What I’ve Learned from Managing a Social Enterprise in South Africa’s Townships—And Other International Co-op Lessons

heart capitalOn Aug. 26, I boarded a plane destined for Cape Town, South Africa. Twenty five hours later I arrived at my new home for the next four months.

A week later, I started my co-op at Heart Capital, an impact investment firm on the outskirts of Cape Town that manages a portfolio of social enterprises in local townships. So what have I learned so far from this incredible opportunity to learn about social enterprise management in one of the regions of the world that needs it most? Read on.

1. Printer ink, Internet access, phone calls, and meetings are luxuries—not necessities.

 

In Cape Town, I’ve realized that you can still conduct business without a formal corporate infrastructure in place—it’s just a little more difficult. No technology on site? Better make sure you bring everything you need with you. Deliverymen didn’t drop off your compost in the right place? Time to revamp the work schedule so that you can account for manually hauling your supplies to a different location.

 

Being innovative and flexible are essential in the social space—you often won’t find well-oiled business machines in under-resourced townships.

2. Sometimes, the needs of the business don’t go hand in hand with the needs of beneficiaries. And that can be challenging.

 

The difficult thing about managing social enterprises is that they don’t operate as for-profit businesses, but they aren’t nonprofit either. In this space, we spend a lot of our time wrestling with wanting to help people directly while still trying to progress the business. These tough decisions make this space incredibly challenging. What’s important is that you figure out the best way to cope with the situation. For me, I’ve found that leaving work at the office and exploring the area allow me to clear my head and face the challenges ahead. Figure out what gives you inner peace and capitalize on that.

3. Creativity is key.

 

When there isn’t a clear procedure on how to do something, that presents an opportunity for innovative thinking. Past and current interns have developed new systems for inventory management, sourced free materials from willing companies, and launched crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for supplies. Success in this industry—and especially in an international environment—relies on drive, creativity, and innovation.

4. Working internationally is different than working at home.

Sometimes you might forget that cultural norms you took for granted aren’t the same in other countries. Email may not be effective, the laws and regulations for donations may be different, and common words and phrases may not be present in your new space.

 

Like any new job, it’s important to take each lesson in stride. Sometimes, working in a different country can be frustrating and confusing. It may make you want to tear your hair out, find the nearest McDonalds, and try to un-block Netflix. But by using each experience as a learning opportunity, and then reminding yourself about the lessons you’ll be able to take home with you, you’ll survive—and, even better—thrive.

 

Sarah Silverstein is currently managing Heart Capital’s ongoing Indiegogo campaign to raise $15,000 USD to purchase a bakkie, or small vehicle, which will drastically improve the organization’s operations on the ground. Check out the campaign page to learn more about the campaign.

Honoring All Who Serve- Careers In The Military

veterans day 2013

Northeastern honors its veterans in the 2013 Veterans Day Ceremony.

The face of the military is the warrior on the front lines. A man or woman in uniform patrols under the hot desert sun, protected by a helmet, ballistic eyewear, and body armor, and armed with high-tech weaponry.

Warriors on the front-lines are known as Infantry. Infantry undergo rigorous training in close combat, and dedicate themselves to overcoming all obstacles in order to complete the mission.

However, only a fraction of service members serve as infantry. In order to understand the unique skills which a veteran can bring to the workforce, it is important to understand the different ways in which soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen have served. Below is just a sample of the career fields available in the military, not specific to any branch.

Artillery are responsible for anything from mortars positioned directly over the battlefield, to long-range missiles on off-shore battleships.

Aviation assets in the military include helicopters, fighter jets, and increasingly drones. Aviation’s roles include engaging targets, gathering intelligence, transporting supplies, and evacuating wounded personnel.

Band members entertain civilians and service members at home and abroad. Each service has their own band, which attract talented singers and musicians.

Chaplains hold different religious beliefs, but share a common dedication to assisting soldiers with their spiritual needs, by providing confidential counseling services.

Engineers use materials on hand to build whatever structures are needed. Engineering projects include roads, bridges, wells, and village schools.

Finance is crucial in the billion-dollar defense industry. Financial managers track millions of dollars in assets, while delivering pay to soldiers in the remotest parts of the world.

Health professionals such as doctors, nurses, dentists, and technicians provide care to soldiers on the battlefield, in aircraft and ambulances, and in military hospitals around the world. The Army also has a veterinarians, who take care of animals in all services.

Information Technology is a key part of the modern battlefield. Technicians maintain and operate electronics ranging from radios, to computers, to nuclear missile guidance systems.

Intelligence experts include imagery analysts, cryptologists, linguists, and security experts that turn data into actionable information, and protect sensitive information.

