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.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

You Need a Career Time Capsule

One of the things I liked best about Mac computers is an app called Time Machine. It lets you back up your computer so you can see which files you had on any given day. You can revert back to a day on which you knew you backed up a file and were sure it wasn’t corrupted or had the wrong information in it.

A career portfolio can function as your own personal career time machine and capsule. Many of us who use career portfolios to showcase work, our resumes and our projects update them on a fairly regular basis, often deleting earlier incarnations of the career portfolio. However, these old career portfolios do have significant value.

One piece of career advice that career consultants give is to tailor your resume and portfolio to the specific job for which you are applying. This means you are often adding or deleting valuable information about yourself. Creating a master career portfolio or time capsule ensures that you will not lose the information about the project you did five years ago. You may not think it matters all that much now, but there may be a future job for which you will need this information. Computers crash, and resumes and projects get lost. Continually updating a master career portfolio may seem like a chore, but you will be relieved to have it when you need it. And you will need it.

Recruiters are always on the look out for passive candidates, those candidates who have a job, are not looking for a new job and have up-to-date skills. Their goal is to place you as a passive candidate in often hard-to-fill positions. While there should be a good fit between you and the job, your career goals are not always going to receive top consideration.  This process can be an intense situation. Time is of the essence for both the recruiter and the company.  They may give you the hard sell and rush you into applying for a job and accepting an offer, one which you did not even know yesterday that existed.

This means that it is up to you to know what your current career goals are. Your previous career portfolios, along with a master career portfolio will remind you of your career goals and accomplishments along your career path. Armed with this information, you can calmly decide whether a job offer is right for you. Is one of your career goals still to have less travel days and more days with family? Then will the job that offers you a $10k raise in return for 150 more days of travel be worth it to you?

You also need to know and be reminded of what your past accomplishments are. Does this current job offer you a chance to build on past accomplishments, or merely to repeat them? Can you clearly define what the trade offs are going to be if you accept a new job, and whether will they be acceptable to you and your family?

A current master career portfolio reviewed with a series of saved previous career portfolios can save you time and stress when it comes to taking that next career step. This process puts you in control of your career and can make it easier to respond to and work with recruiters.

Do You Need Professional Certification?

I have several types of career consulting clients who have asked me about professional certifications: those who do not have a college degree, but want credibility with their clients, those who have a college degree  that needs updating and those who have a degree, but want to pursue a different career field.

My answer to “Do I need professional certification?” It depends. some fields such as IT usually require a college degree and sometimes certifications in order to stay current. Other fields such as life coaching can be pursued with a degree in counseling, but the life coaching certification may give you more credibility.

So how do you know if you need certification? There are several ways to find out. You can do an internet search for the national association for your career field. If you need certification, your association will list what certification you need. They will often also provide certification education and access to exams or recommendations on how to get them.

Another way to determine if you need certification is to search for jobs in your interest area. If you need a certification, the job description should list it either as a must have or like to have if it is preferred.

You can also ask people in your targeted field. Post the question to LinkedIn career groups or on your timeline. Set up an informational interview in your targeted career field and get a professional’s thoughts on certifications such as which ones are the most relevant for you. You should also ask what knowledge the certification should provide.

Once you determine, yes you should have a certification, it is time to look at certification programs. Investigate whether they are accredited and whether they provide legitimate certifications, diplomas, etc. The Corinthian Colleges debacle should be motivation enough to do your research – you do not want to spend a lot of money on a useless certification. It is NOT enough that a program is accredited. Research the accrediting body to see if they actually exist and how they determine whether to grant accreditation to a program. You can also check the Better Business Bureau to ensure that the program you are considering is not a scam.

A professional certification should provide you with the knowledge you need to pursue the career you want. It is up to you to decide if the program is affordable and will teach you what you want to learn.