economy


Off to London tomorrow so I realize this week’s LinkedIn Monday is, in fact, on a Tuesday, but whatever. Been busy.

In this week’s Q and A I’m combining a great LinkedIn question with a post I read on Brazen Careerist a week or so ago. I have very strong opinions on this subject, but please keep in mind my GPA at school SUCKED and I never did anything for the sole purpose of padding my resume…

Question

What is the best way for students to spend their summer? Traveling? Internship? Working?

~ Gavin Davis, Resume Writer

My Answer

Travel. Traveltraveltraveltravel. Seriously. Even if you work/intern/party/freelance/drink yourself into a stupor…. at least you’re traveling and that’s where the best experiences come from.

Other responses included:

  • Interning
  • “Do any activities that help develop their people and communication skills.” ~ Clint Cora
  • At the beach. “You won’t get long vacations when you’re working.” ~ Vasco Phillip de Sousa
  • Resume building
  • Part time work
  • Volunteering

Many responders pointed out that it depends on the person, their career goals and/or personal preferences, and I definitely agree. I vote travel because I had an amazing experience traveling and living in Europe, but a close friend of mine has zero desire to leave the States and spent his summers interning and/or goofing off. To each her own and all that.

Stop Stressing

My “strong opinions” stem from my issue with the question (not that it wasn’t a good one): Stop. Effing. Stressing. Seriously. Do whatever you want. If you think having an internship is going to help you land that dream job, by all means, do it. Are you taking that internship because you “should”? Then don’t.

I really hate this whole cram-all-pleasure-during-college-cuz-you’ll-be-miserable-in-the-real-world. Even more than that, I hate the mentality that you have to cram in all the work experience while you’re young so you can beat out all the other competition.

A recent post on the Brazen Careerist network by author Kristen Fisher talked about “getting into the real world mentality.” Fisher writes about getting started on your resume, practice interviewing and “start looking for a job – yesterday.”

While I agree it’s important to think about what you want to do while still in school to minimize stress, doing too much of that can have the exact opposite effect.

My background – cuz I know how much you care…

I went to Davidson College, a super small liberal arts school in the South with an unfortunate notoriety for being one of

Davidson College aka House of Horrors

the hardest schools in the country (without the prestige, naturally). Now, I rarely did my work unless it involved my major (Sociology/Gender Studies), which I loved, but the majority of my friends spent days in the library and one of my roommates would stay up until 4 in the morning getting work done. For what? A high GPA? A great job after school? Most of them are still unemployed or working at jobs that are “okay for now”.

I don’t know if this is because of the economy or what, but I feel like all that stress my friends put up with wasn’t really for anything worthwhile. The things I remember about college aren’t the good grades or time studying or even my classes. I remember the awesome stuff. The trips, the friends, the ridiculous stories. I went to one career center event during my 4 years there. Everything I learned about work came after graduation. So all these adults telling us to spend our last weeks at school preparing for the real world?

Sounds like a waste of time to me.

——

Random note: Every time I read blog posts that scare students about post-graduation plans, this song pops into my head:

http://www.brazencareerist.com/2010/05/02/getting-into-the-real-world-mentality

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I still hate internships, but sometimes free is smart

by Marian Schembari on April 6, 2010


Last week I was quoted in TIME Magazine’s article, “Working For Free” by Eve Tahmincioglu and I wanted to share some thoughts on this new intern/free labor drama. Here’s a snippet:

Will labor activists in the U.S. ever get the intern genie back in the bottle? Not if enough people keep volunteering to work for free. Marian Schembari quit her unpaid internship at a Web-based publisher in New York City after three months of living with her parents. The 22-year-old, who graduated from college last year, reached the point where she felt that working 40-hour weeks for no pay was “degrading.” But Schembari, who is now freelancing, still thinks she got something valuable out of the internship. “I was able to write for a website with a decent readership, and I built up my clips,” she says. “My bosses were nice. They just couldn’t afford to pay. But in hindsight, that really shouldn’t be my problem.”

I’m definitely not a fan of the internship, mostly because unless your bosses are superbly awesome and let you do cool things other than getting coffee, internships are essentially assistant positions masquerading as “learning experiences”. The real difference is that assistants get paid.

Along with being quoted in TIME (which was SWEET), I wrote an Internship Series a few months ago about why you shouldn’t take one, why people take them anyway and what you can do instead of taking one. I can reiterate all the reasons why I hate internships, but I want to make an important point and distinction: sometimes, when we’re just starting out , doing work for free helps us get noticed, get that foot in the door and ultimately get more business.

Care for some elaboration? No problem.

Five important reasons you should work for free:

1. Exposure. It’s like building up writing clips. In order to snag that awesome article/story/book/whatever, you

This isn't me. But it's still funny.

usually need to already have something published. Which is that lovely Catch-22 of the Freelance Writer. To get those clips, most people start off writing for some ridiculously small amount of money. I don’t agree with this because talent is talent, but I understand that writing a few things for free now can make it easier to write what you want later.

