Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is the Grass Greener? The Pros and Cons of Job Hopping

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig, Manager of Strategic Programming and Outreach

For those of us who spend time every day on Chicago public transit, the RedEye newspaper (a bite size edition of the Chicago Tribune, for those not in the know) is a necessary distraction from the slow plod of buses through the city. And a week ago, while traffic meandered through the mess on Michigan Avenue (thanks, Transformers 3), a RedEye cover story caught my eye. Entitled “Confessions of a Job Hopper”, it discussed young professionals’ increasing propensity for moving from job to job in a relatively short period of time. One of the women interviewed has held six jobs in the past seven years. Her reason for so many transitions? To enhance her skills and challenge herself. But while she indicated that she enjoyed her many moves, such frequent shifts may elicit concern from prospective employers.

So the question for young professionals becomes, what is the appropriate balance? The days of graduating from college and going to work at the same place until retirement are certainly gone. Nowadays, experts expect that, over a lifetime, the average Gen-X or Y-er will hold more than 10 jobs over at least five different careers. That’s a huge change from the model our grandparents held to. But while few will begrudge someone who leaves their current job for one with more power, prestige, and/or higher pay, if that person has left three jobs in less than three years, prospective employers may begin to worry that this person will not be fully invested in the success of the company, and their own success in a given position. The bottom line is that you need to be aware of the story that your resume tells. There’s nothing wrong with being someone who enjoys change, but companies will notice frequent job hops, so be prepared to explain how each experience has benefitted you, and to combat an employer’s concerns about your early exits.

Some pros and cons of job hopping:

Pro: Pay increase. Moving from company to company can often be a good way to increase your pay grade at a much faster rate than you would if you were to stay at the same company, because with each move you bring more experience to the table.

Pro: Networking. Like it or not, networking is a HUGE part of today’s job market, as this blogger can personally attest (all but one of the jobs I’ve held were found through networking contacts). The more contacts you have, the more likely you are to find out about a position that fits your personality, interest and experience. If you’re frequently moving around, you’ll definitely meet more people than if you stay in the same place.

Pro: Learning new skills. Any new job will come with a new set of skills, which you’ll be expected to master quickly. If your learning curve has stagnated in your current job, a new position will likely offer a different set of challenges for you to tackle.

Pro: Figuring out what you love. Most people need to try something to know whether they like it or not. So, while you may feel that your college coursework has helped you figure out what you want to do with your life, the reality of your “chosen” profession may prove less exciting than you anticipated. By moving through a series of jobs early in your professional life (between the ages of 20 and 30, the average person will have eight jobs), you’re more likely to find out what your passion is.

Con: Moving too quickly. Most jobs require at least 6 months to one year of continuous learning before an employee has mastered the position. If you move on too quickly, you may be missing out on the chance to fully develop your skills in that position.

Con: Lateral (or backward) moves. If you end up in a job that you’re not in love with, moving to a different one may seem like a good idea. And it certainly can be—but be careful that you’re moving forward, not sideways (or worse, backwards). Each new job should reward you in some way, whether that’s in pay grade, increased responsibility, or the chance to do something you’re really passionate about.

Con: Burning your bridges. As someone who’s had more than one unpleasant employment experience, I’m very familiar with the urge to go out with a bang (euphemistically speaking, of course). But even if you hated every minute of your time at an organization, make the most of the connections you made there, and never burn a bridge if you can help it. It’s a networking world, and every contact can help (or hurt!).

Con: Turning off prospective employers.
In the words of one hiring manager, “When I look at resumes, if someone has jumped from job to job very quickly, it makes me nervous—I never want to hire someone who may be using my organization as a stepping stone. That's why, in an interview, I often ask the question ‘How does this position fit in with your long-term goals?’” This concern is shared by many employers, and is something that you should be prepared to respond to if you’re frequently on the move.

Con: Losing sight of your narrative. Your experience is your narrative, and your resume is your record of that narrative. It’s important to make sure that your story makes sense, and that you can easily explain to an employer how each step led to the next.

Ultimately, the choice to job hop can be both risky and rewarding. When deciding what your next career move should be, make sure that you have evaluated your reasons for moving, and that you are being mindful of how the next chapter of your narrative will portray you to future employers. Most importantly, commit yourself to making a measureable contribution wherever you go. If, like most young professionals, your goal is to move quickly up the corporate ladder, make each step count, no matter how long (or short) your time with that company is.

