CollegeEducationSkills

A resident assistant (RA) is a trained peer leader who supervises residents living in a dormitory. RAs have many roles and responsibilities. They build a community through programming, serve as resources, mediate conflicts, and enforce college’s policies. RAs must be role models on campus and hold themselves accountable to all policies.

As the application season quickly approaches, are you considering becoming an RA? RAs get free room and board! That settles it. But wait a second— there’s a lot more to being an RA than just a free single room. Being an RA can be extremely difficult, especially if you’re not in it for the right reasons. Before you sign up, make sure you know what the position involves.

Perks

Making an Impact

The most rewarding aspect of being an RA is knowing that helping someone, even in the slightest way, can have a major impact on his or her life. When I came back to college after summer break, several of my residents from the previous year approached me and gave me big hugs. As an RA, you help residents go through various issues ranging from homesickness, roommate conflicts, and alcohol poisoning to suicidal ideation and power-based interpersonal violence. You give advice about getting involved on campus, talking to professors, and socializing.

Time Management

Being an RA is a 24-hour job. Sometimes residents are surprised that we are also full time students who have other responsibilities, such as on or off campus jobs, internships, or involvement in campus organizations. Being an RA means having mandatory weekly staff meetings and weekday and weekend duties when you have to go on “rounds” through all of the floors and stay in the building from a certain time in the evening until morning. This position helps you plan your time well and prioritize. You become good at multitasking and scheduling.

Crisis Management

As an RA you learn to think on your feet. You don’t have time to plan every move because the situations that arise are time sensitive. You might find someone passed out in the bathroom and have to transport them to the hospital. You might have to evacuate the building at 3AM in your PJs. You might have a resident cry on your shoulder about a recent breakup. You never know what to expect, so you always have to be ready. Being an RA teaches you how to handle any crisis. For a crisis to be handled well, effective communication skills are crucial. You develop them by interacting with your fellow RAs, residential directors (RDs), and residents. Sometimes the communication is urgent and can’t wait until the next day. During crises, RDS, fellow RAs, and police have to be notified immediately.

Relationships

One of the best things about being an RA are the relationships you can form. You spend so much time with you fellow RAs during training, mandatory staff meetings, and also by working and living together in the same building, that they can quickly become some of your best friends. You share this bond with each other because you have similar experiences as RAs. RAs understand that you are sleep deprived because you’ve been dealing with an incident while on duty or had a few lockouts at 4AM the previous night. They’re your biggest support system and you can always rely on them. They can help you by covering duty or being there for you when you break down— RAs call that “RA-ing” each other. Besides the issues of the residents, RAs frequently have their own personal problems, so being there for one another is very important.

You also have unique relationships with your residents. They continue to ask you for advice if they feel comfortable around you. It’s wonderful to see them grow throughout the year. Often times you can become friends with most of your former residents.

Not only are relationships formed with your peers and residents, but also with your RDs.  They are your supervisors and you spend a lot of time working with them. They help you with both your professional development and your personal growth.   

Compensation

Each college offers different compensation packages, but most provide free room and board. You get your own room and don’t have to worry about living with someone else. For most, this compensation helps finance their college education. It depends on the location of the college, but I’m able to live in downtown Boston for free. A lot of people apply to be RAs just because of free housing. This reason is valid, but not good enough. The job is a big commitment and requires a lot of dedication, so you need to be passionate about it; you can’t just do it for the money. Maybe you care about fostering diversity and inclusion in the community or maybe you want to help the freshmen adjust — these are all important factors in making the decision to be an RA.

Pitfalls

Time Requirement

You’re going to be busy. Sometimes your time isn’t always your own as an RA. Academics always come first, but then it’s the RA position (not any other leadership position or job you hold on campus). You have to be able to work around other commitments and get coverage when needed. It’s important to manage your time well and even schedule in time for rest.

Sleeping in Your Office

Unlike any other job, when you’re an RA, you basically sleep in your office. Maybe it’s 3AM or 8AM in the morning and someone knocks on your door — it’s a lockout. You have to do it. Maybe you have a significant other, but your resident needs you urgently, so your privacy is limited.

Stress

Juggling a lot of things at the same time is stressful. You have classes, other commitments like jobs or clubs, and your personal life. Sometimes your residents forget that you’re also human and that you might feel the same things that they are feeling. They come to you to complain about their roommates, professors, homesickness, personal problems, etc. That’s why you can always rely on your RA friends to listen to you.

Returning to Campus Early

Returning early to campus for training requires you to do some major planning with your summer. You can’t work, intern, travel or research for the entire summer and you have to find places that would hire you for a shorter period of time.

Fish Bowl Effect

As an RA you’re held to higher standards even if you’re not officially on the job. Technically, you’re never “off duty.” If you see something wrong, you have to report it. Students know that you’re an RA and they look up to you as a role model. They might follow every step you take. If you make a mistake, they might hold it against you and it can cost you your job, unfortunately.

The RA position has prepared me for future employment because it has not only taught me how to communicate effectively, manage time, educate, and mediate and solve conflicts, but has also helped me develop a leadership style. Like Ralph Nader said, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”

Image Courtesy of Demi Vitkute

EducationWork

Congrats on your new gig! You’re now a real live college grad and super excited that you’ll be able to pay something when your student loans arrive in six months. Whether you landed your dream job or are just starting out somewhere, doing something, that pays somewhat, there are unwritten rules of do’s and don’ts on your first day. I’m not talking about the basics, like being on time (aka early). I’m referring to some of the things that maybe aren’t so obvious to everyone. After all, making first impressions is important, and you want to bring more to the table than just your I-can-do-everything-smile. To make sure you are putting yourself in the best position for success at this new company, consider aiming to accomplish these five goals during your first week:

  1. Don’t share. You may have had an amazing time at the bar crawl last Saturday, but no one needs to know that. They also don’t need to know about your Instagram account full of selfies #summer2015. Even if you’re in a company full of young 20-somethings and hear them talking about their social lives in great detail, don’t be the newbie that tries to fit in by oversharing how much you are just like them. I’m not saying you should totally lie about yourself, but pretend like you’re talking to a 12-year-old: “I love movies, reading, and just hanging out with my friends!” Keep it short, simple, and while I’m sure you’re a smart and responsible person, there’s no need to give anyone the chance to think otherwise. Besides, your goal is to be better than everyone, so don’t act like everyone.
  2. Observe. This is similar to the first goal, only with an emphasis on carefully paying attention to what people are saying and doing. You may not get more than two minutes of interaction with each coworker on your first day, but subtle demeanors can be telling: Who had an obnoxiously firm hand grip? Which people look like they’re in a clique? Who looked like they were bored at work? Who’s got their face buried in their desk? Take a mental note of these things, because the more you know about others, the better you can gauge how to conduct yourself. The truth is, while there’s a possibility of developing real friendships with these people, they are still, first and foremost, your coworkers. Office politics are a real thing and don’t underestimate other people’s motives.
  3. To ask or not to ask (for help). If you’ve never had a job in an office setting before, that’s perfectly understandable! You don’t have to act like you know everything and you should get comfortable with asking your manager or peers about certain things. If you don’t know where the printer paper is located, just ask! If you don’t know where they keep the coffee cups, just ask! If you get asked to do something that you’ve never done before, even if it’s as simple as making mailing labels on Word, I suggest trying to figure it out first. Click some buttons, Google some stuff, and if you’re still clueless, don’t be embarrassed to ask. At least you tried learning on your own first before seeking help! But remember everything you’re taught, because asking the same question routinely within the first month is definitely not a good thing.
  4. Set your ego aside. Chances are, you’re not the boss or the team lead in the company (if you are, then that’s amazing!), so you might find it a little difficult to accept the fact that you are in a different position – socially and professionally. If you were the all-star athlete, honor student, or student government president in school, then starting at the bottom of the totem pole might be a hard pill to swallow. In my first job, my responsibilities included ordering the food for company meetings, ordering office supplies, and fetching office mail. Don’t fall into the mindset that you’re “too good” for it. You are not better than the job. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be, and everything is a learning opportunity. The beginning of your professional career starts with humility and integrity.
  5. Do what you say you’re going to do. There’s probably a good chance that you’re one of the youngest people in the company. That means you have to prove yourself in this new corporate landscape as a reliable, valuable, and impactful team member. Gaining the trust from superiors and peers is crucial, and this is done by doing what you say you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, regardless of the outcome. If you say you’re going to email back, email them back. If you say you’ll look into something, look into it and provide an update. People may forget what you promised, but when you actually do it, it separates you from everyone else as a leader. Branding yourself as the person who doesn’t just say things “just to say them” is extremely meaningful for your career.

The first few steps of your professional life can be rocky at first. Social dynamics change and you might find yourself in a lot of awkward moments. But keep these tips in mind and one day you’ll be giving advice to the next newbie!

