This Ones A Keeper

No matter how well prepared I feel I am prepared for an interview there always seems to be one or two questions that take me be surprise. Recently, I had the opportunity to do a first round phone interview for an organization that I have high regard for and would love to work for. The interview was going well … and then the interviewer asked how is the job search going. Arguably an innocuous question, but once you consider the possible answers it becomes a bit of a conundrum. If I answered ‘fine’ then the question arises why are you looking at our org then, and if I answered truthfully “could be going better” it comes off as I am a bit embittered which makes me less of an employable option. While I stumbled through this question, there is a resource I go to time and time again to prep for interviews:

60 Seconds and You’re Hired

One of the things I like about this book is the section on tough interview questions. It generally helps and on several occasions I have been asked questions from this section in interviews. I also like to review the section on questions to ask. I usually have done a fair amount of research on the org and the interviewer so I have a bad habit of having no questions to ask. This section gives me go to questions to ask … regardless if I know the answer already.

Career services as an undergrad was a fully formed process. At my undergrad college graduates were scheduled for an exit interview with career services and at the interview you discussed your plan to make use of your newly minted degree. Before leaving a follow up interview would be scheduled in which you would review your resume and cover letter skills. Lastly, all seniors took part in an interview session with career services.

It seemed like a burden at the time and often seniors would make a game out of avoiding the career services gauntlet. But looking back it was a process that, rightly so, supposed the senior wasn’t sure what was needed and insured engagement by them. My current career services department takes a traditional approach that requires the graduate to know not only what s/he wants to do next, but knows the path to get to that point. Given that many enter into graduate school from a different careerpath to expect within 2-3 years of fulltime studies a student would have the answer and the pathway to access the answer seems misplaced. My career services department offers a series of workshops: Bootcamp 1-3, a career changers workshop, and a series of miscellaneous workshops. Bootcamp 3 is an all day affair, yes as in 8 hours, that covers what you should have learned from bootcamp 1 and 2 as well as an on-camera interview. Before starting grad school I sat-in on a career services workshop (the career changers one), and I liked the idea that the program wanted to broach the idea of career changers which other university career services seemed less inclined to address. 

Unfortunately what I know now, that I didn’t know then, was the lack of integration of the various workshops by my programs career services. So, while there is a career changers workshop the bootcamp series of workshops are structured as if there aren’t career changers in the group. PARs (Problem-Action-Results) is the only format offered for resume workshopping and I find it a bit difficult to take that my career services is assuming all graduates entered and are leaving with the same body of experience for the marketplace. I can understand if PARs is the ‘gold standard’ of resume preparation but in a market climate that requires standing out it would be nice to at least be informed of the alternatives. For instance realizing the way we consume information has changed with the advent of google, web 2.0, and the social media centric web I wanted to reflect that change in my resume. I am a fan of the infographs as it tells multiple little stories while presenting the big picture, and I wanted to incorporate infographic qualities into my resume. Sadly, my career services contact only could see PARs. Even after a conversation explaining my concern preparing a resume that parrots every other resume I was urged to go to bootcamp 1 (again) and to do problem-action-results statements for each employment experience and internship experiences on my resume. Needless to say it didn’t seem advantageous to me to sit in bootcamp 1 as it basically teaches you how to do PARs, and I know how to do it — I just recognize there may be other tools that could serve me better in this economic climate.

I wish I could say my university is an anomaly in it’s one pathway approach to career services but per conversations other recent graduates from other nationally recognized programs …. this is not the case. Sadly, instead of grad programs bolstering career services many career services are finding themselves swamped with more students and by proxy a higher demand on services. Because most students are focused on finding the right program for them by the time they begin thinking about what they need from career services, they are usually heading into graduation. Of course by graduation time its a little difficult to make any adjustments for the shortfalls of your programs career services.

Looking back to my selection process I wished I had asked how:

  • alumni services are integrated into career services
  • often career services reviews workshop offerings
  • career services receives feedback from expected grads and alumni currently looking for employment
  • often career services reviews employment search materials
  • employment leads specific to your program are culled

I think that it was naive of me to expect my program to adjust its career services game to the economic market, but I think it is realistic to expect my program to put as much thought into the career services as they do in the coursework design. Likewise, I think those who are looking into programs, particularly given the financial climate, should ask and take time to explore the career services offerings from those programs on a shortlist. At the end of the day going to grad school is a huge undertaking both financially and time wise. If you go to school fulltime you will be out of the market for at least a few years, and of course you will be in significantly more debt than before starting a program. Entering back into the job market is process that requires some assistance in order to navigate effectively. That navigation means the difference between finding yourself in a job under capitalized and finding it difficult to meet your debt obligations, or worst yet you may find yourself unable to shift into your new careerpath and instead falling into your pre-grad school career choices.

