Tag Archives: career advice

Personal Branding Lessons from Taylor Swift

I remember the first time I heard Taylor Swift’s first hit, “Tim McGraw.”  It was almost summertime and I was going through a breakup myself, so the lyrics were especially poignant. Back then, Taylor had long, curly hair and wore cowboy boots exclusively. Since then, Taylor’s style has changed in many ways and so has her personal brand.

Taylor as a Country Princess

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In 2007, Taylor Swift exploded into the country music world. With songs that name checked country music stars like Tim McGraw, it seemed as though she was destined to become the next female country star. From the beginning, however, her style veered a little more towards a fusion of country and pop. In rapid succession, “Tim McGraw” and her next hit, “Teardrops on My Guitar” were remixed to be more pop friendly and were in regular rotation on country and pop stations.

What does this teach us? Figure out what makes you unique–then use it.

How many of us have preconceived notions of what a lawyer looks like, how an artist should dress or how accountants act? Taylor is an example of an unconventional young female artist and an unconventional country (or pop) star. Many young female stars who come up in show business go in one of two directions: rejecting or rebelling against everything that made them popular as a child/teen actress to illustrate that they’ve grown or proclaiming their innocence (read: virginity) a la an early Britney Spears.

Which leads to lesson 2: Evolve your brand slowly.

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If you listen to Taylor’s Album “Fearless,” specifically songs like the title track, you can see hints of what was to come with her next album, “Speak Now” (in particular, the song “Sparks Fly”).  From songs on her 2012 album, “Red,” such as “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “22,” you can see the beginnings of her newer songs like “Shake It Off.”  Some people decide to do a complete 180 to change their image–they go from uber professional to bohemian artist or sweats wearing college student to conservative button downs. This can be a jolt for the people–your colleagues, friends, supervisors, etc.–who have grown accustomed to who you are (your brand or image) and can come off as being insincere.  Allow your personal brand to grow and evolve like you do–organically.

But–Have a Plan in Mind.

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I’m not naive enough to think that Taylor Swift’s newer image–from her fashion choices (straight hair! heels!) to her latest album–aren’t in some way calculated.  It’s important to have goals in mind and retool your brand in ways that feel authentic to you and are in line with your goals. So you want to be a manager? That doesn’t mean you start bossing around your co-workers. Instead, begin adding more managerial type clothing to your wardrobe (if you’re insure how, check out what the heads of your department wear) and begin taking on projects that require a higher level of responsibility.  Very few people can go from undergrad to CEO overnight. Always make sure that your image, or personal brand, is in line with who you are–and who you want to be.

And remember:

This–

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didn’t become this–

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overnight.

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What Kind of Life Do YOU Want?

When choosing a career, most people consider these things: What they’re passionate about, how much money they’ll make, and what they’re good at. These are great starting points, but they are not the end of the career exploration journey. The following questions will help you determine not only what you’re good at or will get paid for, but what kind of LIFE you want.

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Questions to Consider When Choosing a Career:

  1. Where do you want to live?
    1. Close to family? In a rural setting? Somewhere international? Determining where you want to work geographically will help you determine what kind of work you want to do.
  2. What kind of people do you want to work with?
    1. Laid back? Introverted? Type A? People who joke around? People who take their work very, very seriously?
  3. What kind of supervisor do you want?
    1. Do you want a supervisor who doesn’t mind when you take a couple of hours for doctors’ appointments or your kid’s recital? Do you want a supervisor who is quick to praise? Do you want a supervisor who gives you honest feedback? A director who is very clear about expectations?
  4. What do the hiring trends for the careers you’re considering look like?
    1. Considering a PhD in 1840s British literature? Great. Will you have a job once you get that doctorate? Maybe not…
    2. Know how fast the jobs you’re considering are growing and what the education requirements will be in the future.
  5. People, things, or ideas?
    1. Meaning, do you want to help people? Come up with new ways to do things? Work with your hands or use machinery?
  6. What DO you want to do all day?
    1. Do you want to be behind a desk? Working outdoors? Networking with lots of people? Do you want a job that ends a 5pm?
  7. What do you really freaking like to do?
    1. Confession: I really like to sing. I have fun singing with my friends or just in the car by myself. Problem is, I’m not so great at it AND I don’t have the passion to devote to a singing career. We often think that, just because we like to do something, or just because we do something well, means that we should turn it into a career.  Hobbies are great—they provide a wonderful break from your 9-5 job. So maybe I’ll never be a famous rock star—I’ll always have my car radio…
  8. What are you really freaking good at?
    1. Like I said, I like to sing. Sadly, I’m pretty certain no one will ever pay me for it. Why? Because I’m no Christina Aguilera.  You can really love anything: soccer, psychiatry, mechanical engineering, but if you don’t have the talent for it, you should probably consider another career path.
    2. Speaking in public? Taking care of children? Conducting chemistry experiments? Racing motocross bikes?
  9. What kind of life do you want during the workday?
    1. Do you want to be outside most of the day? Are you perfectly happy sitting in front of a computer all morning? Do you want to attend daily meetings? Do physical work? Have close friendships with your colleagues? Never come out of your cubicle?
  10. What kind of life do you want, period?
    1. Do you want a big house, expensive vacations, and financial security? It’ll probably require working 80-90 hours a week as an investment banker or a surgical intern? If you don’t mind, then you may have found a great career path. Do you want 4 kids and plenty of time to take them to Little Gym? Perhaps you should find a company or career that provides more work/life balance. Are you a night owl who’d prefer to work 3rd shift? It’s important to understand yourself, your needs, and the needs of those you love when considering a new job or a career path.