Image: Getrefe

Skills

Hopefully I’ve won you over in Part I about how informational interviews work wonders for you and your career. Now that you’re ready to jump into some interviewing, I know it can be overwhelming to read through all the tips and tricks of the trade. It’s important to realize that the “right” way is ultimately contingent upon your personality. At the same time, don’t feel like just because you’re an introvert, that you will have a more challenging time than extroverts — that’s certainly not the case! I’m a big proponent of not forcing yourself to do anything you truly don’t want to, but I am also a believer in pushing boundaries for personal growth. It’s simply a matter of allowing yourself to be open to the process.

With that said, here are my 4 tips for conducting your first informational interview.

Do your research. Be honest about who you want to interview and don’t pick individuals whose careers you aren’t sincerely curious about. It will be much harder to come up with interview questions without genuine interest (and it’ll be ridiculously awkward for the both of you!). I suggest researching as many people as you can (via LinkedIn, company websites, etc.) that you can actually meet in person. Search for types of industries, roles, and job descriptions and keep a list of the ones that catch your eye.

For extra points, try to find people through your own connections. They will be able to facilitate the introduction and mention some good things about you, too! But for now, just focus on learning as much as you can about these people: find out about their professional history, learn about their educational background, find the current office location, and read any published articles – you get the picture. This all prevents you from asking obvious questions during your interview, as well as gives you a better idea of whether or not they are the right fit for you.

Introduce Yourself. When introducing yourself via email, keep it short and to the point. This is probably the most uncomfortable part, but I promise it’s a breeze! Here’s a quick example:

“Dear ________, I’m a student at ______ University, majoring in ________. I’ve read some of your articles on __________ and I’m considering a career in ___________ as well. I’d really love to learn more about the work you do as an ______________, and was hoping I can take you for a quick coffee to learn more about it. I noticed that your company’s office is in ________, and I’ll actually be in the area next week. Please let me know when you’re available, I would sincerely appreciate it!”

You won’t always get a response, but you’d be surprised how many people will. After a couple of more email exchanges, send your résumé to give an idea of who you are (even if it’s already on LinkedIn). If you’re a student or a young professional that is just starting out, don’t feel self-conscious about not having a super stellar resume just yet. You’re reaching out to them for help, remember?

The Interview: Be interested, not interesting. Remember, you are interviewing them. Don’t worry about not having much to say – you’re not supposed to! Your job is to learn about their experience, skills, and challenges. Prepare at least 15-20 questions to direct the flow of your interview and be as professional as you would be for a job interview (dress appropriately and make eye contact!). If you promised a 30-minute interview, then deliver exactly that. Prior to the 30-minute mark, kindly mention that you are aware of their busy schedule, and that you’re happy to continue the conversation next time. If they’re still able to continue their time with you, great! If not, it’s a good way to smoothly end the interview. They’ll appreciate your mindfulness and this gives you an open door to reach out to them again.

Seal the deal. Conclude the interview by asking if they have any recommendations on other professionals who you can connect with. When you reach out to these new individuals, you will already have a mutual connection that will make networking easier. At the same time, you will be building a positive, professional reputation for yourself. Last but not least, send a thank you card (yes, an actual card with an envelope, and buy a stamp to mail it). There is no exception!

Follow-up with them from time to time to keep the connection going. Sometimes I like to send a short email update on how their advice influenced my decisions at work or school. Other times, it’s just a link to an article that they might enjoy. Either way, the objective is to remind them of how they helped you and that they are appreciated.

The more you conduct informational interviews, the more comfortable you will be speaking to successful (and perhaps intimidating) people. The amount of knowledge and insight that you gain out of them are immeasurable and can truly change the course of your future. Remember, there’s no such thing as failing or embarrassing yourself when you’re coming from a place of sincerity. Good luck!

Image: Pexels

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

When it comes to girl power, who does it better than the Girl Scouts? We’re huge fans of this empowering organization, especially because the Girl Scouts encourages learning, adventure, fun, friends, and dreaming big. We had the incredible opportunity to sit down with Stefanie Ellis, the Girl Scouts of Western Washington‘s Public Relations Director.

Stefanie is energetic, enthusiastic, and a lot of fun to talk to. Her career came about at a completely unexpected moment, but it turns out life throws curveballs at you and teaches you new things about yourself. Originally attending pastry school in London, Stefanie knew this wasn’t the career for her as soon as she saw a job listing as a writing specialist for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington. Stefanie is very inspiring and optimistic, and we couldn’t be more excited to share her story with you.

Fun fact: the above photo is of Stephanie (right) with the country’s oldest living Girl Scout, Emma Otis.

Name: Stefanie Ellis
Education: B.A. in English with Secondary Certification from University of Missouri-Saint Louis
Follow: girlscoutsww.org / 52lovestories.com@stlfoodgirl
Location: Seattle, Washington

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth?”

Stefanie Ellis: I define it as living in the present moment and being very clear about who you are and what you want. Taking time to enjoy the challenges as well as the successes, and not letting either hold too much weight. It’s all about the journey.

It’s about trying, falling – maybe even tripping and ending up on your face – and then getting  back up. It’s about not giving up, not giving in to pressure or stereotypes and doing the things that matter to you. I also firmly believe that seizing your youth never stops just because you age. I’m still seizing my youth this very moment, and I don’t plan to stop!

CJ: What sparked your passion for public relations?

SE: I never set out be in public relations. In fact, I was pretty darned shy most of my life, and tended toward careers where I could play it safe behind-the-scenes. I’ve been a food writer for 15 years, and when I turned 30, decided to go to pastry school in London. I thought that’s where my life was headed, but I was diagnosed pre-diabetic three days before I left so I couldn’t eat any of the pastries.

I came home to Saint Louis and questioned what I was going to do with my life. I saw a job listing for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington as a writing specialist. Instantly pastry-making flew out the window and I knew that this was my job. I moved to Seattle and was a writing specialist for a few years, but then one day we had a big event for 7,000 girls, and I was doing all the marketing for the event.

The CEO came up to me and told me that we had been invited on the news to talk about it, and said they chose me to go. I laughed and politely declined. She asked why I was declining, and I told her I was shy. She told me I wasn’t. I politely thanked her again and told her that I know who I am. She said, “I challenge you to look again. I think that the woman who you really are isn’t necessarily the woman who you think you are.”

I agreed to go on TV thinking that if I embarrassed myself she would never ask me to go again. Turns out, I was pretty good. I would never have discovered that had someone not invited me to challenge my own perceptions. That basically was the changing point for my whole life. Shortly thereafter, the public relations person moved and I was invited to give the position a shot. That was nearly four years ago and I have had to stretch myself in ways I never thought I would.

I had to get over a lot of perceptions I had about myself and my abilities. I have been able to change my thinking, which is exactly the point of Girl Scouts. It allows you to stretch beyond who you thought you were and step into who you really are, while building a comfort level along the way. You get to choose how you’re going to share your gifts with the world. I owe so much of who I am now to Girl Scouts.

Stefanie 1

CJ: As you mentioned, you went to pastry school (Le Cordon Bleu) in London. What was that experience like ?

SE: When I was in high school and college I waitressed, so I thought I knew what the food profession was like. I have so much more respect who are on their feet 18 hours a day, pouring their heart and soul into something for someone else. I learned about the art of creation. For me that happens to be food. I look at art very differently in the museum now.

It was an amazing experience because there were people from all around the world in one place. Everyone had to learn how to work together. I never cut my fingers more in my entire life. Those knives are so dangerous, and I never mastered the art of looking graceful while wielding a finger-cutting weapon!

CJ: What makes young people so important and why has their empowerment become a primary focus in your career and life?

SE: I believe everyone has a voice and sometimes young people don’t think they are allowed to use it, which is unfortunate to me. Organizations like Girl Scouts help young people see that they have a voice and gives them so many opportunities to practice using it. I didn’t find my voice until my thirties, but I spend my days watching everyone from age six to 18 develop skills, talents, find their strengths, and become empowered. They are the ones who will be leading us into the future, and we have a responsibility to nurture and support them in their journey.

CJ: What advice would you give to a young person hoping to set themselves up for success in the world of public relations?

SE: Talk to everybody everywhere you go. Even if it’s at the grocery store or in the aisle of a hardware store. Ask questions and make observations. Practice active communication. Communicating is something we’re born knowing how to do but not necessarily a skill that we develop, especially now with texting and social media. I truly believe these things can be a detriment to our ability to form and nurture relationships. I straddle both worlds, but prefer to live on the side where people actually sit across from each other and look one another in the eyes. I see so many people eating dinner together, but texting. We can’t lose conversation! We can’t lose real and meaningful relationship building. This isn’t just about PR – it’s about connection. I also believe these natural practices will dramatically influence how effective you’ll be in your career.

