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How to Make Your Best Choice at a Career Crossroads

By Danni Ondraskova

March 30, 2017

This post is primarily addressed to graduating college seniors and graduate students facing concrete career choices. The advice I give here can, however, be equally well applied to others who are interested in internships in differing fields. As always, be sure to consult professional sources and those who know you best in your decision-making process in addition to reading the general advice here.

General Peter Pace, a former Chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to business students at the University of Chicago Booth School Management Conference in 2007 (If you want to listen to snippets of the talk, click on the link here). When advising these bright fellows on finding the best organization to work for, he told them to first identify places whose mission and people with which the students identified. According to General Pace, once listeners chose to place their “roots” in the organization of their choice, they should “grow where they are planted.

I have created a more general breakdown of my own decision-making process that is also informed by General Pace’s approach. This step-by-step system is the process of trial and error, reading the biographies of those I admire, and advice from mentors and family.

1. Know yourself.
A daunting task, to be sure. As life can be viewed as a journey of self-discovery, it can in a sense be said that we can never truly know who we are. Keeping that in mind, ask yourself these questions: What makes you wake up in the morning with a grin, and what makes you shuffle back under the covers as your alarm goes off? What kinds of people and activities give you energy, and what kinds sap it from you? Do you have strong preferences for a certain atmosphere, city or region, or culture? Finally, what are you passionate about, or, what are you willing to suffer for? Note here that you will not always be happy doing even what you love most—the Latin word from which passion is derived means “to suffer.”

2. Identify and distinguish your internal and external motivators.
Our behavior is regulated by internal and external motivators. While it is always good to be in an environment that encourages you to develop your talents and have supportive family and friends, there is a time in many people’s lives when they decide to go against external pressures to do what they believe is right for them. That sense can be from “the gut” or have a spiritual undertone. Unless you have a sense of who you are, you may not be prepared to say “no” to others on key career decisions.

Internal motivators are a powerful part of human nature and often are the most fundamental driver of what you do. Are you working to merely put food on the table out of a desire for survival, or are you motivated by love, selflessness, ambition, or a desire for gratification? All these impulses tend to check each other and can steer you in the right direction. However, when one desire tends to predominate, it’s a good idea to slow down in your job search, visit those external motivators, and reflect on from which experiences these urges stem.

3. Harmonize your goals with the world’s constraints
A key buzzword in economics is constraints, which can be interpreted as the gap between the possible and the desirable. Our desires often exceed what is possible, whether in the temporal, financial, or other sense. Here it is good to give a level-headed assessment of the world you are in, the direction it appears to be heading in, and your own plans. Thanks to the emergence of big data and unprecedented transparency thanks to websites like GlassDoor, you can easily retrieve information about salaries, number of people in the field, reviews of employees’ experiences in specific companies, and even expected industry growth rates. If you’re not sure about where to start or go from here, a visit to a trusted career services professional is in hand.

Danni Ondraskova will graduate in 2018 from Wellesley College. Danni plans on earning a dual degree in law and business and dreams of working for JP Morgan’s Global Investment Management division.

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Using Self-Knowledge to Improve Your Leadership Skills: Team Player Style

By Jordan Perras

March 20, 2017

One of the best ways to become a better leader is to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your tendencies in various situations. You can understand your strengths and weaknesses and learn how to improve them. In the first part of this series, you’ll learn about how you interact with others on teams and how to combine different styles to make a more effective team.

Parker Team Player Styles

The Parker Team Player Styles are helpful to understand how you (and others) behave in a team setting. We are all thrown into group projects or sports teams or club executive boards, and it is important to remember that everyone brings something different to the table. Check out my summary below or take the assessment yourself to gain a deeper understanding of your style(s).

The four styles are:

Contributor

  • Strengths: You are task oriented, dependable, reliable, and organized.
  • Weaknesses: You may come across as shortsighted, perfectionistic or uncreative.

Collaborator

  • Strengths: You are goal-directed, flexible, imaginative, and forward-looking.
  • Weaknesses: You may come across as insensitive, overinvolved, or over-ambitious.

