Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Experiential Learning

At colleges and universities students are primarily exposed to academic learning. That is, they expand their knowledge through courses. In the United States, so much emphasis is placed on this type of learning that people often do not consider another important type of learning: experiential learning.

It doesn’t take any research to understand that experiential learning is learning based on experience. It occurs when an individual interacts with the surrounding environment, reflects about that interaction, and internalizes the meaning he or she takes from the situation. As this process requires an active learner, certain stipulations must be met by him/her. (1) The learner must be willing to be actively involved in the experience, (2) the learner must be able to reflect on the experience, (3) the learner must possess and use analytical skills to conceptualize the experience, and (4) the learner must possess decision making and problem solving skills in order to use the new ideas gained from experience (via Wikipedia).

The role of a college’s career development office is to promote experiential learning. In doing so, students can receive a dynamic education based on experience and academics. At Grinnell’s CDO, we emphasize the importance of internships for gaining experience. As consistent with the process described above, when students secure grinnellink internships or internship funding from the College, we ask that they not only keep a journal but also provide us with a reflection of their whole experience when they return to campus. As a result, students are encouraged to actively process their internship experiences. Hypothetically, students who come from Grinnell College will possess the skills necessary for the experiential learning process.

Why is experiential learning important? First of all, certain life truisms can only be learned through experience. For example, how can one learn proper conduct in an office environment without being exposed to it? Or, learning how to deal with unreasonable bosses or employees must derive from actual experience in which you were exposed to such people. This also applies to areas outside of the professional sphere including developing relationships (see what Freud and Kohlberg say about attachment), managing money, etc. Secondly, experiential learning can engage students in ways that other learning methods cannot. The process of experiential learning is predicated on creating an environment that the learner enjoys and will therefore be committed to learning from. Thus, experiential learning creates happy learners. Thirdly, experiential learning allows individuals to apply and to better understand concepts they learn through academics. In a way, it calls for the application of theory to practice. This is incredibly important at liberal arts colleges like Grinnell, where courses teach fluid skills, not crystallized knowledge.

In sum experiential learning is incredibly beneficial. All people engage in it at some point in their lives, but starting earlier is ideal. If you haven’t already, consider looking for an internship or some other opportunity for experiential learning. You will probably learn a lot from it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Social Media

It can be interesting to look at the ways in which the job market changes in response to societal “advances”. Arguably, the professional sphere is the fastest to change, as employers seek to quickly exploit these shifts for a competitive advantage. As a result, they begin to look for different skills in potential employees. The recent emphasis on social media skills and positions is the best current example of this. Ever since facebook, twitter, youtube, etc. the job market has exploded with demand for employees whose primary role is to navigate social media websites in order to promote their company of employment.

This article provides information about a handful of different social media jobs. If you’re thinking about social media as a possible career path or jumping off point, I implore you to check it out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Concerning Motivation

Motivation. Now that’s a loaded word. Everyone struggles with it at some point, often times at frequent intervals. Discovering or creating your motivation for a task is as important as conceptualizing an idea. It goes without saying that without sufficient motivation a goal is unattainable, regardless of how much thought went into its birth. Bear with me as I engage in a little bit of ‘philosophizing’ regarding this topic.

I envisage motivation manifesting itself in two forms: indirect and direct motivation. Direct motivation occurs when an individual completes a task for its own sake. He or she follows through with it only for the benefits of its completion. You might also call this internal motivation, for the task itself inspires effort. Indirect motivation, on the other hand, describes an individual being motivated not by the task, but by external factors that can result from its completion. For example, one would be indirectly motivated to succeed academically if they view their academics as a stepping stone toward future professional success. Conversely, one would be directly motivated if their quest for academic success was fueled by their love of learning. Obviously people can be simultaneously motivated both directly and indirectly.