Stefanie 4

CJ: What has been one of the most unexpectedly interesting parts of your career to date?

SE: An unexpectedly amazing part of my job that I don’t think I’d experience if I did not work where I work happened when I accidentally ran into Dave Matthews at the gym. My co-worker and I had been trying to figure out how we could incorporate him into our campaigns for years. When I ran into him I was unprepared, and knew I only had 15 seconds to ask him something!

I walked up to him and said, “Hey Dave, can I ask you a question?” And he said, “Yeah, sure!” And I said, “Would you ever consider dressing up as a Girl Scout Cookie?” He said, “I can honestly say that’s never been a dream of mine, but I love making people’s dreams come true, so I’ll think about it. Can I ask why you asked me that?” I was so caught off guard that I forgot to tell him where I worked! When I told him, he just smiled and said it made a lot more sense now. I love that I have a job where I can ask people silly things. I love that I can bring people cookies, and use my creative mind to dream up things that make people smile.

CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

SE: There’s no typical day in my job, which is what I love most about it. I might go on TV to talk about cookies; work on organizational campaigns and initiatives; build partnerships and collaborative opportunities with folks in the community who share our mission; pitch media stories about amazing things girls are doing; interview Girl Scout alumnae for our Awesome Woman series; write scripts, and coach girl speakers at our luncheons or give talks about Girl Scouts. Sometimes I dress up in a cookie costume just because it’s a Tuesday.

CJ: Leadership skills training is an important focus in the Girl Scouts – what are some ways young people can become better leaders?

SE: Join groups that focus on topics you’re interested in, and volunteer to have a lead or supervisory role. Talk to everyone. Watch the people who are heading things up, and see what they do. Make note of what you like and don’t like about their style. Same goes for when you’re in the work force. Watch people around you. See who inspires you the most, and take notes! Better yet, ask to interview them or go for coffee, and ask them for pointers and guidance for how you might get to a similar place in your own career.

The best things I learned about leadership came from my bosses. They were my best mentors. I loved how they were clearly in control, but never made big decisions without group input. They were fair and open. They wanted to see me succeed, so they asked me how they could help me reach my goals. It was amazing. All I had to do was watch and absorb. Then I learned how to be the kind of leader I admired, while sticking to my own personal style. That’s maybe the most important part: Don’t ever give up who you are! Just pepper who you are with awesome bits and pieces from those around you.

Stefanie 5

CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

SE: For me it’s not to take anything personally. That’s one of the most difficult but simple things for most of us. I’m working on it one day at a time. In this line of work, you ask people a lot of things. I don’t believe that any dream is too big, so I ask everything. You ask and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

Sometimes you get attached to an idea and it’s a bummer when it doesn’t work out. Who knows why someone doesn’t agree to do something? It could be for a number of reasons. As long as you try and as long as you ask, you’re golden. If someone says no or doesn’t respond, move on to the next idea.

It never hurts to follow up, though. I always tell younger people to politely bug people they want to talk to. There’s a right and a wrong way. As long as you are kind and gracious and can respect personal boundaries, most people won’t mind. I never mind it. When I’m busy and forget, I appreciate when people remind me.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

SE: I cook and bake. I cook dinner every night no matter how stressed out I am. I eat chocolate. I lay on my couch and call someone I love. I always plan a reward for myself. At the end of cookie sales, for example, I’ll treat myself to a trip somewhere. Or I’ll look forward to my favorite tea when I get home.

CJ: If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be and why?

SE: Oprah Winfrey. She is a powerhouse, and she worked very hard and for a long time to get there. She never gave up, and look where that got her. She’s the poster child for tenacity, and I’d want to high five her, then ask her for advice!

CJ: What is your favorite book?

SE: Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

SE: Stop worrying! Just go with the flow a lot more. I was and still am ambitious and there’s nothing wrong with that. And I worked really hard. But I don’t think I allowed myself enough grace and room to relax and breathe. I was maybe too focused on all the things I needed to do, which really took me away from focusing on the present moment, which is all we have. There’s nothing wrong with having goals or planning for the future, but a lot of times it can take you away from where you are right now. Mellow out a little bit, darling!

Stefanie Ellis Qs

Images by Stefanie Ellis

EducationSkills

There are literally one million ways to concoct a stellar résumé, and another million ways to mess it up. Developing a résumé depends on the role you’re applying for, the company you’re applying to, and where you are in your career (to name a few). Plus, if you think that living breathing HR employees are reading them, it’s not always that simple anymore. Many companies use programs to scan résumés and search for keywords and phrases that match their job opening. Times are changing, and so is the recruiting landscape.

In a previous article I mentioned some of the different factors that create a successful résumé. But to be more specific, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the do’s and don’ts. To be fair, there are certainly many other reasons why your résumé would be at risk to be voted off the island, just as much as the reasons below might not matter to some companies. But based on my experience these are the best ways to ruin your chances of getting your dream job. Beware!

  1. Using silly font. This is obvious but I’m going to say it anyway: Stick to the Times New Roman-Calibri-Arial family. This is not the time to whip out Comic Sans or Century Gothic. They give no added value and can be distracting to the hiring manager. I’m not sure what type of company would be enthusiastic about someone who uses Lucida Handwriting, but I’d be interested to know if there is one! I suggest just keeping it simple. Additionally, it may give the impression that your focus is not on the main objective of the résumé (which is to hire you!).
  1. Not proofread and making typos. I also mentioned this before in another post: By sending in your résumé it is assumed that you (and others) have proofread it repeatedly and decided that this final copy is your best. If there is a spelling error or grammatical mistake, it screams carelessness. Not to say that you are careless (we’re all guilty of errors), but play it safe and triple check.
  1. References Available Upon Request.” Years ago, including this phrase at the bottom of your résumé was popular, but not anymore. There’s LinkedIn, Facebook, and other ways of learning more about candidates than just their résumés. Plus, if a company truly wants this information from you, they will ask (and it’s usually on application forms, anyway). At that point, I’d assume you’d readily provide it. If not, be prepared to explain why. My standpoint is to either include your references with their contact information already on your résumé/on a separate sheet or don’t mention it at all.
  1. Filling up space with irrelevant/excessive information. We’ve all been there: crafted one big, perfect, I-can-do-everything résumé and went on an application spree. It’s not a bad résumé, so someone has to email you back, right? Wrong. Your résumé should be aligned with the job description, as well as the company’s mission and values. Even using the same words as the job posting is helpful. If you’re applying for an administrative job, there is no need to include your membership to the Art Club in 2010. So unless you did something spectacular that makes you more productive in the desired role, nix it. As for the length of your résumé, that is widely debated. I don’t have a right or wrong answer. But my opinion? Keep it at one page, unless you have over 10 years of professional experience. As a young 20-something, pick the top three or four things that scream “HIRE ME I’M AWESOME” and leave the rest out. Brevity is key.
  1. Using terrible descriptions. Imagine a résumé that actually represents your skills and accomplishments? Crazy, right? Hiring managers want to know what you can do and what is unique about your skills. You have one page to bait the company into asking you for an interview. Consider describing the changes you made in your role, what you learned, how you can apply it elsewhere, the projects you worked on, and how you did it. For example, if you were an Office Assistant, listing job duties like “answered phones, retrieved office mail, supported other departments” is not helpful. It says nothing. They know what office assistants do, so don’t regurgitate job tasks to them. Better descriptions would be: “Provided excellent administrative support between departments” and “Effectively responded to all incoming calls regarding the company mission, as well as provide exceptional customer service to additional inquiries.” It gives a little oomph to your rap sheet, despite how simple your job was. It at least shows that you cared enough to phrase your words eloquently. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do this.

Image: Startup Stock Photos

CultureEducationExploreWellness

If you’re anything like me, you’ve read a ton of articles about finding the right career path or how to pursue your goals. You know the articles I’m talking about right? The ones that list pointers and ask you to write down what you’re good at (you have no idea), your interests (Netflix?), and visualize your ideal work environment (wherever you get paid). Then they tell you to “go for it” and “have courage” because the future is yours! It all sounds dramatic and you write down a solid to-do list, and you’re like heck yes. You take a second to check Facebook, text some friends, and a few hours later, your roadmap to success has transformed into another scrap of paper. You’re over it.

For some people, finding their passion came naturally. They sang in talent shows before they could even walk and now they’re on Broadway. Meanwhile, you’re having a quarter-life crisis wondering why you haven’t figured it out yet. Deep down, you do want to have those sleepless nights with bags under your eyes, working toward something you love. The issue isn’t your willingness for grit, it’s that you don’t even know where to start.