Logistics and Transportation manage and move crucial supplies such as food, water, and medicine to wherever they are needed, overcoming great obstacles along the way.

Public Affairs is the link between the military and civilian populations. Some members of Public Affairs work behind the scenes on news productions while others interact directly with local populations.

Security Forces are usually called Military Police. MPs provide security for military bases, ships, and occupied areas, conduct criminal investigations, and perform other tasks to maintain law and order.

Special Operations Forces include Navy SEALs, Air Force Pararescue, Army “Green Berets”, and Marine RECON.  Special Operations missions differ, but members in Special Forces share a tireless dedication to the mission resulting from intense, specialized training.

Much more. The military trains service members for a wide variety of jobs. It is common for service members to receive training in multiple career fields.

Veterans’ work differ drastically in function and scope. However, some skills are common to all veterans. First, service members accomplish missions under extreme pressure, leading to proficiency at project management field, and process improvement. Second, they have experience working with a variety of people, sometimes across cultures, making them ideal members of global teams. Finally, each veteran enters the workforce with thousands of dollars’ worth of technical training, provided courtesy of the government. Those who serve part-time in the National Guard or Reserve receive opportunities to continue developing their skills.

Veterans have proven success on the job in the world’s largest military. Thus the biggest challenge for veterans leaving the service is not usually obtaining new skills, but relating their existing skills to the civilian world. A military skills translator, such as the one available on vaforvets.va.gov, can help veterans translate military experience into key words on a civilian resume. However, it is more important for Americans to understand the different challenges veterans overcome, and experience they bring to the workforce.

Thank a veteran for their service today, whether it be in the jungles of Vietnam, on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, flying above the sands of Kuwait, or at home with the National Guard or Reserve. Regardless of when and where veterans have served, each veteran has signed a blank check to their country payable to any amount up to, and including, their life.

Career information from goarmy.com, airforce.com, navy.com

The article was written by an Army ROTC cadet at Northeastern. Northeastern’s Army ROTC program produces officers for every branch of the Army, from Infantry to Nursing. Visit rotc.neu.edu for more info.

Image Source: Northeastern News

What Do We Really Want in the Workplace?

love job

This guest post was written by Career Development intern and College Student Development and Counseling graduate student, Jabril Robinson. 

Great question! In today’s advanced society, there are many preferences, demands, and pressures to deal with, in all areas of employment. Those who do not meet these can quickly fall out of favor with an industry. But what is it that people really are searching for when deciding on an area of employment? Money? While it is necessary (someone’s got to pay the bills, right?), money is not everything. I recently completed a course entitled “Reality Therapy”, which has applications to the workplace and gave insight as to what it is that everyone not only wants, but needs in the workplace. These are known as the five basic needs: survival, love/belonging, fun, freedom, and power.

Based on Dr. William Glasser’s psychological concept of Reality Therapy and Choice Theory, these basic needs are essential for happiness, both in one’s personal and professional life. Let’s start with the first:

SURVIVAL: the most fundamental need: this encompasses biological and physiological necessities such as food, water, and shelter. If you are lacking any of these, well you’re probably more focused on these needs versus reading on, but let’s continue anyway!

LOVE/BELONGING: This basic need refers to having a positive connection with others in your environment– in this case your colleagues, supervisors, etc. Can’t stand lazy co-workers who just lounge around when the boss isn’t looking? Speaking of the boss, do you wish s/he or she would show a little more appreciation or accidentally fall off the planet? Do you feel like you are the outcast at work? If you answered yes re in the affirmative to any of these questions, it may be a sense of belonging or appreciation that you are missing. If you do have this on co-op, and this is important to you, ask questions on your interviews to be sure to carry this into your next role. Where does this need rank for you of the five?

FUN: This one is simple–everyone wants to have at least a little bit of fun at work! How important this is varies person to person, colleague to colleague. Some people may want to have fun once they finish their “to do” list; others want this infused in every aspect of their day. While everyone has a different definition of what “fun” entails, or when it’s appropriate at work to have it, it is easy to tell whether someone is enjoying their job or not (or perhaps enjoying it a little too much). Regardless of what your view of fun is, having a job or career that is not even a little fun may not be high on your list will not prove to be an ideal for you. For instance, what do the most successful sports team, bands, research teams and others have in common? They love what they do, have a passion for their work, and again, have FUN! Where does this need come on your short list?