Direct and indirect motivators play different roles at different parts of our lives. Arguably, direct motivation is ideal in your professional life. While it may be a platitude, it is indubitably true that happiness in a professional context is based largely on how sufficiently a job provides direct motivation. As the age old advice goes, aspire for a profession that makes you happy, one that you look forward to when you wake up in the morning. All good jobs should be able to provoke interest in employees not only for a salary, but also for providing engaging work; all good jobs should be direct motivators. I could go through a long list of reasons explaining why more jobs with direct motivators would be beneficial for society at large, but I’ll let someone else do that. This video is an animated portrayal of a speech delivered by Dan Pink, in which he explains why direct motivators are more effective than indirect ones.

While you cannot affect the job market or the availability of directly motivating jobs, you can begin to think about your preferences and personality. Knowing yourself and what you would be interested in doing is the first step to finding a job that will make you happy. You might want to check out the last post on this blog (concerning reflection) to find out how you might go about doing this.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Reflection Eternal

The ability to consistently reflect upon your own experiences is paramount in the process of developing your career. After all, career development is as much about knowing yourself as it is about knowing your trade. How can you decide on your ultimate profession without knowing what you want, what your strengths and weaknesses are, or who you are at your core? Furthermore, outside of career development, reflection is vital to your psychological health. Being your own enigma, while poetically captivating, leads to nihilism.

So how do you reflect? There are many ways to go about it and no single method is superior to others. All people are different and therefore each person may be partial to a certain method. I personally advocate more open forms of reflection, such as keeping a journal. First of all, writing down your feelings helps you to better express them. It allows you to deeply consider your thoughts for an extended period of time and attempt to vocalize them. Secondly, it helps you remember your thoughts. In writing down your experiences you are not only forever preserving them in a record, but you are better encoding them into your memory. Thirdly, regularly writing about one’s feelings has been shown to effectively relieve stress. If you are not partial to keeping a journal, then you can try going on walks by yourself. While you will not be recording your thoughts, the time alone may lead to new insights about yourself.

There are alternative methods if you would prefer a more structured way of reflecting. Zimmerman (2011) provides guidelines for introspection, albeit for more professional purposes. She outlines specific criteria to cover, including identifying unproductive behaviors, attitudes towards change, beliefs about self-efficacy, and strengths and weaknesses. The idea here is that in uncovering these characteristics about yourself, you can plan how to make changes and achieve specific goals in your professional life. Here is another guideline for reflection. This article emphasizes that there are four lenses of reflection: thinking back, forward, inward, and outward. These filters are most helpful if you are thinking about a specific topic or event.

In our busy lives it is difficult to make time to slow down and think. Yet, making that time is vitally important if we are to know ourselves and how to best approach the future. Even if you only have fifteen minutes to spare, on a consistent basis those fifteen minutes can go very far. It’s a small lifestyle change, but it can have large effects in the long run.

Zimmerman, J.A. 2011. “Principals preparing for change: the importance of reflection and professional learning.” American Secondary Education, 39(2), 107-114.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

“Why I Won’t Hire You” by Charlie Balmer

The other day I stumbled upon an interesting/relevant article. In it, an employer discusses the subtle mistakes that job applicants make that ultimately ruin their chances of being hired. I’ve never seen anything on the topic be so blunt and stringent, but his criteria seem like good guidelines to follow.

Check out the article here:


“Why I Won’t Hire You” by Charlie Balmer

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hitting Speedbumps and Updating Resumes

How do you act in the face of failure? That, of course, depends on your personality. Some of us become flustered and break down. Others are apathetic and just float on. We humans have also been known to blame other factors for our failures, whether or not it is justifiable. I am of the opinion that under normal circumstances, most individuals take full responsibility for their actions and resolve to do better next time (which makes me an optimist). Unfortunately, job searching really is a whole different ballgame.

When applying for jobs, applicants will focus their resumes on their past successes, ignoring experience that is considered not relevant or not successful. This makes sense—people want to present themselves in the best possible light because, to be a little melodramatic, their futures are actively being shaped by their resumes and the decisions that result from them. Yet, some research suggests that perhaps this is not the best way to go. In his widely read book Influence (2009), social psychologist Robert Cialdini provides a thought-provoking narrative example:

From a Former CEO of a Fortune 500 Company:

‘In a business school class I developed for aspiring CEOs, I teach the practice of acknowledging failure as a way to advance one’s career. One of my former students has taken the lesson to heart by making his role in a dot-com company failure a prominent part of his resume—detailing on paper what he learned from the experience. Before, he tried to bury the failure, which generated no real career success. Since, he has been selected for multiple prestigious positions (195).’”

