Taking Initiative for Your Professional Future

Being involved with Gen Y, and seeing how the economy has affected career growth and mobility for recent grads and early careerists; I can’t help but notice some of the pain points they regularly voice. One of the biggest gripes they express is the lack of room for internal mobility. Along with this, many of these individuals also feel as if though there are no opportunities for them to learn, train, shadow, or develop in a way to prove to management that they are worthy for more responsibility in their current role or that they are worthy of promotion. But for those who feel this way, it’s important to realize that just because management hasn’t presented these opportunities doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Sometimes, you need to take initiative to develop your own professional skills and opportunities.

When I’ve mentioned this to individuals, I’ve had many people respond, “Why would I put in all this time and effort if I’m not getting compensated for it? Most of the time it goes unnoticed so what’s the point?” Regardless if those things seem to initially be true, you must remember to take a step back and see the big picture. Taking initiative doesn’t just help you potentially get a raise or promotion, it helps you grow.

Each new project, task, or innovative idea you allow yourself to be a part of will give you so much and will only help you get better and better. You will gain new skills, learn how to overcome challenges more effectively, and really get an idea of what you are passionate about and good at.

Most importantly, the things you do can be a tangible part of your experience. Maybe you’ve done something relatable outside of work on a side project or hobby, but it was hard to prove to your employers that you had the experience. Taking this initiative can give you the experience in a work setting so you can put it on your resume, help build up your portfolio, and have a witness (your employer) be able to prove what you’ve done and refer you.

So, before you claim that doing something a little extra isn’t worth it, think about what you gain in the long run. You are giving yourself the ability to be attractive talent for your current or future employer. That’s the best kind of investment.

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Investing in Your Employees’ Learning and Development

Throughout my career, I have taken notice of the efforts that my employers had attempted in order to train and hopefully develop new employees. I’ve also participated in continuous training and workshops as a refresher on the knowledge and skills I had gained throughout my employment at the company. Although I find all of this very important for your employees and your workforce as a whole, I can’t help to wonder if there are additional opportunities that employers are offering their employees. Are employers investing in the employees’ futures, as well?

One of the most inspiring things I have researched was the fact that some employers truly take notice to what their employees’ natural talents are or what their goals are for the future. Some employers also even help present opportunities that will allow employees to gain the skills they need to get where they want to be. But, these types of situations only really occur if an employer somehow takes the time to discover these additional talents or if the employees actually speak up to say what they really want to accomplish while employed there. But what if we tried to do things differently? What if we gave all employees the chance to be open and voice what they want as part of their learning and development? It seems as if though the training that the employees are involved in help them become experts at what they’re currently doing but doesn’t really offer them the ability to expand beyond that.

Call me crazy but I would love it if employers took the time to ask their employees what their career paths were and what type of training they would like to partake in. Give them the empowerment and options to pick what training they need and assist them in getting it. Investing in your employees this way can not only increase engagement, but could also increase loyalty and could even help your organization progress in ways it never could before. You are giving them the ability and the tools to help them be a super-asset for your company.

Too often, I hear employees leave companies because they feel like they have nowhere to go and no chances to grow as a professional and/or personally. So they venture elsewhere looking for the ability to learn and grow. I suppose that this post is more of me thinking out loud because I know that there is much more that is involved when it comes to L&D. Regardless,  I would be impressed to see that employers are giving their employees the options to pave the way to their future within the organization. I would also love to see employees take these chances and see how much it changes them.

Food for thought.

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Switching Gears: Changing Your Career Path

In life, sometimes what you set out to do turns out to be different than you imagined it. Maybe once you get involved in your career or degree you realized that it doesn’t spark your passion the way you initially believed.  Maybe you’re scared of making the change. Maybe you’re comfortable with what you’re doing and pursuing something new is too much of an effort. Whatever the reason may be, I hope people realize that if you feel in your heart and mind that you want a change, then you should consider it. Making a change towards something that would make you feel fulfilled and satisfied isn’t as hard as you may think.

As I was thinking about this subject, I decided to interview my good friend, Nader Owies. Nader took the plunge and made the change to follow the career path that he was honestly passionate about. Here’s what he has to say about getting courage to take those chances:

Ashley Perez (AP): Why did you decide to change your degree from Political Science to Film?

Nader Owies (NO): “I never actually changed my degree; my game plan while graduating from undergrad was still to go to law school. While in school, I minored in film to fill my elective requirements and I ended up with so many courses I just spoke with my advisor about getting a minor degree, as well. The real decision was after school, when I was applying to law schools. I always had the reservation about what I was getting myself into. The truth was- I hated politics, and law, but working in law or politics paid well and from my experience at school I came to learn that I was good at both, so why not right? That, and my parents chanting the standard,’ Be a doctor or lawyer’ song that all parents learn when they have kids, were pushing me towards it. I don’t remember the exact moment or anything, but my idea of what I wanted out of life kept showing me that I was heading in the wrong direction. Sure, I could be a successful lawyer or politician or whatever else and have enough money to be comfortable. But I didn’t want to sacrifice my happiness for that. I wanted to love what I was going to be doing almost every day for the rest of my life, whether it made me a lot of money or not.”

