Career Lab Virtual Campus Forté Foundation

The Importance of Mentorship: Finding Your Board of Directors

April 17, 2014

Early in March, I had the opportunity to attend a discussion on mentorship led by Bill Wright-Swadel, the Executive Director of Career Services at Duke University. He spoke in front of a group of prospective mentors and mentees, who were all members of The Duke Association for Business Oriented Women, the campus group that I will be co-president of for the upcoming academic year. During his talk, Mr. Wright-Swadel imparted advice to the members on how to seek guidance for both career and personal development with considerations given for both the short- and long-term.

Rather than adopt a general mentorship relationship between one or two people, Mr. Wright-Swadel encouraged attendants to consider fostering a “Board of Directors” to best service them. This concept involves developing a group of individuals familiar with you through different disciplines, such as academics, student organizations, Greek life or professionally.

In assembling this Board of Directors, Bill Wright-Swadel emphasized diversity. Gaining the most innovative insights would require surrounding yourself with individuals who are not only not like you, but also not like each other as well.

The primary benefit of incorporating this structure of mentorship would be the wide range of perspectives and pertinent feedback that an individual can hear. Mr. Wright-Swadel commented that individuals often receive “conflicting information” regarding themselves from their respective Board Members. For example, a teacher may consider you to be quiet through your limited participation in a large lecture class, while students in a campus organization may view you as assertive for taking on an active leadership role.

Overall, gaining these insights from a range of people (be they faculty, fellow students or managers) will help you to both reflect on and manage the relative complexities of yourself.

Mr. Wright-Swadel further discussed the necessity for a relationship to be beneficial for all parties involved. He commented that many young college students, when first faced with the prospects of networking and finding a mentor, are often uncomfortable due to the lop-sided nature of the activity. The key to networking and developing successful mentoring relations is instead networking when you don’t need anything in return.

Through this method, you form relationships with other individuals now, so that sometime in the long-term you will be able to ask for a favor or general advice. Chances are, these individuals will be more than willing to accommodate you.

Better yet, by maintaining open communication with these mentors, you may often find that they will also be looking out for you and your interests (with no favors asked).

Towards the end of his talk, Bill Wright-Swadel provided some key concluding points on maximizing the mentoring experience:

  • Start developing mentor relationships with people now; in the cases of both personal and professional development, sooner is always better than later.
  • Be both tactical for the short-term and strategic for the long-term.
  • Recognize what your strengths, weaknesses and interests are now and identify individuals who could help provide you with perspective on these areas. However, also acknowledge skills you would like to develop for the long term (such as problem-solving and leadership) and look for individuals exemplifying these traits in their current roles. This integration of both present and future will be more impactful for your own journey.
  • Understand the difference between mentors and role models. While both sets of individuals will provide you with insight and guidance, the latter prescribes an eagerness to follow exactly in their footsteps. Rather than trying to emulate your development according to the path they took, instead figure out how to mirror their success your own way.
  • When with your mentors, talk for a third of the time and listen for the rest of the time. Following this method will give them the chance to be the experts and also show your willingness to learn from them.
  • Lastly, remember to not be so serious and to have fun.

While cliché, you want to remember that your mentoring relationship is mutually beneficial. The easiest thing you can share to ensure that both parties are benefiting from the relationship is the simple enjoyment of being in each other’s company.

Caroline Herrmann is a junior at Duke University majoring in Cognitive Science and minoring in German Studies. She is working on a Markets & Management Studies certificate. Her goal is to attend business school and she would love to work in marketing or consulting in the United States or Europe. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference and can be found on Twitter at @caroooline717.

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Avoid the Nightmare: Handling Group Projects

April 16, 2014

When your professor announces there is a group project in the course, do you groan? Me too. Let’s face it, group projects with people you don’t know are usually demanding and stressful endeavors. In my experience, they’ve never been great. They’re either pretty good at best or terrible at worst, but there are ways to make the process a little more bearable.