Communicator

  • Strengths: You are process-oriented, supportive, relaxed and tactful.
  • Weaknesses: You may come across as placating, impractical or manipulative.

Challenger

  • Strengths: You question the goals and methods of the team. You’re honest, principled, ethical and thorough.
  • Weaknesses: You may come across as rigid, contentious or nit-picky.

Do any of these styles (or a combination of them) sound like you? Does reading about the other styles make you rethink how you interact or come across in groups? Think about what how the strengths of one style can make up for the weaknesses of another.

Jordan Perras will graduate in 2018 from Northeastern University and she is majoring in Math and Business Administration with a concentration in Finance and a minor in Economics.  She has a wide variety of interests that include history, art and literature and plans to pursue an MBA after college. She is especially interested in the role of social entrepreneurship in sustainable business.

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Managers vs. Leaders: Are They the Same?

By Jordan Perras

March 6, 2017

It is easy to use “manager” and “leader” interchangeably, especially when you’re thinking about work. However, managers and leaders fulfill different roles in organizations. Of course they share some basic characteristics, but they are separate and distinct roles that are both necessary on effective teams. 

What does a manager do?

Managers focus on the quantitative work of a team. They help plan, budget, organize and staff a team. They control what the team does and help problem solve when things go wrong.

Have you ever acted as a manager in a team project? Typical manager behavior would be assigning tasks to other group members, booking meeting rooms in the library or emailing due date reminders.

What does a leader do?

Leaders focus on the qualitative part of the team, especially the ‘people’ element. They are more likely to set a direction for the team, get people on board, and then motivate the team to follow through. They probably advocate for change and new approaches to tasks.

Have you ever acted as a leader in a team project? Typical leader behavior would be exciting the team to do well, supporting the team vision vocally, and inspiring people to do better work.

Can you be both?

The short answer is YES, you can be both! How?

  • Take smart risks.
  • Gain self-knowledge (check out my self-knowledge leadership series!). 
  • Involve others in your decision making. 
  • Think about how one part of a project impacts the others. 
  • Think about the long term impact of decisions – on people, on efficiency, on morale.

Jordan Perras will graduate in 2018 from Northeastern University and she is majoring in Math and Business Administration with a concentration in Finance and a minor in Economics.  She has a wide variety of interests that include history, art and literature and plans to pursue an MBA after college. She is especially interested in the role of social entrepreneurship in sustainable business.

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Three Personal Development Books to Spring You into Action This Year

By Hafsah Lakhany

February 27, 2017

As the New Year begins to unfold and the momentum for the realization of many of our loftiest goals declines, I often look to self-help non-fiction books as sources of information, inspiration, and most importantly motivation, to continue in an upward trajectory in an effort to constantly attain growth, progression, and success. So without further ado, here are three works that have profoundly impacted my approach to my academic, social and professional life:

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie’s world renowned classic delves into the process of cultivating personal practices which drive success such as mechanisms for transforming individuals’ perspectives to parallel your own, methods for increasing your affability, and altering the opinions of others without inciting animosity.  He acknowledges the inevitability of interacting with others, and leveraging the social component of success rather than allowing it to emerge as a hurdle in your progression.

2. Outliers: The Stories of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell’s avant garde book emerges as one of my most cherished non-fiction work to this date. Outliers methodically and objectively approaches the ostensibly subjective and organic idea of success.  Rather than emerging as instructive in nature, it explores inspiring anecdotes which reflect the overarching notion that success is not accomplished by serendipity, competence, or rare talents; Gladwell claims that the most meaningful metric for measuring success remains the time devoted to cultivating skills.  By substantiating his claims with anecdotal examples, he argues that people who succeed in attaining elevated levels of success dedicate more time cultivating the skills required for their success.

3. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

This final gem is rooted in multiple years of Carol Dweck’s research regarding the concept of mindsets.The central notion underlying the work claims that our own mindsets regarding our capabilities and talents largely influence our abilities to the goals we aim to achieve. Her work claims that individuals with fixed mindsets who believe their predetermined traits determine their success fail to perform at the level of individuals who foster growth mindsets who maintain the belief that any skill may be enhanced through devotion and diligence.