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10 Life Lessons for 20-Somethings

10. Know that there is NO magic number.

Like most people, I thought of 30 as pretty grown up (read: old) when I was a kid.  After all, my mom was 30 when I was like 12 and she seemed pretty darn grown up to me.  I’ve since learned, however, that there is no magic number or event or epiphany that suddenly turns one from a normal (sometimes immature, not always right) human being into a GROWN UP.  I’m still afraid of scary movies sometimes and I never turn down playing at the park with my nephews and nieces–things my ten year old self didn’t think grown up 30 year olds would do.  We all seem to grow up and mature at our own speed (and some of us never do!) so it’s a little naive to think that a graduation, a job, a baby, an age, or anything else will make us a grown up overnight.  It’s a process and we have to be okay with that.

9. Don’t compare yourself to others.

In the same vein, don’t compare your journey to someone else’s.  Maybe in your mind, someone your age should have a house, a career, a child, a sports car, or a stamped up passport.  So? I guarantee you, everyone your age does not have any of these things–and some of them don’t even want these things.  In our current Facebook/Twitter/Instagram inundated world, it can be difficult to not compare ourselves to our 400 or so “friends” who seem to constantly be on trips or getting promotions.  I started college at 22 and didn’t finish my Masters until I was 28.  I graduated and began my job search with classmates who were 23 and it was a little daunting at times.  But I know that I learned so much during my twenties–through mistakes, second chances, taking risks–and I wouldn’t trade those things for a Masters at 23.

8. Know what you’re working towards.

We work so hard to find a job and make money, and often, we have this sort of vague idea of what we want to accomplish by having a steady income.  But on days when you’re feeling a little burned out or annoyed by some work policy, it will be important to remember exactly what you’re working towards.  Maybe for you, it’s a house to live in with your partner, a baby by 32, or early retirement so you can travel the world.  Knowing what you want outside of the office can make the world of work much more enjoyable.

7. Figure out your priorities.

It’s funny–at twenty, it can be easy to blow off class or be distracted during a test because you’re thinking about a crush, a breakup, or a great first date.  At 30, it can be just as easy to come home to your partner late everyday for a week because you’re so engrossed in work.  Life will always be about balancing your needs and goals with the needs and goals of those around you–especially those you care about.  The ending of a three month relationship at 21 can seem devastating, but man, there are more important things–like that math test.

6. Figure out why you work.

For money.  That’s the most obvious answer, right? Personally, I understood at an early age that getting an education and a job I cared about would mean freedom for me.  Freedom to do the things I enjoy.  Freedom to make decisions based on my happiness and not because I’m struggling financially.  Free to be with someone, not because I’m dependent upon them financially but because I love them.

Why do you work?

5. Learn where to get the help you need.

Whether it’s financial, career, or relationship counseling, find resources and use them.  Figure out which supermarket offers the best value for your money.  Figure out which mentor to go to with an issue.  Figure out an alternate route to and from work in case a random tornado comes (hey, it happens–trust me).

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4. Don’t be afraid to learn new things.

Last year, I knew very little about social media marketing or website design.  But I really wanted to start this blog–so I figured it out.  I’m not super technical, but I know that I have to be willing to learn new things to continue growing.

3. Learn the art of patience.

There were times in my twenties when I felt like college would never end.  Working for minimum wage would never end.  Bad dates would never, EVER end.  But, you know, they did.  They ended sooner than I thought and taught me more than I’d planned.  So be thankful for the times that feel like they’re never ending-maybe they’re leading to something else entirely.

2. Don’t feel guilty for your success.

It can be hard to feel happy or proud of our accomplishments when other people we know are hurting or in a bad place.  But remember, you earned this.  You worked hard, you set goals, you figured out your priorities, and you were patient.  Everyone has moments of greatness–celebrate yours.

1. Know that this list might just be a bunch of crap.

Steve Jobs once said something along the lines of, “This thing we call life–these rules and ways of being that we think we have to adhere to–were made up by human beings just like us.  So don’t live someone else’s idea of life–go live your own.”