FREEDOM: An especially important need. Who doesn’t desire some freedom in their work life? Freedom comes in many forms: the ability to choose one’s own hours, autonomy to work on self-initiated projects, quality break time, one’s own “space”, you name it. Without a sense of freedom, people can literally go crazy on the job. Thankfully I have yet to see this in person, (I’m not complaining, but trust me, it happens). Of course, not everyone can be their own boss, but if you feel more constricted than what is comfortable, then yes, you are probably lacking some element of freedom. Remember though: freedom is not always given–sometimes it needs to be earned. If you feel like you have earned independence, but have yet to receive it, then it may be time to evaluate how you’re going to meet this need and whether there are any changes you can make, both internally and externally.

POWER: Ah yes, power. Who could forget? Not this guy, and neither should you. Power is a subjective term, however in this case we’re talking about the ability to have a sense of control over your life outcomes. In some ways, this overlaps with the subject of freedom (it’s difficult to have one without the other), but has some differences as well. Those who have a sense of power feel as if they are able to achieve what they desire, view themselves as important to their company, and believe they can “win”. Power can also be viewed as a sense of competence in your field or on the job. If you lack power in your current job or career, it is time to evaluate. Where does this need fit for you?  Is it time to explore options to find a way to better meet this need and do something about it!

So how does this tie into Career Development? Well, during the job search process, it is absolutely important to consider if that career or if that job you’re considering, involving environmental engineering, communications, or any other field, can provide you with these needs. A great time to assess this is during the interview process. During the interview, it would be wise to ask questions such as these:

  1. What is the workplace atmosphere like between co-workers here?
  2. What sort of professional development opportunities do you offer?
  3. What are some benchmarks for success for the first six months and first year
  4. Thinking back to people who have been in this position previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great?

For interview tips, please check out Northeastern Career Development’s Interview page.

Still looking for more interviewing (both regular and informational) tips and strategies? Please visit our Career Development page for more information. Interested in an individual appointment to figure out where these needs rank for you and how to make your co-op, internship, or after graduation position work for you even better? Schedule an appointment via your myNEU, or by calling 617-373-2430—we are here to address your needs!

Jabril Robinson is a Career Development Intern at Northeastern University. Having graduated with a degree in Psychology, he enjoys studies on human perception and motivation differences between individuals. He is currently enrolled in Northeastern University’s College Student Development & Counseling Program. Send him an email at j.robinson@neu.edu.

Image Source: Able & Fernandes Communications Company

How To Stand Out In A Good Way

man-climbing-stairs

This post was written by Diane Ciarletta, Director of Northeastern University Career Development.

Starting a new co-op or full-time job can be a challenge.  As the new kid on the block, you not only have to learn how to do the job, but also how to fit in with the company and make a strong impression. However, in most organizations, just being good at your job is not enough to get you noticed.  If you want to turn your coop into a full time offer or get on your boss’s radar for a promotion, it is important to find effective ways to increase your visibility.  You want your colleagues and manager to see you as a leader who adds value to the team and the company.  As a manager, I have hired several interns into permanent positions.  What differentiated them from the competition to win a coveted spot on our team?

Here are four ways you can make yourself stand out:

1. Go beyond your job description

View your job description as the minimum expectation and don’t ever be heard saying, “That’s not my job!”  Spend your first few weeks observing others, asking questions and figuring out ways you can add value to your team.  If you see something that needs to be done-take the initiative, bring it to your boss’ attention and offer your help.  If you find a way to do something more efficiently, suggest it with a concrete plan.  Step out of your comfort zone to learn a new skill or take on a project that no one else wants to do.  Possess a Yes-I-can attitude. If you show a willingness to learn or try something that would be beneficial to the company-you will definitely be positioning yourself for success.

2. Manage your time well

If you want to stand out, it is critical that you be regarded as someone who gets things done and done well.  Missing deadlines, or handing in a less-than-stellar project because you didn’t give yourself enough time to do it right is unacceptable.  The ability to multi-task, i.e. managing competing projects simultaneously, is expected of most employees, and is critical for anyone who aspires to a leadership role. It is important to prioritize your time when it comes to completing projects in order to get them done on time.  If you are unsure of which tasks to complete first, have a conversation with your supervisor to clarify expectations, and avoid potential problems in the future.

3. Speak up in meetings

The way you present yourself in meetings can have a big impact on your career. If you don’t let yourself be heard and never offer an opinion or comment, you may be giving off the impression that you are not invested.  Even if you are more introverted and prefer to think things through before you speak, find ways to participate.  When you do speak up, say your points succinctly and clearly.  A great way to figure out how to become an effective speaker is by watching those who do it well.  Meetings are where a lot of business gets done, and contributing your ideas publicly allows your boss and your peers to see you as a leader.

