Viewing entries in
About the Author

On the Job Hunt & The Listening Effect

I am pleased to announce that I've joined Susan Joyce and a host of other career management professionals on

I'm serving as the New Grads Job Search Expert on Job-Hunt, and will be writing a monthly column for the site. If you haven't checked out before, I encourage you to do so. The site is very easy to navigate and includes comprehensive information to help you throughout your job search process--from getting started with your first job search to how to work with recruiters and deal with a tough career transition.

In my first piece for Job-Hunt, I shared stories from my own first job, work in career management, and lessons learned from rocket scientists as well as the proverbial "water under the bridge."

This month, I focus on the importance of listening. It's not a skill that you find frequently in aListening-ear position description, but your ability to be a strong active listener can make all the difference in the interview process--and once you get hired.

For the past year, I've been taking classes in storytelling from Narativ. I'm learning how to tell stories that make an audience lean forward. I'm learning strategies to tell what happened instead of how I feel about a situation. The Narativ methodology is helping me to become a better storyteller. But mainly, I am learning how to be a better listener...without listening, you lose impact--in your job, in your ability to work with others, in your ability to communicate.

The process of finding your first job--and positions after that--can be fraught with anxiety, self-doubt, and doubt: Am I really qualified to do this job? Do I have the experience that it takes? All too frequently, you may miss a really obvious skill---one that can make all the difference--and that you already have. The skill I am referring to, of course, is listening.

Several years ago, I watched an Ivy League senior with a 3.98 GPA from a relatively unpopulated state (let's call it Nebraska) participate in the selection rounds for a Rhodes Scholarship interview. He had a long list of organizations he'd been involved in as well as measurable achievements for his extracurricular efforts. But there wasn't a single activity that he was involved in that he didn't hold the top title--President, Captain, Chair. As he told the committee, "I just prefer to be in the leadership role."

He didn't get picked. The committee went with other candidates who had experience in simply serving as a committee member, a participant, a team player.

In the midst of everything, never forget: Employers are looking for great listeners who can follow directions! Often, they will hire you for this singular ability--and then teach you the rest.

That's my two cents on listening. Now I want to hear what you have to say...

The Year in Review (or Lawn Mower Lessons Part II)

I've lived in Manhattan for almost three years now, but I'm still in a long-term relationship with a lawn mower in New Hampshire. We have known each other for seven years now--and for the past three years I've gained a gradually greater appreciation for this--my personal Yoda. WLawnmowerho knew that a red Craftsman push mower that sometimes starts with a sputter and who smells like gasoline could share life lessons? And even more oddly, would reveal these life lessons over time--when I was ready to learn them.

Seven years ago, in the infancy of our relationship, I was a first-time homeowner. I did what many people do these days in a new courtship--I read a how-to-manual before our first date. I wrote down the operating instructions and followed them to the letter. I remember filling up my plastic gas jug at the Citgo station. The customer behind me in line tapped his foot, and said "Are you finished?" I remember driving home with the window open, and the smell of gas on my hands. It took me at least two and a half hours to mow the yard that summer. I did it two or three times, and then my neighbor, Mike, offered to cut the grass on his riding mower. "It is easy for me to do," he explained. "Especially since your yard runs into my mother's and I cut her grass anyway." I put the lawnmower in the basement.

Several summers went by and Mike's mother got sick. I took a new job as a recruiter for a start-up that was in rapid expansion mode. I had never worked in HR before, and the mower hadn't started the last time I tried. "Put your work first," I told myself. My then-boyfriend suggested that I borrow his push mower. I looked at my three-quarter acre yard, and hired a landscaping company. I traveled frequently for my job. The mower stayed in the basement, behind my tires.

A too-good to be true work opportunity presented itself in New York--a job working with students and international travel. I rented my house out to a female engineer. "You can use the lawn mower if you want. It didn't start the last time I used it, but maybe it will work for you."