2. Contacts. My dear friend and mentor, Michael Ellsberg, is an author, consultant, business guru and all around nice guy. He contacted me months ago and told me I should forget about getting a “real” job and start working for myself. Michael sends me long emails with 100% fabulous advice, meets with me and spoon feeds me freelance tips and hooks me up with Important People. All out of the goodness of his heart. Or not. You see, Michael knows that I know people that he doesn’t know. Michael knows I’m ridiculously awesome. And because Michael’s smart, he knows that by helping me – for free – he will get an insane return on his investment. Read his most recent blog post here – he talks about building a tribe and articulates it way better than I ever could.

3. Experience. Just starting out? Don’t have referrals or a thick portfolio? Picking a project or two can help build that portfolio (see #1) and give you the experience that will make you feel more comfortable with certain tasks. The learning process is also a great thing to look back on and use later. Half of my blog posts (which can be considered a form of free labor) come from questions people email me or some form of “wisdom” I learn along the way.

4. Making decisions. Working for free can help you decide whether or not a certain career path is right for you. Rather than just taking a job and hoping for the best, a temporarily free project can steer you in the right direction.

5. Spreading the word. “Free” may usually refer to the actual cost of something, but money doesn’t necessarily have to be a factor. In this economy a lot of people are simply unable to pay for services, which is why interns are  exploited now more than ever. But if you “charge” someone by getting them to pass on your name to potential – and paying – clients or simply asking for a glowing recommendation, it might be easier to snag that job since your employer feels they can given something back. Some people – good people – usually hesitate to take someone’s work for nothing. It’s uncomfortable. Take a contest. Say you run a Twitter contest where you have to enter by retweeting something or another. This brings priceless visibility to the company/brand and they’re paying for that visibility (via the giveaway).

NOTE: I don’t think you should do a job for free – meaning, going into an office every day and putting in that amount of time without getting paid is insane (and questionably illegal). But a project here and there, volunteering your time for a person or cause worth that time and helping out someone who may some day return the favor? Totally worth it.

Related posts:


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Teaching at Barnard: How to get a job using social media

by Marian Schembari on January 18, 2010


On the 2nd of February I will be teaching my very first workshop in Barnard’s career services department. The subject? Using social media as a job hunting tool (I know, right? Apparently I need a hobby).  You all kind of know how I feel about “traditional” job search methods, and as I’ve mentioned before, schools don’t really do the best job of teaching us anything besides the basics. So I reached out to various colleges and universities in New York (Columbia, Sarah Lawrence, Hofstra, Barnard, etc etc) saying I was available to show soon-to-be-graduates the essential social media  tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook as part of their job search.

Looking for work today is drastically different than it was a year ago. Yesterday, even. Here’s a very brief outline of what I will be teaching:

  • How to create an attractive and effective online resume
  • The three big social media platforms
  • The importance of personal branding and how to create a strong web presence

Through my research I’ve found that some schools have actually started programs that are keeping their students on top of their game (kind of). Gonzaga University hosted an event in October called: “Social Media: Friend or Foe“, but other than that I’ve had a hard time finding anyone even close to venturing into arena. Meaning part of me thinks I’m an utter genius for thinking of this brilliant way to earn some extra cash. Until, of course, I realize I’ve been doing my research wrong and every school has already hopped on the bandwagon. In the meantime…

It would be great to get some input before my initial presentation. What do you guys think would be useful? Anything you wish you knew before the ole job hunt? Anything you still want to know? You’re the best!

And this kind of goes without sayin,g but if you’re a school and would like me to speak (or know of a school, or went to school, or know a guy that goes to school)… shoot me an email or whatnot.

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Colleges have a tendency to harp on about the world of work and the basics we absolutely-positively-no-excuses-allowed must learn. But they did get some things right. Operative word: some.

What college teaches:

1. How to use the alumni network. I went to Davidson College, a liberal arts school in the South with about 1,600 students, meaning Davidson grads bond together like a cult. Ex: my parents were on vacation in Canada, ran into a woman wearing a Davidson sweatshirt and became fast friends. That being said, alums from universities around the country form a bond and, coupled with the fact that people love to mentor, means you can use and abuse the network like a cheap whore.

Davidson College, my alma mater

2. Job Fairs. The one time I did go to one of these events I made a great connection and a wonderful friend. These events are so effective because you’re put in touch with HR people at companies where you may want to work, which is uncommon outside the bubble of college. Graduated? Call your alma mater  and ask for their contacts then shoot the reps an email saying you went to College X and you’d love to ask them a few questions.

3. Concentration. Despite the fact that many of us had  classes only a few hours a day, we had a lot of work  outside of class. I spent the last 4 months at Davidson sitting at a desk writing my thesis,  meaning a 9 to 5 was starting to look pretty sweet. The enormous pile of work, along with balancing a social life, extracurriculars and copious amounts of alcohol, teaches students time management, organization and how to work for ourselves. Regardless of the irrelevance of most of my classes, it was learning how to learn that was as useful as any job.