I Are Graduate…

There are many reasons for returning to school – a desire to pick up skills not obtained during undergrad, a bridge to the management track, etc. For many who returned to school over the last few years, post the financial crisis of 2008, the desire to return also included a need to stay competitive in the shifting job market.

Where once program consideration needed to be a succinct finite experience presented to potential students, increasingly programs need to have a response for the ongoing dilemma of the post-grad experience in order to attract students willing to take on the debt load that is graduate school.

It is not lost on me that many within in my program and other local grads I know are finding it difficult to find employment or to find ‘adequate’ employment. By adequate I mean employment that actually makes use of the new skills developed during grad school and comes with a salary that supports the new debt load of grad school. Last spring, my last full semester, I began my employment search early in the semester after recognizing that while the news spoke of the economy being in recovery it still felt like a recession which meant finding employment even in NYC would be difficult at best. By the time graduation rolled around in May I had secured employment and had lucked up with a salary that could support the impending loan payments. I started a couple of days after graduation and four months later I found myself before the board of the organization being told they couldn’t afford to keep me on staff. Because of the short employment window I found myself without unemployment benefits, no severance package access, and loan payments coming due without haste….more importantly, I found myself within the thick of an employment search as the holiday headed into full swing and the December grads entered the market.

Because, arguably erroneously on my part, I looked at selecting my program solely on the strength of coursework offered, program ranking among peers/industry, and the like and less on the tangential services that a graduate will need not only while on campus but once a graduate moves into their chosen profession I thought I would spend the next several posts on exploring some of the struggles post program for those who have decided to attend graduate school in light of the economy. Foremost, I think it may help those who are looking into programs to better understand some of the needs they will need post graduating and will be able to better weight program options, and for those currently in school and like myself newly minted graduates hopefully these posts will help you to leverage your programs resources to meet the new economy’s shortcomings.

I should note that I don’t believe that many of the shortcomings I have and will experience during my current employment search are solely a problem with my grad program. I have friends who have gone to Ivy League programs and find themselves equally unemployed and searching, likewise I have friends who have done top tiered law schools and find themselves underemployed both within the legal profession (one such friend is in many respects a glorified paralegal with the title of legal researcher) and outside of the confines of the legal professional world. I think in part the financial crisis of 2008 shifted the marketplace in ways that many folks are just really understanding the long-term implications of and we are just starting to understand why there is no real way of going ‘back’ to the pre-2008 crisis days.

I get that question often. See, I was originally planning to graduate this past May. If you’re a follower of this blog, you’ll know that didn’t happen. If this is your first time on this blog, I’ll give you the quick and dirty: it didn’t happen. Yes, I’m still here. Still at Milano. Still trying to finish up my graduate program.

It’s really not that bad. I’m taking public finance, which I really enjoy. Some people aren’t that interested in tax policy, but it really is very interesting, especially if you’re interested in politics. I learned what the marginal rate really is, and why a lot of political arguments are just nonsense devoid of real policy and empirical data. A lot of lawmakers need to learn economics, especially public finance economics. But I digress…

I’m still at Milano. Still writing for this blog. But I do plan to graduate at the end of the semester, which means we need new writers to keep this thing going. Any takers? You don’t have to be the best blogger ever, just willing to share your grad school experiences with our cadre of readers, many of whom are prospective or incoming students. So give it a shot. Let us know if you’d like to write for the Milano Grad School Blog

Summer Lovin’

It’s the summer time folks, at least for another few weeks. I hope all of you have been having a good summer. Some of you (heck, probably almost all of you) are trying to figure out how you’re going to pay your bill for the fall semester. You are not alone! That’s both good and bad. It’s good because you know there are others you can commiserate with, but it’s bad because there are others you’re competing with for precious resources. Isn’t that how it goes though?

I’ve been spending my days at the Center for New York City Affairs. We have some really interesting events coming up this fall. Make sure you stayed tuned to your emails and the New School calendar. Also make sure you follow the Center on Twitter.

What have you been up to this summer? Exciting internships? Looking for jobs post-graduation? What’s the word hummingbird?

Oh, if you are looking for a job, don’t forget that the Milano Career Connections group meets every Wednesday from 4:30pm – 6:00pm at 72 Fifth Avenue, Room 528. It’s a great opportunity to connect with other Milano alumni who are also on the job hunt. Sometimes Milano alum actually drop in with job offers, so don’t sleep! Contact the Career Development and Placement office for more information.

I’m currently taking Legislative Process with Jeff Smith. I gotta say, I absolutely love this course. If you’re a political junkie, you’ll love this course too.

As the title suggests, we cover the legislative process process on the federal, state, and local levels.

Jeff is an engaging and dynamic professor. He’s a political scientist by training but a politico by profession, so he offers a great mix of theory and practice that you might not get with a standard political science course.

Along with that, we have a mix of dry academic political science readings along with current news articles and entertaining accounts of congressional battles.