4. Ask for feedback and use it to improve

Getting feedback and constructive criticism from your peers and supervisor is one of the best ways to gauge your performance.  If your manager offers unsolicited feedback about a perceived problem or mistake, don’t be defensive.  Instead, take ownership and accountability and devise a strategy to address the problem.  If your manager doesn’t volunteer performance feedback –ask for it-appropriately.  You could request a regular one-to-one meeting to discuss problems, status updates and check-in about how you are doing.  When you are seeking feedback, don’t ask, “How am I doing?”  It’s too general and might not elicit specific, concrete suggestions.  Instead, ask about the one-thing.  For example, “What is one thing I could do to improve the way I…?  If someone takes the time and effort to give you feedback make sure you demonstrate how you are using it to improve your performance.

Diane Ciarletta is the Director of the Career Development Team.  She has been a Career Counselor for over 25 years and has hired and supervised many interns and professional staff.

Photo Source: Man Climbing Stairs

What does it mean to work for a non-profit?

non profit post word cloud

This guest post was written by NU Pre-Law and Graduate School Advisor, Anne Grieves.

It may mean that you won’t be making as much money as your friend at Fidelity.  It may mean that you come home from work emotionally drained.  It may also mean that you come home knowing you had a positive impact on something or someone. Wherever you end up 5, 10, 15 years from now, having had even one experience working at a non-profit will give you what you won’t be able to buy with any amount of money.

In my 20s I worked for two educational travel companies; one was a for-profit and one was a not-for-profit.  Each one offered amazing opportunities, but looking back, it was at the not-for-profit that I developed a stronger sense of self, gained professional self-confidence and knew that what I brought and gave was important and valued.

Working at the for-profit was FUN.  The management team had frequent celebrations (with champagne), gave out bonuses, hosted annual team building ropes course retreats and much more.  Anything to incentivize the staff.  However, each month, those that didn’t perform as expected, were cut.  There were quotas to meet and if they weren’t… tough luck.  People came and went so frequently that developing relationships was very challenging.

Of course not all for-profits are like this.  But, if the bottom line is making money, sometimes it comes at the expense of other things.

Five years later I worked at a similar company, but the fact that it was a not-for-profit (slightly different from non-profit), allowed me to grow in ways I would not have been able to at the previous company.  I had opportunities to be creative, was able to get involved with many projects and connected with every single person in the organization.  Everyone was open and willing to mentor.  People were busy but were not driven by the bottom line.

The president of the company who turned 50 while I was there, started as an intern while he was in college.  I was surprised to learn that many employees had been there for over 10, 15 and even 20 years.  This was in 2000 and many of them are still there today!  We did not have expensive celebrations (rather potluck parties).  We did not have fancy office supplies.  We had a sense of community.  We had the daily awareness that we were creating something of value for society and we cared to do our best without monetary incentives.

Sure- even there some people had to be let go.  But, only as a last resort and much coaching.  Here, creativity was valued and ideas were encouraged.  People recognized each other’s talents and leveraged them for constant growth of the individual and the company.

In my late 20s, working at this company I grew in many ways and made connections hands on world picthat have stayed with me to this day.  I now have a career in higher education because that is where my passion and interests join together.  But, having had a taste of working at a not-for-profit triggered that excitement of knowing I could leave work at the end of the day with an incredible sense of fulfillment.

So, if you are a student with a passion, a desire to lead, a yearning to bring about change and have a natural tendency to truly care, you should consider working for a non-profit or social impact organization.

Please join us on October 9th, 5:30-7 at the Non-Profit and Government Networking Forum in Raytheon Amphitheater, to learn more about the world of non-profits.  This is an opportunity to meet with 14 organizations that are making an impact on education, the environment, the arts, health care, and social enterprise.  You will get to know people within the nonprofit community in Boston who are always happy to help young people interested in using their careers for good.  Also check out the nuCAUSE Careers calendar of events for the fall semester for other opportunities to explore non-profit careers.

Anne Grieves is the Pre-Law and Graduate School Career Advisor at Northeastern University Career Development. A proud ENFP, Anne enjoys helping students explore their career options through various assessment tools and workshops and is a freelance Zumba instructor. To make an appointment with Anne, call 617-373-2430.   

Turning Passion into Progress: Advice from WOMEN who INSPIRE

This guest post was written by Katie McCune, an Assistant Co-op Coordinator with the College of Computer and Information Science.