Hafsah Lakhany will graduate in 2019 from the University of California at Irvine with a major in business administration. After college, Hafsah plans on going into consulting, health care management, and career development coaching/consulting.

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Using Self-Knowledge to Improve Your Leadership Skills: Personality

By Jordan Perras

February 20, 2017

One of the best ways to become a better leader is to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your tendencies in various situations. You can understand your strengths and weaknesses and learn how to improve them. In the last part of this series, you’ll learn about some major types of personality traits and how they impact your behavior and your leadership abilities.

The “Big 5” Personality Traits

These are the five major ways that personalities differ. Each one is a scale and is not concrete – by this I mean that you may display different degrees of each trait based on the situation. For example, when you are at home with your family, you may have high emotional stability whereas you may have low emotional stability during the first few weeks of a new job.

Openness – You are creative, curious, cultured.
Low Openness – You are practical with narrow interests.

Conscientiousness – You are hardworking, organized and dependable.
Low Conscientiousness – You may be disorganized and unreliable.

Extraversion – You are gregarious, assertive, and sociable.
Low Extraversion – You are reserved, timid or quiet.

Agreeableness – You are cooperative, warm and agreeable.
Low Agreeableness – You are disagreeable or antagonistic.

Emotional Stability – You are calm, self-confident and cool.
Low Emotional Stability – You may be insecure or anxious.

Read through the list again and think about whether you display “high” or “low” degrees of the five traits. Do your results surprise you? Why or why not?

Core Self Evaluation

The Core Self Evaluation is a way to understand your own conception of yourself and your behavior, especially at work.

Locus of Control – Your belief about internal versus external control.

  • If you have an internal locus of control, you believe that you control what happens to you. For example, success is a result of hard work.
  • If you have an external locus of control, you believe that people and circumstances control what happens to you. For example, success is a result of luck.

Self-Esteem – Your general feeling of self-worth.

  • When you have high self-esteem, you believe that you have strengths and weaknesses, but the strengths are more important.
  • When you have low self-esteem, you are easily affected by what other people think about you and you tend to view yourself negatively.

Self-Efficacy – This is your overall view of yourself as being able to complete tasks effectively in a wide variety of situations.

  • When you have high self-efficacy, you trust yourself to attempt difficult tasks and persist in overcoming obstacles.
  • When you have low self-efficacy, you often feel anxious when faced with adversity and doubt your ability to complete new tasks.

Self-Monitoring – This is the extent to which you change your behavior based on the situation and the people you are with.

  • High self-monitors adjust their behavior according to the situation and are more effective at work because they respond to changes in the environment.
  • Low self-monitors show behavioral consistency in all situations and are less likely to respond to supervisory feedback.

Were your traits obvious to you as you read through the list? Were you happy with your results? Surprised? Think about how each of your traits impact your professional success. 

Jordan Perras will graduate in 2018 from Northeastern University and she is majoring in Math and Business Administration with a concentration in Finance and a minor in Economics.  She has a wide variety of interests that include history, art and literature and plans to pursue an MBA after college. She is especially interested in the role of social entrepreneurship in sustainable business.

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How to Prepare for Behavioral Interviews

By Danni Ondraskova

January 26, 2017

Before I was in college, I had no interview experience. It took me a while to figure out how to present my best self during the interview. Only during the second year in college did I start to notice a real change in my success regarding whether interviews led to offers. As a junior, I feel more confident going into interviews because of my experience and advice I learned from people on the way. Here are some tips from my own experience about what I’ve done to succeed.

1. Take mental (if not physical) notes during your interview and record them afterward

During phone interviews, it is of course easiest to take notes without being seen. I’ve personally never taken notes during a physical or video interview because that breaks eye contact too often for me to be doable. Depending on your circumstances and if your interviewer gives you permission, you may want to do it. What I typically do in a face-to-face interview is remember the questions that stick out the most to me in terms of whether my response was particularly excellent or inadequate and record everything I recall later. Then at subsequent interviews, I read over my notes and think about how to improve my responses.

