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Career Center

Your Career Story: What to Say and When

Think about the best story you’ve ever heard. What were the components of it? Was it the introduction that got you interested? The center of the Tootsie Roll, where the story began to take shape? Or was it the end, when you finally saw what the author intended when setting out the share the story?

I think all the parts are the best. But then again I WOULD, because I have loved every single page (2,464 pages after three books, #nerdalert) of each of the Game of Thrones books I have read and I #cantstopwontstop until I am done with the whole series (And yes, I do know that the series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. Who’s the nerd, here, hmmmm?)

Back to telling your story… Since George R.R. Martin probably tells his editor “Too bad” when encouraged to shorten his stories, he isn’t a good guide for how you should talk about your career questions/plans/second guesses. As you consider the purpose for sharing your career plans, reflect on what it is you’d like to say to which audience. To put storytelling into an extended metaphor related to narrative, here is what you can share when telling…
1. The Twitter story—140 characters to talk about yourself at a career fair or in your LinkedIn summary
2. The short story—a few paragraphs when conducting an informational interview, networking or writing business correspondence (resumes and cover letters, for example)
3. The novella—for when you are interviewing

If you’re wondering how to prepare for ALL of these story-telling scenarios, take 10 minutes to review and answer the questions below. Think of ONE experience, such as an internship, a volunteer activity, an independent study, or a leadership position, and answer the questions with that single occurrence in mind.
Big Picture Questions
• What is the purpose of your particular story?
• What does this story look like, depending on who you’re telling it to and in what setting?
• What have you learned in this experience (i.e. your internship, the volunteering you’ve done, or through serving in your SLG)?
• Were the skills you learned the most critical part of the experience, particularly when you think of what you would take from that story at this point in your life?

Developing & Editing Questions
• What do you say within each version of that story?
• What are your chapter titles, the sections you want to highlight the most?
• In what settings are you demonstrating different parts of your character?
• What is the first line of your story? The last line?
• What is the sequence of events?
• Where’s the conflict? What challenges have you faced? What have you overcome?
• What is important to retain when you condense the story? What do you want to include when to expand your narrative?

When you’ve written out the answers to these questions, begin to shape language for each of the settings mentioned above. Remember that career counselors are here to help you practice what you’d like to say. Through rehearsal and editing, you’ll find the best parts of your story to share. There will be no dragons to get you down, because you will be ready as winter is coming. (Sorry I’m not sorry, I’ve been with HBO Go a LOT lately. The Rains of Castamere is a sad song.)

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Hi, I'm, um...HIRE ME!

[Gearing up for the Career Fair]

9:35: I'm eating breakfast and reading The Chronicle. Kind of. Pancakes at Penn are really hitting the spot, and consequently distracting me. 

9:36: Headed to the Career Fair today. Job. Career. The Future. Watcha gonna do with your life, Elizabeth? Nerves? Nah, it's just the rest of my life starting right now, in a gym that smells like sneakers, at a table, with a stranger who can only be so excited to work yet another career fair... Piece of cake! 

9:37: Advice I read in The Chronicle from the Career Center: Know what you want to get out of the fair. Right. Obvious. Hi, I'd like an internship-that-becomes-full-time-job, please. Preferably highly paid that allows me to eat local and organic. Got one? Great. See you this summer.

9:38 – Know what you want. Ok, seriously. What do I want?

[Walking to the Career Fair]

11:37: Also read in The Chronicle: The Career Center recommends having a 10-second shpeel that you can use to sell yourself. Hmm. Maybe I should have visited the career center for help? They keep saying they can help. But I didn't go, because…I dunno, just don't have a good reason.

11:38: Besides, I've got this. I know myself well. Right? I'm… I'm...

11:39 : “Hi, I'm Elizabeth and I am a current junior! [1s] I'm an Economics and Global Health major and, though I have interests and am passionate like most other Duke students, I, in all honestly, have no idea what I want to do for a career. [4s] ….Employ me!! [5s] ….[8s] ….[10s]”

11:40: Crap I should have gone to the Career Center.