These were my lessons and I am happy to have shared them.  Now, stop reading my little list and go live your life.  :)

 

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How Social Media Can Advance Your Career

Job seekers are often told to safeguard their social media accounts to insure that they aren’t viewed during the job search.  While this can be wise advice, there is another side to the story:

Using social media to ADVANCE your job search (and your career).

With the majority of professionals (and people in general) on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. these days, being “unsearchable” via social media may be more trouble than it is worth.  When I can’t find someone through social media, I sometimes wonder why–are they making all accounts super private because of something inappropriate? What’s going on?

While it is a great idea to “clean up” your Facebook or Twitter accounts so that potential employers don’t get a negative impression, you can also use social media to your advantage.  I use my Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts to post (publicly–so that “everyone” can see) any major accomplishments, such as receiving a promotion or presenting at a conference.  I also post information about events that my office organizes or articles relevant to my field.

I work in a field that offers great work/life balance but also a good integration of professional and personal life.  Many of my colleagues are Facebook “friends” so I post appropriate personal information as well, like recently buying a home, becoming engaged last year, and birthdays of my nephews and nieces.

I’ve had many Proactive Professional readers find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.  I’ve also received emails from professionals who Googled me and found my website and Facebook page.  When this occurs, I am grateful that my public Facebook reflects positive things in my life, an interest in my field, and the work I’m doing in career counseling.

Consider going beyond protecting your Facebook from colleagues, supervisors, or potential employers.  Instead, use social media to your advantage by creating a “brand” for yourself online.  Using social media proactively may convince potential employers or current supervisors that you’d be a great fit within their company–or are ready for a promotion.

Make sure that how you're viewed on social media is in alignment with who you are and how you want others to see you.

Make sure that how you’re viewed on social media is in alignment with who you are and how you want others to see you.

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What to do When Your Partner is More Successful Than You

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a pretty big fan of the TV show Scandal.  Now, I know Fitz and Olivia have legions of fans, but my favorite character has always been Fitz’s wife, Mellie.  Mellie is a highly educated woman–she was at the top of her law school class and well on her way to making partner in a law firm when she put her career on hold to help make her husband president.  The feelings of resentment, pride, and being taken for granted that Mellie has have sometimes been a focal point of the show.  It is often intimated that Mellie is much smarter and more motivated than her husband and could have perhaps been president herself in a different time or place. 

Hopefully, your partnership isn’t rife with political scandals, adultery, and old fashioned resentment, but perhaps you’ve felt at times that your career has taken a back seat to your partner’s.  What is the answer to an issue like this? Push yourself harder in your own career? Get a divorce? Have an affair with the vice presidential candidate (that was Mellie’s solution, by the way)? Well, I’m here to offer a few solutions that don’t involve (no pun intended…okay, pun intended) scandals.

1. Recognize the unique talents you possess.

Maybe your partner is a wonderful attorney or an excellent engineer.  That’s great, but perhaps you really excel at public speaking, mentoring colleagues, or performing mathematical equations.  Understanding what YOU do well will help to alleviate feelings of inadequacy that may develop when discussing your partner’s accomplishments.

2. Never stop encouraging your partner.

It takes two people to make a partnership and both of you bring your own unique skills, talents, and personality to the partnership.  You fell in love and committed to your partner for a reason–I bet some of that has to do with their professional strengths.  Never stop encouraging them to continue on in their career path.

3. Ask yourself if your career is where you want it to be.

Perhaps you’re having feelings of inadequacy because you are envious of your partner’s professional life.  Take some time to consider whether or not you’re happy and fulfilled in your own work.  If not, figure out what will make it better–do you need to get another degree, transfer departments, learn to supervise or do your work in a different way? Instead of focusing on what isn’t going right, figure out how to make it better.

My greatest hope for Mellie is that she’ll eventually utilize her many strengths to rebuild her own career.  It seems that, in the beginning at least, she willfully put her own professional life on hold to help her husband become our (fictional) president.  That’s lead to feelings of resentment in their marriage and decreased self esteem for her.  If you’re feeling this way, realize that you and your partner have separate careers–your two different people with different professional values and interests, so comparing your career to theirs is like figuring out whether Grey’s Anatomy is better than Scandal.  They’re too different to even try and measure.

#Team Mellie Image

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Once Upon a Timesheet…

Over the holidays, my fiance and I began watching ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.”  We’ve only made it into a few episodes of Season 2, but the main premise of the show is that all of the citizens of this modern day town are actually fairy tale characters who have been cursed and have forgotten who they really are.  Of course, I related it to career stuff– I recently began a new position as a career counselor at my grad school alma mater and have been thinking a lot about what kind of career person I am–and what kind I want to be.  As we watched “Once Upon a Time,” I thought of who the characters are right now and how they’re working to figure out who they’re meant to be.  Here are some brief descriptions of the characters–which one(s) describes you as a professional?