Have you ever been to a panel talk where you were really excited about the topic, but in the end, it was just meh, and you left feeling unenthused? Well, this definitely wasn’t one of those. Recently, I attended “How Innovation and Technology are Business Game Changers,” a panel that was part of Northeastern’s WOMEN who INSPIRE Speaker Series. The idea of the series is to empower the next generation of women leaders, but as evidenced by the large number of male attendees, this panel called to a broad audience. Panelists included Naomi Fried (Chief Innovation Officer of Boston Children’s Hospital), Flora Sah (SVP, COO, Enterprise Risk Management of State Street Corporation), and Deborah Theobald (Co-Founder & CEO of Vecna Technologies). I left feeling genuinely inspired and ready to take action on the lessons learned. So, if you need your own dose of motivation from some impressive people, here ya go:

From left to right, panelists Fried, Sah, and Theoblad. Photo courtesy of WOMEN who INSPIRE

From left to right, panelists Fried, Sah, and Theoblad. Photo courtesy of WOMEN who INSPIRE

Make your own opportunities

The panel kicked off by talking about how each of the women found their jobs. The answers went something like this:

Naomi – “The job I wanted didn’t exist, so I created it”

Flora – “The job I wanted didn’t exist, so I created it”

Deborah – “The company I wanted to work for didn’t exist, so I created it”

See the trend? Good things come to those who seek them out. That’s not to say you need to go create your own job or company, or that it’s easy to create opportunities, but don’t let preconceived boundaries limit you. Maybe, you want to try a completely unique idea for your final project, because it’s more in-line with your passions. Or maybe you want to ask the CEO of your dream company to sit down and have coffee with you. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to make your own opportunities, which leads us to…

Image Source: http://jonmichail.org/

Image Source: http://jonmichail.org/

Be Confident

Seriously! We’ve all heard mantras like “fake it ‘till you make it” or “attitude is 3/4th of the battle” but these three women are living, breathing proof that confidence really matters. They all shared examples of when their confidence made a difference (can we talk about how much confidence it takes to start a company?) but you could just feel their confidence being in the room. Regardless of what academic level you’re at, by definition as a student, you aren’t an expert in your field. That can be a bit unnerving, but confidence can take you a long ways. As Deborah pointed out, to be successful in any sense of the word, you have to be confident that your passions are worthwhile, even if nobody else sees it right away.

Take Risks

Not only did these women share the fact that they are all confident and made opportunities for themselves, but they are also united in their strong belief that you MUST take risks in order to succeed. Taking risks can be scary. You might fail. Scratch that, you will fail. But as Naomi reminded us, you will learn much more from your failures than your successes, and so even though it’s counterintuitive, failure is a major part of success. So to be successful, you must be able to take some risks.

Michael Jordan quote

Whether success for you means starting your own company, getting a better grade, or speaking up in class, remember these women’s words to help make your dreams a reality.

Katie is currently a Co-op Coordinator for graduate students in the College of Computer and Information science, but got her start as an intern with NU’s Career Development. She’s a Colorado lady at heart and loves anything involving the mountains (especially when her pup can tag along).

Getting Their Ear: Understanding Connectors’ Interests

Tad Info Interview picSo, you’ve decided to link up with a connector for an informational interview. Great, but do you feel you are asking for a favor—i.e. for advice and guidance—without offering anything in return? This misconception undermines informational interviews in a couple of serious ways. First, asking for a favor can be intimidating; and second, it will limit your notion of what the informational interview is.

Focus on interests – yours and theirs

View the informational interview as a negotiation. Ask: “How do I get what I need from this interview in a way that meets the connector’s interests as well?”

Certain interests are common to nearly all connectors. Put yourself in their shoes and consider what you’re in a position to offer them, such as:

  • Recognition: being valued for their expertise
  • Reputation: being viewed as a facilitator or mentor
  • Convenience: having their schedule accommodated (and therefore respected)
  • Insight: understanding you and your perspectives on the field; and how their advice helps to advance an up-and-comer
  • Utility: meeting a potential collaborator/employee who may fill their staffing needs in the future
  • Affiliation: enjoying the opportunity to have an engaging interaction with an interesting (and perhaps like-minded) individual
  • Status: distinguishing them as someone of prominence and importance in the field
  • Appreciation: acknowledging the sharing of their time, attention, and wisdom

Interests are specific to the person. What do you know about what these people are like or would like? For instance, some connectors don’t often interact with colleagues in their field, or adjacent fields, and they may genuinely welcome the opportunity to learn from you or to hear updates about other people in their field who you’ve already contacted. Take one of Carly’s experiences, for instance:

When I was working in the conflict resolution field and considering switching careers into mental health, a lot of the psychotherapists I met for informational interviews genuinely welcomed the chance to learn from me about dispute resolution and mediation. These topics pertain to psychotherapy, but the professional paths of mediators and therapists don’t often cross. I was really happy to find myself adding something of value to those conversations.