Set Up Communication – and Quickly

The sooner your group can set up some system of communication between all the members that is convenient, the better. There are many, many platforms available. If you are not familiar with GroupMe, it is a wonderful app where you can open a group conversation by simply entering everyone’s cell phone numbers. The best part is that it works for all phones. The messages will come in one, succinct text message. Phew.

Besides GroupMe, there’s also regular text messages, emails, Skype, Whatsapp, and many other group message services. The reason it’s a good idea to start on this early is so that brainstorming and idea suggesting can start as soon as possible. It also ensures that no one can say later down the road that they were “out of the loop.” It keeps everyone accountable.

Choose a Leader

Sometimes it is clear who should lead, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes one person will step up to the role, and other times the group just needs to throw someone into the job. However it happens, there has to be a leader, or someone running the show.

This does not mean they are the decision maker as much as an organizer for the group. This person will record what happens and gets decided at meetings then fill in those who missed the discussion. The leader will remind everyone of important dates and meeting times via the chat. They will facilitate discussion, and they can delegate equal parts of work to each group member.

For me, it has always been much easier to have someone running these logistics than to have each member fending for themselves.

Communication and Cooperation

Group members do not ask for help when they need it, and their teammates do not lend a hand on a section that is not their own. Everyone is struggling to prove they are a contributing member so that no one docks them in the group evaluations, and we tend to forget that we can and should help each other.

If the work is ever divided unevenly, offer to take some of the load off of the unlucky one. It’s likely that your example will encourage other group members to help out more wherever they can.

I also find that in my research to do my own part, I will find something that may be of use to one of my group members. If you are in a similar situation, share what you’ve found on the group chat. You never know how it could help.

Dealing with Slackers and Radio Silence

This is my pet peeve when it comes to group projects: people who do not show up and contribute or people who have completely fallen off the radar and from which you can get no response. There is almost always one, but it’s important to be patient and fair.

As we never know what is going on in the lives of other people, it’s a good idea to voice your thoughts to another group member to see if they know more about the missing person’s disappearance. Never instantly cast out a person because they fell through one or two times. Never call them out in front of the others (especially if you’re the leader), put them down, or be rough.

Instead, it may be enough to privately and gently ask them to figure out why they have been absent. And once that is sorted out, goodwill is restored, and the person can still find a way to contribute to the group.

As for the radio silence, if they never show up, never respond, and generally don’t lift a finger, by all means let the professor know. Most professors will adjust grading fairly so that the slacker is not rewarded for work they did not do. But again, make sure you’ve given the person several chances and reached out to them. Discuss with your group members as well to gain a consensus on what to do.

These tips are stepping stones to increasing the productivity and satisfaction of a group project. We all know it can be a dreadful process, so why not try out one or all of these techniques the next time around? You may just end the semester with a new group of friends. Good luck!

Angela Coquis is a junior at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is majoring in Management Information Systems and wants to live abroad and pursue a career in database management. She enjoys Virtual Campus and her dream job is owning a bakery.

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The Summer Internship Equation for Rising Stars

April 15, 2014

Spring is one of the loveliest, most nostalgic times of the academic year. You are finishing the rest of your two challenging semester journey with hard-won grades, assignments, and an established university presence to show for. You deserve a pat on the back at the very least for the countless hours you spent in your collegiate environment, yet they are about to wind down as you take the next steps towards planning your summer.

As you plan this journey, I would like to share four tips to leave you prepared, confident, and ready to plant the seed for success.

Establish your unique brand

If a picture is worth a thousand words, can you just imagine how important that beginning day on an internship is when forming a first impression? Branding is important not only for consumer goods, but for people as well. TV personalities and those in the spotlight are keenly aware of how delicate and valuable their brand is. You don’t need to be (one of my female role models) Ivanka Trump, with a family legacy in business to establish yourself professionally.

A brand is not just identified from a watermark on a stationary or a glossy business card. A brand is the symbolism of YOU in the flesh and what YOU represent to others. If you take away your name, character, and appearance, that brand no longer exists. In the same way, if you take away the name “Trump” from any one of the luxury hotels that frame the skyline, there would be no unique association and connection for the consumer.

