So What’s it Going to Be? Liberal Arts or Professional Studies?

Yes! It is finally spring, which ushers in the graduation parties, both high school and college. I am at the point now where my friends have kids who are eyeing college with both trepidation and excitement. Having worked for over 20 years in higher education, I get invited to a lot of these graduation parties and am privy to the liberal arts vs professional studies debate.

Sometimes it gets ugly with parents on opposite sides or parents ganging up against their kids. But here is the thing: Liberal arts, or education for education’s sake, to become a well-rounded person was losing its panache when my friends and I were going to college. Studying for a “profession” was where it was at. Oh, there were still liberal arts students at my Ivy League institution who nervously eyed us at recruiting functions – would they get the jobs or would we as the professional, internship-toters edge them out? Maybe all of this was a function of what was happening with the 80s robust economy. Be a professional, make a lot of money, make America great.

So flashing forward through the decades, past a major economic depression, past the boom/bust/mini boom of technology markets and here I am, facing down the “Well?” accusatory stares of my friends and their offspring: But again, here’s the thing. The lines between liberal arts vs professional studies have become blurred. There isn’t necessarily only either/or anymore. Nope. No one likes that answer, but it’s the truth.

So I bring out my education again as an example. Back in the 80s when I tried to get my advisor to sign off on my schedule which included the requisite social work classes, along with creative writing, religion and Latin studies, he thought I was crazy. But I convinced him because I had enough AP credits that I had room in my schedule for it all. I had to wait until after graduation to take the music, writing and stress management classes I wanted when I could get tuition remission in my higher education jobs.

Today, this works in reverse too. So many liberal arts students are coming to college with AP credits that they can add professional studies to their schedules. And the colleges and universities are loosening up too, allowing this to happen. The key is to plan ahead to get the prereqs for the professional studies classes finished in the first or second year. The way is then clear to add professional classes that will complement the liberal arts that students pursue.

Parents eye me suspiciously. “But does that really work?” they ask. Let’s take an internship and a job example. Internship: I had a film student in the late 90s who had grown up with a movie camera in his hand. He knew “everything” there was to know about making a film. He spent over $20K on his demo reel which he shopped around to potential internship sponsors. Remember, this is the 90s when every film studio wanted highly skilled interns. You know what? They all hated him, and he had a really hard time finding an internship. He didn’t want to start at the bottom. This guy wanted to immediately get his hands on the most expensive camera on the studio lot. As an intern sponsor at Industrial Light and Magic, one of the premier Hollywood production houses, once told me: “I would rather have an intern who is willing to follow our training program which takes them from running for coffee to reading scripts to participating in the shooting action. If that means I take a liberal arts major who doesn’t have all the technical skills but who is willing to learn, I’m okay with that.”

Now a job example: Did you know that many Disney artists studied liberal arts? Well yes, yes they did, much to the chagrin of all the specialized art and design graduates out there. So why? This is what the recruiter from Disney told me: While Disney requires that all of their art has that “Disney” quality about it, the company recognizes that the key to longevity and icon status comes from their artists willing to learn and to innovate.” That means that sometimes when you are a trained professional, you get so caught up in the technique and the design that you are learning, that you aren’t willing to move ahead to build and innovate because you learned “this is how it’s supposed to be.”

So, blurring the lines between liberal arts and professional studies can be a bit scary for both parents and students, as I’ve worked out in my conversations with them. Getting more out of a liberal arts education may mean spending more time and money, both of which make parents nervous. And we already have college (and high school) students complaining that school is making them stressed out. And they are right – it is. This type of program is going to be jam-packed with liberal arts classes, professional studies classes, internships and experiential education. It may mean that students need to take a gap year to take a break or expand their schedule to fit in a mini coding boot camp or a certificate program such as the brand new Eastman School of Music’s Career and Leadership Certificate program. But the benefits of such education would be tremendous: we would be both educating our students and preparing them for what comes after graduation. I like that because to me the best possible ending of a student career is a graduate who is confident and knows where he or she is going.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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.

Getting Back to Work

It is not uncommon for people to take a career break. But whether you stop out due to maternity leave, a layoff or family illness, sometimes it can be a challenge to return to work. You may think you are guaranteed to get your old job back, however, this is not always the case. Business factors can change quickly, leaving you scrambling for a job.

