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.

 

Active and Passive Mentors and Why You Need Both

Many of my work supervisors have acted as a mentor to me: the boss who was excellent at written and verbal skills and showed me how to work my way out of sticky client situations; the boss who modeled how to navigate the corporate good ol’ boy network of automotive design. These were active, on-the-job mentors, teaching me skills and how to adapt to the work culture. Active mentors teach and model valuable skills. You can find them at work, through LinkedIn, word-of-mouth and many other places. They are the people in the career in which you want to be, albeit it further along the path, but in-the-know. They have many of the same career goals as you, and are willing to invest the time to help you reach those goals.

Now, many career professionals will tell you if you are looking for a mentor to try and engage a KOL, a key opinion leader in your career on LinkedIn, Facebook or some other social media site. But the reality is these KOL’s have so many demands on their time that they will likely never even reply to your request for mentoring.

Meet Your New Mentor, YouTube

This is where passive mentoring comes in. There are different types of passive mentoring: mentoring that takes place inside your career and mentoring that comes from other areas of interest. You do not get to be passive in finding active or passive mentors. It is up to you to do the leg work. KOL’s are all over the place. They lecture and record it on YouTube; they offer webinars; they blog; they speak at conferences. They are passive mentors in the sense that they  do not know you, but every time you watch, listen and read their words, they are mentoring you. Often, they are giving you valuable intelligence about your career that you would not get from day-to-day work interaction.

The other type of passive mentor comes from your interests. Again, they do not know you, but you know them. They are the NASCAR drivers, the opera singers, the sports figures, the gamers, the artists and actors whom you follow, whose careers you are passionate about. You hunt for their videos, their blogs, their games, their concerts. You avidly keep up with what they are doing, where they are going. These people often give you valuable information too. They model ambition, good and bad work-life balance, how to communicate and work as a team, and even how to stay out of jail.

So why do you need active and passive mentors and why must you actively seek them out? Active mentors help you acquire the career skills you need to be successful. Passive career mentors can do that too. Passive mentors in your interest fields can pass along knowledge that may not be direct career skills, but still can help you get ahead in your career. For example, I definitely know I do not want to be an opera singer. However, watching some of these singers in their careers gives me motivation and determination to succeed in my own career. All of these skills from both types of mentors may make your career path easier and more successful. You need to be proactive in seeking out both types of mentors because I can practically guarantee that:

This May Never Happen to You:

There is a now-famous story in opera circles that Renee Fleming tells about how Leontyne Price ended up mentoring her. Ms Price literally contacted her and said, “I think I can help you.” You can watch Renee talk about her experience here. It is a wonderful story; however, it almost never happens that way for the rest of us. But do not be discouraged: most people genuinely like to help others and are gratified to be asked for their expertise. So do your research and ask. Your active and passive mentors are just waiting for you to find them.