So What’s it Like to Study Online?

I was talking up the Eastman School of Music’s online Career and Leadership Certificate the other day to some academic professionals and musicians. It is a brand new program starting in the fall. One of the students knew I had completed my Masters degree online, and she asked me, “So what’s it like? It must be pretty weird not to have to run to class or listen to boring lectures. How did you take exams?”

There are a lot of pros to studying online. Tuition tends to be cheaper. Classes can be asychronous, meaning you do not have to log in at a certain time; you do the work – the readings and the assignments  – when you have time. Some classes are at your own pace, while others give you a deadline to complete. You can still have the advantage of studying or interacting with classmates online, and many classes are structured to make sure that you do. You can still work full- or part-time while studying online, and school fits around your schedule, not the other way around.

Yet there are some challenges to pursuing that online degree. You have to be motivated. I mean really, really motivated. Teachers won’t be keeping track of your attendance or prodding you to hand in assignments. If your computer breaks, you have to fix it or replace it right away because you usually will not get a tuition refund for abandoning class. Exam taking protocols can be strict: you either have to switch on your laptop’s camera during an exam or hire an acceptable proctor. If your program requires you to do an internship or practicum, you may have to find your placement yourself. This is especially challenging for online nursing programs where you need a practicum. A brick and mortar nursing school will send a preceptor to supervise student nurses; most online schools, however, will not. The placement must be willing to supervise a first-time student nurse and follow the school’s practicum rules.

So, if you are still interested in studying online, here are a few things to consider:

*Make sure your school is accredited by an appropriate accrediting body. Not sure who that is? Ask someone in your target career field for help. Your degree or certificate will be worthless if the school is not properly accredited.

*You will need a computer and a high-speed DSL line. Some programs may include a laptop in the tuition price. Make sure you know the type of computer, memory and speed needed beforehand.

*Get the IT department’s help desk phone number and email. You will need it.

*Find out what is included in the tuition. A laptop might be, but other materials such as special workbooks and templates might not be.

*Stay in touch with your advisor and keep that person up to date on your degree progress. Ask to make sure you understand any revisions to degree requirements. You may think you are eligible to graduate only to find out you are not.

*Ask for prior credits and learning experiences to be evaluated for transferable credit. Take any exams (and pass them!) that will allow you to opt out of prerequisite classes. This will save you time and money.

*Balancing family life, work and study can be stressful. Take a break if you need it; however, find out what your school’s time off or gap policy is. You may be able to take a break, but your loan payback requirements may begin immediately once you stop studying.

Online degrees are being looked upon more favorably by employers as technology speeds up changes in the workplace. Studying online is one way to make yourself ready for that next work challenge.

 

 

 

Advertising Jobs: The Bait and Switch

In the last few months, I have heard from clients and friends that the jobs for which they applied and the jobs for which they were called to interview ended up being very different jobs. One person told me she applied for a full-time, benefits-eligible job with invoicing and social media marketing duties. During the interview, she was told the job was part-time with no benefits and the invoicing and social marketing duties had been eliminated. In addition, the hours were during the evening when she did not have access to transportation.

In reading the job description, two factors came to light: 1) the hours were described as part-time/full-time and 2) the position was clearly a mix of front and back office duties.We’ve all been there: suddenly being asked to do something that was never listed in our original job description. Employers cover themselves by adding something such as “and other duties as assigned” to their job descriptions. But this trend of changing the job BEFORE a person is even interviewed and hired is disturbing because it indicates that employers still feel that it is an employer’s job market and that they can do what they like. Yes, employer needs do change, but how do you prevent an employer from wasting your time before you are even hired?

One way to help yourself is to read the job description carefully. The lack of specific hours in the above example should have raised a red flag. In this case, the employer knew the job had a high turnover rate and wanted to get a better pool of candidates, so they added full-time to the description as bait. When the person interviewed, she realized that there was no way the job could be full-time for one person, and it would be impossible to do invoicing and marketing duties while acting as a receptionist and checking in clients.