These brands, and the unique individuals who make them, work long and hard to have their name acknowledged and to maintain them. As such, it only makes sense that females looking to become leaders in their own field start understanding their unique brand and how they can project and sustain that effectively and purposefully.

In her book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, Trump emphasizes that each person has been dealt “a winning hand,” and it is up to each of us to play it right and smart. You are the only one who can understand this winning hand fully. Knowing this, its important your best traits come across in your branding.

So how does “branding” translate to an office setting? If you define your priorities from the start of a new position as well as voice your concerns, contributions, and care in the subject matter, your brand will develop along with you. Your projects, work ethic, and approach all indicate the kind of person you are. If you desire certain key traits, such as “responsible, diligent, or creative,” its important to demonstrate them – not quietly, but with appropriate emphasis.

Form a Routine

As mundane and lackluster as the word “routine” might seem, it is actually the key to success in any field.

In college, we are used to the bombardment of assignments, events, and responsibilities that come our way. Efficiency is sought only through the tackling of each item one by one. Even the smallest routine such as setting out work clothes for the following day, reading your materials the night before, or even planning periods of rest before a long week can invigorate, strengthen, and empower you during the hustle and bustle of the some 20-40 hour work week.

The less small things you have to worry about, the more you can focus on the big picture items in front of you. You will also feel more control and stability. Even better, your consistency will be inevitably visible to your colleagues. Continuing with the idea of branding, since very few of us have a photographic memory, it is important to consistently project the image and behavior we wish to be known for day in and day out to establish our brand.

Build Trust-Based Relationships

At the start of any new role in a foreign environment, it might be hard to break the ice in that first week. One has to remember that the internship environment can be intimidating, demanding, and mentally / physically draining.

When you are first introduced to this new territory, it can feel a lot like stepping into a beehive. There is a lot of buzz from your co-workers, much work to be done, and yet you are trying to figure out how to get noticed amongst your worker bees. Its important in this initial stage, to reach out to at least one mentor you can trust.

While navigating unchartered waters, you want an experienced captain, and that is exactly the kind of mentor you should aim to befriend. This mentor might be pessimistic and cautious of associating themselves with you at first, given past experiences with interns or the many responsibilities they already carry, thus do not be discouraged if this is the case, however do not expect too much of that person. They will also be examining you, to see if you can meet their expectations. Professional friendships are time consuming and slow to develop, but worth every ounce of energy as these individuals may root for you and guide you along as well.

If you look at Sheryl Sandberg, you will notice that her career path was not a set of random events. In fact, there is a consistency and trust-based relationships are a common theme in her work experiences. Sandberg’s Harvard professor, Larry Summers, was her mentor and thesis advisor during her undergraduate years. Summers recruited Sandberg for research at the World Bank, and after graduation when her professor became United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton, she was recruited to be his Chief of Staff.

In instances like these, there is no real value you can place on professional relationships, especially considering they can have life-changing influences as in the case of Ms. Sandberg.

To reiterate on the first two pieces of advice, professional relationships are usually based on a “give and take” philosophy. Your colleagues need to first understand in general terms who you are, and what you offer, before trusting you with vital information or projects. Interns do not need to wear their resume on their sleeve, but they should be known for certain valuable traits and skills.

Establish a Record of Experience

Writing after a long day at work is not a very appealing notion on the surface. However, to pinpoint the areas in which you can and have grown, its important to have a diary. It allows you to examine the skills you have gained and the obstacles overcome.

Particularly notable leaders in history have kept a diary, such as Presidents Harry Truman and George Washington. The public has studied these to gain access to the complex psyche of these movers and shakers. Yet for all practical purposes, whether or not you are planning on writing an autobiography later in life like so many leaders and modern day celebrities, its important to have a grip of the pace and influence of your progression as a female in a competitive workplace.

This diary does not need to be time-consuming; only a 10-15 minute journaling bi-weekly would make a difference.

