Posts Tagged ‘milano the new school’

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.

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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.

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At the end of August (2008) I was gearing up for our EOY (end of year) individual appeal, and had drafted a letter which referenced the recession. Our ED who received his letters in economics, and according to him was the youngest tenured professor at Wharton at one point, summarily told me there wasn’t a recession. While technically Bernake/Paulson/ or whomever had not declared a recession I decided it was a point worth arguing. My ED argued that there are certain parameters that must be in place for a recession to be called and mentioning the ‘R’ word was tantamount to screaming the ‘sky is falling’, and I argued that while I didn’t possess a PhD I knew enough about economics and more importantly understood hood economics to warrant using the “R” word. I explained to him the hood tenet of black folks as the first to suffer from a recession and the last to recover from one, and coupled this with the anecdotal information coming from our own nonprofit. Typically summer was a slow time of the year for us, but we had seen a steady stream of people looking for work and more importantly folks with jobs coming in looking for a better (or second) job. Also, many participants noted that it was difficult to purchase the basic necessities … particularly staples such as milk, paper goods, and meat. During lunchtime it was not odd to hear participants speaking about running up larger tabs at the local bodega (where many poor New Yorkers do a hefty portion of their food shopping) and ‘cutting back’. For the hood, cutting back takes the form of buying a gallon of milk one quart at a time (eventhough this results in a higher gallon cost for families)….or by replacing the staple of chicken with the less expensive substitutes of ox tails and pork parts.

Despite everything I knew I couldn’t convince my ED we were in the right to use the ‘R’ word and that our funders would appreciate the forethought by us of calling a ‘duck’ – a duck. While I am a big proponent of finding professional mentors who you can count on for learning the concrete tasks of your profession I found myself just lacking the background knowledge to articulate my insights, and for me this was the beginning of the realization it was time to go back to school. By the time the holidays rolled around I used vacation time to visit Columbia and NYU to look at program options and to get a sense of the application process. Through acquaintances I had secured inauguration tickets for me and my mom, and while the cold weather kept my mom from heading to DC with me, I decided to do a post-inauguration brunch in Philly with her. By this time there was no doubt we were in a recession and at brunch I decided to share with my mom my desire to go back to school. After almost ten years of giving my mom reasons for not going to grad school, I found myself articulating why this was the time to go. My mom’s main concern was the cost prohibitive factor of returning to school. My youngest sister is still trying to get her undergrad degree and my mom was clear that she wouldn’t be able to help me financially as she was still committed to helping my sister. She also felt that I should be happy that I still had a job and that if I was serious about school I should wait until the recession ‘blew’ over before returning. I had hoped to leave the brunch bolstered by my mom ready to commit to applying to school, but instead I left riddled with anxiety at the thought this perhaps wasn’t the smartest choice to make.

While reticent about the country’s future, my future and more importantly about returning to school I moved forward with applying to school. I prepped for the GRE/GMAT, and took the GRE, visited classes, read blogs by current students and alumni, talked with friends who did various programs, collected immunization/transcripts/recommendation records …. basically I started the process that would dominate 2009 for me. As I visited the various admissions offices I learned that many other folks were applying to school (thanks in part to the recession) but many schools would not be increasing the number of accepts – thus making it ‘harder’ to get into school. I initially had hoped for a fall admit, but ended up waitlisted at one institution and denied by my fail safe. I was ready to chalk it up as maybe my mom was right (it isn’t the right time to consider returning to school), but instead I decided to double up. I increased the number of institutions I applied to and decided to push for a January admit. The strategy paid off …. and I found myself with a few choices for January. I think I have made the best choice in Milano and only time will tell. Overall I am looking forward to being challenged by my classmates and reading material. I am looking forward to challenging myself to embrace the new and lastly to be a bit more proactive than I was as an undergrad. With classes starting tomorrow I am still unsure what to expect (other than more complex math and reading things I don’t like) and I find myself as equally ambivalent as I was starting out the process….on some level I believe this ambivalence will be the only certainty about the next two years.

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