The lawnmower worked for my tenant; the job didn't work for me. I decided to start my own new ventureI stayed in Manhattan. There was no need for a lawn mowers and well kept parks within a seven minute walk. The house in New Hampshire was three miles from the "Little Store" which closed after dark. In New York I was block away from a 24-hour-diner, a drugstore, a bodega, and a hardware store.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to house sit in my own house for a month. I was trying to write and couldn't find the right words, and I took out the lawnmower for a spin. It started up immediately, and didn't stop. I decided that the lawn mower was trying to teach me a lesson in time management: If I stopped--even for a minute, it choked, and wouldn't start again. The lesson, I deduced was this one: I needed to keep going. If I started to write, I couldn't stop until I was finished. That was the lawn mower lesson for the summer of 2009.

I went back to New York. I was presented with a wonderful opportunity to co-author a book on Twitter with colleagues. We finished it in less than four months, it came out in March. I slept very little.

My tenant moved out in June, enabling me to spend a significant amount of time at the house this summer. I canceled the lawn service. The first time I mowed the grass, the lawn mower stopped after ten minutes. I pumped the primer three times. I held the handle down, pulled back the throttle and heard no sign of a motor. The lawn mower was broken. I went inside, got a glass of water, and asked myself, "why? Why can't I hear a motor?" My mind did a flashback to seventh grade science class, and I formed a hypothesis, "this must be stuck on something."

I turned the motor over on its side. There were big clumps of wet grass and dirt under the rotating blades of the mower, one of them was preventing the blade from turning. I used my hands to clear the grass from the underbelly of the motor. The lawnmower started again. I went inside, my shoes were green, my hands were green, my thumbs were green. I was covered in grass clippings and required a shower and a post-scrub to rid myself of all the grass. Then I had to clean the shower drain, the floor and the sink. There was grass everywhere. I returned to New York with fingers that were still stained green, but there were fewer circles under my eyes. I was afraid to go for a manicure, but I had learned that I could sleep in the midst of writing.

When I came back later in the summer, my mower and I met again--and again. I explored new strategies for staying "unstuck." I lifted a side door and propped it open with a stick, sending the clippings everywhere and resulting in more Cat-in-the-Hat like cleanings inside the house, but resulting in an interruption-free mow. I mowed the yard more frequently, and discovered the mower was less likely to stall.

Today, I unpropped my stick and mowed the yard, gently lifting the mower up so it could disperse clippings on the grass without sending them all over me. It worked.

When I finished, I cleaned the underbelly of the mower. I wiped down the top with a fresh cloth. And I stored the mower in the front side of the basement.

The next one to use the lawn mower will be a new tenant. This will be her first experience. I look forward to hearing her lawn mower lessons...and what--if anything--they teach her about life.

Did you miss these other lawn mower installments?


Career Lessons from My Dad

Today is my father’s birthday. He’s notoriously difficult to buy gifts for, so this post is one of the ways that I’m marking the occasion! Here are seven gifts that he’s given me that I’m thankful for:Dad_at_work

  1.  Expectations. One of the biggest presents my dad ever gave me came in the form of a warning. Before I started college out of state, my dad told me to “Make a B average every semester—or you can come home and study here.” At the time, I wasn’t a bad student, but I had my shares of C’s in Math and Science.

    Knowing my dad had confidence in me to perform at a higher level helped me stay focused at school. I missed a lot of weeknights out with my friends, but I didn’t see any C’s. The work paid off when I got into the University of Virginia for grad school--a feat that I could not have imagined after high school Geometry!

  2. Pride and Non-Prejudice. My dad is a professor, and he takes great pride in the work he undertakes—from his golf swing to his own research and writing. I’ve seen him rehearse a simple lecture reading up to four times just to get the intonation right. But he’s also fully aware—and accepting of the fact that not everyone wants to work as hard as he does. On many holidays, he takes leave of our family for a few hours to help out his students so that they, too, can have a break. He’s a poster “nerd” for work ethic but isn’t judgmental about it. I admire that. 