One option is to start your own business, whether it is providing goods or services such as consulting on a freelance basis. The Small Business Association – SBA can help you get started. The career services or alumni offices at your alma mater may also have classes – you may have to pay for them – on re-entering the workforce or starting your own business. If you opt to freelance or consult, check for state or career organizations that can help you such as NYS Freelancer’s Union. Finding and following such organizations on social media is also helpful.

Another option if you are in good financial shape is volunteering your services. Look for businesses or non-profits who can utilize your skills and provide you with opportunities to learn new ones. This can help you transition into a new job or career, but be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act, put in place to protect workers’ rights to fair pay, can make volunteering and compliance to the law tricky.

Perhaps a better option would be to pursue an adult internship designed to help you re-enter the workforce. These internships are paid, last from 10 weeks to a year and can bridge the gap in returning to work. You will get a chance to update skills, to build your career network or perhaps to test drive a new career. There are many options out there, especially in the finance and legal sector. iRelaunch, a career re-entry resource, provides a list of internships as well as higher education re-entry resources here. This list includes opportunities at financial institutions such as Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and MetLife. OnRamp Fellowship is another career entry resource aimed at lawyers looking to get back to work.

If you do not see an adult internship program for your career field, think about creating your own. Come up with a strategy by identifying your skills that can help an employer. Define what you want to learn and do and how much you would like to be paid. This process is easier if you can write up your proposal as a contract. You can use your alma mater’s career services or the career resources at your local library to target companies. Use your career network to get your proposal in front of prospective internship sponsors. You may have to contact many companies before one agrees to an internship. Don’t get discouraged. When I worked in sales, the mantra went, “It takes 17 no’s to get to one yes.” It may take you a lot more than that, but an opportunity to get back to your career or gain entry into a new one will be worth it.

 

When Vacation Just Doesn’t Do It

It’s summertime, and everyone is in vacation mode. They are either planning, doing or recovering from a vacation. I have heard, “I need a vacation from my vacation” so many times this summer, that I am wondering what is going on.

We hear from the media, work, family and friends that we need to take a vacation to get a proper work-life balance. But do work and life always have to balance out? Sometimes they just don’t, and that is why maybe you should consider a gap year or a break from your career. So here are some ideas on what to do with your gap year or long break:

*Travel. Why? Traveling really does expand your horizons and change your outlook on life. You could travel across the country by train or RV. Or you could go abroad, staying away from the expensive tourists traps – you can always find fabulous pics online of the Sistine Chapel or Buckingham Palace that are far better than what you could ever take anyways. Get out, meet the people, experience the food and culture. You’ll get a feel for how we have become a global economy and what that even means.

*Career Education. Can’t quite cut the career strings for awhile? Then use your break to do a paid internship abroad – yes, they are out there for adults too. Or take some classes to improve your career skills. Study to meet certification or licensing requirements in your field. This type of career break enhances your worth to your employer and makes you more marketable when you return to work.

*Hobbies/Interests. Sick of your career and need a break? No wonder. If you have been doing everything the career experts have advised, you have probably spent the last couple of decades chasing after those valuable skills, that dream job and that promotion with the corner office. It is time to take a break and pay attention to what makes you who you are. You are more than just of the sum of your job and your family role. There are all sorts of vacations and longer breaks that cater to people’s hobbies. Love to write or paint? Then search for writers’ or artists’ colonies or in-residence programs. I could use up a lot of page real estate here giving you ideas. But you get it – do an online search for what you like to do. Have an interest that you have never explored? Same deal. Eleanor Roosevelt is reputed to have said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”  A one-a-day scare is a bit much for me. And I am not advocating a break-neck adventure that could leave you on permanent vacation from your career. But getting out of your comfort zone gives you practice on taking reasonable risks and allows you to grow as a person and as a professional. Even considering a career break is the first step to pursuing that growth.

*Volunteering. Taking time to give back to your community, country or world is another great career break. Maybe you are like me and feel incredibly blessed to have been able to pursue an education and amazing life experiences. Pay it forward by helping other people. Teach English in a foreign country. Help maintain hiking and camping grounds in a national park. Run a lunch program for your community’s kids who often go hungry during the summer months when school lunch programs are on break. The opportunities are endless.

If you can’t see yourself taking time out of your career right now for a break, consider locally volunteering on an ongoing basis. Become a Cub Scout or Girl Scout leader. Help out at your local opera or theater house. Even these smaller, ongoing volunteer opportunities can give you a much needed break from work and give you room to grow as an individual.

Lest taking a career break makes you tremble with fear, don’t worry. My next blog post will be on work re-entry programs and how to re-enter the work force. Have a great summer!