The truth is, it’s easy to get caught up in what you think you’re supposed to do or where to be – especially when your parents have expectations or when the goal is based on the size of your paycheck. On top of that, social media makes you painfully aware of the differences between your life and the lives of others. But it’s okay to be unsure of where you’re going. It’s okay that you don’t want the same things other people do. In fact, not all dreams should be pursued, and not all passions should be made into a career. On the flip side, just because something isn’t a career path doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it for the sake of pure enjoyment. The best part of not knowing exactly where to go or what to do, is just that – you don’t know where to go! It doesn’t have to be dreadful or frustrating, it should make you excited about life.

Fortunately, there are a million ways to stumble upon your dreams. Personally, I’m a big fan of wandering. This doesn’t mean you have to travel the world because let’s be honest, that’s pretty unrealistic. You’re not Julia Roberts in Eat.Pray.Love. What I mean by wandering is simply being open to what’s new and interesting, whatever that may be. If you’re in school, check out some new clubs. Not in school? Join Groupon & try new activities! Pick a non-profit that you believe in and volunteer! I think one of the best things you can do is to conduct as many informational interviews as possible. Expand your network. Not only can you gain mentors this way, but it will help you learn (without experiencing it firsthand) if the path could be right for you.

Think of this as a deductive process: keep checking things off that you don’t like, and as a result, you’ll be many steps closer to finding what you’re looking for. Safe to say, this is not a passive kind of wandering. You have to make sure that you wander honestly and unapologetically.

By that, I mean it’s not always fun or easy. Many times when people talk about pursuing dreams, they paint a pretty picture: Follow your heart, work hard, and you’ll live happily ever after. Yeah, sure. What I never read about is the emotional toll it takes on you and your relationships. You may find yourself feeling guilty, anxious, or even wrong when making decisions that are for you, and not anyone else. It’s the scariest thing on earth, but that comes with the territory. You can’t find your passion by lying to yourself.

While you are beginning to change and finding your place in the world, the people you love may not be down for the ride. You can’t blame them – they didn’t sign up for it, they didn’t agree to it, and it’s not their path. Because of that, their opinions can hold you back despite their best intentions. The more you grow, mature, and learn more about yourself, the more you may realize that some people around you aren’t meant to stick around. Brace yourself for the possibility that you may have to go through the journey without their blessing, but it’s only meant to make room for new people who deserve to be in your present and future. That’s not a comfortable idea, especially when “where you are” isn’t even bad at all. But if you want to be 80-years-old and in awe of the life you’ve lived, settling won’t get you there.

I can’t say there’s a “right” or “better” way to handle those situations, because the solution lies in your own personality, values, and what you can handle. All I can say is try to make the right decisions for you and be prepared to trust them wholeheartedly when they are questioned. Trust that they will lead you to where you belong. Trust that they will cultivate a life filled with love and genuine happiness in whatever path they take you. Trust that by being yourself, you will naturally attract others similar to you, and will push you to be better at whatever it is you embark upon. Success and happiness is different for everyone, so define yours. Just look at that girl who quit her $95k job to live on an island.

There’s a famous saying, “If you don’t write your own story, someone else will.” So make some big decisions and make some small ones that feel purposeful and fulfilling to you. Learn to take one fearful step in front of the other, and I promise the next step will be less wobbly than the last.

Image: Unsplash

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

We’re always excited to meet fellow bookworms, so you can imagine how fun it was chatting with Jacqueline Clair, who runs the blog York Avenue, about all things blogging, photography, and of course, books! Not only is Jacqueline a blogger, but she’s also an operating room registered nurse. (Pretty awesome slash career, right?) Jackie decided to pursue nursing after earning her degree in Psychology, and she spends her days caring for patients, managing the equipment off the sterile field, and working under pressure.

When she’s not at the hospital, Jackie is exploring New York City with her camera in tow to snap photos of great places around Manhattan. Lucky for us, she also shares interior design tips and book recommendations. Keep reading to find out what it’s like to be an OR nurse, how Jackie balances her job with blogging, and how she makes time to read.

Name: Jacqueline Clair
Education: BA in Psychology, BS in Nursing
Follow: YorkAvenueBlog.com / Instagram / Twitter

CJ: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’? 

JC: I would define seizing your youth as seeking out opportunities and making the most of any opportunities that come your way. I would define it as also enjoying your youth, but at the same time making smart decisions to set yourself up for the future.

CJ: Where did you go to college and what did you major in? How did you decide what to study?

JC: I went for the first two years to SUNY Fredonia and then transferred to Stony Brook University for my last two years, where I finished up my Bachelors in Psychology. Then I went back for an accelerated nursing program and got a second Bachelors in nursing, which is how I became an RN. I decided to study Psychology because I just loved it. I thought all of my classes were so interesting and intriguing. 

CJ: How did you decide to earn your nursing degree? How did you go about finding the right nursing school for you?

JC: I decided to earn a nursing degree because I wasn’t quite sure where to go with my Psychology degree. I wanted to do something active, where I wouldn’t be sitting behind a desk, and I was looking for a career where I could learn something new every day and always be doing something different. Nursing certainly fit the bill! I talked to a few nurses and it seemed like a good fit. I also liked that it incorporated Psychology in a way, since you’re dealing a lot with people.

CJ: You are an Operating Room Registered Nurse. What does your role entail, and what do your daily tasks look like?

JC: As an OR nurse, you’re either the Circulating Nurse during a surgical procedure, or the Scrub Nurse. When you’re scrubbed, you work directly with the surgical team, passing instruments, sponges, and sharps. You’re in charge of maintaining the sterile field, and together with the circulator you’re responsible for surgical counts. As a circulator, you interview the patient at the door, and help position them and maintain their safety during the procedure. You’re the one in the room who isn’t sterile, so you’re responsible for managing the equipment off the sterile field and getting anything that is needed during the procedure, like extra sponges and sutures, extra instruments, additional pieces of equipment, etc. You also do the charting, obtain medications needed during surgery, and discharge the patient from the OR to the recovery area.

CJ: What are the top three skills you need to excel as an Operating Room Registered Nurse?

JC: I would say you need to be adaptable, you need to be able to work well in a team setting, and you need to be able to work well under pressure.

JC A

CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be an Operating Room Registered Nurse do to set him or herself up for success?

JC: If you’re in nursing school and you think you may be interested in the OR, talk to your teachers and advisors and express that interest. See if they can set you up with any mentors, an OR rotation, or anything else. They may be able to set you up with someone you can talk to about it or interview, to get a sense of what it’s like. They may even be able to secure you a clinical rotation in an OR setting. You could also try volunteering in a hospital and expressing an interest in the OR or the procedure areas. You could also look into volunteering in some kind of outpatient or ambulatory clinic. Your OB rotation is likely to bring you into the labor and delivery area or into the OR for C-sections, so that’s where you really want to focus your efforts if you’re interested in the OR as a career choice.

CJ: You are also the blogger behind York AvenueHow do you balance blogging with your day job?

JC: I work on my blog after work and on the weekends. On weekends I’ll get started on a post or two and edit photos, or I’ll take photos of something I’m baking, something I want to feature on the blog, or places that I visit and am shooting for the blog. During the week, after work, I’ll edit pictures and write posts. Sometimes I use a vacation day to be able to visit a place that I want to photograph for the blog on a weekday, when it won’t be super crowded!

CJ: You have an entire category dedicated to books on your blog. We love that! What are some books that have changed your life?

JC: Well, I’m not sure that any books have changed my life, per say, but I certainly do have a few favorites! Recently I loved The Goldfinch, and some other favorites are The Little Stranger, I am Charlotte Simmons, and The Ruins. They weren’t life-changing, I just loved them.

CJ: What tips do you have for making time to read?

JC: The biggest thing that has freed up time to read for me personally has been giving up television for the most part. I’m not that into TV anyway so it wasn’t very hard, and I’m saving lots of money on cable. I’ll never give up Girls and Game of Thrones though!

CJ: How do you stay healthy and do you have a fitness routine?

JC: Unfortunately I don’t devote as much time to fitness as I should, but I do make it a habit to basically walk everywhere, even in the winter. I actually love walking around the city so it’s not very hard. I basically have been refusing to take cabs as of late, and it’s saving me tons of money and providing me with more opportunities for exercise. I do take the subway though!

CJ: How do you combat really hard days? What do you do to keep yourself positive?

JC: When I have really hard days I usually just think back to other hard days I’ve had, and remember how those were just moments that passed, and so I know the current bad moment will pass. I try to do things I enjoy if I’m feeling down, like go for walks, read, take photographs, or treat myself to a new book or a box of macarons or something. Talking to my Mom and Dad always helps too!

CJ: Is there a cause or issue that you care greatly about? Why?

