On the Road Again: Actively Forging Your Career Path

September 26, 2016

Image of green mountains and a roadPerhaps more so than ever, it seems that finding a well-paying and rewarding job can be a difficult task for young adults. According to analysis of the 2014 Current Population Survey, median income for people between 25 and 34 has decreased in every major industry since the Great Recession, with the exception of the healthcare industry. In addition, the underemployment rate for recent college grads is still at its highest point since the year 2000 — about 7 percent.  According to the New York Fed “the share of underemployed college graduates in good non-college jobs has fallen sharply, while the share working in low-wage jobs has risen.” In a tough job market, where rewarding work experience which also pays well is hard to find and highly competitive, here are a couple of ways you can take your career path into your own hands.

Perhaps one of the hardest tasks of finding a career is the process of taking your own concepts of a field of interest, work preferences, and vision of your future, and boiling it down to workable tasks toward achieving concrete goals. One effective strategy is the Active Career Exploration Strategy (ACE) in exploring your preferences and connecting with employers. We will discuss the ACE plan in depth in next week’s blog, but in the meantime as an exercise, try allotting 2 hours of free time toward strategic career exploration. Start with some self-reflection: think about all the components of a job/career that most matter to you, and try to make a list of the three most important points. From this list, start researching potential careers that interest you, and make a workable list. Keep in mind that you may come across a career you did not know existed (for example, if you like biology, but are not interested in working in the lab, perhaps bioinformatics is a field worth looking into.) Once you have found a career that seems of interest, start looking for people to contact in order to learn more. LinkedIn is a great tool to find professionals to contact for informational interviews, and you can also spark curiosity by looking at TedTalk videos related to your field of interest. Once you have found someone whose work you are interested in, start drafting questions for them, and contact them for an informational interview.

Another important skill to have in all steps of career exploration is to understand the competition in your field. Whether you are applying to a job in the private or public sector, research or non-research, getting a sense of the relevant and in-demand skills is absolutely crucial to being a competitive candidate. This can be done by reading articles online, speaking to friends and family working in a similar career, and especially by setting up informational interviews. Once you have gotten a sense of what these skills are, you can make sure to highlight these skills on your resume if you already have experience in this skill, or invest time in learning the skill in order to become a more appealing candidate.

Although knowing your skills and preferences is crucial in finding a good career match, one very common misconception is that finding this match is solely up to you. To the contrary, Jeffrey Kudisch of the Robert H. Smith School of Business suggests that the best way to finding a good job is to assemble a “job search work team,” or “a group of people committed to helping each other” find optimal career matches and professional success. Kudisch explains this optimal career team as being between five and eight people who are centered around a central career focus or niche, yet not too similar in their skills and outlooks. Team members must also complement each other in their skills and outlooks, and must also meet regularly to set and work towards measurable, attainable goals. With an optimal job search team, you can utilize knowledge and wisdom beyond your own in order to find what career works best for you.

No matter your field of work and level of experience, job searching and career planning can be an exhausting and even terrifying experience. Despite this, it is important to remember that you have the power to find a rewarding career path for yourself, and there are always resources available to help you find the perfect career if you get lost. For additional resources, check out the OITE Careers Blog, or schedule an appointment with OITE’s Career Services Department.


Diversity Statements

September 19, 2016

In an academic job search, it is not uncommon to get questions related to diversity during your interview. You may be asked: “How do you bring diversity into the classroom?” and “How do you bring diversity to your research?” Recently though, diversity statements have become more and more standard. So along with your CV, cover letter, research statement and teaching statement, you might also be asked to provide a diversity statement.

What is this document and what should you include? It really should be a personal reflection of your feelings and your approach to being a leader and a teacher. However, teaching is meant in the broadest sense possible as you will address diversity and diverse learning/teaching methods within your teaching statement. While keeping your diversity statement on one page, here are some questions to ponder that will hopefully help you get started.

How do I bring diversity?

Reflect for a moment on your past and your identity. Maybe you immigrated to this country? Maybe you were the first generation in your family to attend college? Maybe you were an adult learner in a setting of mostly “traditional” students?  Perhaps you want to share some identifier, including:  racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, etc.  It is not enough though to simply say that you will bring diversity because, “I am black,” or “I am gay.”  Effective diversity statements tend to avoid keeping it all about you and your identity. Be cognizant of addressing other groups as well and your status of being an ally for others.

On top of reflecting about yourself, you will also want to reflect on the school to which you are applying.  Think about the students at that school. Perhaps most students are first-generation or commuter students? Maybe the school has a large number of international students?  You will want to highlight that you have done research about the school’s population and address this in your statement.

What have I done to grow in diversity?

If you are having a hard time answering this question, it might mean you haven’t done enough…yet.  Here are some questions to help you reflect: Have you actively worked to engage with new groups of people through volunteer work? Have you participated in any trainings, workshops or classes, like OITE’s Workplace Dynamics, Diversity Workshop, or the NIH Academy? Have you read any books on diversity? The OITE Library has some that might be of interest, including: Clash! How to Thrive in a Multicultural World  and/or Far From the Tree.

Throughout your document or in a separate section, you will need to detail your experiential knowledge of diversity by highlighting your own personal experiences. At this point, you might be thinking “My experiences aren’t good enough to write about.” That is a common concern and you just have to work with what you have; after all, you can’t fabricate experiences. This however might also mean that you will need to prepare more and engage in making diversity a priority.

There are lots of online resources to help you write your diversity statement. A particular few to pay attention to include:

Remember that if you are at the NIH, the OITE has a variety of programs and services to help you along the way of your academic job search.