Once you have carefully read a job description and decide you want to apply for the job, make note of any inconsistencies in the description and keep your notes handy. If you are invited to interview, you can confirm the job details when you confirm the interview date in an email which serves as a written record of the information. The person in the above example could have confirmed the interview in a short email and asked the interviewer to confirm that the job was full-time. She would have then realized that the job was not a good fit for her because it was only part-time.

Confirming job duties can be a bit trickier. Job descriptions can be pages long, and trying to confirm all of that in an email isn’t practical. However, if there are 1-3 must-haves in the job for you, try to confirm those duties in an email. There is no sense in interviewing for a position if the duties do not interest you. Another red flag is when some key job duties are not mentioned in the interview. A good interviewer will ask you questions to determine if you have the skills for the job and if you will be a good fit. You are usually given a chance in an interview to ask questions, so ask about any duties that were in the job description that haven’t been mentioned in the interview. If they are duties you really want to do and the interviewer tells you they have been eliminated or tabled for now, this is your chance to show your ability to do them and make a case for reinstating them. Sometimes duties are eliminated because employers have a difficult time finding candidates who can do all of the desired duties.

The same goes for unadvertised jobs. Conventional job search wisdom indicates that a vast number of jobs are never advertised. They are either filled within the organization or by word of mouth.  If you interview for a position such as this, get a job description in writing and verify everything in the job description. The job search process can be long and stressful enough. Protect your time and manage your stress by pinning down hiring managers on the details.

 

 

 

Commercialization of Your Fine Arts Career

One of the biggest challenges I faced in working in art and design was the student/artist debate of art for art’s sake and making a living at making art. The designer types in some ways were already set – they knew they would be designing for a specific industry and company. They were already in sync with the idea that their skills and work would be monetized automatically.

But fine artists, in many cases have a real problem with this idea. I’ve heard so many complain that an artist’s life is difficult, and there should be patrons who support them because of their talents. Others vilify those famous artists such as Thomas Kinkade for “selling out,” while secretly being jealous of their success. The prevailing attitude is that all of the most famous and best artists never had to actually sell their art for a living. That, somehow, these artists became famous and their works were exhibited in museums the world over without money ever exchanging hands.

Maybe that is true for some; however, if an artist wants to produce “art for art’s sake” today, that person must be independently wealthy or have a job that supports the work. A third option that I often tout to students and artists alike is to think about commercializing their work. It is possible, and artists have been doing this successfully for a very long time.

One of my favorite artists, Maxfield Parrish, is a case in point. He is very famous for his cobalt-hued and light-splashed paintings of neoclassical scenes, many of which ended up on candy boxes. Usually, my artistic career consulting clients give a not so subtle snort at this fact. But they are also brought up short by another fact – Maxfield Parrish had a very successful 50-year career as an artist.

Yet, he too struggled with commercializing his art, turning away from a celebrated career in engraving and illustration to paint landscapes. But the money still came rolling in as royalties from these paintings that graced calendars, posters and prints. Perhaps Parrish was a genius at monetizing his talents. What I do know is that he lived to grand age of 91 while continuously producing his art and influencing many other talented artists.

It is possible to make a living today as a fine artist. There are more avenues for monetizing artistic skills today than were available to Maxfield Parrish. Computers and digitization have made lucrative fine arts careers possible. Fine artists have to decide are they willing to learn other skills to get their art in front of the faces of the interested public? Are they willing to network and be entrepreneurs to create that interest? The alternative is to produce art in their spare time while working a full-time survival job. This is a viable alternative; however, producing art in this capacity ends up becoming a hobby, not a central life focus. The most basic career question becomes, as an artist, are you willing to accept your art as your life’s work or as your hobby?

 

 

The Professional Doldrums: Cue Professional Development Programs

As a college student, no one tells you about the professional doldrums – those two years or so after graduating where you struggle in survival jobs while trying to get your career off the ground. You can also end up in the professional doldrums after you have been laid off,  have opted out of a job for maternity leave or have tried to switch careers.  Thankfully, there are programs out there that are designed to help you get through these tough times.