JC: I get pretty passionate about the food industry. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Animal Vegetable Miracle, and some Michael Pollan articles I became pretty disgusted by all of the questionable and unnecessary additives and chemicals that are pumped into processed foods, even seemingly innocuous ones like bread and cereal. I’m not a particularly healthy eater (anyone who reads my blog knows about my massive sweet tooth), but I try to eat sweets that are handmade and small batch, many of which I’ve written about on my blog.

The places that I write about on my blog are usually the small producers that are making high-quality items by hand, with amazing ingredients, like Stick With Me Sweets and Orwasher’s. If I’m going to treat myself to something, I don’t want it to be full of artificial dyes and other weird things made in a lab. I strive to eat mostly organic when it comes to produce, dairy, and meat, and to eat as little packaged food as possible. It’s not easy because I absolutely have a weakness for cereal, but I just don’t trust the food industry at all. So I’m pretty passionate about the whole issue of GMO labeling, which I absolutely think should be required.

CJ: What are you working to improve upon – either personally or professionally – and how are you doing so?

JC: I’m constantly working on saving, de-cluttering, and paring down. Saving especially is something that I’m really working on. It’s so, so important to have a 6-8 month emergency fund and to start contributing to your 401k the MINUTE you start working. Youth is the biggest advantage you have on your side when it comes to growing a retirement fund – the more time your savings has to grow, the more money you’ll have down the line – and you will need it.

CJ: What advice would you give your 22-year-old self?

JC: Don’t rush things. I thought I needed to have everything figured out and nailed down right when I graduated college, but looking back, that wasn’t the case.

Jackie Clair Qs 1

College

It’s been about four years since high school graduation, and I’m still not ready for adulthood. At the same time, I think this is a good moment to reflect about what I learned in the past few years. I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of people, learn a lot about myself, and learn a lot about the world.

One of the most amazing things I learned about college is how open-minded it can be, if you go to the right school. Luckily, I went to a very liberal school in a very liberal city, so I was exposed to many types of thoughts, as well as people who expressed themselves freely. I hear from old classmates about how clique­like some colleges can be, but I can’t imagine being in that type of place. People come and go. Those from high school don’t always stay, and those in college don’t always stay either. But this is only college. Imagine how much bigger it gets from here.

This might sound kind of sad, but I also learned about a lot of the bad things about myself. I learned how ignorant and intolerant I was, and I’m still learning – and trying to accept – that I’m not as kind or as good as I would like to think. In college, I met all sorts of personalities and I learned to understand the psychology behind these people (at least, as much as I can as a 21 year old). A big part of college is finding out what you don’t like about yourself, and having to make a big decision as to what to do about it. Do you accept it? Do you change it? Do you hide it? Some people embrace what society sees as bad, and some people try to change themselves to be what this world calls good. College forces you to make hard decisions because you’re finally responsible for yourself. Go out tonight or study? Buy groceries or do the laundry? Become good friends with a few people, or friendly associates with a lot of people? Nobody else is responsible for you. That can be a scary but refreshing realization.

A large part of my school is being aware of the social issues happening in the world. Immigration, racial conflict, religious conflict, economic disparities, just to name a few. Not only did college force me to be more aware of the world, it forced me to have an opinion. It also taught me to be tolerant of others. Where do I stand in the world? What am I doing for the world? What do I want to do for the world? What can I do? Does any of that even matter? Why? I don’t know the answers and I’m not sure I will for a long time, but at the very least I was able to develop a perspective of how paradoxically big and small I am, and not only on campus but in the world. It scares me a little, but Freshman year of college scared me too, so I think it is okay to be a little scared.

As a senior in college, I’m almost a responsible adult. At least, I’d like to tell myself that. While I’ve come far since my high school days, there is still much for me to learn. At least I got the chance to learn this much, and for that I am grateful.

Image: Picography

EducationSkills

The spring semester is going to start soon, and for some, it already has. Many of you might be considering doing internships this semester. A while ago, I did a piece about the end of summer internships. This one is about the beginning of spring ones! Here are a few things to keep in mind while preparing and applying to spring semester internships, especially in large cities.

Research.

Think about what type of internship you want to do. Social media, computer science, photography, editorial, public relations, you name it. Do you want to work on something in your field of study, or are you considering trying something new? What do internships tend to require? Experience in certain programs, making tweets, or proofreading? This will help you in your search and it will help you with preparing your resume and cover letter later on. Since you’re in a city, you want to make sure that you also open minded to start­-ups, places outside of your borough or local area, and positions that overlap. You also have to consider whether something is paid or not, if there is credit, and if the two -hour commute is worth it. Can you fit it into your schedule?

“Stalk.”

Said my professor. Yes, you spend a lot of time on the computer when you’re thinking about internships, and a lot of it is clicking around. Once you have an idea of what you want to do and a few companies for which you want to work, you should Google them. For example, if you want to write for a magazine, look up the editors. Look at the company’s mission statement and branch. Find the Twitter or LinkedIn or company website. This way, you will know a bit about the company but also a bit about who you will be working under. At first, back in my freshmen days, I was unsure about this, but multiple professors and people who work have told me it is definitely normal (and even expected) so no worries. You can go take a look at where the office is and see if the neighborhood is somewhere you would be willing to spend your time in. Can you buy lunch somewhere nearby? Is there a train station nearby? What kind of people are walking around? Casual younger people or older people in suits? You’ll be among them.

Create.

Create your persona. Make or edit your resume to suit your needs. Design it so it somehow represents who you are and how you work. Design interns design their resumes to be unique, but multi-­colored resumes wouldn’t work for a finance intern. Check your social media to make sure it is consistent. Get some appropriate clothes for the interview. You don’t have to wear black heels through a snowstorm or a suit in the summer, but make sure your nails are clean, your hair is washed, and your bag is suitable to both hold copies of your resume while looking appropriate for the office.

If you’re in a large city, you might want to consider adding some flair to your outfit so you can stand out. You’ll be competing with all the other university students (as well as people who have already graduated). The fashion interns I’ve met have been pretty unique, but not office appropriate. Again, this is where your research comes in! Maybe that’s alright for where you’re applying for. This preparation helps with interview questions that range from “Why do you want to work with us?” to “Tell me about yourself.”

Getting an internship, especially in big cities, can be pretty difficult. It starts out slow, but once you have a foundation, it becomes easier. It can be scary and it’s definitely competitive, but all of that becomes easier to deal with with practice. When something doesn’t work, try and try again. Best of luck!

Image: Chris Isherwood

Skills

Going from high school to college is a huge transition. No longer do you have teachers nagging you to turn in assignments or those annoying bells that you and your peers rushed to class to beat. You are now officially responsible for your actions and the decisions that you make. While the consequences of being late in college aren’t marked by a pink detention slip, they still exist and they’re more detrimental to your life than you might expect.

Just as it takes about 21 days to break a habit, it takes the same amount of time to adopt one. You might be thinking that it’s impossible for someone to be late that many times in a row, but I’ve seen it happen so many times and it was always the same people coming in five minutes (or later) after that imaginary bell rang signalling the start of class. The people who are repeatedly late probably have countless reasons why they can’t make it to class on time, but just like your future employer, your professor isn’t going to care too much about your excuses.

In fact, points might get deducted from your overall grade if you are constantly coming to class well after the lecture has begun. The consequences might be different at every university and, in some places, there might not even be any rules against being late but, again, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any consequences.

If you can’t come to class on time, then showing up to an internship or a job when you’re supposed to be there might be extremely difficult for you. Being on time requires discipline and a lot of time management. This means going to bed at a reasonable time and, even if you don’t, still forcing yourself to get up when the alarm goes off (and remembering to set your alarm in the first place). If you have 15 minutes to get to each class, make sure you calculate how fast you would need to walk and how long it takes you to get from Point A to Point B.

Once you get into a habit of showing up on time, you won’t have any issues doing it in the future. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’d put more effort into being punctual if they had a job because they’re getting paid to be there, but even if those are your exact thoughts, that isn’t a good argument to make. You’re in college to get a degree that is necessary to land said job, and if that isn’t enough of an incentive to be on time, how can you be a good employee?

Not only can not being on time affect your professional future, but it could damage the impression your professor has of you. They might not be taking off points for your tardiness, but if you ever need them to write a letter of recommendation or if you need help with something, they could take into account that you never made an effort to show up to class on time and that you were repeatedly late. Sure, you have other professors to turn to if you ever need a recommendation, but if you’re not showing up to one class on time, you’re probably not managing your time well which means that you have probably been late to other classes.

It’s like a Domino Effect. Once you start being late to one class, that tardiness begins to affect your punctuality in your other classes. You miss out on so much when you’re not in class when it starts. The first five to ten minutes of class could be the material that’s going to be on the test, so if you’re steadily missing out on that information then you probably won’t do well on the tests. This is not to say that you won’t get good grades because you could possibly get the notes from a classmate or read from the book assigned for the class, but the probability is higher because lateness can translate into not putting in enough effort to get an A or a B, especially if you have a habit of being late.

