A Brief Intermission: See you in 2018!

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Happy Holidays, friends! Thanks for being part of Better + Better's inaugural year.

The picture above is from February of this year, when Career Experiments were a bunch of ideas floating around on notebook paper. From working with college students I knew where those "ah ha" career insights came from - and it wasn't from sitting in an office talking to me. Every career insight was sparked by hands-on experience - and sometimes, that experience was hard to find. 

So, Better + Better was born in September featuring Career Experiments. From Volunteering Strategically to Talking to an Expert, these step-by-step guides connect anyone exploring career paths with experience that invites those life-changing "ah ha" moments. 

Crazy what can happen in just one year, isn't it? 

In the spirit of doing small things with great love, I'll be taking a few weeks off to plan a fabulous 2018 for Better + Better. Hope you have a wonderful holiday, and I'll see you in January!

Cheers,

Laurah 

 

Three brilliant career reads for 2018

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This turned out to be the hardest post I've written yet.

Why? Because I'm obsessed with books.

I actually got locked in a bookshop in elementary school when both of my parents thought that I had left with the other one. I didn't notice that the store had closed until the lights clicked off, and then, to the surprise of the remaining sales associate, I emerged from my cocoon in the kids area. 

Once, at REI, I was forced into buying a copy of Adventure Divas after instinctively pulling out a pen and underlining a really good paragraph before it was "mine." 

All my college textbooks are still at my parent's house. I could have sold them back and pooled the money with my girlfriends for a post-finals retreat at the W Hotel, but in my words to my dad (Who graciously hefted them all up into the rafters.), "They're like my children!! I can't just get rid of them!!"  

In fact, just last week I went to Blackwell's for one book, and ended up with four. Because why read "a book" when you could "a theme" instead? 

My compulsive book buying habit was almost YOUR problem too, since I outlined a post on twenty five book recommendations.

But then you wouldn't read it, because that would be truly overwhelming.

So, instead, here is an edited list of three idea-filled reads to inspire your career thinking for a new year. 

 1) Roadmap - The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What To Do With Your Life 

Back in college I was a Resident Assistant. Whitman was a nerdy place, so when I invited my hall to watch The Open Road, a documentary on exploring career paths, the lounge was actually full. Ten years later I was surprised to receive a call from the organization that sponsored the film; the green RV was still on the road, and they wanted to recruit students for an upcoming episode at the university I worked for.

Um, yes.

As a "thank you" for coordinating they sent me a free copy of Roadmap. I flipped it open on a leisurely Saturday morning thinking I'd give some excerpts to my students, then, hooked by the brilliant content, went back to page one and read it all the way through. In one sitting.

Because it's seriously that good. Forget the students...I loaned it to my colleagues, with strict instructions to GIVE IT BACK. Most importantly, the ideas are actionable. Second of all, it's so inspiring that I left the cafe walking on air, excited to bring more curiosity and fun into my career. Third, it's relevant, with stories from people who are making an impact in culture right this very moment. 

2) The Builders

Surprise! You only need 90 seconds to be inspired by this one. Leave it to Longfellow to write one of those so-good-you-could-cry poems about building a meaningful life (included: career) one little building block at a time. 

3) Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work As a Pilgrimage of Identity

At 23 I was lost...passionate about education, yet managing a little office at a Pilates studio, in tears over how much I hated my job and how frustrated I felt about not knowing how to navigate towards the career I hoped existed in real life and not just in my dreams.

In front of my boss. 

Bless her. She gave me a copy of this book and a high five when I did find a boarding school that was even more amazing than my imagination could concoct, and headed off to Montana three months later. 

This book is sloooow, reflective, philosophical. If you like Yoga, you'll probably like this too. The bit on "captaincy," fully embodying our lives and taking responsibility for the direction they go in, is a moment by moment challenge. 

 

 

5 Informational Interview Questions with Substance

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About a year out of college I was meandering the magazine aisle at Barnes & Noble in Seattle when a cover featuring the CEO of a local book publisher caught my eye. I recognized the name from a book my roomies and I loved. It was filled with questions, and we'd choose one to talk about before going on a run (to distract us from the pain...). On a whim, I emailed the CEO and asked if he'd like to have dinner with us. Six weeks later, he replied "yes."  