2. Understand who you’re interviewing for

A lot of the interviews I have done are for governments and nonprofits. These organizations will have a different set of questions and answers than companies, and that’s how it should be. These institutions have different missions and approaches to the world and each other.

I learned about a technique called imaging in a leadership book once. It talked about the difference between imagining, or abstractly desiring something, and imaging, or concretely seeing yourself having the thing you desire. The best way to image yourself in your dream job is to read the description of duties that comes with the application. Look at the daily duties and long-term projects and think through what a day at the company would be like for you. Ask yourself whether you can see yourself doing these tasks every day and can derive meaning from them.

3. Don’t undercut yourself

This is a tough one for anyone who has the high standards of a Type A individual or self-deprecating personality. Negativity leaches energy from both you and the interviewer. If you didn’t like how you did some task, reframe the issue and say that after some thought, you could make the result even better by doing something specific. This shows that you’ve been thinking about the issue, want to improve, and can have a positive outlook on even your failures.

4. Understand the different demands that come with each interview medium

I have had interviews on Skype, in person, and on the telephone. If you are at a face-to-face interview, you have your biggest asset and Achilles heel at hand: body movements. The single most useful piece of advice I have heard is to have your feet face the interviewer in a little V. It seems like a small adjustment, but it has the effect of having you fully face and physically engage the interviewer. It shows your desire to be there! If you want to read more about other kinds of body language, read this link. As the article says, your interview makes a hiring decision mentally within the first 10 seconds they see you, so be sure to put your best foot forward!

5. Dress like you’re going to an interview, even if they can’t see you

Clothes exert a powerful influence on our lives. It’s amazing how even the shoes you pick can either cause you blistering pain that makes you wince with every step or make you feel on top of the world and smiling at everybody. Obviously, you want to dress professionally if you’re seeing your interviewer in person. But what happens if you can’t see each other?

I didn’t really think it mattered what I wore. But then I wore my favorite suit to a phone interview in which we couldn’t see each other. The psychological impact was immense for me: because I was dressing in a way the agency would expect me to at work, I was able to envision myself doing work in those clothes and approached the interview as someone already working there. Needless to say, I got the offer and the interview went very well.

Danni Ondraskova will graduate in 2018 from Wellesley College. Danni plans on earning a dual degree in law and business and dreams of working for JP Morgan’s Global Investment Management division.

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Career Services: Your Guide to Career Choices

By Danni Ondraskova

December 7, 2016

There comes a point in every college student’s life when he or she either feels lost about what career path to plan for or is interested in many possibilities and is finding it hard to narrow down. Maybe you are an English major at a liberal arts college who wants to get an analyst summer internship at Goldman Sachs. Maybe you are a political science major who has worked for several political campaigns or government departments and wants to break into the nonprofit world. Maybe you are a passionate statistician who also has a penchant for Japanese painting. Or maybe you are the archetypal wide-eyed first year (or even college senior!) who has no idea what you want to do with your career or life.

Compound your uncertainty with the fact that you are a college student whose brain has not yet reached its intellectual peak and that your personal and preferences are highly variable until at least your thirties, on average. So where should you go?

Many schools of higher education have fantastic career education centers with resources on internships and jobs for various fields. In some cases, certain companies send alumni to their alma maters to conduct interviews, and students need to apply on their career services accounts. Many also have financial resources for grants or scholarships related to graduate school programs, academic or career conferences, internships, and even volunteer opportunities. And most importantly, career services centers in your college or university are likely the key to opening the door of alumni connections you may need to earn that coveted job or for professional support in your future.

Once you’ve decided that making an appointment with your career services organization is worthwhile, what should you do next? It is an excellent idea to attack your plan in multiple phases. Sometimes, if I have questions swirling in my head about what to do, I’ll spend five minutes doing nothing but writing down every career-related query I can think of. When the time is up, I often try to group questions in a number of ways to make them more manageable.

