Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Soft skills learned the hard way

We seem to hear a lot about soft skills these days, such as “students don’t have soft skills” or “employers want soft skills”. So what ARE soft skills and why are they so important?
Nathaniel Haynesworth, Managing Director at Esoteric Academic Solutions blogged about this topic recently. His definition of soft skills are those “traits and habits commonly sought by college admission boards, such as confidence, flexibility, honesty, and integrity…optimism, and common sense." ( for the full blog posting)
I would extend that definition to: Skills that are not necessarily taught in the classroom but those which are expected to be learned by graduation. Also, it is not just college admission boards that are seeking these skills, but more importantly employers.  So how do you learn these skills if no one teaches them to you? You have to seek them out. You also have to examine yourself critically to determine where you have skill deficits.
Haynesworth listed the top 5 soft skills preferred by college admissions committees as: Collaboration, Communication and Interpersonal Skills, Problem-Solving, Time Management, and Leadership.
Based on those 5, I would argue that we often do teach them in college, just not directly. Here are some examples:
1. Collaboration-Working with others is an essential skill. In college, we get to work on “group projects” which most of us dread. However, these are great learning experiences to practice working with different types of personalities. Other opportunities exist through participating in student organizations and service learning. This is a skill you will use forever!
2. Communication and interpersonal skills- Active listening, good eye contact, and asking questions may seem like something everyone knows how to do, but many people struggle with face-to-face communication. When you meet with your professor during office hours, you don’t text or e-mail them, you speak to them, face-to-face! Some classroom assignments involve interviewing another person. This is another great opportunity to practice communication skills. 
3.  Problem-solving- All of us face problems throughout our day and this is no different in college. Whether juggling school and work schedules, trying to prioritize homework assignments, or dealing with a friend, problems abound. Students who can use problem-solving skills and not just look to someone else to fix their problems, will be better off in the long run. Any hands-on class, such as a science lab, studio art class, or computer class will provide plentiful opportunities for problem-solving. Internships also allow you to practice problem-solving skills.
4. Time management- What a better place to practice time management than in college? Most students attend classes, work at least part-time, and often commute between work, school and home. Not to mention extracurricular activities, family obligations, and interpersonal relationships. Students who can manage their time successfully are preparing themselves for the world of work where time management is a daily task (and sometimes, a huge challenge).
5. Leadership- Opportunities to be a leader on campus abound. From club presidents to team captains to classroom leaders, college is the perfect time to start honing this skill. Not all leaders are born with leadership skills. They can be trained. Seek out leadership opportunities and you will not only develop this skill but also create accomplishments that can be put on your resume.

I do agree that soft skills are important and that college admission boards and employers look for them. But I do not agree that we are not teaching them in college. Not everything we teach happens in the classroom and some of it you have to learn the hard way.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

First Generation College Students

Are you the first person in your family to go to college? I was and I know that navigating the world of college applications, financial aid, academic requirements, etc. was very challenging. Every form we filled out seemed like a never-ending maze of questions. I received some financial aid and some loans so I had to sort all of that out. I was going to live on campus so I had to learn all the tricks and tips for dorm life. Luckily, I had declared a major so I had a path for my academic goals. However, I still had to pick those pesky general education requirements (theater or art? philosophy or literature?).
If you are or you know someone who is a first-generation college student, you know the difficulties you will face. Lots and lots of questions. Lots and lots of uncertainty. You may even feel isolated. You may have concerns about the financial burdens of school. You may have pressure to do more at home causing you to feel conflicted about going to college.
The plight of a first-generation college student is most eloquently stated by community college graduate, author, speaker, and student advocate Isa Adney. Watch this video of her speech for the Guttman Community College orientation at the New York Public Library.

Based on Adney’s advice and my own experience, here are 5 tips for anyone who is starting college and does not have someone to help them through the process:
1.       Find a mentor.  He or she does not need to be a “professional” by any means. It could even be a student, just someone who has been through college before and can help you.  College instructors are a good option though and if you are lucky enough to identify a mentor who is a professional, he or she will also be an invaluable resource for networking, career advice, and general life advice.
2.       Get involved.  Every college or university has a plethora of clubs, organizations, and sports teams on their campus. The more involved you are, the more connected you feel and the less likely you are to drop out of school.  SCC even has a student activities office where you can hang out, play pool, and find out about upcoming events on campus.
3.       Seek answers.  You will have questions, about everything. I guarantee you that there are several people on any college campus who can answer your questions. From financial aid counselors to tutors, career counselors, to accessibility staff, resources and information abound. You just have to ask!
4.       Balance. College can be a difficult transition from high school, or even from working full time. If you plan to work while in college, you will need to figure out how to balance class attendance, out of class assignments, projects, and papers, and your work. If you also have family obligations, that will be one more thing to balance. The better you are at balancing, the better you will do in college.
5.       Seek support. You are not the only first-generation college student on your campus. Find others.  Talk to your classmates. Set up study groups. Get together after class for coffee. Don’t just go to class and then back home or to your dorm. College is a time to meet new people. So put that smart phone down and look up. Don’t miss out on all the opportunities for socialization and support.
If you want to help a first-generation college student, here are some tips for you:
1.       Students don’t know what they don’t know. Don’t assume they walk in your classroom, office, or building knowing all the cool college lingo (FAFSA, gen ed, syllabus, etc.).
2.       Provide information that is easily accessible and easy to understand (don’t just tell them to “go to the website”—walk them through the process or email them a link to a specific web page).
3.       Put yourself in their shoes. First generation college students have a lot of fears, anxieties, etc. Consider what that might feel like and then treat them accordingly.
In the video, Isa Adney mentions waiting in the academic advising officer and then being greeted by friendly advisor who helped her. SCC is known for being a friendly place. We’re here to help!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Welcome to the Real World