Do you have a job hopping success or horror story? Leave a comment below! And remember, if you ever have questions about your career path or your personal narrative, CAPS counselors are here to help. Make an appointment today!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Know Thyself: A Guide to Your Summer Self-Assessment

by Shoshannah Cohen, Associate Director, Administration and Planning

Whatever you’re doing this summer—whether it’s an internship, short-term job, studying, volunteering, writing your dissertation, teaching, or something else entirely—making even a little time for self-assessment in relation to that work will pay off for you.

A good way for all of us to learn about how much we enjoy, and how good we are at, certain tasks is to observe ourselves doing those tasks. In this article, I will discuss how to work some self-assessment into your summer, and how to get the most out of your self-assessment results.

How to do a self-assessment this summer

There are several ways to assess yourself in relation to your summer activities. You should choose the one(s) that best suit you, meaning the one(s) you’ll do consistently!

Some people like to write a short journal entry at the end of each day or week expressing their reactions to what they have been doing. This can be a nice way not only to get a record of how you’re liking (and how well you feel you’re doing at) your work, but also to get thoughts and feelings out on paper (or a computer screen).

If you choose this method, be sure to do it regularly—otherwise you may end up choosing to write, for instance, only when something extraordinary occurs, thereby disproportionately representing either (or both) very good or very challenging experiences. Be sure to including those middling “regular” days in there as well!

Others prefer a list of their tasks, and a ranking scale—rating each day or week, on a scale of, say, 1 to 5, how much you enjoyed each of your tasks. How well do you feel you did at each?

When writing down your rankings, it’s important to break the tasks down as much as possible. If you are working on a dissertation, for instance, don’t just say “Research” or “Writing”. Note the smaller pieces: “Reading recent secondary texts in my field”, “Performing bench work”, “going into archive to find primary texts”, “formulating an argument”, etc. If you are interning, don’t just say “helped plan event”. Think in terms of steps: for example, “visited possible venues for event”, “assessed budget”, “talked with clients about their goals”. These breakdowns help you identify where you’re strongest and where you’re happiest! (And, where you might need work or prefer not to spend a lot of your time.)

Some people do better with self-assessment in groups or pairs. To use this method, find a partner or a bunch of friends who’d like to sit down on a regular basis and talk together about how things are going—tell one another about your experiences, like what you’re enjoying or not enjoying, and what you think about your skill level. Listen carefully to each other, and ask follow-up questions to help each person delve into your experience this summer.

Using the results of a self-assessment
Your self-assessment lets you get to know yourself better, a valuable achievement in itself. It can also help you refine your career planning, by showing you more vividly what you like to do, what kinds of work energize you, and what work you may find draining or frustrating. A self-assessment also helps you to see what work you’re good at, and what work you find doesn’t come as naturally.

To understand your assessment, think about taking some or all of the following steps:
  • Ask yourself: does your self-assessment this summer surprise you in some ways? Or does it mainly confirm what you thought about your work preferences and skills?

  • Come talk with a CAPS staff member about what you’ve learned from this summer and how to use it to develop the next steps in your career planning.

  • Talk with friends about what you’re learning and ask what they think. Sometimes our friends have insights about us that can be very helpful in the assessment process.

  • Reflect on the self-assessment as you begin to write your next round of application materials or prepare for interviews—this is a useful tool for talking about yourself effectively in relation to work.
Finally, enjoy having gotten to know yourself a little better, and try to make self-assessment of this sort an ongoing practice. It’s something from which we can all benefit, at any stage of our careers.

Do you have a self-assessment success story to share, or an idea about another way to gain some perspective on your summer experiences? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

You've Landed Your First Job. Now What?

by Pat Rosenzweig, Career Coach

You’re curious and analytical. You know how to ask questions and how to synthesize information. Of course. You’re a UChicago student or alum. For some, however, these very characteristics that are the foundation of a success at the UChicago are left on campus when they join the working world outside.

These examples are about recent grads, but they apply equally to undergrad internships.