Whatever organization you work for, each has a set of principles and a mission they aim to meet. If you find yourself the project leader for a nonprofit or private sector game-changer, think about how you want your work to contribute to the lives of others. This contribution may very well be indirect as a novice in a field, but will have immediate and future benefits.

I would like to end this conversation with words of advice from alum of my university, and one of history’s most elegant and multi-talented personages: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Her opinion regarding female expression is invigorating and telltale of how she was able to infuse grace, intelligence, and beauty in her role of First Lady:

“Once you can express yourself, you can tell the world what you want from it and how you would like to change it. All the changes in the world, for good or evil, were first brought about by words.”

Our First Lady enchanted us with all the four criteria in the equation for success we discussed: an undeniable charming brand, a dynamic routine to execute her public service agenda, trust-based relationships within her circle, and a record of her days in Camelot with that of 35th President, John F. Kennedy, shared in biographies and poetry for all of America to view. It was these four elements which made way and provided an intellectual and social space for her work and enduring legacy.

I pray that in taking on your summer internship and working towards that C-suite position, you are able to utilize the four elements in the equation we discussed to attain success: branding, routine, trust-based relationships, and recording your experiences. Ultimately, this is all in order to enable your unique voice to shine through and be recognized, respected, and remembered.

Nicole Chacin will graduate in 2015 from George Washington University with a degree in business economics and public policy with a minor in vocal music. She plans on getting a JD/MBA after college and dreams of working in health policy and administration. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference and is the creative designer and co-founder of Chicago Boutique.

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Strategies for Paying for Business School

April 14, 2014

by Melanie Lasoff Levs

If you’re serious about getting your MBA, you need to get serious about planning for business school financially. Start saving money, settle for your old car for a couple more years, put off those big purchases, consider negotiating a low-interest loan from a family member. Also, become very familiar with these basic education funding mechanisms:

Loans

To be eligible for any federal loans, students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Federal Stafford Loans for up to $18,500 per year have variable interest rates. The government will pay all the interest on the loan while you’re in school if you demonstrate financial need. If you are eligible, the Federal Perkins loan will pay up to $6,000 per year and is interest-free while you are in school. Many schools also offer their own loan programs.

Corporate Tuition Support

Some companies will pay for their employees to pursue a part-time or executive MBA program, or even a full-time program. Check your HR office to find out about educational benefits.

In-School Scholarships/Fellowships

Most business schools also offer need-based and/or merit-based scholarships or fellowships, including Forté Fellowships. Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth considers all students who apply for financial aid for scholarships. The school is also a member of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management and awards scholarships to select students through that program. Harvard Business School’s HBS Fellowships are awarded based on need, and 46 percent of the class of 2006 received a Fellowship their first year, according to the HBS website. At Yale School of Management, all students are automatically considered for a long list of merit-based scholarships no separate application is required.

Outside Scholarships

While schools recognize the cost of education and provide extensive resources, there are several venues for outside scholarships. Many school websites list resources for scholarship searches, including FastWeb, FinAid, and the American Association of University Women. There are scholarships for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and others for international students such as Rotary International and the International Education Financial Aid. For more financial aid ideas, check out the Financing Your MBA section of MBA Central.

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Wise Words: Gloria Steinem

Dreaming

Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning. – Gloria Steinem


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Reflections on Female Leadership

April 10, 2014

by Nicole Chacin

Due to the immense privilege of writing for the Forté Foundation for the 2013-2014 academic year, I have been able to highlight concepts such as feminine leadership and self-empowerment through a business lens for young, aspiring professionals like myself. The chief inspiration behind these themes comes from the cherished women in my life as well as those in history, academia, government, philanthropy, media, and (of course) business.

It can be disheartening when so many women college age and older shy away from the words “power” or “leadership.” In fact, these very words can seem domineering, masculine, or presumptuous when we apply them to ourselves. It is for this reason I have chosen to bring up these subjects throughout my writing and by taking insight from thought leaders and practitioners in business I have come across and met.

Personally, I do not think it is possible for a female to succeed in business if she is uncomfortable with either exercising leadership or holding a position of power.