4. The basics. Regardless of the extra steps we take to land work, it’s always important to dress appropriately for an interview, have a good working resume, know how to write a cover letter and understand the necessity for a timely thank-you note.

5. Follow the rules. Both campus career centers and day-to-day classes give us strict guidelines that dictate assignments. When you’re a student, this is great and in the real world this comes in handy as candidates who try and bypass the system are seen as annoying and “above it all”. Regardless of what additional steps you take to land a job, it’s always a good – and polite – idea to do the bare minimum first. It’s what comes later that gets us stuck…


What college doesn’t teach:

1. Personal branding. Career centers are old pros at giving workshops on everything from interview attire to  appropriate resume layout. While these workshops are helpful, they really only provide you with a foundation. What they don’t teach is how to stand out from the crowd. What if you don’t have a ton of experience? This is where social media and networking really come in handy.

2. Build an effective network. True, many schools have great alumni networks, but that’s not the only way to make friends in your field. Notice I said “friends” and not “contacts”. A friend/contact of mine gave me some kick ass advice about how to meet and really connect with people professionally – find out what you can do for them rather than how they can boost your career. I’m going to post later on the best ways to build your network. For now though, keep in mind that universities generally suck at this.

3. You don’t have to take a real job. Seriously. If it’s one thing that pissed me off about Davidson, it’s that we were all expected to take Big Important Jobs in finance or law or medicine. Maybe it’ was the plethora of rich white kids, but there was little to no variation in the school’s expectations. Many kids had consulting or banking jobs before graduation but honestly, the thought of taking something like that make me want to light myself on fire. I can only speak from the perspective of a Davidson grad, and there might be plenty of other schools with more creative opportunities, but just keep your eyes peeled for those not-so-cubicle opportunities.

4. GPA doesn’t matter. I was NEVER – not once – asked for my grades when looking for work. Want to know why? Because no one gives a crap. Your abilities to write a philosophy paper have zero bearing on your ability to rock your job. Unless you’re a doctor/lawyer/financial consultant, big companies don’t ask. So stop stressing.

5. Don’t always follow the rules. Send your thank you notes. Firmly shake hands. Wear a tie. But the bare minimum will usually cost you the job. Go the extra mile and don’t just network, make friends. Make your resume snazzy (not pink or scented, mind you). I use quotes on mine – the idea came from Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters and they have great resume resources online. I also suggest getting business cards.

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Internship Series part 2: The Cool Factor

by Marian Schembari on December 31, 2009


Just the other day I ran into a guy I went to high school with, Ed, who is an intern with a major fashion designer. He has a degree, is a helluva smart kid, but felt because of the recession he wouldn’t be able to get a paying job so chickened out and grabbed the first opportunity that came his way. Is he not gaining experience? I’m sure he his. But the time that he spends every day at the designers, he could be spending meeting people at all different designers, marketing himself to HR and going to interviews. He could instead end up somewhere he truly wants to be, with people who appreciate him for his work and his time, rather than his impressionable youth.

We also can’t forget the “cool factor”. Places like Ed’s company – designers, movie studios, event planners – have the prestige in certain circles of being The Coolest Kid on the Block and assume (correctly) that drooling kids will be falling over themselves to stuff envelopes. We’re willing to do shitty work for free so we can later say we worked for Time Warner/Burberry/Random House.

Chris Brogan wrote on his blog about the audacity of free, and how we shouldn’t be embarrassed to put a price tag on our services: “Paying something for a service or good helps us value it more.” And that’s the point now, isn’t it? Interns just aren’t valued, regardless of the “experience” they get in return.

When Jenavi Kasper resigned from her internship at a large ad agency, she wrote a letter that was later posted on a marketing blog. The response was enormous. She wrote, “When ‘helping with projections’ meant reading you numbers off a spreadsheet I became a little discouraged. When ‘working with scripts’ meant retyping scripts I was bummed. It was especially painful when I spent all morning cleaning out an office for the new girl while you guys took off to Starbucks.” She was doing assistant work. Except assistants get paid. And learn just as much as interns. So why do we still take them?

Tyler Hurst, Media Strategist at Amanda Vega Consulting, wrote me and complained about Kasper’s letter: “What I found was a meek whiner who refused to answer even the simplest questions I had”, he said. “I wanted her to be a rock star and she turned out to be a groupie.” While I don’t know this Jenavi character (she could have been the worst intern ever), she makes some excellent points. Internships are made out to be these wonderful experiences that are competitive and help us get our foot into the real world. What they really are is misleading and degrading.

Do you know what else offers amazing work experience, networking, and – gasp! – a roof over one’s head? A real job.

Tomorrow: The top 5 tips for gaining the experiences of an internship without actually having one…

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