This is important sign

Guidelines for requesting an informational interview

Here are some useful guidelines for requesting an informational interview, followed by a sample email. We generally make these requests over email, so we’re focusing on written requests; however, most of these guidelines apply similarly to a phone or in-person request.

Tone and content 

  • Do not write in a way that assumes they will say yes. You’re asking, so your phrasing should make clear that the meeting is conditional on their response: “If yes, would you have any availability the week of the 8th?”
  • Your tone should demonstrate that you’re flexible and willing to make this as convenient as possible for them.
  • Show gratitude and let them know you’d value their input: “I’d value the chance to ask you a few questions about your professional background and the field.”
  • If they don’t know you, include a brief, engaging description of who you are and why you’re interested in meeting them. Don’t give your life story; give three or four sentences, max. In particular, mention topics or experiences that you value in common.
  • Use your knowledge of a given connector or your general understanding of the field or the industry landscape to speak to other interests. If you know that they’re concerned with leaving a positive legacy, let them know that their advice will help you positively influence the future of the field.

Logistics

  • Think about their schedule depending on their job, their field, family situation, etc. Be sensitive to when they’re likely to be free.
  • Make sure you nail down the specifics before the meeting: time (accounting for time-zone differences); location; whether or not meals are involved; phone vs. in-person; if by phone, who is initiating the call, and at what number.
  • Once you have a meeting scheduled, it’s good practice to send a confirmation email a day or two before the appointed date. This is a helpful reminder that busy connectors will appreciate. It shows them that you’re responsible and lowers the likelihood that you’ll be stood up without notice.

Sample email

Dear Betty,

I hope that you’ve been enjoying a wonderful spring thus far.

I am recently out of college and trying to work my way into the negotiation and conflict resolution worlds. I have been meeting with as many interesting and accomplished people as I can to hear their stories and gain their counsel. Both John Doe and Jane Smith mentioned that you would be a great person to speak with. They both spoke of your ingenuity in entering this world and, more broadly, in navigating the challenges and stresses of career-building for someone in their mid-twenties.

I would be truly grateful if you had time in the coming week to meet me for a brief conversation. I can make time during any of the days except Thursday and will happily come to you.

Thank you for your time and best wishes,

Justin

Tad Mayer is an adjunct professor at D’Amore-McKim teaching Negotiating in Business. This blog article is an edited excerpt from End the Job Hunt, a book due out in 2015. Mr. Mayer is co-author with Justin Wright (who also teaches the class) and Carly Inkpen.

Photo source: Flickr Creative Commons, Coffee time

4 Things I Didn’t Learn in College (but wish I had)

ego-deflatedThis guest post was written by NU Alum Kelly (Sullivan) Good she currently works as geologist at Environmental Resources Management in Chicago. 

When I graduated from college, I was convinced I knew everything. I mean, it was right there on paper: good grades, multiple awards; let’s face it, I was a great student. And I was pretty sure I was going to ace the Real World too (cue the “wah wah” as we picture my metaphorical ego being deflated). It turns out, there were several ways in which I was very much under prepared.

Don’t get me wrong, Northeastern prepared me very well. I learned a ton about my chosen field thanks to fabulous professors, I learned time management, I learned how to craft a great resume and cover letter, I learned how to write about a variety of subjects, and most importantly I learned how to learn. I certainly would not be where I am today without a Northeastern degree under my belt.

Even so there were some subtle tips I just didn’t pick up in college. But never fear, it’s not too late to start integrating them into your life right now!

1. You can’t just look good on paper and expect others to notice you.

It took me a long time to find a job, despite having a solid resume.  Grades matter, yes, but so do a host of other factors and often it boils down to who you know. You hear it all the time: network. So start early, Huskies. Establish solid, lasting relationships with mentors at your co-op. Perfect and re-perfect your cover letter. You can never spend too much time job searching.

2. There are no grades at work

Well, duh. But this one took me by surprise. In college, there is a fairly standard metric to measure yourself on, at work there isn’t. It’s hard to know how you are well you are doing, unless of course you really mess up. At my job my supervisor gives me a task, I complete it and move to the next one. I spent the first three months convinced I was doing everything wrong because I wasn’t constantly being graded. It turns out, all I had to do was ask. This will likely vary by industry and by supervisor, but once I sought feedback from colleagues I became much more confident. Practice this at school by asking your professors and classmates to look over assignments before handing them in. Don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment with your professor to talk about ways you can improve, this is totally normal in the Real World.