[Arrived]

11:42 – I'm here. It's hot. Not like “fun! a dance club!” hot. Like the kind of hot where a bunch of people I've seen on campus wearing flip flops, shorts and t-shirts are now dressed to kill, and looking totally uncomfortable. And I can see the nerves. Lots of people... Jeez, lots of sweaty people.

Just be yourself. But not.

[Walking Around]

11:44 – Walking around now. That company looks interesting. I'll go over. Ready, set… GO.

11:45 – Wait. Stop. What the hell am I going to say? Hi, nice weather we're having. I'm Elizabeth… uggh.

11:46 – I'll just wing it. Bring it on, recruiters!!! Bring. It. On.

11: 55 – I'm in line waiting to speak to an employer. I'm listening in, getting geared up with my pitch. Ready to kill it. KILL IT.

11:56 -- Girl in front of me: “Hi, I'm [---]! Here's my resume. I'm really interested in consulting.”

11:57 – My turn. To repeat my unoriginal mantra: Bring. It. On. “Hi! ...Here's my resume, too. And I, too, am really interested in consulting.” Wow. I just said that? God my resume better be killer, because that was … well it sucked.

11:58 – At least my mom thinks I'm special.

[One Conversation]

11:59 – Ok, let’s try again with another one. Deep breath. This recruiter says: “You look different than a lot of our applicants.”

12:00 – What I want to say: Different in a good way? Or different in a you're-not-what-we're-looking-for kind of way? Can you expand on that? Should I be offended? Or maybe that's one of those test questions they ask to see how you'll react, like a recruiter psychology experiment. Maybe I should say, "you look different than a lot of our recruiters." But he doesn't.

12:00 – I throw him a curveball right back: “Are your arm-pits as sweaty as mine right now?”

12:00 – Just kidding. What I actually say (awkwardly): “Oh! Well I hope that means I can bring a new perspective to the firm.” Wow. Who talks like that? Me, apparently, ladies and gentleman. How in the world can I get to know about a company and tell them about me in two minutes. My future in two minutes.

12:02: Definitely going to the career center.

[Days Later]

Winston Churchill said “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I wonder if he ever went to a Career Fair feeling like his future was on the line. It wasn't, my future that is. But sometimes the pressure gets to you, and it just feels like it. Most of the people there looked like they felt the same way, or worse. (Particularly the sweaty ones.)

And though it might be a bit of an exaggeration to call my career fair experience a “failure,” Churchill's wisdom still applies. I think that success, at a career fair or in life in general, is about maintaining enthusiasm. It's about walking into every opportunity desiring to learn something from it, even if you don't know what that something is. It's about acknowledging that, sure, you might have a potential employer call you “different.” You might trip on your tongue when trying to explain what you're interested in. But that doesn't make the horizon of your post-Duke future any less bright.

Because despite all the pressure to “know” what they're interested in, no 21-year-old actually “knows." We're all just swimming around pretending to know, some of us better than others. And it's funny because every successful professional was, at one point, 20, 21, 22 years old; I doubt they knew much at that point either. So why do we feel all this pressure to have "it" together? I might not have a 10-second shpeel ready, but I do have my passion, my earnestness, my enthusiasm. And for this 21-year-old, for today at least, that feels like enough.

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Experience to dispel assumptions and find what is right for you

“He insists on wearing that Paisley blazer,” the producer announced.

“Oh brother!” the director lamented, understanding that it was just another issue he would have to deal with on the day of the production. “Well he can’t wear it. Let his daughter find a nice replacement for him and we’ll deal with it later.”
The conversation between the two managers went something like that as they tried to figure out how to negotiate with the talent, Earthquake, as he remained steadfast in his attire selection for the night’s performance. The problem wasn’t the pattern itself, it was rather how it would read on camera. No, there was no attempt on the Director’s part to stifle the creative expression of the talent in anyway. On the contrary, he claimed that whatever Earthquake wanted he would get. But the Director had a job too—ensuring the multicam shoot in the Carolina Theatre on Foster Street produced a beautiful image on screen.