Don’t get me wrong. Being late once or twice is bound to happen. Things come up and we all oversleep sometimes. Those few mishaps aren’t going to lead to failing grades. Just don’t make a habit of it because once it becomes one, it will take some effort to undo. If you are one of those people who is late three or four times a week, it’s not too late to try to do better. Adjust your sleep schedule, try to walk faster when getting from one class to another, and look for shortcuts if your classes are farther apart and you don’t have a bike or don’t want to chance getting on a bus or driving a car. There are always ways to make it to class on time, you just have to put in effort to make time work in your favor and not against you.

Tardiness is not something you want to carry with you each semester because, in the long run, it can affect your grades and your credibility in the eyes of your professors. There is a saying that goes ‘dance like nobody is watching.’ You don’t have to dance across campus (you can if it’ll get you moving faster), but what you do have to do is act like everyone is watching and, more importantly, you need to watch yourself. Hold yourself accountable and be a responsible student by being as punctual as possible.

If you need to imagine that annoying bell to put a little pep in your step, then do so. Do whatever it is you need to do to be on time because you can’t seize your education if you aren’t present the entire time.

EducationSkills

Last week I talked a little bit about building your brand and how to do it. Even if you’re still trying to figure out how to market yourself, the best time to make a LinkedIn profile is now. Think of it as your lemonade stand where you can set up all of the ingredients you need to be the best lemonade stand you can be. Okay, maybe, that isn’t the best analogy in the world, but the point is that in order to get people to buy what you are selling, you have to let employers know that you are on the market.

It doesn’t matter if you’re still in high school or in college. There is an internship out there waiting for you and you’re only a LinkedIn profile away from finding it. Don’t waste anymore time; if you don’t already have an account, sign up! It doesn’t hurt to have another social media outlet. Don’t panic if you’re not sure where to start. I’m here to help!

While I was building my profile, I did a lot of research on how to make my profile look as professional as possible. You don’t have to read countless articles on how to make a good LinkedIn profile – here are the 10 things that you should include:

1. Professional photo: LinkedIn may be like Facebook in the sense that it connects you with other people, but that doesn’t mean the profile picture you use for Facebook (the one where you’re making silly faces with your friends) should be the same one you put on your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is like the more conservative cousin of Facebook. Whereas Facebook is for personal usage (though this doesn’t mean you should post anything and everything), LinkedIn is the Internet’s door to the professional world; a place where recruiters from different companies look at the profiles of students just like you.

Keeping that in mind, don’t let their first impression of you be a picture of you sticking a finger up your nose. Instead, use a headshot that has a plain background. If you’re like me and can’t afford to have a professional photo taken at the moment, take the picture yourself with your phone or camera in front of a white wall. Or, use an old picture and use Paint (or any equivalent program) to cut yourself out of the original photo and paste it on a white background. The second choice is really time consuming, but is ultimately can be a good option for the time being.

2. Summary: This is the section where you talk about yourself. You don’t have to share your entire life story, but it may be good to talk about your college major or write a paragraph about what your future goals are. You can also mention your purpose for making a LinkedIn profile, i.e.  to find an internship in [insert field]. Remember to keep the summary brief since recruiters won’t spend an hour on your profile. You want them to get past the summary and onto the good stuff, such as your work experience and courses that you have taken.

3. Collegiate/high school experience: The four years you spend in high school and in college tell a story. Whether you participated in after-school programs or in clubs, it doesn’t matter. Document it all! If you held any leadership positions, that is especially great.  These are the kinds of things you should put on your LinkedIn profile to let everyone know that high school and college isn’t just about the academics for you. Don’t forget to list all of the relevant courses you have taken so far. This means any business, language, major, etc. classes you have under your belt. Displaying a sample of your work (i.e project, paper, etc.) in this section might also be a great idea. Or, if you don’t want to do that, make an online portfolio and link it to your profile. That way you can have a separate space for all of your work.

4. Skills: We are all good at something, whether it’s having great written communications skills or being good at building websites. There is an employer out there looking for someone with your expertise, so make sure you list the things that you have excelled in. If you can get endorsements (people who can attest that you possess said skills), then that’s even better! The more endorsements, the better. Try not to have more than ten skills on your profile though. Only list the ones that are important and the ones that you think will make you stand out from the crowd.

5. Awards: Are you the student who gets good grades or is a star athlete? Good for you! List all of your accomplishments in the awards section. Let people know that you have rewards as proof for outstanding work.

6. Headline: A headline on LinkedIn is like the headline of a newspaper article. It’s the attention grabber; it’s your chance to send out flares to recruiters so that they can find you more easily. You can constantly change your headline to fit your liking, but if you’re not sure what to put there, start off with ‘Student at [insert school].’ or ‘Intern at [insert company]’. If you don’t have an internship and would like one, try using ‘Aspiring [insert profession] seeking an internship in [insert job/field].’ You could use a combination of the three, just play around with it and look at other profiles to help and inspire you.

7. Contact info: You don’t have to provide your phone number (and I advise against putting your phone number online) but what you can do is put your email address on LinkedIn. This way, recruiters or anyone who is interested can contact you through email. LinkedIn may be a professional site, but you always want to be careful with who you give your information to.

8. Groups/companies/universities: The great thing about LinkedIn is that you can join groups that fit your career interests. LinkedIn groups, once you become a member of them, give you access to thousands of people that otherwise wouldn’t show up in the ‘People You May Know’ section. Getting involved in discussions will get you noticed, and you may even learn valuable lessons from professionals that you aren’t connected with. Also, ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ the companies that you would want to intern for or possibly work for in the future. If you want to go college or graduate school, ‘Follow’ your dream universities to stay on top of what’s going on.

9. Connections: Make sure to only add people you know. If you do get those few random invitations, make sure to check out their profiles first before you add them. It’s good to have a lot of connections, but it’s not good if you don’t know your connections. That said, connect with professors, teachers, old friends, family members, people you’ve worked with, etc. Sometimes it’s not about what you know but WHO you know. Keep that in mind as you navigate the networking realm.

10. Alumni tool: LinkedIn has become more accessible to college and high school students alike in recent years, especially with the addition of the alumni tool. Here you can see what people who graduated from your university (or your dream university) went on to do with their degrees. You can also look at their profiles for tips on how to structure your own. If you have any specific questions, you can message them. I love the alumni tool and it’s certainly something you should check out if you’re new to LinkedIn. Go to ‘Connections’ and click on ‘Find Alumni’ to access that tool, and for more information on a particular university, go to ‘Interests’ and click ‘Education.’ Both of these can be found at that top of the page.

I hope that this list was helpful to those of you new LinkedIn users who don’t know where to start. I don’t want to tell you how your profile should look because not one profile should look the same. I do, however, want to give you a sturdy foundation to build your profile upon. Just remember that you don’t have to get it ‘right’ the first time. You can always edit your profile to your liking. With that said, make sure to keep it updated. If you get a new job, update your experiences on your LinkedIn profile. Or if you’re unemployed but you have an internship or are involved in a club, let it be known that you are staying busy even if it’s not a job. Also, if you haven’t participated in a lot of extracurricular activities, internships, or jobs, don’t let that discourage you from not making a LinkedIn profile. Maybe that blank profile can be what motivates you to get more involved. Who knows?! Just don’t wait to create your profile because you won’t know how successful your lemonade stand will be until you build it.

Image: Esther Vargas, Flickr

CollegeFinanceSkills

It’s time for college. It’s also time for budget crunching, piggy bank breaking, as well as money saving. Our wallets tend to go on a diet when we go to college, but here are some tips to keep your wallet saturated with healthy greens and to make yourself happy with those few extra bucks.

1. Price Comparisons for Textbooks

Unless you cannot find a book anywhere on the Internet, go to the student store on your university campus. Word on the street is that the student store charges more than the retailer themselves. Use websites like SlugBooks to buy cheaper priced books.

2. Go for Paperback Books

Paperback or hardcover, you’re still getting the same information, aren’t you? You don’t need the hardcover book. Find a paperback and use it whenever you can. Besides, paperbacks are much lighter on your back.

3. Renting Textbooks

Have a general education class such as Economics 101 that you’re taking to fulfill some requirement? Never going to open that book again once the class will have finished? Rent the book. Do not buy it. Though you cannot make too many marks (or any, depending on the rule), renting your textbook can save you over a hundred dollars. You can use it and access it at any point after it is delivered to you, and then you just have to ship it back on the due date, so make sure you take note of that!