3. You’re no longer just working for yourself

At NEU, I would pick and choose assignments to devote a lot of time to depending on how they affected my grade. I also developed the poor habit of doing all of a group project because I couldn’t trust anyone else to do it right. I did everything for myself because my grades didn’t affect anyone else but me. Not so much in the Real World. Every task you’re given has a purpose. Your company is depending on you to complete it well. Additionally, most of what you do is part of a larger project. You must learn to be courteous of others’ time, and learn that you cannot possibly take care of everything. Begin now by completing all of your assignments to the best of your abilities and by taking advantage of the shared responsibility that comes with group projects.

4. You can’t always research your way to the right answer

This was the most difficult for me to get used to. Before starting my job, I spent three straight years as graduate student researching my thesis. I was very good at reading scientific articles and even spent whole days and weeks looking for small pieces of information that would push my research to the next level. Ain’t nobody got time for that in the Real World, my friends. If you don’t immediately know the answer to a problem, start asking around. You will save a ton of time using the combined knowledge of your colleagues instead of trying to Google something that’s super industry-specific. This one is a little harder to work on while in college. Obviously, you can’t just ask your professor for the answer, and too much collaboration with your classmates can be considered cheating. So I recommend you continue to research and study the way that works best for you, but try not to forget all that information you learned. It might come in handy some day, and you may be the one your colleagues come to for answers.

In all, it’s not too bad out here in the Real World, but I do know I would have been much better off had I known these things before graduating!

Kelly (Sullivan) Good graduated from Northeastern’s College of Arts and Sciences in May 2010 with a degree in Environmental Science. She received her Master’s in Geology from the University of Utah in 2013 and currently works as geologist at Environmental Resources Management in Chicago. She can be reached at kellygood88@gmail.com

Photo: sourced from EWW­Magazine

You Worked There How Long?

This guest post was written by Tina Mello, a co-op faculty member in the College of Science and former Northeastern University Career Development Associate Director.

I worked for Northeastern’s Career Development office for over 11 years, before starting a new position this past February, working with biology students in the co-op program at Northeastern. In this day and age, it’s rare for someone to stay in one job for as long as I did. Taking a new job can be exciting and scary and energizing and nerve-wracking all at the same time, but especially for someone who’s been in the same job for as long as I had. Staying at the same University and already knowing some of my new colleagues made the transition easier, but it’s still an adjustment.

Things that you sometimes take for granted when starting a new job:

  • The people. Without question, Career Development is filled with AMAZING people who make wonderful colleagues – collaborative, creative, and dedicated to Northeastern students (there’s a reason The Princeton Review regularly ranks Career Development #1 or #2 nationally). I worked with some of the same people for 11 years – they weren’t just coworkers, they were friends. We had lunch together regularly, knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and knew the names of spouses/significant others/children.
    My husband's bird Kiwi- glamour shot!

    My husband’s bird Kiwi- glamour shot!

    Which isn’t to say we didn’t butt heads or sometimes drive each other crazy – that’s bound to happen when you see someone day in and day out. My new colleagues are great, but we’re still a relatively unknown quantity to each other. I’m still learning people’s quirks and personalities, and sometimes I have to explain my sense of humor or perspective. Though it does also mean I have a new audience for stories about my husband’s Amazon parrot Kiwi and how crazy she can be…

  • Space and location. I was settled into and comfortable with my own office. I knew where everything was, whether it was the bathroom or employer gifts or paper to refill the printer. It’s been 5 months since I moved into my new office, and I still don’t remember where I put everything. And have you ever been to Mugar? Some days I walked in circles trying to find my office. It took me months to figure out which building entrance was closest, and then they shut down that entrance due to construction. Ugh. It’s not a big deal per se, but these kinds of things can be disorienting and slow you down.
  • Knowing how to do your job. I was a core member of an experienced group of staff in Career Development, and was sought out for my knowledge in particular areas, such as the social media for the office. I knew my job well, and I had a rhythm going. Now I’m the one asking all the questions and wondering how I can make a direct and immediate contribution to the group. My skills with resumes, cover letters and interviewing are easily transferable to my new position, but I’m also learning how some of these things vary in the context of co-op, and more details about policies and procedures. I’ve collaborated with alumni and employers when doing programs for Career Development, but I’m new to job development and relationship management, and rely on my colleagues for strategic advice. It’s not unusual to take 6 months to a year to completely settle into a job, especially with something as cyclical and time sensitive as co-op – I haven’t seen the cycle through from start to finish yet.

Adapting to a new job has its growing pains, but it’s also exciting. Learning new things is a challenge, but it’s also energizing, and is what motivated me to change jobs.