Shadowing Director Marcus Raboy in his production for Earthquake’s stand-up on June 28 was very much like the above, navigating through competing ideas to create a cohesive show. When I entered as an intern much of the grease had already been put into it. The pre-production stage took place a few months in advance, where the venue was chosen, the performance times set, the marketing commenced and the general ambience conjured.  Thus as the director’s intern, my task was to follow Marcus around and observe how he managed it all. 
I wasn’t particularly sure what to expect, but I certainly mused that it would be the likes of an over-the-top Hollywood set with cameras at every corner, props and stage gear stationed to transport you to a different dimension, and of course yelling from a neurotic director. None of that was the case however.

The greatest portion of my experience was sitting in on logistic strategizing. Where are we gonna put his teleprompter? Can we lay down the floor to make it look this way? Let’s move the platform ahead so we don’t get the overhang in the shot. The action definitely occurred during the show when the interns, director, producers, and lighting designer were all in the production van surrounded by around 15 different screens displaying the performance on stage. Marcus was live cutting all the cameras, and managing the angles to create specific shots. He had to think on his feet to decide which camera to switch to and how wide the angle should be or whether he wanted to capture the audience laughter in the balcony or in the mezzanine.

As a director, Marcus was extremely professional and experienced. Being his intern allowed me to also find out more about him. He was extremely down to earth and yet decidedly staunch in his decisions of how the layout of the space would be, sequencing of cameras, numbering the equipment, and dealing with the talent’s requests. Even though he had directed on the likes of Friday After Next and the “Waka Waka” music video, he never seemed to carry any sort of hubris with him. He simply wanted to complete his job to his vision. He was very patient with interns and took time to talk to us about his life and how he got to where he was. But he also managed to cut any tension created by our disparate status by giving me a nickname, conversing about his interest in food, and playing tricks on his staff.
All in all, the experience opened my eyes and gave me perspective on what a lower-budget production would entail, while also dispelling assumptions and conceptions I originally had about working on set. I’m not sure if it is indicative of the whole industry, but I would certainly advise landing an opportunity out in the field and see whether it is the right fit for you.

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Make LinkedIn a Contact Sport: Reaching Out To Build Your Network Specifics on using LinkedIn

You’ve created a profile and you’ve made connections with those people in your immediate network. You know you can use LinkedIn to build your network. The only question left is, how?

The best way to find people on LinkedIn is to conduct an advanced search- click “Advanced” next to the search bar at the top of your LinkedIn homepage. This way, you can enter information pertinent to your interests- keywords for your industry, a specific company that you are considering, etc. You can enter “Duke University” under “School” to specifically search for alumni, and you can search by zip code as well if you have a geographical target for your search.

Take some time to scan through the people who come up in your search results. Where do they work? Have you heard of the company or organization? What does their career path look like?  Conducting an advanced search can be a great way to learn more about possibilities within your field of interest and widen your scope of opportunities that you are focused on.

As you’re reading through different profiles, let’s say you come across someone, Xi, who looks like an awesome potential contact. Xi’s job sounds super cool, she’s in a city that you like, and she even graduated from Duke. How can you get in touch with her?

First, determine how much of her profile you have access to and how you are connected. Can you see the groups she’s a part of? Is she a second-degree connection, and if so, who connects you? Is she a third degree connection, or further removed from your network?

LinkedIn gives us a number of ways to reach out to potential contacts. Let’s explore the options:

1. Shared group
Check out Xi’s groups. Do you share any groups? If not, does it make sense for you to join any of her groups based on your own interests and affiliations? If you share a group, you can go to that group's page, click on the number of members, and search for her name. When Xi comes up in the search results, you have the option to send her a direct message without actually connecting.