While this may seem counterintuitive, Cialdini provides an explanation. According to the author, revealing a small shortcoming that is secondary to, and easily overcome by, significant positive aspects can cause an individual to be viewed more favorably (Cialdini 192-3). In doing so, one does not only present themselves as having positive character traits, but they effectively prove their reliability as a sort of authority on the subject at hand. This phenomenon can be explained in evolutionary terms. Humans have the propensity to obey an authoritative figure, which in the past proved incredibly useful for survival: if confronted with an emergency, a group of people (or what you would classify our ancestors from long ago) could organize more effectively if a single individual was directing them. In order to avoid the possibility of being taken advantage of by a single person, humans are also inherently skeptical about authority (the Jim Jones/People’s Temple incident is a notorious exception). But, if an individual can justify his position of authority, his or her authority status will be reinforced. The above narrative describes an example of this—mentioning your weaknesses portrays you as honest and retracts any doubts another person might have about your authority (or skills, in this case).

So, when you are taking a good look at your resume, you should think about breaking the traditional mold. Talking about your failures and your resulting growth may be the best aspect you can add to your resume.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Never Too Early

Last week, the Career Development Office hosted a Graduate & Professional School Fair. We had over 30 different programs represented; it was a beautiful day and great event. However, as students stood at the entrance of the JRC 101, I heard something that frightened me, “I’m only a third year student, can I still go look around?”In my mind, I thought, only a third year?! You’re on the cusp of graduation. Thus, my response was, “YES!” While there is nothing wrong with the question being asked, in that one question is an assumption that thinking about what you do after Grinnell should only start your senior year. Let me dispel that assumption!

Deciding to attend Grinnell College is your first career decision; then, what you do, learn, and reflect upon while at Grinnell are also steps within your career. You may not think of it like that, but a career is not a job and a job is not a career. A career is a culmination of your passions, strengths, and abilities. For example, maybe you want to make a career out of teaching or the arts or financial consulting. So, ask yourself, while at Grinnell, what are you doing to help yourself build your career? Are you involved in student organizations and making the most out of those experiences? Are you seeking information wherever available (e.g., strolling through the Grad Fair, attending event lectures, participating in class, taking advantage of the CDO and Academic Advising workshops, or simply asking questions to mentors and guests)? Are you taking time to reflect on your patterns, noticing what kinds of positions you gravitate toward and what skills and abilities you do and do not have?

In life, there are two kinds of people: those who survive and those who thrive. Laurie A. Schreiner (2010) discusses characteristics of thriving:

[Those who thrive] can be characterized as proactive and problem-focused, rather than reactive and avoidant. [They] take the initiative—they seek out information, take steps to ensure their success, reframe negative events so they see others’ perspectives or can find something to be learned from the experience, use humor effectively to cope, and are quick to accept the reality of their situation…[thus] they experience more positive emotions and a higher level of satisfaction with their lives—as well as greater levels of success. (p. 6)

In other words, those who thrive don’t necessarily have “it” all figured out. However, those who thrive do have an attitude of learning and initiative that they take with them daily. They see how information from various contexts and disciplines naturally integrate together and hold some purpose for them (sounds a lot like the purpose of a liberal arts education, huh?). You integrate knowledge in the classroom, so I implore you to do the same outside it as well. You will never hear me say that there is only one “right” way to go through life; each person has a unique style as to how they make choices that fit with their values. But, attitude does go a long way. So, whether you’re a first or a third year, when you pass by an opportunity to learn more about your own career development, ask yourself, are you a thriving or merely surviving?

Schreiner, L.A. (2010). The “Thriving Quotient”: A new vision for student success. About Campus, 15(2) 2-10.