For additional tips on adjusting to a new job, read this post from my favorite blogger, Alison Green, writer of AskaManager.org.

Tina Mello is now a Co-op Coordinator for the Biology program at Northeastern, having left Career Development in January. She’s currently busy deciphering phrases like “in vivo” and “assays,” and trying not to get lost in Mugar.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Office Kitchen Etiquette

This guest post was written by Katie Merrill, an NU and BC alum and Academic Advisor for the Honors Program at NU.

image source: izismile.com

image source: izismile.com

I am inspired to write this post based on situations I have personally experienced through the past few years.  The sins I will address occur much more frequently, I believe, than the comedic stolen sandwich violation often depicted on TV (remember the Friend’s episode when Ross is ordered to get help with anger management because of his stolen sandwich?). The office kitchen is a privilege that can be immensely important for people looking to save money on buying lunch every day. Don’t abuse it, and definitely don’t commit one of these deadly kitchen sins:

 

 

1. Bring in all the yogurts. All of them.

The office fridge is the lost land of unwanted yogurts. Every Monday people want to make up for the nutritional wrong doings of their weekend, and they bring in 12 yogurts to guide them on the path of dietary righteousness. Yogurt is obviously a healthier breakfast than the bacon, egg, and cheese they want from Dunkin’ Donuts. What happens to these poor yogurt friends however? They get lost in the abyss of the fridge, never to be consumed. By Wednesday people are back to eating their Dunkin’ delicacies, done dieting for the week, vowing next week will be better and searching the grocery flyers to see where has Chobani on sale. I once threw out a yogurt that was 11 months old. I kid you not.

2. Cook scallops in the toaster oven.

Or raw steak tips. Or raw chicken. Really anything that ever lived and breathed that has not already been cooked in your home. I had someone in my office decide he was gong to eat healthier for the week by cooking fresh meals for himself at lunch; a great idea…for someone who works from home. This guy was trying to bake bone-in chicken in our communal toaster oven on his 30-minute lunch break. Wonderful to think of, knowing my English muffin was going to be toasted in the same appliance. I have never seen an office more passive-aggressively angry than the day he cooked scallops.

3. Save your soy sauce, mustard, and ketchup packets.

I know you want to use them again, and I know you think saving them, you will feel so good about being able to come to the rescue when someone in the office cries out that their tuna sandwich is dry and they just NEED some mustard to get by. But I am telling you now- you are NEVER going to use them.  Instead, they will accumulate in drawers, on counter tops, in the butter tray in the fridge, and in your desk. Let them go. Along with the Sweet n’ Low and free napkins from the takeout you got last week. Let them all go. You will thank me in the end.

4. Use it as a space to dump Halloween candy.

Or Christmas candy. Or Easter, Hanukah, Passover, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, your Birthday, etc. candy. After big holidays or events, the office kitchen becomes a dumping ground for all the things people don’t want in their own houses. I can remember dreading the week after Halloween at one office I worked at. The amount of candy that would arrive at work and be heaped into a pile in the kitchen could stock a movie theater. Ultimately, it just became a place for people to eat each other’s sweets. The same people who would come in with all their children’s picked over treats would be eating from the pile contributed by their colleague. Just say no. We don’t want your second-hand confections any more than you do.

5. Use any body and everybody’s salad dressing.

If it’s not yours, please ask. Do you remember going to the store and buying that? Then it’s probably not yours and you should ask. Nothing is as irritating as bringing out your salad at lunch only to reach for your dressing and realize that it is empty and your delicious lunch is now going to be just a pile of lettuce.

6. Think it’s okay for your dishes to sit in the sink overnight.

The sink has an expiration date and your mother/spouse/roommate is not coming by anytime soon to clean out your leftover pasta salad from your Rubbermaid container, so please do it yourself. You should do it right after eating, but on particularly busy days please do it before you leave that night.

7. Leaving Leftovers.

Did you know that 99% of food does not get better with age? Your mom’s lasagna will not be better if you leave it over the weekend. In fact, it will probably make you sick if you try to eat it, and then you will have to take a sick day, and then the office will get backed up with work…just don’t do it. The mold I have seen, the smells I have smelled, I’ve dealt with horrors no man, woman, or child should have to see.

The office kitchen is a shared space for grown-ups- act like one and your office mates will be eternally grateful. Bon Appetit!

Katie is an Academic Advisor for the Honors Program at Northeastern University. She studied art history as an undergraduate in Boston, and received her Masters degree in College Student Development and Counseling from the Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University. She likes to run and cook in her free time.