There's a remarkable vehicle for connecting professionals with recent grads who have big dreams, lots of motivation, and a desire to sit humbly and learn from someone else's journey: It's called an informational interview. 

(If you've never heard of an informational interview, this blog post is not for you...yet. First, sign up for the mailing list, then read the free Career Experiment you'll be able to download called "Talk to an Expert.")

If you have heard of informational interviews, you know this is one of the quickest ways to gather lots of great insights about a career path or industry. But, questions like “What are the best and worst parts of your job?” and “How can I stand out as a great candidate in this field?” only scratch the surface.

When you’re lucky enough to be speaking to a seasoned professional with experience, connections, and deep knowledge of their field, why not take advantage of it?

Sure, some friendly chit chat helps everyone settle in. But once that formality is taken care of, these questions will help you move from a high-level conversation to something with substance - so you leave with not just good information, but insider’s information too.

  1. What are some of the hot topics being discussed in your organization right now, or in your field? What’s at stake on both sides of the discussion?

  2. How would I recognize a great opportunity in this field? What danger signs would suggest that an organization is struggling, or that I should avoid the opportunity?

  3. What organizations in this field should I be keeping an eye on? Who’s driving change, shaking up business as usual, or standing out to you for any reason?

  4. Where does the tribe for this field hang out? Are there any specialized networking groups, online communities, professional associations, or other hubs that I should be connected to?

  5. To my understanding, ___(fill in the blank with an assumption you’re making about the field or have heard to be true, like “only candidates with master’s degrees are taken seriously, even for entry level roles.”)____. From your experience, would you agree? Why or why not?

A few days before your informational interview, send the professional you’ll be meeting a few of your questions along with a confirmation of the meeting time and location. This will give them a bit of time to think about their answers, since they just might need it!

Career Experiments: Madison

I was introduced to Madison by way of a mutual friend who loved her design style. Our initial emails about project ideas grew into lively brainstorming/editing sessions, where Madison would do her magic in real time, editing behind the scenes as our conversation progressed and then voila! - something better than I imagined would refresh on my screen. Her fun personal site is about as upbeat and friendly as she is. 

Madison is a true creative, dabbling in projects that build new skills while she investigates her interests. I'm impressed with her skill-building drive (Which is essential...the more skills you have, the more opportunities you have access to!) but I'm floored by her focus on building a community. We talk a lot here about "learning from your tribe," but she's taking it up a level and uniting her own. Wow. 

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Who: Madison, 27

What: Graphic designer, artist, serial encourager

What career interest(s) are you currently exploring?

I’ve always had a passion for supporting local businesses - specifically artists and local makers. I live in a small town. We have tons of makers and creatives, but we don’t really have a place to make sales and gather with community. We kind of have to go into the city for that. Nothing against Atlanta, but I think that’s a real bummer! It’s all right here. We just don’t know each other yet. I have been thinking about creating a maker’s place - think retail shop and workshop space for classes alongside private artist studios. There are several wonderful models for this in the city, but not out here! (Yet!)

How did you discover that interest?

I think it’s always been in the back of my mind. I worked as an office and community manager for a while and I loved creating a welcoming environment. I worked with an arts nonprofit and enjoyed coordinating with artists and nonprofits to do workshops and art events. I worked as a brand manager for a blog and enjoyed connecting with large brands for sponsorships and paid posts. I enjoy making my own little line of greeting cards.

Through all these experiences, I was able to take what I learned and apply that to the next project.

Everyone has so much to offer and receive. So much to teach and learn. We just need to be mindful about putting the pieces in place. I really like putting the pieces in place.

What are you doing to investigate?

I am really trying to be gentle with the maker’s place idea and see if it’s a good fit. I am working with another small town evangelist, Small Town Creatives, to coordinate their first maker’s pop up shop at our local brewery. Pretty cool and special! It’s my own mini career experiment!

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I also started working part time at a local yoga studio to see if I enjoy being in a place at a certain time every day. Turns out, I do! The routine and consistency are so nice after 2 years of dry shampoo and #freelancelife. I’m learning a lot about customer service, about business operations, scheduling and how to solve problems. The owner of the shop is a very smart and thoughtful about her business, and I really enjoy learning from her.

What has surprised you most about your investigations so far?