A UChicago rhetoric major’s first job was for a small marketing and public relations firm. He wrote clearly and compellingly, and he was gracious with the firm’s clients and the rest of the staff. A significant part of his job was to interview clients and explore what about them was innovative and worthy of publicity. At the beginning of his tenure, the Account Executive would accompany him to the interviews to make sure that all avenues of inquiry were pursued. She also needed to see how well the interview was reflected in his written story. She was working to develop trust in his listening, inquiry and “translation” abilities, so that ultimately he could handle interviews alone.

One of the clients they met with was a not-for-profit housing finance agency that had just launched a new program piggy-backing on existing Federal and a city finance programs. Small, not-for-profit housing developers were the target audience for any article that came from the press release he would write. When the Account Executive reviewed his draft, she found that there was nothing in it about the programs’ requirements. “Why?” she asked. “We spent a lot of time on that.”

“It wasn’t important,” he responded.

“Why not?”

“It’s boring,” he said.

Was it that he couldn’t admit that he didn’t understand it, or that what was important interrupted his fluid prose? In either case, if he was going to build trust with his superior, he should have asked for an explanation, clarification, and pursued why it was significant. Where did his questioning ability go?

An investment banking firm had a lot of new hires from various schools on a rotational program. Most of them came from top tier colleges. But because the bank actively looked for “diamonds in the rough” from smaller colleges, there was one student who came from a very small liberal arts college in Michigan.

One of the young associates’ first assignments was to sit with a trader for a morning and document a trade. They had to write a small paper detailing the trade, explaining it technically and recording their observations. When the papers were submitted, the new grads from the prestigious schools had done a beautiful job of writing about all the steps from the trader’s first thoughts to the actual pulling of the trigger and closing of the deal. They had all clearly explained the mechanics of the trade and the technical details. However, one paper stood out.

The graduate from the small school in Michigan had not only documented the trade reasonably well, but also followed the trail. Obviously, a trade doesn’t just end with the trader; it goes to the operations area (back office) where the grunt work is done. Details and instructions are checked, contracts and confirmations sent, and the movement of monies carefully observed so that there won’t be an account in the red, or one with too much surplus.

This “diamond in the rough” received the highest grade because of her ability to look beyond what she had observed with her eyes and ears that day. Remember, any activity occurs within a context. Those who care to look for that, and who understand the whole process, will outperform those who are more academically gifted but lack a complete understanding of their role. Where did the curiosity of the students with 3.9 GPAs go?

A recent College grad was paired with two senior members of an organization and tasked with putting together a new employee training manual.
The two senior staff members were seasoned HR professionals, but wanted the input of the new hire to give the manual a fresh perspective. When they got together to work on the training manual, the recent grad suggested revamping the new hire on-boarding process entirely. He had some great suggestions for using new technology to improve the training process, but the seasoned staff only wanted to make small changes to the procedures and update the employee manual, largely because they knew they were working within a limited budget and a tight timeline. Unfortunately, when the recent grad was told that his ideas could not be implemented, he felt slighted by the more experienced staff and argued that he was not being taken seriously. The more experienced staff members—who admittedly were not familiar with the technology solutions that the recent grad had proposed—felt that he was being stubborn and was turning a blind eye to the very real budget concerns their organization was facing. What could have gone differently? The recent grad could have asked more questions about project limitations—but instead of learning more about his colleagues’ concerns, he simply assumed that his idea was the most logical solution, and did not take into account other behind-the-scenes considerations. He could have used his ability to synthesize information to reach a compromise or staged implementation. What happened to his abilities to ask questions to understand the context and the operational challenges?

In all of these examples, the recent grads failed to consider the context of their assignment. In some ways, they didn’t respect the more senior members of their team. Rather than revealing their own ignorance, they avoided, challenged or limited their opportunity to build a relationship with their boss.

A marketing coordinator for a large architecture firm worked with the VP of Marketing at his firm to review a cover letter he had written to a prospective client. The VP and he spent about an hour reviewing the one-page letter, mainly discussing the differences between a letter of transmittal and a cover letter. Because he took the time to really understand what his boss wanted, the recent grad became the best cover letter writer in the group. Years later he told the VP for Marketing that he never, ever wanted to be criticized for his writing again, so when the opportunity to improve came along, “I really listened.”

Want to know more about how to approach your first job? Take a look at “So you’ve landed your first job. Now what?” in the Summer Undergraduate Newsletter. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact a CAPS counselor!