Snow White: Snow would’ve probably spent her whole life as a relatively placid person if the Evil Queen didn’t constantly try to take everything from her.  In terms of careers, I’d probably dub Snow White a “reactive professional.” She’s not here to make waves, but if provoked, she’ll do what’s necessary to protect the people and things she loves.

Little Red Riding Hood: Red, as she’s more commonly known on the show, has an odd little quirk: during full moons, she turns into a wolf.  Initially, Red saw this as a weakness.  She did everything possible to bury the wolf inside of her (so to speak) and to keep her true nature a secret.  As the show goes on, we see Red embracing what she once thought of as a weakness and using it to help others.

The Dwarfs: The dwarfs work all day in the mines, a task they were literally created to do.  They’re not trying to change the world; instead, they understand that their work fulfills a need and are content with this.

The Evil Queen: The Queen would probably consider herself a misunderstood individual–she didn’t set out to hurt anyone in the beginning, but was wrapped up in blaming others for what has went wrong in her life, and eventually became evil.  The Evil Queen considers herself a victim of other people and of circumstances, so she works to take down or control everyone around her.

Rumpelstiltskin: Everything Rumpel does or orchestrates is to achieve one goal.  He is so focused on achieving his goal that he does not care who he hurts or what pieces of himself he loses in the process.

Emma Swan: Emma, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, has run away her entire life, never becoming too involved with anyone or any cause.  However, she is the only person who can break the curse.  She sees what is wrong and what needs to be fixed and is willing to fight to make things better for everyone.

During our careers, we will probably play all of these roles.  We believe we’ve been wronged by someone or something and forget our own role within the situation.  We don’t want to really commit to a career path until we find something we can’t walk away from.  We become too focused on achieving something and stop considering how it impacts those around us.  We feel guilty for not being brain surgeons, forgetting that hospitals need nurses and custodians and x-ray technicians to keep everything going, too.  I think that the most important thing we can do is figure out who we are and embrace it–embrace what makes us different, acknowledge our mistakes, understand who we want to become professionally.

Here’s the funny thing about fairy tale characters–they’re often painted as either the hero or the villain with no room for shades of gray.  I’ve definitely had bosses and co-workers who seemed more Evil Queen than Cinderella.  But my “Evil Queen” might be someone else’s mentor.  I’ve worked with students who have told me that I’ve changed their life (or at least their career)–definitely an Emma moment.  And I’ve had students who have looked at me blankly and I was certain I didn’t help at all–so perhaps I was Dopey to them? The most important thing is to figure out what role you want to play in your career and your life–even if you never achieve happily ever after with your goals, there’s always tomorrow…

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Listen to Your Instincts to Create the Life You Want

There are many people who don’t believe in instinct, gut feelings, whatever you want to call it.  But I’m not one of them and I don’t understand their logic, so this post is for the people who do believe in following their instincts.  When I’m working with students and they’re struggling with whether or not to change their major, I pull up a few of the majors in which they’re interested.  We go through the required and elective classes for that major.  At some point during this exercise, students say something along the lines of “Oh my God, these classes sound like deathhhhh!” or “Wow, this major offers really cool classes!”  It’s my not always foolproof way of helping them figure out their interests without ever having taken a class.

Why? Because I think you know yourself better than I do.  You know, instinctively, what gets you excited, makes you feel fulfilled, fills you with dread.  Sometimes a class, or classes, look like an interesting possibility but then you take the class and realize it’s not quite up your alley.  Being able to articulate why you don’t like the things, people, subjects, that you don’t like is just as important as understanding what you do like.  So, maybe psychology wasn’t the right fit, but you still like the general concept–sociology could be your right major.

And sometimes your instincts just make no damn sense.  I love reading–always have.  So when an opportunity to intern at a publishing house came up during my junior year of college, I took it.  What could be better for a book lover than to edit manuscripts all day? I got to edit some really good manuscripts, some pretty bad ones, and some that were just plain boring.  At the end of the summer, I knew that editing wasn’t the right fit for me.  Sometimes turning something you love into a career just isn’t right for you.  But wait–my instincts told me this would be a great experience! What the hell happened?

Here’s what happened: I use that example in at least half of my advising sessions with students.  They’ve put two years into a major they don’t like, they’ve just finished what looks like a useless internship.  They feel like quitters, failures, and yes, sometimes like idiots.  So, I tell them about my foray into the publishing world–how I would’ve always regretted it if I hadn’t pursued it, how it taught me a lot more about what I didn’t want to do with my life, how I did learn some really valuable skills (like planning events) that I still use today.  So, my instincts didn’t fail me–it just took a while for me to understand what they were saying.

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