While I’m in the experimental stage, I have been slowly whittling down the design projects I take on.

Starting a business is so freeing, but sometimes it can feel a little prison-like too. (Just me?) It can be tough to see how to grow beyond what you’ve built. It’s actually quite scary to think about pivoting or changing your business, “just when you’ve got it figured out.” Saying no to new work feels impossible because you’ve created this momentum and you don’t want to waste it! (While I totally get that - that’s a scarcity mindset and it has no place here!)

This experiment has created a much healthier balance of work and play for me. I've been working on my photography, my writing and illustration. I've been reading a lot. It's been fun! I’m excited to see where this goes!

If your career doesn't happen "according to plan," you're in GREAT company

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When you ask people how they got into their careers, you hear some crazy stories. 

Kat Cole, CEO of Cinnabon, got her start at Hooters. She was just planning to waitress to earn money for college. Her talent landed her on the radar of management, and then other opportunities began coming her way...including traveling internationally to train new staff members. By 26 she was promoted to VP of Training and Development. 

Her story might be on the "extreme" end, but the truth is that finding a job you love rarely happens "according to plan" for any of us. More often, the path becomes clear as you walk it.

My favorite tool for creeping on the surprising twists and turns that ended up shaping the career paths of other professionals is...

The Roadmap

(Check it out. I'm pretty sure you'll have fun.)

How to use your stories to write sparkling cover letters

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After you've collected all your unique, hands-on experience, it would be to shame to waste it in a generic cover letter. 

Here's what I mean. Many cover letters include stupendously boring body paragraphs like this one:

Working in laboratory settings has been a passion for many years. From the moment I stepped foot into the AP Chemistry lab I knew this was where I wanted to be. In college, I spent many hours learning how to be a valuable lab assistant, ensuring that I developed the skills to become highly competent, detail oriented, and able to take preventative actions to minimize any safety hazards.  The focus of these efforts has been to become a qualified candidate for a crime lab such as yours.

Paragraphs like this are problematic because they don’t include evidence. They expect the reader to simply believe the claims that are being made, rather than proving their skills or competence with compelling proof.

This is where your own, unique experience comes in. You can use it here to make your cover letter interesting!

For example, this body paragraph backs up a specific claim about the writer’s skill with a story from their real life experience. Most importantly, the story includes concrete evidence, which makes it much more impactful and relevant to the position:

My work in the Montana State University’s BioDesign Institute challenged me to develop the attention to detail necessary for assisting in a fast-paced laboratory. For two years I have given hands-on assistance to six PhD students, supporting their research while managing my time independently to give each project the attention it required. These projects involved extracting RNA, PCR reactions, and creating, running, and analyzing gel electrophoresis. This experience has prepared me to prioritize tasks and work efficiently in the Gilman County forensic lab.

Let's break that story down into a simple structure. You can use this skeleton to fit a lot of quality information into a small space, so your body paragraphs get right to the point while featuring the experience that makes you special.

1) Make a claim. After you’ve thoroughly read the job description and decided which desired skills, competencies, or experiences you want to feature, make a claim:

Coordinating logistics in a swiftly changing environment is a skill I have mastered through supporting a 3-person executive team.

2) Back it up with a short story illustrating how you modeled the skill or competency in one of your experiences.

This position required me to maximize the impact of our organization’s leaders by ensuring they that were always prepared to be productive. In an ever shifting startup environment, this meant changing priorities at a moment’s notice to prepare travel itineraries, update slide decks to reflect the latest product developments, anticipating needs and preparing to meet them in advance. On my departure, my ability to pivot with grace was rewarded with a special gift - gold pointe shoes.

3) Project the skill forward. Help the reader connect the dots by clarifying how the skills you developed in your experience can be applied in the new position, or how it might benefit the organization.

As an Operation Lead, my experience proactively identifying needs will ensure that Sandbox Cowork is always appropriately staffed and stocked, so members can focus on doing what they love.

The best thing about featuring your own stories, from your own experiences, is that NOBODY ELSE will have exactly the same ones. Your experience is what separates you from other candidates, so show it off!

If you've never written a cover letter before (or if you have but you used one of those awful templates from Google) there'e more to learn. My guide, How to Write a Resume and Cover Letter that Gets You Noticed, is a good place to start. 