2. Second-degree with a strong mutual contact
Is Xi a second-degree connection? Perhaps you’d rather have your mutual contact help facilitate a more personal introduction. If so, you can reach out to your mutual contact via email (you should have access to his email addresses in the contact information bar under his picture) and ask if he can introduce you to Xi via email. Because people tend to check their email more often than their LinkedIn accounts, this option can be more efficient than #3.

3. Get introduced to a second- or third-degree connection
Similar to #2, LinkedIn has a “Get Introduced” function where you can ask your mutual first-degree connection to pass along a message to Xi. You can find the “Get Introduced” option by clicking on the arrow to the right of the "Send Inmail" button on the Xi’s profile. Using this feature, you can select your mutual contact and send him a message asking to be introduced to Xi. Be sure to include basic information about yourself and why you would like to connect with her in your message.

In order for your introduction to reach Xi, the contact facilitating the introduction must log in to their accounts and pass your message along. They may also write their own messages in addition to sending your message to their connection.

4. Connecting directly
Instead of sending a message or contacting Xi through a mutual connection, you also have the option of connecting with her directly. If you choose to send a connection request to Xi, be sure that you write a personalized message explaining why you are seeking to connect. While some people are open to connecting with people they don’t know on social media such as LinkedIn, others approach this more cautiously.

Remember, when you are reaching out to Xi, your goal is to build a relationship and have a conversation, NOT to ask for an internship or job. Your message should be concise and should include brief information about yourself, why you’re reaching out, and the next step for getting in touch. Ideally, this is the first step towards a conversation, or informational interview, where you can connect more directly with Xi to ask about what she does, how she got there, advice that she may have for you, etc.

By using LinkedIn to reach out to people, you have the opportunity to increase your network quickly and exponentially while learning about opportunities and paths related to your interests!

For questions about how to use LinkedIn as an effective networking tool, be sure to visit the Career Center during Drop-in Advising or by setting up an appointment by calling our office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 919-660-1050.  Additionally, see the Career Center’s guide for informational interviewing to get more tips.

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Is Your LinkedIn Profile Ready for Networking?

You made a LinkedIn profile, but now what? Are you ready for networking?

Take these steps to be sure that your profile is strong, professional, and represents you well to prospective employers, network connections, and others in your field!

1. Do you have a professional photo?
LinkedIn is not a place for selfies and party pictures with your friend cropped out. Make sure your LinkedIn picture is a picture of just you and is appropriate for a professional setting. It’s a good idea to ask a staff member, a faculty member, or an honest friend whether your picture is a suitable professional representation of you!

2. Do you have a strong heading?
When you appear in search results, your heading is the first thing that appears under your name. “Student at Duke University” might be seem like the easy way out, but it doesn’t set you apart from thousands of others who fit that same descriptor. Instead, consider listing a leadership position, or an internship position title for your heading. Better yet, create a 6-word professional story to use as a creative and personalize descriptor.

3. Have you customized your URL?
If you have a strong LinkedIn profile, you can share the URL on social media, in your email signature, and even on your resume. You can edit your URL by pushing the profile “edit” button, and then editing the URL link found right under your picture.

4. What’s your summary?
Students often overlook the summary text box, but this is the opportunity to tell your unique story in a way that highlights what’s important to you. Telling a story that sets you apart, articulating your strengths or skills, and communicating your goals are all appropriate ways to use this section effectively. Still not sure what to write? Check out others’ profiles for ideas!

5. Are you sharing media?
Do you have a picture of your engineering project or a PowerPoint of a great presentation that you gave? The LinkedIn platform allows you to share multimedia that documents your work and your skills, making your profile more visually appealing and interactive than a printed resume could ever be.

6. Who’s in your network?
LinkedIn is most effective if you are using it for its powerful networking capability! Connect with people you’ve worked with in the past, your friends, family members, classmates, professors, staff, people you meet at conferences, etc. etc. Joining groups is a great way to quickly build your network as well. Be sure to check out the Duke University Alumni Network group, other Duke-affiliated groups, as well as those relevant to your professional interests to start!