First, I consider what can be solved by talking to my parents or academic advisors, the Internet, or plain old common sense. Once those questions are set aside, I’m ready to move on. I then try to look for common thematic threads. For example, my questions may all be related to the common theme of how to succeed in finance internship interviews. Once I organize everything into themes, I am ready to make my appointment.

Next, you have the career services meeting with your advisor, which hopefully will go well for you. Now you have answers. But it is often the case that such meetings bring up a host of new questions—as the next section of your career path is revealed, a new fork in the road appears. Or you may be in another situation—you would be good at the job that you and your career services mentor have identified, but it doesn’t ignite any real spark in you. That is to say, it is something you can envision doing, but not something you will likely be passionate for your entire life.

If you are in that situation, or if you are in the situation of knowing exactly what to do with your life but don’t have the grades or money to get there, don’t forget that jobs are temporary, especially in this day and age and for Millennials. With lowering travel prices from a few decades ago, it is also in many ways easier for you to physically move to a new job, so you have more geographic mobility than you may be giving yourself credit for.

In today’s startup and social media oriented economy, it is also easier now than at any point in human history for you to kickstart a campaign you’re passionate about or have your product go viral. Will being successful be easy? Probably not. But with the education you are getting and the writing, analytical, and critical thinking skills you are honing in college, you are already ahead of the curve.

Danni Ondraskova will graduate in 2018 from Wellesley College. Danni plans on earning a dual degree in law and business and dreams of working for JP Morgan’s Global Investment Management division.

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A New Year, A New Professional You

By Hafsah Lakhany

December 5, 2016

Maybe you’d like to get around to finally dropping those last 10 pounds that have been creeping up on you ever since Thanksgiving and nana’s holiday snickerdoodles re-entered your life.  Perhaps you finally want to finish the second half of that motivational self-help book or novel.  It’s possible that you just finally want to just take charge of your life and allow your dream of achieving your ideal career come to life. 

Rather than allowing yourself to frequent the gym or LinkedIn for the first few weeks of 2017 only to lag behind once again, here a few tips to take full advantage of the new year’s birth to completely reinvigorate yourself and take charge of your destiny:

Roadmapping

Envisioning what you want for yourself emerges as a phenomenally motivating impetus to fully realize some of your greatest goals.  However, beyond just organically envisioning and visualizing your future self, actively engaging in the process of setting macro goals, and breaking each goal into sub-goals is nearly crucial if you find that you need more structure and direction. 

Goal Defining and Organizing

Rather than just aiming to learn a new skill and get employed, construct specific overarching macro goals that may be broken up into micro sub-goals and tasks.  For instance, learning Python and securing a local tech consulting internship from one of 5 major firms that interest you might emerge as two definable set of overarching goals which can be broken up into tasks such as completing each individual lesson of a comprehensive Python course with each subsection emerging as an individual task, or learning, marketing, networking, applying, and interviewing for a set of pre-selected internships in the tech consulting field. 

This roadmapping technique maintains the best of both worlds by enabling you to maintain your macro overarching objectives, while empowering you with the sense of direction to cover all of the more involved components to see those large goals gradually come to fruition. 

Conditioning and Repetition

Once you map out your comprehensive plan and determine the ideal environment for achieving many of your goals, utilize task managing apps, a journal or some accountability system to see each individual micro and macro goal.  Upon the completion of even the most minute tasks or components, try to reward yourself by something as simple as a check on a to-do list app, or as visible as nibbling on a holiday treat. 

Repeat this process consistently to reinforce positive steps towards the realization of your goal through a combination of both reinforcement as well as repetition. 

Network

Once you reinvent a new, more professional you, try optimizing your growth by attending an industry conference, reaching out to groups on LinkedIn, or even that coworker or distant family member who’s occupational achievements you’ve always admired but never grabbed lunch with. 

Revitalizing current relationships and forging new ones will empower you with a profound amount of insight, and potential avenues towards pursuing a new, or excelling in an existing career. 

Hafsah Lakhany will graduate in 2019 from the University of California at Irvine with a major in business administration. After college, Hafsah plans on going into consulting, health care management, and career development coaching/consulting.

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