Career Experiments: Celestine

The first thing that impressed me about Celestine was her number of interests, ranging from mastering languages to the great outdoors. The second thing was her determination to take advantage of all the opportunities that came her way.  

This is HUGE. I just read the brilliant Herminia Ibarra's article "Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers" about how leadership experience creates leadership identity. The way to become a leader is to do leadership stuff, just like how Celestine co-led a wilderness expedition with her class. Not only does action help you see yourself as a leader, but others start to see you that way, too. 

Nature might not be your thing, but if Celestine's experience of learning alongside others inspires you, consider Finding Your Tribe. A "tribe" unites people from different backgrounds around a common interest. A strong tribe connects you to people who are already rooted in the field, so you can benefit from their advice on getting started, getting ahead, and what to expect on the road ahead.

 Break time: No camera can capture the true golden color of that canyon wall that stood before us. But never mind that, let’s learn how to read a topographic map and find out where we’re going!

Break time: No camera can capture the true golden color of that canyon wall that stood before us. But never mind that, let’s learn how to read a topographic map and find out where we’re going!

Who: Celestine, 20

Where: Kanab, Utah

What have you done recently to explore a career interest?

I recently took a leadership class that was required for my Parks and Recreation Management degree, with an emphasis in Outdoor Education and Leadership. Through that class, I had the opportunity to go backpacking for six days in the Kanab Creek Wilderness.

I went into the trip not knowing what to expect and being fairly confident in my leadership skills. I got to put these skills to the test for two days during this trip.

It was a great setting to get helpful feedback from the group and my professor. I learned that I need to have a stronger voice in my leadership. Previous to this trip, I would have felt too rude to interrupt the group’s conversation and get us all on task. Now I know that as a leader, it’s my job to speak louder and make sure we’re accomplishing our goals. I have to work on being louder and prouder in my voice. 

There were also some things that I did well on the trip. I was recognized as very compassionate, patient, and communicative. So although we may not have stayed on task as much we needed, at least I made sure everyone’s needs were being met, whether it be taking it slow and helping people climb down a dangerous part of the trail, or taking the time to listen to someone if they were having a bad day.

I learned a lot about my own leadership style and observed other peoples’ styles. Now I know where I need to improve as well as what I need to continue doing.

 Look for the big green back back on the bottom left. There she is!

Look for the big green back back on the bottom left. There she is!

Best moment from this experience?

What I loved about being a leader on this trip was my ability to teach others and problem solve. Beyond the leadership aspect, this trip was a good reminder of how simple life can be. Whether you’re teaching a friend how to climb up a rock, sharing a moment of admiration for the natural surrounding beauty, or eating peanut m&m’s, I was reminded that I can find happiness and reward in the little things in life.

Now, I know that sharing the outdoors with others is my calling. I plan on finishing my degree and one day working in wilderness therapy.

Action: It's Your superpower

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“I think I need to Purel my tush.”

So said Alicia, another teenager on a volunteer trip to Bolivia, where expeditions to the bathroom were a multi-step process:

  1. Stuff your pockets with as much toilet paper as necessary, since it doesn’t come free in the stalls
  2. Dig out your headlamp, since the bathroom complex didn’t have electric lighting
  3. Find a buddy to keep you company on the walk across the dark field to the bathroom complex
  4. With a narrow beam of light for guidance, leap across a stagnant puddle to the rotting log sitting in front of the toilet seat, so your feet could be out of water while you did your business
  5. Purel everything

The reflection staring back at me in the mirror that night wasn’t “me.” This girl was streaked with mud, hadn’t washed her hair in days, and had pit stains down to her waist.

I don’t know exactly how this happened, but at 17 I determined I was spoiled rotten and should volunteer in a developing country to get a bigger perspective on life. (I also couldn’t tell you how my parents decided to go along with this whim, sending me off to Bolivia for a month with a highly dysfunctional national service organization I found online.)

Four months later, I found out what happens when you drop a perky prom queen with a love for platform sandals and hygiene into the Bolivian Amazon with no air conditioning, billions of bugs, and a single bathroom to share between 13 teenagers.

Her identity grows.