What Anchors Your Career? A Look at Work Motivations and Values

September 12, 2016

Image of a boat dropping anchor

In the world of career development, we often discuss the importance of assessing your skills, values, and interests. Today, we are going to focus primarily on career values because while it is such a priority, it is also an oft overlooked piece of the puzzle.

What are Career Values?
You can see general categorizations of career values at O*NET. Another site which compiled a list of career values is Monster.com, which you can access here.  They broke it down into intrinsic and extrinsic values. Here is a snapshot of some of the options:

Intrinsic Values
– Working for a cause I deem worthy
– Experiencing adventure/excitement
– Having an opportunity to be creative
– Engaging in very detailed work

Extrinsic Values

– Making a certain amount of money
– Being in a position of authority/power
– Working in an aesthetically pleasing environment
– Being recognized monetarily or otherwise for contributions


How Can You Identify Your Career Values and Motivations?
There are many ways to begin identifying your career values. It can often be helpful to discuss this with a career counselor or mentor who can work with you to prioritize your values. However, some people benefit from structured exercises/activities to help them create their list of career values. It is important to recognize that you will probably create a long list of things you “Always Value” in a career; however, in order to be realistic, you will need to truly assess what your top values include. Try not to choose more than 3-4 values as your top priorities.

One other way of thinking about career values comes from Edgar Shein who created an assessment about Motivation and Career Anchors. He described career anchors as the unique combination of perceived career competence, motives, and values.  He put forth eight core career anchors. See which one you would choose as your primary and then secondary career anchor.

Career Anchors

  1. Managerial
    This type’s primary concern is to integrate the efforts of others and to tie together different functions in an organization. They welcome the opportunity to make decisions, direct, influence, and coordinate the work of others.
  2. Technical Expertise
    This type prefers to specialize in their skill and they enjoy being challenged to exercise their talents and skills in their particular technical or functional area. They feel most successful when they are recognized as an expert.  They tend to dislike being moved into managerial positions.
  3. Autonomy/Independence
    This type dislikes being bound by rules, hours, dress codes, etc. They enjoy setting their own pace, schedule, lifestyle and work habits. They often dislike the organization and structure of a workplace and often end up working for themselves.
  4. Security/Stability
    This type seeks security and stability in their jobs. They look for long-term careers, geographic stability, and good job benefits. They dislike personal risk and often personally identify with their work organization which makes them reliable employees.
  5. Entrepreneurial/Creativity
    This type thrives on creating something new and/or different, whether a product or a service. They are willing to take risks without knowing the outcome. They enjoy work where success is closely linked to their own efforts as the creator.
  6. Service/Dedication to a Cause
    This type wants to undertake work which embodies values that are central to them (e.g. make the world a better place to live; help a cause; etc). They tend to be more oriented to the value of the work than to the actual talents or areas of competence involved.
  7. Pure Challenge
    This type likes solving, conquering, overcoming, winning. The process of winning is most central to them rather than a particular field or skill area.
  8. Life Style Integration
    This type’s primary concern is to make all major sectors of their life work together in an integrated whole. They don’t want to have to choose between family, career or self-development. They seek flexibility and strive for a well-balanced lifestyle.

In whatever way you choose to think about it – career values, career motivations, career anchors – these are ultimately the key factors that drive you when making your career decisions.  Remember too, that these can change depending on where you are in your life-span life-space, so you might need to reassess over time.


The Four Tendencies: Upholders, Obligers, Questioners, and Rebels

September 5, 2016

Image of Four Circles representing Four Tendencies: Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, and RebelGretchen Rubin is the author of Better Than Before, a book about creating and maintaining habits.  While writing this book, she created four categories of personality as a framework to help explain how individuals respond to both external and internal rules.

The Four Tendencies describe how people respond to expectations, including outer expectations (i.e. a deadline, a request from a friend) as well as inner expectations (i.e. starting that new diet, or keeping a New Year’s resolution). Your response to these expectations is what defines your type.

According to a blog post by Rubin on Psychology Today, she defined the Four Tendencies accordingly:

UPHOLDERS wake up and think, “What’s on the schedule and the to-do list for today?” They’re very motivated by execution, getting things accomplished. They really don’t like making mistakes, getting blamed, or failing to follow through (including doing so to themselves). They response readily to outer and inner expectations.

QUESTIONERS wake up and think, “What needs to get done today?” They’re very motivated by seeing good reasons for a particular course of action. They really don’t like spending time and effort on activities they don’t agree with. They will meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (often after asking a lot of questions about it) so they make everything an inner expectation.

REBELS wake up and think, “What do I want to do today?” They’re very motivated by a sense of freedom, of self-determination. (I used to think that Rebels were energizing by flouting rules, but I now I suspect that that’s a by-product of their desire to determine their own course of action. Though they do seem to enjoy flouting rules.) They really don’t like being told what to do. They resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

OBLIGERS wake up and think, “What must I do today?” They’re very motivated by accountability. They really don’t like being reprimanded or letting others down. They readily meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations they impose on themselves.

Curious to know what your type is? Well, you can take the quiz to find out at Rubin’s website here. Understanding your tendency can be important if you are trying to change a habit or find a new means of motivation that will be more productive for you. For example, an Obliger who is finding a hard time exercising on their own might need to set up a mechanism for external accountability, since they will respond better to that. It might be in that Obliger’s best interest to join a workout class or a running club.

This can also be an interesting framework to examine if you want to know how another person will consider and act upon a request or order from you. It can also help explain the behavior of others.  Perhaps you find yourself exasperated when a co-worker questions every action or decision. Perhaps they are a Questioner and that is their modus operandi.