In many ways, there are vertical – not just horizontal – pathways to plant the seeds for success in an organization at school and beyond. As a freshman you can start as the Chair of Membership of a student organization and by your senior year, end up as the Chief Operating Officer/ President.

It is these beginner level positions which form our individual, unique leadership styles to become good listeners, motivators, and decision makers when we really need them in high-level positions where our word holds greater weight and consequences. I would say all women can obtain some degree of power in their work, and frankly should, if they are ambitious.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is notable for saying some revealing truths about women in power from her firsthand experience: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

As the only woman to hold the office of British Prime Minister and the longest-serving one of the 20th century, she holds a unique understanding of power. What is more telling than anything from her leadership is that she was adamant about showing strength and competence through action, not just verbalizing ideals.

From examining Ms. Thatcher’s remark, it may appear she is saying all ladies are powerful and should not need to say they are. Rather, I believe that Ms. Thatcher is bringing to light that the true indicator of power is when it is implicit, understood, and respected because of the way a lady carries herself and is known through past achievements. Power is not an accessory, but rather the whole outfit.

Another female leader who studied many of her female counterparts to pinpoint power trends is Moira Forbes, president and publisher of ForbesWoman. According to Forbes, the whole dynamic of power has changed today, regardless of gender. Power is more about influence and impact. In other words, it is measured by how leaders can move people, effect change, and shape minds.

To Forbes, there has been a “democratization” of power, meaning it’s much easier to gain access to it in traditional and non-traditional roles, whether that be running a corporation or taking a political office.

Delving deeper into the trends of power in the 21st century discussed by Forbes, I think a powerful women is identified for being influential and impactful when she has a specific agenda and focus in her work – a vision. Women are drawn to powerful positions because they are ready to ignite their vision for the future.

I believe they are fueled by their desire to project one’s authentic self in their work and create something larger than you or me.

For all those skeptical or territorial about females gaining power in the workplace and beyond, its truly hard to argue with the beauty and stewardship that a vision for the future can offer, is it not?

One example of a female using her power to fulfill her vision is Bonnie Wurzbacher, Senior Vice President at the Coco Cola Company. With twenty-seven years of experience within various senior leadership roles, Wurzbacher is currently on board with a new global initiative to economically empower 5 million women by the year 2020 with the United Nations Millennium Goals.

The 125-year old global wealth creation of Coco-Cola is particularly important to Wurzbacher who understands the vast job creation and sustainable economic well-being brought to communities where the company invests and gains their labor pool from. The company is the largest private employer on the continent of Africa – where for every one job created directly, another sixteen are also created indirectly.

From high-class political leaders such as the Iron Lady to the 100+ women who grace Forbes magazine to the personal story of Ms. Wurzbacher at Coco-Cola, I think it is evident that female power and leadership is essential to society and to empowering young women to become the thought leaders and visionaries of the future.

I hope you will join me on this riveting journey of strengthening other aspiring female professionals as well as yourself to partake in the many joys and tribulations of attaining power and leadership in business. I am sure that there are many female role models who have embraced both power and leadership that you can examine for inspiration, aside from the ones I mentioned.

It’s only when women acknowledge our immense capacity and ability to achieve today that we can plant the seeds for tomorrow’s success.

Nicole Chacin will graduate in 2015 from George Washington University with a degree in business economics and public policy with a minor in vocal music. She plans on getting a JD/MBA after college and dreams of working in health policy and administration. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference and is the creative designer and co-founder of Chicago Boutique.

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Balancing Social Life and Study Life in the College World

April 9, 2014

by Angela Coquis

We all live busy, hectic lives and we’re constantly bombarded with opportunities to get distracted. There’s nothing wrong with having fun, but as we all know from when we were kids, your work has to be done first. In fact, I have more fun knowing that all my homework is done and I can carry on, free of stress. So do we find a balance? How do we succeed in school while still having fun outside the classroom?

Prioritize

First, most importantly, and what you’ve probably heard many times before, it is so important to prioritize. On a daily basis, there are assignments to get done, there is work to get started on, and offers to go out come up. Unfortunately, there is no way to do all of them – and do all of them well – so we prioritize.