7. Post relevant content!
To increase your level of activity and interaction with connections, post articles, blog entries, and other resources relevant to your fields and interests. Sharing information and content will inspire discussion and will help you to remain well connected and visible to your network.

Be sure to check out LinkedIn’s page for students to learn more about using maximizing the site’s student-oriented features and entry-level job boards.

For questions about how to make your LinkedIn profile stronger or learning how to use it as an effective networking tool, be sure to visit the Career Center during drop-in advising or by setting up an appointment by calling our office at 919-660.1050.

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Integration Engineer at Epic

Q & A with Chelsea Wezensky ’14, Integration Engineer at Epic

Your hometown: Livonia, MI
Your graduation date: May 2014
Your major (and any minors + certificates): Computer Science B.A., Russian Language & Culture minor, Markets and Management Certificate
Your current job (title, employer, city, state): EDI/Integration Engineer, Epic, Madison, WI

Did you know what you wanted to do going into your senior year?
Did I know what I was going to major in when I entered Duke? Nope. Was I certain of my major when I declared it? Not really. Did I have any idea what to do with my Computer Science degree once it was declared? Not a clue.

The search for internships wasn’t nearly as daunting. An internship lasts a predetermined, limited period of time, while Duke waits patiently for my return. If the internship was amazing, great; If it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, no harm done, since I was in no way bound to it.

A job, on the other hand, is the start of the rest of your life, and this end date isn’t for more than forty years.

When I arrived at Duke, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I took it for granted that I would find my passion. Isn’t that what everyone says? That college is a time to explore things and find yourself? That must mean that when I exited Duke, I would know myself and my passions, right?

Yet, as I entered my senior year, I realized that I did not magically know exactly it was that I wanted with my life. I quickly realized that I had no idea at all.

If not, how did you figure it out?
It was a huge wake-up call, realizing that I was entering my senior year without a sense of direction. I immediately scheduled a Career Center appointment, and compiled a list of all of my questions and concerns.

It was quite a long list.

I met with Katie, one of the career counselors, and she helped me through all of my concerns, during that first meeting and throughout the rest of the semester. During our meetings, she equipped me with the tools to narrow my job search and start to determine where my interests and strengths actually lay. I also used DukeConnect to reach out to a Duke alum whose degree and background seemed to align with my interests. These avenues allowed me to gain a better understanding of technical careers and how I fit in with it, and more importantly, that no matter what my first step was, I was not bound to it for the entirety of my career.

What was the most challenging part of your job search?
In truth, the hardest part of the entire job search was just starting. Once I actually determined what my elevator speech was and how to update my resume, searching for jobs became easier and I was able to build momentum. Career fair? No problem! Interviews? Yes, I can speak about my experiences!

What was the best part of your job search?
The best part of my job search was definitely receiving my job offer. At that point, I had interviewed at enough places to know what I was looking for in an employer, and how to identify when a company wasn’t a good fit. When I went to my on-campus interview at Epic, it finally felt right, and I was excited at the possibilities that it provided. The culmination of this entire process was easily one of the best parts of my entire senior year. A new job is always exciting, being able to confidently commit to my next step was all the more important given how lost I was at the beginning of the semester.

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ROSS WADE INTRO BLOG POST

Greetings Duke community,

I’m Ross Wade, a new assistant director at the Career Center; my portfolio area is media, arts and entertainment, and I’m so excited to join such an excellent team of career professionals!

I’m a Bull City native, and I love all things Durham!  Prior to becoming a career counselor I lived in Chicago, New York City, and Raleigh where I worked in a variety of media industries including documentary, television, digital media, and strategic communications. You may have seen me on Law and Order…okay, probably not…I was just a production assistant asked to step in as “atmosphere” (an extra) for a single episode (I played a hobo)…but I rocked it!