Until this experience, I would have told you that the “authentic” version of me was poised and put together. Being a teenager, I demonstrated this through fashion: Handbags coordinated with the rest of my attire and perfectly manicured fingernails. Quite quickly, I realized that being "put together" was of no value when aggressively scrubbing spider larvae off of cement walls.

Early on in that month I determined to push through the homesickness and sense of disorientation that came from not knowing how to be successful in a strange new environment and culture. By end of the month I could add another word to that list of "authentic" traits: Adaptable. 

As a teenager, I hit on an insight that Herminia Ibarra calls the "authenticity trap." This is the idea that we tend to use "authenticity" as an excuse to keep doing what's familiar, rather than push into the great unknown. In her words, “Because going against our natural inclinations can make us feel like impostors, we tend to latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable.” 

The way out of the authenticity trap is by taking action, putting yourself into new situations that draw out your potential. 

These experiences aren't about reinforcing who you already are, but about discovering who you could become next. 

Action is your superpower. It transforms you

Are there any ways that you're letting "authenticity" bind your powers? 

  • If you catch yourself saying "That's not my thing," could it be? 
  • If you decide not to pursue an idea or interest because "I'm not really that type,"...are you sure? 
  • If you turn down an opportunity because "I couldn't do that,"...have you tried? 

This week, why not take one new action and see what happens? If you take this challenge, please drop me a line at Laurah@betterbetter.co with a brief note on what you learned or gained. I'd love to send you a special gift in return. 

 

Career Experiments: Cass

Without knowing that Cass was a true fashionista, my first conversation with her was about clothes. J. Crew in fact, and exactly which outpost to visit to locate the sweater she was wearing. Eventually I learned about her side gig, Classy by Cass. I followed along for over a year, impressed with her persistence in developing her writing style and business, all while staying true to her vision of classic, modest fashion. 

If her story inspires you, maybe starting a side hustle is for you, too! This is a great way to explore a career interest "on the side," testing out a creative idea or developing your skills for a launch in a new direction while enjoying the security of a day job. 

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Who: Cass, twenty-something

What: Legal secretary by day, fashion blogger by night. 

Q: Trace the steps leading your current career interest; What were the most pivotal experiences that led you here?

What inspired me to start my blog, Classy By Cass is my friends and family...as well as everyone else who cared what I was wearing. I have always had a thing for fashion, styling, and travel. I was constantly being asked about this or that and to share where and how I pull modest looks together. I was so overwhelmed (in a good way) and started seeing all these other bloggers out there doing the same thing. So I figured I'd give it a go and try it out.

Turns out it's as fun, and as stressful, at times, as one would think. In the beginning, I had no idea what SEO and " coding" was and when I was in the very tiny baby stage of educating myself I was a little discouraged and frustrated because I never thought I'd get anywhere and learn everything. I have learned SO much and I am still learning. I'm always reading and trying to figure out how to improve and grow Classy By Cass.

I think one of the things that helped me take the plunge and make me go ahead with Classy By Cass is the whole networking side of it and forming relationships with certain brands and other influencers alike. So many people inspire me and I wanted to be a part of that and hopefully at some point, inspire people to do something that they really enjoy doing.

Life is too short not to jump on opportunities and make things happen for yourself. When I landed my first sponsored post it was the greatest feeling in the world! I knew from that point that I was glad I didn't let fear and frustration keep me from doing something I knew I would love.

The biggest insight for me since starting Classy By Cass is that you don't have to be great to start something.

You don't even have to be good.

If you've got a tiny knack for something, start there.

I love fashion, interior design, and travel. I'm okay with taking photos but had NO idea how to run a website or do the business side of it. The business side and all the dynamics are constantly being learned. It takes time, but just going and doing is what you have to do.

Learning as I go, because for me personally, I am a hands-on kind of learner, has made me appreciate my little business that much more. I wouldn't be here now if I didn't forge on, pushing all the negative thoughts aside that so tried to stop me. I even had people tell me they didn't think I could do it. But I can. And I did and I AM doing it. And I absolutely adore it.

So friends, if you're on the fence about something, sometimes just starting (blindly, and uneducated like myself) can be so rewarding because it's something that you'll have to learn, work on and grow in. I have come to treasure my little spot on the internet and love what I do!