To do this, you have to examine what is most important to you. For me, some friends are closer than others, as some classes are more important than others. So if many friends come to me with big plans to go do something, but a close friend wants to do something else, I choose the closer one.

And if one class is more pertinent to my major and another is not, I will work to get good grades in both, but I’ll focus more and get more involved in the one I find more valuable. When it comes to choosing between an unimportant class and a group of friends, I start to evaluate how much time I have in the day.

Time Management

In the example I mentioned, I would examine how long I have been working on my homework, or how long I have been hanging out with friends already. If it’s been hours and I’m at a good stopping point, it’s time for a switch. If it’s been hours and I’m not making progress, I switch. If I have just started, I give some more time to my current activity, but keeping in mind that in about an hour I should switch.

The code is to maximize your efficiency by having fun or working for as long as you are productive, and when that stops, switch. A lot of places recommend writing out a timetable of what you plan to do in a day, then stick to it. If this works for you, by all means, do that.

The Power of Saying No

Another important technique to master is the power of saying no. This is essential not only in these spheres, but in most of life.

Someone once told me, “If you make yourself available, people will take up as much of you as they can.” Whether it is friends, or group projects, or work, if you cannot say no, these things can take up way more time than you have for them.

When your friends want to go to just one more place, but you already have plans, it’s time to say no and leave. If you feel like you’ve pulled your fair weight in a group project and someone asks you to take on another portion (and if someone else is not doing as much), say no and redirect or redistribute the work.

Make a Few Sacrifices

Sometimes you can try to distribute your time as best you can, but there are just some things you have to let go. This happens to everyone, and prioritizing comes into play again when you’re deciding what to give up.

Sometimes you give up something harmless, and other times you have to give up something very important. In those cases – say, if you let someone down because you had to drop plans with them – always get back to them with hopes to reschedule. This helps people get over the cancellation, and rekindles goodwill.

If the item you sacrificed, was school-related – say, an assignment – then it is always a good idea to see your professor about extra credit opportunities to make up for it.

It feels like we’re all struggling to find the balance, especially in the beginning of college. These four concepts are ones I practice on a daily basis to help me stay on top of things.

There’s no doubt it’s difficult to stick to these codes, but every time you do it’s a personal victory because you’ve kept yourself on the right track.

Angela Coquis is a junior at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is majoring in Management Information Systems and wants to live abroad and pursue a career in database management. She enjoys Virtual Campus and her dream job is owning a bakery.

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Preparing for Your First Day on the Job

April 8, 2014

by Kaitlyn Lannan

Your first day on the job, whether at a new internship, work-study job, or even a new volunteering position can be a nerve-wracking experience. Here is how to calm your nerves so you have a great experience.

Research the company as much as possible.

In learning more about the company before your first day, you are putting yourself at an advantage with your supervisor. It shows that you truly care about the company and that you are excited to start working there. It also helps you in terms of the amount of information that you will be expected to learn.

Learning a bit about the company’s history and background lessens the amount of new information that your supervisor will want you to know.

Prepare physically.

Make sure that you know the company culture and environment before your first day. This will help you to determine the right outfit to wear, and how you will present yourself.

If you aren’t sure, always lean towards the more formal side of things. It is better to turn up dressed more formally for an office that turns out to be casual, than more casually for an office that turns out to be very formal.

Don’t wait until the last minute.

Even if you start your job very soon after accepting an offer, you will be less stressed if you plan everything out several days or weeks before starting. Make sure you know where the office is located and how to get there, along with important information like your supervisor’s name.

In following these tips, you can have a less stressful first day of work and enjoy doing more fun activities like meeting coworkers more thoroughly. Good luck on your first day!

Kaitlyn Lannan is a sophomore at Northwestern University. She is majoring in economics and communication and plans on attending business school. Her dream job is becoming Chief Marketing Officer at a Fortune 500 company. You can find Kaitlyn on Twitter at @KaitlynLannan.

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