4. Use Public Transportation or a Bike

Do not bring your car with you to campus, especially if you are a first-year. Paying for parking is quite a hassle, and can drain your wallet instantaneously. Use buses; they’re quite popular on college campuses, especially with universities that are small cities, such as Chapel Hill. Students usually ride for free, which is awesome because who doesn’t like free services and goods? Also, you’re doing the environment a huge favor by not emitting exhaustion gas into the atmosphere. Bikes are another good idea, as this investment can go very far, literally and metaphorically. Bikes are street safe and walk path safe, and you’ll be on-time to class almost every time.

5. Sell Your Old High School Stuff

I, for one, had a lot of old Advanced Placement (AP) guidebooks left over from high school. Though some are still useful references to me, a lot of them were not, especially for the classes that have nothing to do with my intended major and that I had placement credit for. I just sold it on Amazon and made almost a hundred dollars. Don’t limit yourself to just books—sell anything that you simply cannot use anymore (within reason of course).

6. Make a Budget

Try organizing your spending and income into a table such as this one:

Money Spent Item Bought Service Spent on Earnings
$3 2% Milk
$40 From Tutoring
$10 Getting Eyebrows Done
$100 Selling things
$50 Textbook

This is just a neat way to help you keep track of everything! You will never have to wonder where that one dollar went, and you’ll feel more in control of your money.

7. Work Study, Jobs, and Internships

This is perhaps the most obvious way grab ahold of fortunes during high school. However, it should also be remembered that jobs teach you the value of money. For some people, it’ll send the message of “Do I need to buy that Sephora lipstick? I have to use MY money.” You’ll rethink buying some of your coveted material objects, but in the end you will be glad you thought some of your monetary decisions and purchases through.

Money is all around us. We just have to know how to hold on to it. Learning how to be responsible with your money now can truly benefit you in the future. When there’s an economic crisis in the future, you’ll know how to handle it from your experiences during your youthful years. Best of luck to those of you going to college or are in college, and always have a positive mindset!

Image: 401kcalculator.org

Skills

Not only does the end of summer mean shifting back into school-mode, but it also means saying goodbye to your bosses at your internship and job. As you wrap up work, don’t forget one very important thing: thank you cards. When you give a thank you card to your boss, mentor, or a peer who helped you, it should look professional. Leave a good impression on those you worked with by writing a few sentences about what you learned from them, why the experience was so meaningful, and that you’d love to stay in touch. Either give these cards to your bosses and mentors in-person, or simply mail it to the office a couple of days after you have cleared out. Here are 5 professional thank you cards you can use to express your gratitude to those who have had an impact on your life. Not only will it demonstrate your professionalism and thoughtfulness, but there’s also nothing like good ol’ snail mail!

1. Navy Strip and Gold Foil

2. Minimalist Thank You

3. Classic Thanks

4. Black and White Thank You

5. Quiet Thank You

What professional thank you cards are you sending to your bosses and mentors? What else are you doing to express gratitude?

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

As huge jazz fans, we are so impressed with Jazz musician and trumpet player Alex Owen. After graduating from Connecticut College, Alex moved to New Orleans to work with a non-profit geared toward ending housing discrimination in Louisiana. He eventually started a band called the Messy Cookers – aptly named after his own sloppy cooking technique – and they’ve been playing together ever since. Although he now loves music and plays jazz for a living, Alex shares his advice on why never closing doors on opportunities, even at a young age, can lead you to your passion down the line. We are excited to introduce Alex Owen!

Name: Alex Owen
Age: 24
Education: BA in International Relations and Hispanic Studies from Connecticut College, High School Columbia Prep.
Follow: Facebook

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

I would define it as going out and doing what you love. I don’t think there is an age limit, or minimum, to trying to make your dream happen. When I hear the term “seizing your youth,” I think of having the opportunity to try things out and see what happens. Sometimes it’s a risk, but if you don’t take those risks now, then when will you?

What did you major in at Connecticut College and how did you determine what to study?

At Connecticut College I majored in International Relations and Hispanic Studies, and I minored in Music. I also was part of the CISLA program. I picked my majors just based on what classes I wanted to take. I had studied Spanish in high school and I wanted to continue to learn the language and become proficient, and I really liked the interdisciplinary focus of the IR major. It just seemed that the majors seemed to fit what I wanted to study. Of course, I wanted to play music as well, so the minor just seemed to fit what I was interested in.

What or who inspired you to become a jazz musician?

I think what inspired me was really just to follow my passion. I don’t think I ever sat down and thought, “I want to be a jazz musician.” I loved playing traditional jazz music at Connecticut College where I first discovered this music, and I also loved being in the jazz ensemble. I wanted to move to New Orleans because I knew they had a great scene for traditional jazz, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity I was going to play.

When I moved to New Orleans, I actually was part of a fellowship program called AVODAH, where I spent a year working full-time at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, a non-profit working to end housing discrimination in Louisiana. It wasn’t until about mid-way through my first year that I started the Messy Cookers Jazz band and started to find gigs and get a little bit of work. I realized that I really loved the music, and while I also loved the work I was doing at the Fair Housing center, I really wanted to focus on getting better. It became apparent that if I wanted to gig more and get more work, it wouldn’t be feasible to work full time and try to focus on both things. After I started to get work, I decided that I could really be a jazz musician, and that’s when I decided to focus on it and teach music part time.

Tell me about your college bands The Endpiece and Funk the Police. How have those experiences shaped your current music?

Those were some really great bands to be a part of. When I look back at my college experience, some of the fondest memories I had were from those two bands. I think those experiences were incredibly helpful because they taught me so much about being in a band and what the dynamics are like. One thing I learned from being a musician is that it takes so much work to make the music great. You have to practice, you have to find different roles, and you have to learn how to create chemistry with your other band mates in order to make great music. I’ve found that in any style or genre of music, this is true.

You also have to be able to find common ground among different personalities. While I don’t play the style of music that those two bands played anymore, I still take what I learned from those bands about working together with other musicians to make great music, and it’s something I use every time I play with people today.

Alex 2

How do you stay motivated on-stage night after night of performing?

It’s definitely tough to do this. It’s certainly easier when you are playing a crowded venue. The hard thing to do is really be on your game when it’s the third or fourth set and it’s a slow night. I think what makes some musicians truly great is that they play the same way whether there are 100 people in the place, or two people. I really try to focus on just making great music at all times and I try not to worry about the crowd. Obviously, I’m always paying attention to the crowd, especially when I’m the bandleader. But once we pick a song and we get into it, I try to block it out and just try to make great music. Ultimately, that’s the most gratifying thing, and it’s something that I could do every day for the rest of my life.

Where does your band name, Messy Cookers Jazz Band, come from?

Ha-ha, this is a pretty funny question. I was making a comment to myself the first year down here that when I was cooking, I made a pretty big mess. I lived on campus all four years of college, so I never really learned how to cook before I moved down to New Orleans. All of a sudden, I realized that I had to cook for myself, so I learned the basics and was able to get by. I guess my technique was still a little sloppy. I was cooking for my housemates one night and I made the comment about how I was a messy cooker. My roommate Jeremy was walking by, and he went “I think I just found your band name.” The name was just too good to pass up.

How does living in New Orleans inspire your music?

I think living here is great because to play the music I want to play, which is traditional New Orleans jazz, I’m able to learn from the best. There are great musicians still working all the time today, who themselves came up playing with and learning from some of the all-time greats. It’s really a privilege to be able to hear them play on almost any given day or night, and to occasionally have opportunities to play with them. I think hearing what they have to say, and listening to the way they approach the music, is key for me to also try and play this music. I try to utilize their advice in every gig I play.

What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from being a musician?

There are a lot of good lessons I’ve learned. One is definitely how to take criticism and how to take rejection. Every musician is going to have self-doubt, get yelled at on a bandstand for making a mistake or not knowing a song, get fired from a gig, or get turned down for a gig. It’s very discouraging, but the best thing to do is trust in yourself and trust in your ability. I’ve found that during the tough times, trusting myself has allowed me to stay positive, remain focused, and continue to make great music.

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What is the biggest challenge with being a musician? The best part?

There are a few challenges with being a musician. I’d say one challenge being unsure know when your next paycheck will be coming in. Especially as someone that is new to town, I’ve gotten a lot of gigs last minute. Since I’m still trying to establish myself, I’m in a position where if I can make a gig, I take it. It’s definitely hard to adjust your schedule last minute. The schedule can also be grueling. Working nights can be really hard, especially since I teach during the day. You really have to alter your life schedule to fit your work. Sometimes this means trying to eat a big meal to last you the 4-5 hours you will be out since you don’t have access to food. Other times, this means trying to hang out with friends during the day because when they are free night, this is when I’m working.