  3. The importance of heroes. Over the years, I’ve watched my dad go through some tough times—who doesn’t? He’s always persevered, and one of the strategies he uses is to look for guidance from others—both real people and those who lived before us. He keeps quotes and aphorisms everywhere to remind him to keep perspective—it’s a strategy that has worked for me in tough times, too!

  4. Time management. My dad is a master of getting things done. Borrowing guidance from one of his heroes, the late and renowned physician William Osler to “live in day-tight compartments,” he creates a schedule for himself every day and prioritizes his work. His desk is never completely clear, but he’s consistently making progress. (He’s also a master of the cat nap and an avid Boston Red Sox fan but that is another story.)

  5. A talent for remembering names and creating long-term relationships in the community. My dad loves to talk to people, and asks everyone their names. As a result, the staff at his local Starbucks has his order memorized, and the dry cleaners know him by sight alone as well. These relationships make even the most mundane errands much more fun.

  6. Perseverance. Several years ago, my dad wanted to write a book. Like many aspiring authors, he received a polite rejection note from a potential publisher, “We think this is a great concept, but we’re not sure the book will sell.” He surveyed the needs of his potential audience, pitched the book on his own, and presented the would-be publisher with an advance order of several thousand copies. They published the book.

  7. The ability to make the most of any moment. My dad once taught me to “shag” (the South Carolina state dance move) in the waiting line at Wendy’s. “Would you like fries with that?” I was 14 and mortified. Now it’s a treasured memory that I will never forget.

These are just a few of the life lessons my Dad has given to me along with compassion, support , and understanding. He’s helped me succeed both professionally and personally—so here’s a formal thank you. (And happy birthday, Dad!)

Do you have any similar life lessons to share?

How to Get A Billionaire's Education

Forbes just published a report on "where the billionnaires studied," and it's somewhat similar to PayScale's recent report on which schools produce the highest earners in mid-careers: there's no shortage of Ivy League and highly selective school names on the short list of either list.Dartmouth

While Dartmouth College tops the list of mid-career salaries for the working public, Harvard, Penn, and Columbia, and Yale all occupy Top 5 spots on the Forbes' billionnaire's list.

I am not an Ivy League graduate myself, but I have worked in career offices at Penn, Dartmouth, and Columbia...My experience in what is frequently labeled as the "Ivory Tower" provided me with a first-hand glimpse of the wealth of connections, resources, and experiences that an "Ivy" education can provide.

It was a great experience to work in the Ivy League. I learned a tremendous amount and met many wonderful people. The commonly held assertion that an "Ivy League school opens doors" is true, but other schools and places do, too.

I remain firmly convinced that you don't have to go the short list of top ranked schools to get a top rate education or to make a great salary mid-career or to become a millionnaire. In fact, some of the smartest, most successful people I have encountered started their education at community colleges. Others, are "walking sponges"--furthering their education with all they see, read, and encounter along the way.

You can provide yourself with many of the same resources that would be available to you at an Ivy League school with minimal elbow grease. Here are three tips on how to get started:

1. Connect with others in your area of interest. From professional associations to groups and alumni clubs for your alma mater, there are countless opportunities to make friends and widen your circle.

Not sure how to start? Read Keith Ferrazzi's books, "Who Knows You Back?" and "Never Eat Alone." 

2. Take advantage of public access to career advice and resources. My colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Career Services provide best-in-class resources on their website--and they invite the public to browse the site--for free! The site includes lists of recommended career resources and program summaries from industry specific panels. While in-person services and employer programs are restricted to students and alumni, you can receive a wealth of information simply by visiting the Penn Career Services website--and others like it.

3. Learn from others. You can't audit or attend lectures at MIT, but did you know that they share course syllabi and resource lists through their Open Courseware project? Don't have time for a course? Hop on over to TED and watch a few ground-breaking videos. You can also read transcripts of speeches and watch videos of lectures from college and universities websites and search for them on YouTube.

It's not what you have, it's what you make of it...You can open doors from anywhere.