Getting real with Meg jay

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Mentioning the name Meg Jay in the hearing of my career office director would raise an eyebrow at minimum, and stir a half-hour of impassioned debate if time allowed. 

Meg Jay....them's fighting words.

I'm still not sure why, exactly. Some people argued that she promotes a 1950's idea of "goals," that the value system implicit in her talk is too upper middle class, that her TED talk was too terrifying (i.e., too real.), or that her shirt is just too shiny. 

Personally, I think the content of this talk is brilliant. Especially 10:03, about building identity capital and making your exploration count. And 12:14...being as intentional with love as you are with work. Oh, and 13:29...how a slight change in direction can have a major impact on where you end up. 

I love pretty much all of it, actually. 

How about you?  

Job Dating: It's a Real Thing.

 Go ahead...give that crazy job idea a spin. And a few others, too. 

Go ahead...give that crazy job idea a spin. And a few others, too. 

On a flight to Florida I sat next to a woman furiously scribbling notes into the margins of a tiny book, How to Find Fulfilling Work, by Roman Krznaric. The entire book is a gem. But, this challenge stood out in particular:

I decided to try out thirty different jobs in the year leading up to my thirtieth birthday, dedicating the whole year to my career struggle. So I’m working as a part-time programmer of music events to pay the bills, and in my leisure time I contact people who I think have dream jobs or interesting careers and ask if I can follow then or work with them for at least three days. So far I’ve ‘been’ a fashion photographer, a bed-and-breakfast review writer, a creative director at an advertising agency, and owner of a cat hotel, a member of the European parliament, a director of a recycling centre and a manager of a youth hostel.

The more jobs I try, the more I realize it’s not a rational process of listing criteria and finding a job that matches them. It’s a bit like dating. When I was single I had a mental list of qualities I thought my boyfriend should have. But some guys who met all the criteria on my list did nothing for me. And at one point you find someone who doesn’t meet half your checklist but blows you away. I think that’s what you have to look for in a job. I found it when following the advertising director; I was totally swept off my feet even though working in an advertising agency doesn’t nearly match my ideals. So maybe it’s not about thinking and planning, but about doing lots of job dating, trying things out until you feel a spark.

Genius, right? 

No need to stress yourself out with those freaky, commitment-heavy questions like "WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?". 

Just go on some “job dates.”

Keep it fun. Light. Easy. 

A job date lets you test the water. For example, you could take a lunch (or just coffee) to Talk to an “Expert.”

If you feel a little connection, you could take it up a level...maybe Shadow a Job or Volunteer Strategically.

It's getting serious? Maybe it's time to Learn from Your Tribe

If you didn't feel a spark, no worries. There's no expectation that you need to go out again. Enjoy your freedom to play the career field. But remember, don't burn your bridges. Even if your career date flops, being friends has it's advantages...you never who will have an interesting friend in another career path....;) 

The essential (and often forgotten) key to crushing an interview

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Here are a few questions you will never be asked at a job interview or networking event:

  1. What is N if 2.4N=96?
  2. Who was the author of The Scarlet Letter? To what genre does this classic piece of literature belong? How was it received by the public? How do you think it would be received by the public if it were published today? How does this book fit within its historical context? And just to make sure you were reading…what letter of the alphabet is the scarlet letter? 
  3. True or False: Carbon is the most common element on earth by mass.

Here are a few questions you very likely will be asked:

  1. What did you learn from the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
  2. Tell me about a time when you challenged an assumption. What was the result?
  3. Which three personal strengths do you rely on most in your life?

The answers to questions like these don’t come from school.

Or from textbooks. 

And they absolutely cannot be found in Power Points. 

Answers to questions like these come from life, from experiences that challenge you, engage and inspire you, and push the boundaries of your comfort zone.

Not to say that your degree doesn't matter....it absolutely does. But employers do not care if you can recite a journal article back to them or rattle off all the factoids you learned from lectures. 

They want to know if you can apply the lessons for your degree outside the walls of the classroom - that you've drawn connections between what you've learned and why it matters

The point? Interview prep starts by getting experience. The more of it you can gather, and the more meaning you draw from it through reflection, the richer your interview responses will be. You'll have stories and insights that are uniquely yours....making you stand out from every other candidate.