Whether you are a musician and need a Young Artists Program (YAP) or a professor wanna-be in need of a post-doc program, the process of getting into the right program for you is similar. First, you have to ask yourself what type of program do you need? Do you want an incubator program where you are less in the public eye while learning your trade, or are you ready to step onto the performing or teaching stage? Do you need to get paid or can you afford to participate in a program without pay?

Also, what can you bring to the program in terms of experience and skills? Most professional development programs are going to ask you to have experience and skills. You can still be accepted into a YAP or an adult internship without some of these prerequisites, but you must have references such as teachers, coaches and professional colleagues who can speak to your abilities.

Your resume is important because this is where you list your abilities, skills and experiences. Concentrate on describing how you are a soloist and a team player. If you are a singer, list your solos and recital pieces first. Save the choral works and coaching the children’s choir for the related skills section. If you are applying for an adult internship, highlight your transferable skills sets. Don’t pad your resume with extraneous “stuff.” Your real skills and abilities become hidden, and it is obvious when you are adding “stuff” to make your resume more impressive.  You resume will become bloated and a chore to read.

Once you are satisfied with your resume, take a look at the program application. Not clear on something? Ask before you submit the application. Most programs will have a contact email address or number. Follow the application directions. Do not get eliminated because you failed to clarify a section or wandered off on your own tangent instead of providing the required information.

Most important: Get someone else to read your application and resume before you submit them. Another set of eyes will find the mistakes you can’t. Many people skip this step because they are too self-conscious or over-confident in their proofreading abilities. However, it’s worth the extra discomfort to be able to submit a mistake-free application.

Some professional development programs may ask you to submit a video as proof of singing or presenting abilities. Get help if you do not know how to do a professional recording. You should dress professionally and eliminate fidgeting. I’ve seen a number of masterclasses and presentations where performers/presenters have clearly been doing this for a long time, yet they still clear their throats repeatedly, say um, twirl their hair, scratch their noses, tug on their clothes, etc. Why do they do this? Because they are nervous. Concentrate on introducing yourself and your performance or presentation. Leave it to your recording assistant to ensure your sound is clear, the lighting bright enough and that you are not positioned to sprout a lamp or any other object out of your head to make you look ridiculous.

Your application introduces yourself to the program staff. Your social media profiles tell them more about yourself, who you are. Keep your profiles up to date and list them on your resume to make you easy to find online. Social media profiles have an advantage over the resume in that they should showcase what you are doing now and how you are developing professionally. They keep the story of you going.

 

So Your Kid is Having Career Day

We used to love Career Day when we were kids. It got us out of the humdrum, boring day-to-day classes, and it gave us an opportunity to hear what some of our classmates’ parents did for a living. One year we even got to dress up for the career of our choice.

But how do kids really learn about careers? Career Day is helpful, but one day really really isn’t enough. Working in higher education for several decades has shown me that by the time students get to college, a large percentage still have no clue as to what they want to do professionally with their lives. High school guidance counselors don’t help either when they tell students to sign up for college as undeclared majors. They can figure it out once they take a few classes, or so students are told.

The problem with this strategy is that 1) the initial classes college students take tend to be general education requirements, prereqs for the upper level classes that are more likely to define their likes/dislikes, and 2) it is an expensive and hit-or-miss way to find a career interest, especially when the student may need an extra semester to complete his/her degree.

I get the idea of education for education’s sake, but with college getting ever more expensive, students and parents want to see tangible results, a solid job at the end of four or six or ten years of study. And I am not sure we are doing a good job of telling our students at ANY level why getting a solid education is important. There is a push for more career coaching at the high school level. But we need to be looking at the lower grades as well.

For example, how good of a job do parents and teachers do in explaining why knowing the periodical table is important to everyday life and how it is used on the job? What do you tell a child who struggles to answer basic comprehension questions about a story read in class? Why is it important to know about the angles in different triangles? The question I hear most of often from students of every age is, “Why do I have to know this?” Perhaps we need to make every day Career Day and take time to explain why learning is relevant to everyone’s life.