To your success,

Seven (Definitively Weird) Facts About Me

I've been tagged by my friend Miriam Salpeter at Keppie Careers, who has dared me to share SEVEN FACTS. (To learn more about Miriam, read her post 7 Maybe Not So Weird Facts about Me

This is a viral trail, apparently started by Chris Russell at Secrets of a Job Hunt. So here goes. Photo_032208_015(I'm joined by my twin nieces.)

1. I spent most of my childhood in Columbia, South Carolina in a house without air conditioning. It was very hot, and I became so lazy at times that I joked with friends about taking a shortcut to the den in our house where there was a window unit.  My stepdad was an engineer, and devised a complicated airflow management system to keep the house cool which meant leaving all the doors open, including that of my bedroom. As a teenager, I refused to have my door open all the time and vowed to move to a very cold place.

I made good on this promise (did I mention that I can be stubborn?) and spent five years in New Hampshire--in a house that had no need of air conditioning but occasionally had uninvited wildlife. I have stories on midnight visitors, most of which make me laugh today.

2. My first job after college was working for rocket scientists. I answered a blind ad for an editorial assistant in the Washington Post, and was hired by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a professional association of aerospace engineers. My job was to copyedit manuscripts on space medicine, tactical missile warheads, and other technical white papers I did not understand. After eight months and a gentle reminder from my supervisor that attitude and altitude were not the same, I moved to another department where my job was to work with event planning and professional development for members. This was much more fun: my first business trip involved setting up lecture arrangements for Gene "Failure is Not an Option" Kranz, Mission Control Director for Apollo 13.

I learned that engineers had the same career needs as English majors like me (they, too, wanted to know how to grow their careers). I liked helping them, so I went to grad school and got a Master's degree in Counseling.

3. I have a "reverse" Achilles heel--it's the toughest part of me. As an infant, I received transfusions in my right heel and the scar tissue could take a bullet. It's pedicure-resistant and I've learned to appreciate it over time.

4. My family has a penchant for unusual names--mine comes from an ancestor who was a "Quaker" clock maker.

For many years, my family shared space with a beloved cat named Salmonella (my dad, a "germ expert," told my sister--then 9--she could bring a kitten home from summer camp if he could name it). After learning the translation of this "beautiful name," my sister shortened it to "Sally." My unrepentant dad named her kittens "Bacillus" and "Toxoplasmosis."

5. I am a "Rhodes Scholar." Well, sort of...I went to Rhodes College in Memphis and wore a gown to graduate. Does that count?

6. Several years ago, I developed a fear of flying which I got over by touring a Boeing factory and seeing the assembly line for 737's. (At the time, I was working at Dartmouth College's Engineering School, and an alum was kind enough to give me a tour and an overview of her work there.) I developed an appreciation of system redundancies in aircraft, and decided that the test pilot's job was scarier than my position as a routine passenger!

7. I am compulsive about spelling and grammar, but sometimes can't do it in public. I was recently eliminated in the third round of a spelling bee, and can't pronounce the word "herbs." (In an early internship, I caught a Reader's Digest worthy typo before it went to press: "Hands on Herb," a lecture by the D.C. Women's Garden Club. I laughed, corrected it, and have never been able to say "herbs" since.)

I have a hard time ordering a dish in a restaurant if there's a typo in the description. I've also fantasized about starting a proofreading business for restaurants. Perhaps this is why I enjoy working with resumes?

I generally follow rules, so here are Miriam's instructions. Here are blogs I think you should check out, and their authors who I challenge to share seven things:

Jason Alba, Jibber Jobber

Paul Copcutt, Square Peg Solution

A. Fashionista, Diary of a Label Lover

Lauren Hasson, The Resume Girl

Alexandra Leavit, Water Cooler Wisdom

Dan Schawbel, Personal Branding

Phyllis Zimbler Miller, Flipping Burgers and Beyond

for my fellow bloggers:

• Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.

• Share seven facts about yourself in the post - some random, some weird.

• Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.

• Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

Now that you know a bit more about me, feel free to touch base. How can I help you propel your career?