On the flip side, the best part of being a musician is that it’s greatest job in the world! I get to make awesome music, something I would do anyway in my free time, and then I get paid for it. I’ve been fortunate to get work with some world-class musicians, which is an awesome experience. There are many nights when I can’t believe I’m sharing a bandstand with some of these people. It’s also gratifying when you can tell that you’ve touched people with your music.  When I’ve just spent a night making music that you know was great music, and people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it, that really makes it gratifying.

Any tips for learning how to play an instrument?

The biggest tip I can give is to be patient. Something I tell my beginning band students all the time is that Louis Armstrong didn’t sound like Louis Armstrong when he first started playing. Music is like a totally new language; nobody just wakes up a genius. Everyone works at it and tries to make new strides. When you are learning a new instrument, take pride in whatever progress you make, however small, and focus on achieving each milestone. Eventually, before you even realize it, you will start sounding better and playing an instrument will become more fun.

How do you overcome self-doubt (or stage fright?)

Like learning an instrument, this comes with practice. The more gigs I play, the more confident I become in myself, and the easier it is to overcome stage fright. Stage fright, and self-doubt, is a part of being a performer, and is something that becomes easier with practice. Whenever I get nervous, I also try to remember that there is a reason I’m on the bandstand. If I’m a sideman, I try to focus on the fact that someone called me to play the gig with him or her, so I must be doing something right. As a bandleader, I try to remember that the venue likes us enough to hire us, and the people I’ve hired like playing with me enough to want to play with me, otherwise they would’ve said no.

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What advice do you have for youth who want to be professional musicians?

My advice is to go for it. If you feel it’s what you want to do, and it’s what you are most passionate about, then absolutely go for it and don’t hold back. People are definitely going to tell you that you can’t do it, or that it’s not stable, etc. These are things that almost all professional artists face at one point. If you are driven enough and determined enough, you can sustain the bumps in the road and make it happen. It’s also ok to take a part-time job or do something on the side to make ends meet, even if it’s not exactly the work you want to be doing. I’ve been lucky enough to find work teaching music, which is something I love and plan to pursue, but I know other musicians and other artists who’ve had all types of weird jobs not related to their art. As long as it doesn’t directly interfere with your art, I say there’s nothing wrong with getting a job to pay the bills.

What do you do when you’re not making music?

I really enjoy spending time outdoors. I’m fortunate that New Orleans has a temperate climate (other than the summer), which allows me to go running, spend time in parks, and generally do activities outside. I also spend time with my girlfriend, watch TV shows, and spend time with friends.

What does a day in your life look like?

Ha-ha, depends on the day! Usually my weekdays consist of teaching during the day. I have a little break in the afternoon, where I usually exercise and get other work done (the work never stops for musicians). If I have a gig that night I’ll eat an early dinner, warm up a little, prep for the gig, and head down early to set up. If not, I’ll either go to hear other bands and sit in, or just hang out and rest. The weekends are mostly about gigs. If I don’t have a daytime gig, I can run errands, hang out with friends, and then go to my gig later. However, some weekends I just spend it running from gig to gig. The great thing about being a musician is that no two days are the same!

What motivates you in your everyday life?

I always just try to be the best person I can be. Whether I’m playing music or not, I always try to be nice to others, to spend quality time with other people, and to be true to my craft.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

I would definitely tell myself that music isn’t dorky, that I should be pursuing it. I think at 15, I really was into sports, and not so much into music. Playing trumpet was more of a chore my parents made me do (and I’m glad they made me do it), and I wish I had treated it differently. I think a lot of this was that I didn’t realize how much fun playing was, and I didn’t think it was that cool.

Image: Hot Steamed Jazz Festival; all others from Alex Owen

Skills

I recently had a job interview. It was my first in-person job interview ever. After a lot of hard work and preparation, it was finally time for the interview. The following day, I found out via email that I did not get the job. While the news was disappointing, I did appreciate having an answer so I could move on. This disappointment actually gave me more motivation than I had before. 

I will preface my stance by saying I am currently employed somewhere else. The job I have allows me to pay my bills. I will not starve based on getting rejected for another position. I can understand how rejection can weigh harder on someone else who needs a job for survival.

Even though I did not get the job that I applied for, there were benefits to the experience. I am a believer that you can learn something from everything you do in life. From the interview, I became aware of things I needed to work on. For example, while I was confident in my appearance and my handshake, I realized that I needed to be more present in the moment. I had learned little about the company, and I could have prepared better by doing more research. I also thought of answers to sample interview questions. However, when questions I was not prepared for came up, I drew a blank. There were long pauses in the interview. As I scrambled for an answer, I became less confident. I learned that I need to work on improving my ability to think on my feet.

After my first interview, I am less nervous for the next one and any that may come after that. I have experience to draw from. I have ways to improve. Even if I did not get this job, I have a better chance of getting one in the future by growing from my failure rather than by wallowing in it. No matter how your interview goes, if you keep developing and try your best, you should feel good about it.

My last point is that even if you get rejected from a job, you are not a failure. Despite expressions to the contrary, you can fail a class, but there is no such thing as failing at life. If you do not get a job, you simply are just not right for the job at the moment. It does not mean you will not be the right person for the job in the future. There is always time to improve. Learn your lessons now so when your time comes, you will be ready.
Image: Caro Wallis, Flickr

CultureSkills

My 22nd birthday was a straight up rollercoaster.

Halfway into the morning, my dream company cancelled the interview they’d scheduled with me. No more trip to NYC.

The same day, the person I’d been most recently involved with texted me the news that he’s seeing someone new. Kind of an ego bruiser.

This all came in the midst of a post-grad journey that has been anything but smooth and peaceful, about a week after the death of a wonderful high school friend.

In times of grief and confusion, minor letdowns can seem major. The camel’s back had officially broken, and I realized that I needed to make time to resolve these conflicts on top of a schedule packed with class, writing deadlines and a full-time job search.

Despite what you’ve heard, it isn’t “strong” to ignore your problems. Over time, failure to acknowledge and resolve internal conflicts can manifest in depression, anxiety, confusion, and an inability to emotionally connect with people. Practicing internal conflict resolution while you’re young and resilient will seriously pay off.

Resolving your conflicts also doesn’t have to get in the way of a busy life. Here are the steps that have helped me uphold my commitments and personal relationships as I overcome my challenges:

Internal Healing

  1. Be honest with yourself.

You don’t have to tell the world you’re hurting, but tell it to yourself straight. You can’t overcome any type of feeling if you don’t admit it’s there. By facing the nitty gritty details, you’re giving yourself permission to unearth and work through them.

  1. Be kind to yourself.

As you’re honest with yourself, be sure you’re doing it without judgment. Some of your truths may not be pretty or easy to accept; take your time with them. Don’t resent yourself for being sad, angry or confused.

Transform any self-deprecating thoughts to positives. For example, turn “I’m such an idiot for starting that fight,” to, “I engaged in that fight because I was frustrated. How can I better express those feelings next time?”

  1. Be conscious of unhealthy thoughts.

Resisting the changes your conflict has created, or obsessing over regrets and what-ifs, creates backward progress. Re-direct your thoughts when you sense they’re heading down what-if road.

I redirect mine by focusing on my five senses; what colors I see, how my breathing sounds and my skin feels, etc. It brings me back to reality and lets me change my train of thought.

External Adjustments

  1. De-clutter.

De-cluttering your physical environment helps a surprising amount in releasing emotional baggage. Put all your dust-collecting items and unworn clothes in a giant trash bag and donate them.

Having trouble blindly parting with your more sentimental dust collectors? Give them to a special person in your life.

  1. Physical health = sanity.

Carve out time to exercise, but be gentle with yourself. It’s ok if you’re too depleted or stressed for anything more than a five minute walk in the morning.

Remember, too, that over-indulgence is not self-care. A bottle of wine and a pint of ice cream will make you feel sluggish and skip the walk tomorrow. Moderation is your friend.

  1. Meditate, meditate, meditate.

I am not kidding. You don’t have to be the Buddha to do this. Sit and focus on your breathing and body for five to ten minutes. Continued meditation will give you calmness and clarity.

  1. Set a daily allowance.

Avoid spending precious time and energy in sad or angry lala land by allotting five to 10 minutes a day to journal, cry, scream into your pillow, whatever works for you. Once the timer is up, it’s time to get back to reality. Lessen the time by a minute each day. You’ll find you become more in control of your feelings while still acknowledging them.

  1. Don’t grieve alone.

As my best friend says, the phone can weigh 500 pounds. But even just telling a loved one you’re sad and need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on will bring you comfort and release.

Teen and young adult years are already pretty confusing as is; life’s big and small obstacles during these times can throw us for some serious loops. The great thing is that conflicts can aid tremendously in self-discovery and personal growth if you address them in healthy ways.

What are your tips for overcoming personal conflict while staying focused and present?

Image: Picjumbo