Join a club; take on increasingly challenging roles each semester. Connect to "real" professionals in the fields that interest you, and build relationships with them. Turn social time into networking time. There are tons of ways to get experience; choose the flavor that works for you.  

 

Heart, in a loaf of bread.

My goal today was simple: Visit the Royal Yacht Britannia, a decommissioned vessel used by the royal family for 40-some years.

But I'm easily distracted. Walking past a bakery a loaf of black bread caught my eye. What was it? Too dark to be rye. Curious, I went in and asked the waiter. It was sourdough, made black by the charcoal used as a leavening agent. 

He was passionate about food, art, and local agriculture. I learned how the chemistry of the charcoal changes the texture of the loaf, making it spongy in a way most sourdough's aren't. To my delight, I was given a sample...covered in butter (mmm). The communal table, an experience designed to nourish not just the body, but the soul. 

I left informed, and inspired. It wasn't "just" bread. It was science. A mission to eat local. An artistic way of making something simple, special. 

Whatever you're working at today, put some heart in it. As Kahil would say...

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Bored? Find the edge of your comfort zone.

If you’re familiar with the MBTI personality assessment, you’ll know there are certain things that ENTJ’s just aren’t that into. Like emotions. (If those letters mean nothing to you, check out 16personalities.com.)

So, “hugging the kids,” one of my first assignments at a therapeutic boarding school I worked at post-college, was out of my comfort zone. So was bi-weekly group therapy, weekend immersion therapy, and outdoor therapy.

 Mr. Darcy, of Pride and Prejudice fame, hung in a Scottish gallery. (Unfortunately I was jet-lagged and can't recall which one. ) He wasn't that great with emotions either....but he improved after the charming elizabeth helped him see the blind spot.

Mr. Darcy, of Pride and Prejudice fame, hung in a Scottish gallery. (Unfortunately I was jet-lagged and can't recall which one. ) He wasn't that great with emotions either....but he improved after the charming elizabeth helped him see the blind spot.

How did I end up here, at the edge of my comfort zone? It started in my junior year of college. I had chosen not to reapply to be a Resident Assistant because it was so much work, but on a visit to a friend who was also wrapping up her first year as an RA in another hall I saw her hug a resident. HUG A RESIDENT. They were buddies. Everyone in her section watched movies together. Over in La Maison Francaise, the French-speaking house I directed, we got stuff done. Lot’s of stuff, like hosting a crepe party for 1200 students and quizzing each other on vocab.

Seeing my friend's different style, I recognized that there was something I needed to learn. I couldn’t quite put a finger on what, but I marched over to the Residence Life office, convinced them to take my late reapplication, and determined to figure it out. In training one month later, there it was. A fateful comment on my MBTI results under the “Blind spots to be aware of” category: “You prioritize getting tasks done over the people who are doing them.”

This insight sunk deep, because with a sinking heart I could see it was true. If something wasn’t a check box on my to-do list, it wasn’t important.

The beautiful thing about the MBTI (And many assessments, as much as some guru’s say otherwise!) is that it doesn’t measure a fixed trait that can’t be moved. We’re humans, we make choices. There are things we do by default because we haven't really thought about them, but as soon as they come into our awareness through the help of feedback or an assessment we get to make a choice.

Suddenly we have options. We can keep doing what’s comfortable, or challenge ourselves to do something else.

I chose to get out of my comfort zone. I changed my class schedule to afternoon-only classes, so I could hang out into the wee hours of the morning with my freshmen residents. We played volleyball, hosted a concert, and “hung out” without an agenda. (Yes, “hang out” was always in quotes in my journal, illustrating how distinct this concept was from the rest of my highly organized, checkbox-driven life.)

In a crazy way, this step led me to a trek up to Everest base camp, another attempt to get out of the comfort zone. That step led me to LIOS, a leadership development program where we learned to tune in to our own emotional centers, suggested to me by the guide on the Everest trek. LIOS led to working at the therapeutic boarding school.

Most great things happen at the edge of your comfort zone. This is where new opportunities, ideas, and challenges live. What can you do today to go there?

Career Experiments: greg

A few days ago my besties and I wrapped up a 93-mike backpacking trip on the Wonderland trail, which circles Mount Rainier in Washington.

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After our first (and only!) bear sighting, we rounded a curve to find this storybook log cabin with an incredible view of Rainier. 