For more information about my professional background, check me out on LinkedIn. When I’m not working with students, I enjoy documenting Durham via Instagram and writing/blogging on career development issues for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) blog and for my personal blog. Did I mention I’m a social media geek?


(Downtown Durham – Ross Wade)

I thought I’d share with all of you some of my favorite art/media/nerd-out!/career-related resources (blogs, videos, etc.), so y’all can get a better idea of my career counseling philosophy and point of view  - maybe some of you will enjoy and/or find meaning in these resources as well.

#1 – Ira Glass on storytelling. This is a short, two-minute, video of Ira Glass discussing the process of beginning a creative career (or anything creative). It is inspiring and reminds us that it takes time and persistence to grow a skill. Check out the video here.

#2 – Brain Pickings Blog. This is my favorite blog. If you are unfamiliar with this blog and Maria Popova you are in for a treat! Popova describes her blog as “a cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, and more; pieces that enrich your mental pool of resources and empower combinatorial ideas that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful.” Check it out here.

#3 – Everything is a Remix. Kirby Ferguson’s website is fantastic with a video series on how life and innovation is nothing but a series of remixes. The remix formula? Copy + transform + combine. I love this idea because it reflects the importance of a liberal arts education and learning through experience (like internships!). Learn (college), then practice (experiential learning), then create and innovate (make your mark on the world!). Check out Ferguson’s website here.

#4 – 99U. Based on Thomas Edison’s quote, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” 99U posts content to provide the “missing curriculum” to make ideas happen. Interested in career issues, innovation, achievement, and dealing with failure, along with a gazillion other interesting topics? Check out this killer website.

As you can probably tell, I’m big on interdisciplinary learning - just like Duke University (e.g. Duke STEAM Challenge, Bass Connections).

My favorite career advice? I read it on Brain Pickings; Hunter S. Thompson’s thoughts on purpose and living a meaningful life “…look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.”

I’m looking forward to seeing you at various Duke arts/media/entertainment activities, AND at the Career Center. To schedule an appointment with me, or any of the other career counselors, call the Career Center front desk at 919-660-1050.

Tags: careercenter,arts,entertainment,careeradvisor,duke,durham,media,sports,international,

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Going from internship ambiguity to internship OPPORTUNITY!

My first internship was incredible. It didn’t start out that way, but I was able to turn it around. Here’s the thing. I like structure…okay…I love structure. My first internship? Zero structure. I was interning at a small documentary production company in New York City, working with an award winning filmmaker – she was a genius, and needed assistance, but wasn’t quite sure what to do with me. So the first couple of weeks I did a lot of grunt work. Getting coffee, organizing computer files, answering an email now and then…it was a snooze-fest, and I was getting frustrated because I didn’t feel like I was learning anything. I also worried that I was frustrating my supervisor because I wasn’t meeting her needs. It was total intern ambiguity, and I didn’t like it at all. But, like I said, I was able to turn it around – here’s how I did it.

Look, listen, and learn. – The first glimmer of hope came when I started observing what was going on in the office—noticing challenges that continually popped up and were discussed. I noticed my supervisor was running around Manhattan most of the day picking up equipment and completing errands, while her email inbox grew at an astonishing rate. On several occasions I overheard conversations that more grant money was needed to complete the projects that were currently in production.  I also noticed communication challenges between the associate producer and the crew regarding call times and locations. All of these challenges meant opportunity for me as an intern.

Create solutions. – It’s easy to find problems; the hard part is finding solutions. I knew that if I could help solve some of the challenges my supervisor was having, I’d be an intern superstar, so I created a list of the challenges I noticed with my proposed solutions and scheduled a meeting with my supervisor to discuss them.

My solution to the wasted time my supervisor spent on the road running errands? I asked her if I could do them for her—that way she could stay in the office, answer important emails, and make calls to possible funders. I wanted to learn the city better anyway and make some connections with production equipment rental companies, so it was great solution for both of us. 