In less than two weeks, over 800 students will be graduating from St. Charles Community College. If you are one of them or one of thousands of graduates from other colleges and universities, you’re probably a little bit excited and nervous about what the future holds for you. Uncertainty about your future plans may give you anxiety. With that in mind, I decided to come up with a list of things you can do to start your new life as a college graduate:

1.       Network—Sick of hearing that word? Well, get used to it. Networking is the new normal for job searching. Whether you’re looking for a summer internship or job or a permanent position, you will likely need to leverage your networking contacts to find opportunities
2.       Create your resume—Again, whether you’re going onto another college or university or ready to find a job, you’ll need this vital document at some point. Also, it’s best to do it now so that your resume is ready when one of your networking contacts (see #1) gives you a job lead.
3.       Practice your one-minute pitch—Whether networking, attending a job fair, or interviewing, you’ll need to be able to answer the age-old question “tell me about yourself”. By having this “elevator pitch” prepared, you will be able to quickly and succinctly share with others about your education, experience, skills, and what type of position you are seeking.
4.       Be social—Summer is coming and with that comes barbeques, parties, and family events. Use these opportunities to do #1. Networking is not something that is pre-planned. Anytime you are with other people can be a networking opportunity. If you have created a one-minute pitch, you might consider having a less formal version of it for use in these less-formal scenarios
5.       Google yourself—Employers will do this when you apply to their company, so it’s best to know what your online presence is like. Clean up your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. so that your online presence is a professional one. Speaking of professional, get on and create your profile. This site is great for networking, job searching, and creating an online resume that also includes recommendations. Make sure you have a professional picture for your LinkedIn profile as well.
Don’t delay in starting these activities, as graduation will soon be over and you will be faced with the reality that the “real world” is really hard—unless you’re prepared.
If you need assistance with your job search, visit your college’s career service office. Career services professionals are available to help you by providing resources, information, and support.

Congratulations to all of the 2014 graduates! You did it!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What does the Fox Say?

What Does the Fox Say?
My favorite teacher in high school was my French teacher, Madame Leach. In our senior year, we read the famous book, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint Exupery. That year, Madame gave each graduating senior a small laminated card with a quote from The Little Prince. It tells of the secret of the fox:

“Les yeux sont aveugles. Il faut chercher avec le coeur.” Loosely translated, it means: But the eyes are closed. You must looks with the heart.

I knew that for my teacher to present this card to each of her students, it must have meant something very important. But it took me a while to figure out what that was.
Here’s what I came up with: 
Look with your heart and you will see more clearly than what you can possibly see with your eyes. This applies to much in life such as love, important decisions, friendship, etc. When we “look” with our hearts, we “see” the possibilities that our eyes or mind do not always allow us to see. It’s like choosing a career path because you are passionate about it versus choosing a career based on earnings or power. You focus on what feels right in your heart, not what your rationale is telling you.
Maybe the fox is right. Maybe we should look with our hearts and be open to what it tells us.
What does your heart let you see?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