Redefining Your Career Dreams

If you are pursuing a career in the creative arts, you’ll probably get at least one well-meaning person giving you this advice: “If you like anything else besides (music, art, acting, etc.) do that instead.” There are also those people ( some who may be your parents) who will tell you that if you aren’t “successful” in your chosen career by age 26, you need to go back to school for something else. Before you get discouraged and scrap your career dreams, maybe you need to redefine them instead by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. How are you going to define success? This is a two-parter question because your definition of success depends on what you want out of life. Does success in your career mean that you are famous and live in a mansion? Does it mean you get to use your talent and are able to pay the bills too?
  2. What are you willing to sacrifice? We all initially give up some earning power when we go to school full-time to pursue a degree. But what are you willing to give up short-term and long-term, say, like, forever? I met 40-somethings in LA who happily lived in small studio apartments while occasionally landing bit movies parts. For them, success was being able to have some connection to acting while having a day job and living in an area of the country with a great climate.
  3. What makes you happy? Will you only be happy if you have a career as a musician? Are you willing to put up with family and friends who ask you “when will you get a real job?”
  4. What else does interest you as a career? I also met a nurse in LA who had a solid acting career. She went to nursing school after acting school and then set up her nursing jobs to take the hours that no one else wanted, often earning time-and-a-half and overtime. She built up her savings and reputation so that her employers were willing to let her come and go when she got cast in movies.

There is also the perception that if you do not “make it” in your chosen career, you can always pursue something related. For example, you can always teach or pursue arts administration instead of being a musician. This thinking sometimes leads to career trouble, however, because you need other skills in addition to musicianship. Can you actually teach? Do you have the patience because many of your pupils are apt to be kids who will need your patience as first-time or maybe even reluctant learners. . Do you know how to manage personnel, fund raise and take care of facilities as a budding arts administrator? Do you even WANT to do that?

One of the key things I’ve learned especially in working with creatives is that career dreams aren’t necessarily an end, a finite goal. It is often a long, rewarding process consisting of periodic redefining, tweaking and maybe even scrapping some parts of those goals.

Last question: Are you willing to commit to this process to create a life you can love?

Six Signs You’re Ready to Work From Home

The internet has changed how we work, taking us out of the cubical culture and making it possible to work from our homes. Whether you have the work-from-home option at your job or are interested in making a move to an at-home job, these signs will help you assess if you are ready to take that step.

  1. Your current situation is noisy, crowded and has constant interruptions, making it difficult to concentrate. You end up taking work home at night. Work productivity can increase when you work from home because there is less noise, less traffic around you and fewer interruptions. You can also set up your home office to maximize your work space.
  2. You can organize, multitask and prioritize like a boss. You will still have to do all three from home, and it can be a challenge when the laundry, cable TV and kids are calling you away from your computer/desk. Making a list first of what needs to get done by the end of the day can keep you on-track.
  3. You have mad technical skills. Even a minor computer glitch can bring a small business or home worker’s day to a screeching halt. As someone who is working from home, you’re not likely to be high priority on your company’s tech team list or with your IT help desk contractor. Your productivity at home stays on-track when you can fix the glitches yourself. Also, having an alternate place from which to work or a spare computer/tablet can keep you working even when the DSL goes down or your computer crashes.
  4. No means no. Are you good at saying no? You need to be when your office is at home. Word gets out quickly in the family, amongst your friends and out there in the neighborhood that you are working from home. Working from home becomes code speak for “flexible schedule and available for emergencies.” You need to decide in advance what constitutes an emergency and who you’ll be able to help. Manage your family/friend/neighbor expectations at the beginning to prevent yourself from having to say no too often.
  5. You use email, text and voicemail to prioritize your work. You know that not every phone call is top priority, and answering every call can throw your day off.  Plan time in your day to return phone calls either via phone, email or text, and keep an eye out for priority calls as they come in.
  6. You find it difficult to work in exercise on a daily basis. Even short walks around the neighborhood are preferable to sitting 8 or more hours a day at your desk. Many work sites do not have environments suitable for exercise, especially in the winter. It is much easier to fit in stair exercise or short neighborhood walks when you work from home.

These are just some of the factors to consider before deciding to move to a home office. Everyone’s situation is a bit unique. It can be a challenge to work from home, so make a list of everything you need to consider before making that move.

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