challenges you have set for yourself and adding new tools to your tool box!

The Power of “Rule Yourself” offers Lessons

In 2008 Under Armour, producer of athletic apparel and gear, produced 730 million dollars in sales worldwide. In a market dominated by the Nike, many viewed them as a ‘bargain brand’ with little meaning behind their trademark. In Jeff Beers’ article in the recent addition of Fast Company he describes how the journeys of elite that athletes helped develop an impactful marketing campaign, providing lessons that could aid in the academic and career success of our youth.

Misty Copeland, the first African American female principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, stated “Success is not easy and I think everyone should know that hard work and perseverance and being open to give back are so much more powerful than stepping all over people to get to the top.” Misty, Stephen Curry, and Jordan Speith are noted for their successes in ballet, NBA basketball, and PGA golf are part of Under Armour’s marketing effort. Each of these athletes have one thing in common, they have reached the pinnacle of their success due to daily dedication to their sport.

Our younger generations, millennials and Generation Z, are used to getting what they want immediately. They are fluent in the use of smart phones and communicate using Twitter and Pinterest, all which provide instant information and gratification. Under Armour’s new campaign, “Rule Yourself”, uses the messages of these athletes that doesn’t focus on the trophy earned, but the work ethic and tenacity that it took to prepare to earn those victories. Nike’s motto is Just Do It, focusing on the motivation it takes to begin the effort. Under Armour’s athlete driven message focuses on the journey which involves daily training regiments, overcoming injuries and competitive disappointments, and thoroughly preparing for success.

Stephen Curry reinforces this message when he states “If you take time to realize what your dream is and what you really want in life – no matter what it is, whether it is sports or in other fields – you have to realize that there is always work to do, and you want to the hardest working person in whatever you do, and you put yourself in a position to be successful. And you have to have a passion about what you do.”

Today’s college students change majors 3 times on average before graduating. McCrindle & Wilson suggest that those in the Generation Y will have five careers in their lifetime. Today it is estimated that an adult will spend 4.4 years at a company before moving on to another more interesting or better paying position. This suggests individuals will always be consistently looking for new challenges and ways to apply their talents.

The key to educating our youth is to help them discover their interests and aptitudes early in life. Discovering their passion will set the course of their academic and career journeys and help propel them forward. The “Rule Yourself” marketing message is resonating with youth, illustrated by Under Armour sales climbing to $4 billion in the current year, expected to pass $10 billion by 2020. Success does not always come to the most talented, but more often to the ones with the passion to work to achieve it.

Having fun while learning!

Throughout my life, I’ve been to many museums and exhibits.  I’ve spent hours reading descriptions and plaques about what happened on a certain spot or on a certain date.  My ability to remember these events is enhanced with some sort of visual que or a hands-on exhibit.  When I take my family to a Science Museum or a Children’s museum, I’m usually “that guy” who is taking the time to press every button and try every experiment.  Usually, my kids need to grab me by the hand and drag me out before we get locked in at the end of the day!

The goal with this Fall’s series of Industry Days on Michigan Tech’s campus is to help our students learn what kind of career opportunities they could have.  These experiences will be a combination of hands-on learning and getting viewpoints from a variety of industry personnel.  Throughout the planning and development process, we keep asking the question: “Does that sound like something fun that I would want to do?”

Talking to a complete stranger is a skill that must be learned.  By creating fun, interactive activities, students experience networking by having a shared experience to discuss with recruiters.  The ability to network is one that students find hardest to learn and difficult to practice.

Another, perhaps unintended, benefit of this Fall’s “Industry Days” is giving students a safe place to learn yet another skill for their Career search and their lifelong learning.