The grant money issue? I went into grant research mode, and created a list of high potential grant funding opportunities along with deadlines and application requirements. This was such a wonderful learning experience for me as I learned how most documentaries are funded, the best resources to use and how to prepare grant proposals.

The communication issue between the associate producer and crew? I created and utilized a password-protected web calendar for everyone to access and edit as needed. This solution worked much better than making separate calls multiple times a day—we could access the calendar, in “real time,” any time of day to get the information we needed. The associate producer was so impressed she called a couple of her colleagues and connected me to some freelance production assistant gigs throughout the summer (more great experience and some extra money!).

By paying attention, understanding critical challenges, and creating solutions (skills employers highly seek) I was able to create a structured and meaningful internship experience. At the end of my internship I was offered a full-time job and was told I was the best intern she ever had. 

For more tips on internship success, check out the Career Center Internship Guide.

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Career Development, the U.S. Job Search, and International Students

CHALLENGE: Lack of understanding the U.S. job search.

I see it over and over again. Students from across the globe begin their U.S. college experience thinking that the job-search process will be just like it is in their home country. Most of the time that process is something like: make great grades, study hard for the final test, and the higher your test score (and grades), the better job you get. And the employers will come to you! It is all about grades, and working toward being top of your class. There is little to no focus on networking or getting hands-on experience (though many of my Chinese students acquire a one month “internship,” which is more like an observational externship experience). Many international students have no idea about the U.S. job search, and that it is focused more on professional experience and relationships than grades.

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Be brave, be persistent and be myself: Walking on the road to my dream career

As a person who wants to study policy related to mental health and make a change back in China, I felt that I needed some advice on my career development from experts. This led me to the Duke Career Center where I met Paul Miceli.
I came from mainland China, and I received my M.A. degree in Economics in Fall 2012. After years of being a full-time student and planning to pursue a Ph.D. in public health, I preferred to take a gap year to explore my real interests while also preparing for my Ph.D. application. 

I joked with Paul that I was on a road less traveled because I was not interested in finding a full-time job but, instead, collaborating with faculty members to do research on mental health. This is particularly challenging for a student whose background is economics! I made appointments with Paul about once a week for almost three months, and we carefully discussed all my options and strategies.

At the beginning, Paul and I worked on looking for a lab with a focus on mental illnesses. I found out that I would need many of the same skills as someone looking for a full-time job or internship. Sometimes you really need to be brave in order to network with people and ask for informational interviews. I contacted my psychology professors and asked for information about their colleagues who are interested in the study of serious mental illness. I read professors’ websites, emailed them, and luckily received many responses. I went to their offices with my questions and research interests. I participated in conferences and I even found out that one professor randomly sitting next to me had similar research interests. I asked him for his contact information and followed up afterwards. Many times I felt nervous and even shaky before I walked into an office and handed out my resume and answered the question, “Why is a Master of Economics interested in mental health issues?” Through those conversations though, I developed a better understanding of the field I really wanted to make a difference in.

Along the way I’ve found that it is very important to have an advisor to be accountable to, and this is especially true for me because I had a big plan but no idea how to prioritize my actions. I tracked all my actions with a spreadsheet and asked for suggestions from Paul. Paul is very insightful and always straightforwardly pointed out the naïve points of my plan, but was also always encouraging.

Life is just like a puzzle game. You need to get many pieces and put them together, and surprisingly I’ve found my beautiful picture. That is, my desired destination. The most important thing is to be brave - do not be shy! A professor at Duke told me not everyone is clear about their dreams, so if they know a person who finds their dream and has passion for it, others usually are happy to help that person chase his or her dream. I have found my dream, and I know that many people are eager to help me achieve it.

Over the past year, extensive networking and perseverance has led to a coauthored academic article, a research position in the Department of Psychiatry, and many useful connections and relationships. I’ve also become the founder of an organization committed to helping depressed persons in mainland China. The skills and tools that I’ve utilized over the past year have been invaluable to getting me where I am today, and I know that I’ll continue using them throughout my career journey, wherever that may lead me.

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