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I wanted to know who the lucky person was with such a dream career gig...living in a remote cabin, greeting trekkers, enjoying peek-a-boo views of bears nibbling on berries. Lucky for us, he stopped to say hello (and check our permit...) on his way to get water.

Greg is a quiet man, but he let me snap a photo and ask a few questions about his journey to this job. It's a neat story about a dramatic career change. These can seem like scary things, but if you take it one little step at a time it becomes much less daunting. (And, slow career change are more successful anyway.) 

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Name: Greg

Job Title: Park Ranger

What steps led you here? I was a marine in the Military, and then completed a degree in outdoor education from Prescott College. Due to my military background I was a strong candidate for a role with the Park Service, since the government is proactively hiring veterans. My education prepared me to interact with visitors and help them get the most out of their outdoor experience. After working at Yellowstone I transferred to Rainier to be closer to my girlfriend. 

What's one skill you learned as a Marine that you use in the Park Service? How to work in a bureaucracy. 

Career Experiment: Emerald

I can't say enough about this woman. She's actually leans in when you give her feedback, wanting to know what she can do better and how she can grow. Thank you, Emerald, for sharing this part of your story here...and good luck in your next adventure!!

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Who: Emerald, 20

Where: Standing in front of the Capitol where I interned for the summer.

Trace the steps leading you to this moment; What were the three most pivotal experiences that led you here?

I was not interested in environmental sustainability or political science as a major until I entered college. Sustainability was simply just a lifestyle I tried to live by. I was the girl that always encouraged others to recycle and became vegetarian for the environmental benefits. However, I did not envision a career in sustainability.

As I became an intern for Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) my freshmen year, my entire view for my future changed.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby focused on passing environmental legislation and framing the environmental conversation in a way that appealed to anyone’s values. Through CCL, I saw the hope that one person can bring and the possibility of a better future for the environment and all life. After attending a CCL conference in Washington DC, where I actually lobbied members of Congress, I saw the intersection of environmental sustainability and politics.

I know I can make a great difference in the world and I believe working on environmental legislation is the best way I can do that. I interned in the United States House of Representatives for this summer in Representative Tom O’Halleran’s office in order to gain more knowledge about politics. My hope continued to grow as I saw all of the wonderful, inspiring people working on the Hill fighting for the environment. While my position did not have me working on environmental legislation directly, I was able to see the behind-the-scene work that goes into crafting legislation. I saw how important the lobbying and research from environmental organizations is when drafting legislation or deciding how the member of Congress will vote on bills.

I was surprised to learn that environmental lobbyists are truly crucial to the way a member of Congress will vote.

The research and petition signatures that groups bring to a congressional staffer legitimately help that staffer recommend how to vote to the member of Congress.

My internship on the Hill solidified my desire to create environmental policies that benefit the world.

What do you need more than insight? Outsight.

Outsight

When I went to Alaska for a post-college summer working at a B&B, I already knew I loved to bake pies.

I had no idea that I'd meet some brilliant mountaineers, wonder what the fuss about the great outdoors was all about, get over my fear of peeing behind a tree, and find myself trekking in the Himalayas three months later.

Insight said, "Yeah....I'm not a big nature girl."

Outsight said, "...yet."

"Outsight," according to the brilliant Herminia Ibarra, "is the fresh, external perspective that comes from doing new and different things - plunging ourselves into new projects and activities, interacting with people outside our daily routines, and experimenting with new ways of getting things done."

Outsight is forward-looking. It gives you access to the parts of your identity and potential that are still waiting to be discovered...or created.  

Insight, in contrast, is backwards-looking. It's based on what you know about yourself already, from your experience of everything you've been or done in the past. Insight helps you zero in on values and strengths. But basing career decisions on insight alone means basing them on your past...not your future.

In other words, don't let insight put you in a box prematurely.

There's a lot more "YOU" to be discovered by getting outside of your comfort zone.

The best part about outsight is that you don't have to wait for it; you can meet it head on. Ask for a challenging stretch project to learn about who you are in an experience you haven't yet encountered, or volunteer strategically to find out what capacities you draw out in a new working environment.

As you develop your outsight, chances are strong that you'll discover career options that you  never considered (or never knew existed!) along the way.