SCC=Spring Comes Calling

Spring has sprung! Spring forward! Spring is in the air!
On this spring break week, I thought it would be appropriate to share some ways to celebrate spring at SCC. The weather this winter has been pretty brutal, so it will be easy to embrace spring in spite of the inevitable allergy issues.
SCC seems to really enjoy spring. Our campus comes alive with green grass and trees, colorful flowers, and a variety of wildlife. Not to mention, we sure know how to put on events!
One big event in the spring is the aptly titled Spring Fling which will be held on April 23rd and 24th on the plaza. Past Spring Flings have been enjoyed by students and staff and allow for the opportunity to socialize, eat, and learn about organizations on campus. Did I mention there’s usually lots of giveaways and goodies? (hello, cotton candy!)
Formerly known as Run, Live, Learn, the newly-named “That 80s Run” is a 10K, 5K, and 1 mile fun run held on the SCC campus on Saturday, April 26. This is a wonderful fundraiser for our campus wellness events. The 80s theme promises to be a lot of fun with participants being encouraged to dress in their 80s best!
Another big spring event is the Job Fair, held annually the first Friday in May. The 21st annual Job Fair will take place on May 2 from 9am-1pm in the College Center gym. The job fair is a great opportunity for employers to meet all of the wonderful job seekers in our area in one big place. Job seekers will find the Job Fair helpful for networking and learning about open positions in the community, getting their resume critiqued, and having the opportunity to speak one-on-one with recruiters and employers. The event is free for job seekers.
If you love music and barbeque then don’t miss the “Rhythm and Ribs” event happening the evening of June 5! This social event is also a fundraiser which supports scholarships for SCC students.
I’m sure I’ve missed an event or two, but hopefully this post will convince you that SCC is the place to be in spring. From wellness to fun, job searching to fundraising, we’ve got it all! So what are you waiting for? Spring into action…!!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cover Letters Can Cover a Lot!

When you apply for a job, you submit a resume right? How about a cover letter? In the technology-driven world in which we live, cover letters often get the shaft. Well, I’m here to tell you that they are very important and could lead to an interview when your resume doesn’t get the job done.

In the Harvard Business Review blog from February 4, 2014, Amy Gallo gives her tips on why it’s important to write a cover letter. Here, I summarize and give my own insights. If you would like to read her blog in its entirety, click here:

1.       Don’t let your lack of a cover letter do the talking for you. When you don’t send a cover letter, you miss out on an opportunity to set yourself apart and give more detail than what is in your resume. You can also address any “red flags” that might be in your resume (e.g., employment gaps or excessive job hopping). You can even point out accomplishments or skills that don’t seem to fit into the resume.
2.      Originality wins! You’ll want to write a different cover letter for every job you apply to because your personal connection, information about the company, and relevant skills change with each position. Besides, sending the same letter sounds like you’ve sent the same letter. Recruiters and hiring managers know when someone has sent the same letter over and over.

3.      LinkedIn can be your best friend. A cover letter allows you to showcase what you know about an organization and use your research (yes, you’ll need to do that) to communicate to the hiring manager why YOU would be the perfect candidate for the job at THEIR company.

4.      Get them from the get-go. A strong opening statement can catch the eye. Some people argue that if employers don’t read your whole resume (usually, they don’t), then they definitely wouldn’t read a cover letter. However, since most people don’t include cover letters, they already stand out. Add a dynamic statement, or better yet, mention a personal connection (e.g. “I heard about this position from my neighbor, Joe Smith, who is a supervisor in the Quality Assurance department.”) and you’ve got them at hello!

5.      Personality counts! Resumes are pretty straightforward. Cover letters allow you to let your personality shine a little. It’s a letter, so your writing style, word choice, and enthusiasm can speak volumes about you as a person.

6.      Keep it short and to the point. It should not be long-winded. Three short paragraphs should do the trick.

So to summarize, write a cover letter every time you apply to a job and you will find yourself with more job opportunities than if you just wrote a resume! Happy job hunting!

Friday, January 17, 2014

New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year and welcome back to campus! This time of year is always interesting. Some of us are focusing on our resolutions. Some of us are looking forward to what is to come in the next year. And some of us are just hibernating and wishing this cold, snowy weather would go away! I can say that I’m actually doing all three.

At the beginning of the year, I always make a list of things I want to accomplish: projects around the house, projects at work, personal goals, and fun things I’d like to do. What can I say? I’m a list-maker!

It’s at this time of year that I also like to examine my list from last year and see what I checked off the list. This is important to me because I like to feel that sense of accomplishment, which motivates me to do more in the future. It’s also important because some of the goals from last year that were not completed will need to be added to this year’s list. And some will be discarded because they are no longer important.

Here’s my top 5:

1.       Start saving for Hawaii. My husband and I will be celebrating our 10th anniversary in a few years and want to celebrate it by going to Maui.

2.       Get our basement in order. We bought a 45 year old home and the basement is definitely stuck in the 80’s. We plan to re-carpet, reorganize, and get it to where we envisioned it—a comfortable and open play space for our daughter and a nice place to watch movies.

3.       Learn to play piano. My husband bought me a digital piano and it came with free lessons so I have no excuses!

4.       Get on a regular exercise regimen. Something always gets in the way—work, household chores, being tired—but it’s time to rid myself of excuses and JUST DO IT!

5.       Spend as much time as I can with my husband and daughter. My daughter will start kindergarten in August and my husband plans to start graduate school this year and I know things will really change. I want to enjoy all of our little moments and make lots of memories before we get bogged down with homework, crazy schedules, etc.

So, what are your plans for 2014? Do you make lists or do you just go with the flow? Whatever you do, I hope you make 2014 great!