Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Recent College Grads - Stop Whining, the Economy Isn't to Blame

Over the past few weeks I have been casually monitoring my Alma mater's alumni LinkedIn group. It should come as no surprise that it has been flooded with job seeking recent graduates who left the hollowed halls of school in May and now need to face the realities of full time employment.

There are many who appear frustrated with their job search. They are blaming the economy for their lack of employment. While it is true that a tough economy makes job seeking in some sectors difficult, the hard truth is a college education is NOT a ticket to wealth and job security - and at least in modern history, it never was.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics employment for 20 - 24 year olds has fallen in 2009, but it hasn't crashed. Although the data can not be sorted by education status, I believe it is safe to assume that college graduates aren't taking on a larger burden of the lower employment rate than the average 20-24 year old. And in fact, most studies show employment rates for college educated persons are in fact higher than for those who have not received a bachelor's degree.

What can we conclude? A college education is valuable. It's where we learn to write thoughtfully. It's where we teach ourselves how to negotiate and debate wisely. It's the place we are thrust to live on our own and learn how to organize our lives. For most, its also the place we learn to live off of take out, to pull all nighters, and to funnel beer. If you're lucky it is the place you use intern opportunities to find your passion.

And while a college education is all of these things and more, it has never been a replacement for building experience. Bottom line when you leave college you have new, valuable skills but your dream job must still be earned.

I graduated college in the early 90's. I was 21, and like today's graduates, felt entitled to my ideal job. After buying the perfect interview suit, practicing my confidence building handshake and writing thoughtful cover letters to dozens of potential employers I learned quickly that I was competing for sparse positions against highly experienced personal. Disillusioned but determined to pay my bills I took a job going door to door selling restaurant coupons. In three months I learned I was pretty good at sales but as summer became fall, and my territory became more remote I was cold, tired and unsatisfied. I wanted that "real" job I had never stopped waiting to fall into place. But, something had changed. This time I opened my search to include sales positions. To make a long story short I ended up working for a temp agency. On my second placement I ended up working for a high growth technology company in their channel sales group. Although I had never intended to enter the high tech market, I had found an extremely talented executive team, a mentor and a whole new "un-entitled" attitude that made me eager to learn and fast to succeed.
More than 15 years later I am the Vice President of Marketing for a technology company. I love what I do and I'm proud of everything that I've accomplished.
My advice to recent college grads. Take a deep breath. Stop whining. And buckle up. The ride is just beginning. And if you're patient you'll learn it can be a lot of fun.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Two Days To Perspective

A friend of the family was kind enough to share their lakeside cottage with us. On Monday night I left work, hit the grocery store, and made the two hour drive to our quiet retreat in the woods. Well, it was quiet before I arrived with three of my boys ages 7, 8 and 10.

Along the way the boys asked me to explain how a cottage was different from a house. I struggled to answer that one - it's smaller? Usually on the water or near a resort area? According to my definition was pretty accurate. But it missed the whole point. I should have said a cottage is where we reconnect with each other and make new memories. A cottage is the perfect place to spend two days. A cottage is a place where towels NEVER air dry and the mosquitoes, as large as bats, are bred to attack us city folks.

Over the next two days we hiked, we fished, we braved the too cold water to swim. We made fun shaped chocolate chip pancakes and we marveled at the view. We saw wild fox, and carefree deer. Just two hours away and traffic jams were a distant memory and email was impossible to download.

My favorite part of the whole trip was story time around the campfire. Hopped up on smores and the fresh air, we sat in a circle and told funny stories. I was charmed as my children recalled how we burst into laughter the time Nicky exploded a creamer and it shot all over his face. Or how relieved we were to hear the nurses laugh when after Johnny's emergency c-section he peed on the staff, or how Derick gave everyone the giggles at dinner with an endearing rendition of Buffalo Cow - don't worry, we don't really know what it means either. Or the time Stephen gave us a "TV broadcast" report from the top of the Empire State Building with official anchor voice coming out of his then 7 year old smiling face.

As I tucked the boys into bed that evening it dawned on me that all of our stories involved every day time we'd spent together. I felt both grateful to be a part of my children's happiest memories, and somewhat surprised by their content. Their favorite fun memories were just being together. Imagine that.

Now if I could only have bottled that content feeling for the drive home we could have avoided the "are we there yets?" and "MOM, my brother won't share his book", and of course the infamous - "what did you pack to eat?". My GPS system thought it was counting down the miles, but really it was counting down to sanity. Three boys should never be locked in a car within arms reach of each other for any significant amount of time. Despite the very normal drive home, it turns out that two days was the perfect amount of time to make new memories and gain perspective.

Inspired by our trip we made smores for dessert last night. After all, who said you have to be in the woods to enjoy the gooey snack and tell funny stories. Only this time, we had new stories to tell. Stories about how Nicky fell shoes, hat and fishing rod off the dock into the water when "the big one" tugged the line and got away. And stories about how close the wild fox came to entering a neighborhood garage. And let's not forget stories about the man eating mosquitoes we bravely battled with our bare hands.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What's Your Legacy?

Aside from Thriller video flash backs and trying to moon walk with my children, the Michael Jackson media craze has had a positive side effect. It got me started thinking about the legacies we leave behind.

Instinctively, many consider personal legacies - our children, the homes we decorate, perhaps even the charitable causes we support. But on the drive to work this morning I was struck by the notion of professional legacies. I don't mean the Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. legacies that change our very way of thinking on a grand scale. I'm referring to the little parts of us we leave behind at work each day, each month, each year. I think most people are consumed with their day to day tasks and forget about the small legacies they are capable of leaving.

A legacy could be the smile you bring to difficult team meetings, or the shoulder you share during times of crisis. Your attitude is contagious and perhaps the most powerful legacy you can leave behind.

Your legacy could be a loyal customer who turned to you in a time of need. A billing error you corrected, or an upgrade referral that made their life easier.

Sometimes your legacy is not about what you do, but the actions you inspire in your employees. The drive you instill in them to do their best - to mentor a new employee, to find a more streamlined process or to introduce a new service.

Legacies big and small are derived from our actions. By being aware of the legacies we generate I believe we create a more fulfilling work environment.

What's your professional legacy? I for one am not done creating them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Saying Nothing, the Best Advice

Last night my son finished reading and asked to be tucked into bed. It's our usual routine for me to lay next to him and talk about his day. He was unusually quiet and I asked if he wanted to just cuddle tonight. Enthusiastically he pulled my arm around him and said yes. I had to fight the urge to say anything. I usually use this time to praise him for his accomplishments and to discuss important issues. Sometimes we talk about serious topics like soldiers dying at war, or where babies come from (I always say love). Other times we talk about childhood challenges like how to help a friend who is getting picked on by a bully; or techniques to improve his study skills. We often laugh at silly jokes. The point is we ALWAYS talk, and last night I had to fight my urge to intervene with words of wisdom. I'm not very good at silence.

But I perservered and sat quietly holding my son. After a few minutes I started to get up to go, he pulled tighter and said don't leave yet. Thankful he still wants Mom to tuck him in at night I laid back down; my mind wandering to the laundry that needed to be put away, and my email that needed to be checked.

After a few minutes I felt him visibly relax, and noted that I too had stopped making a mental to do checklist. I kissed him good night, whispered sweet dreams and quietly left his room. Afterwards it dawned on me that perhaps Nicky had showed me the most important lesson of all. It's not always what you say that matters most; its what you do that makes a difference. Last night my son needed, or perhaps more correctly he knew I needed to simply slow down. And he in fact showed me how. Silence really can be the best advice.