Long story short – if you like to read Politico, watch C-SPAN, or talk about politics, this course is for you.

As I reflect on my time here at Milano, there are a few things that I think about. One is that I’m going to miss many of the people here after we go our different ways. I’ve met some brilliant, kind, passionate people here. Another thing is that the policy analysis framework is something that I anticipate will be useful far down the road.

But there’s another thought that I have, a thought that I didn’t expect to have when I came into the program. Certain policy issues and neighborhoods tend to be invisible at Milano. In other words, we just don’t see them.

I came to Milano because I have a burning desire to serve my community of Harlem in particular and urban black neighborhoods in general. I thought that at Milano, I would find a community of aspiring policy makers and scholars actively engaged in urban policy matters that directly impact urban communities of color. Sadly, this is not the case. This is not to say that Milano is completely devoid of any discussion of urban communities of color, but there is not the level of emphasis I would like to see in a program that is supposed to offer an alternative to Columbia’s SIPA and NYU’s Wagner. We only have a couple of courses that directly address issues of race, and both of them, to my knowledge, are taught by one professor – Darrick Hamilton. I think Leigh Graham’s classes may also address issues of race, but her Economic Development course wasn’t offered this semester and she’s off to another university next fall. Karen Merson has led the Making a Difference course, but my understanding is that the course is more of a general question-your-assumptions survey of oppression.

I think an urban policy program rooted in social justice should have greater emphasis on the plight and assets of urban communities of color and the potential policy options to improve the lives of people living in these communities.

Now, I should note that the Laboratory in Issue Analysis and Community Development Finance Lab has featured neighborhoods of color including Harlem, the South Bronx, and Brownsville. Political Economy of City definitely includes discussions of race and class but its only a piece. The course helps students understand how ghettoes came to be but doesn’t take the next step in examining possible policy solutions.

I think that a large reason why urban policy impacting communities of color is noticeably absent at Milano is because urban policy aimed at the improvement of communities of color is noticeably absent from government at all levels (notwithstanding Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative). Ironically, we learn about neoliberalism and the devolution of government over the past 30 – 40 years, but we do not examine potential policy alternatives to compensate. Just because the Federal Government isn’t funding community action programs and community development corporations like it was in the 1960’s doesn’t mean that problems that gave rise to such programs have been solved. It seems that once the Empowerment Zones money ran out, once Boyz N the Hood became cliché, and once hip-hop became the best-selling music genre, the problems facing urban communities of color weren’t “sexy” policy issues anymore. At best, we look at pieces – urban education (charter schools vs. district schools), affordable housing, and food deserts. But what about the whole picture?

How can we send policy makers out into the world without ensuring that they have a full understanding of how urban policy has impacted urban communities of color? How can we do this and claim to be a social justice institution?  The Obama Administration was supposed to shine a new light on urban policy in America, but the President’s urban policy efforts seem to be going nowhere fast. As a heterodox and social justice-oriented institution and program, we should not be constrained by what’s hot right now. Of course there is the reality of offering programs and courses based on demand. I’m not challenging that, but what I am saying is that Milano should not just be driven by consumer demand, it should encourage students to engage issues that are overlooked in the popular policy discourse. Milano needs to have a greater emphasis on race, class, and what’s going on in communities of color across the city.

EDITED TO ADD: I also have to give a shout out to Robert Zdenek’s Community Development course. Unfortunately it’s not being offered next year. Supply and demand.

Party Over Here!

Last night I had a birthday party at Sylvia’s Also Lounge. It was great time! Lot of Milano folks came through. People had a blast. As a matter of fact most of the people there were from Milano. I thought to myself “if I’m from New York, how is it that most of my guests are people from school?” And then I realized that I’ve spent a better part of the past year and a half with Milano classmates. Most of my time is spent either at school or doing school work in some fashion. It naturally make sense that if I spend most of my time with Milano peeps, that most of my party would be Milano peeps.

Grad school is an intense period. You go hard for one, two, or three years (depending on your program and status) and then you shoot off into the job market (or go for another degree). The intensity is a form a pressure that creates bonds between you and people you might never have become friends with under different circumstances. The many hours spent doing group projects, the late night study sessions, the mutual griping over this class or that professor – these things build relationships. My Milano classmates are, in a real sense, my Milano family.

The inevitable sling shot into job market is only a few weeks away for my cohort. Some people will stay in New York (yay!), others will go off to other places (boo!). Never again will we find ourselves coalescing at the study center, or 72 Fifth Ave. (affectionately known as the Milano building). Sure there will be happy hours, unofficial reunions, random run-ins and Facebook, but the cap is about to be placed on the bottle that holds the lightning of our grad school experience.

For each of us there will be new memories, new experiences, new adventures ahead. New reasons to smile, new people to accept into each of our families, whether personal, professional, or academic.

But for now, the lightning still strikes, and I intend to enjoy its light.