AP: What are some of the reservations you had about making this change and how did you overcome them?

 NO: “My parents were a big factor: both of them being Egyptian, and anyone with foreign parents knows exactly what I’m talking about when I say convincing your parents that you want to go to film school rather than law school is like pushing a boulder up a hill. Beyond them, the only other reservation was the change in lifestyle. I knew what going to graduate school meant:  I had to leave everything I know behind, pick up everything I owned and chase my dream. Very few people have the guts to do that, and only about 5% of those people actually succeed at it. However, I kept telling myself, there is always going to be a million reasons not to do something, yet there is always going to be one reason do to it- because you want to.

AP: What are some challenges you faced during this transition and how did you overcome them?

NO: “Most of the challenges had to do more with the practical things in life rather than the educational journey I was going on. School came easy because it was what I loved; every day I was watching and talking about films. The challenges weren’t anything different than most people go through. Basically it was just becoming an adult and having to deal with things you never had to worry about before. My only advice for anyone going through that transition: don’t put things off for tomorrow, just do them right now.

AP: What was the one piece of advice that led you to be inspired enough to take this chance?

NO: “I had a professor in college who told me something I’ll never forget. He said in a lecture one day, ‘You will spend the majority of your adult life at your job. If you are simply there to make money you will find that the stress will kill you before you ever make as much as you want and you’ll be miserable the whole time.’

AP: What are some of the most memorable successes and failures you’ve had while pursuing this new degree and career?

NO: “The good thing about working in movies is that your successes and failures are very apparent. You can literally watch them on a big screen. There are a few projects I worked on here and there that while piecing them together in the edit room, I had that realization that I was stitching together a huge dud. And no matter what I did in the end it would still be a dud. But you live and you learn; take the lesson and move onto the next one.”

AP: What advice would you give college students or recent grads in regard to this?

NO: “Always work your ass off. I’m sure it is this way in plenty of other industries, as well, but in entertainment, your reputation is everything. People will hire you on reputation alone, so make sure you leave a good impression with everyone you work with, and do the best you can with what you’re given.”

AP: What are some realistic factors you wish you knew before doing this?

NO: “How expensive graduate school really is. I always knew the amount, it’s just until I did the math and realized that paying back that amount over ten years that I would actually be paying more than double the amount I initially borrowed. I know that no one would give out loans without interest rates attached, but in the name of education and bettering the human race, someone should make it illegal to charge that much for seeking knowledge.”

I’ve known Nader for several years and always held him in high regard. He has a great head on his shoulders and was the perfect person to trust to give advice about this subject. Yes, he’s had reservations, challenges, and failures. But the point is, he faced these situations head-on because he knew that the end result was going to be worth it. He would rather try to obtain the things that he was passionate about than take the easy and safe way through life. If you have a passion, try to pursue it because if not now, then when?

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Benefits of Business Travel

Travel can seem like an inconvenient task for some people. Other people consider travel as a welcome break in their mundane work week. Regardless of someone’s view on travel, it can be extremely beneficial for both your personal and professional life. The important thing is to make sure you utilize your time there in a way that can benefit you down the long run. You could be surprised by how the little things you do while traveling could end up being useful down the line.

Whether you’re an early careerist or someone who has been in the workforce for years, the world is full of opportunities and possibilities. To make the most of your experiences, be sure to absorb and learn as much as you possibly can. With that being said, I am happy to share tips on how to best utilize your business travel:

  • Network with new contacts. Business travel allows you to connect with some remarkable people throughout the business-spectrum. This is a great time to get to know people that can help you down the line, whether it is for a particular task or just for mentoring. Building these relationships now will make it easier down the line when you’re ready to move up or laterally. These contacts can teach you, provide insight, or get you connected to the right people. Talk to the most people you can because you never know how they’ll be useful to you in the future and vice-versa.
  • Explore new areas. Business travel doesn’t always have to be all work and no play. Take advantage of the time you have there, even if you only have a few hours to spare. Regardless if you’re in a thriving city or a quiet town in the middle of nowhere, this is a chance for you to learn about different lifestyles elsewhere. This knowledge can open your mind and help you be more understanding to people who are different than you.
  • Use it as a chance to research. In your career, you may find yourself in situations where you will be transferred. Additionally, you may be given better opportunities elsewhere. Many people turn down opportunity because they aren’t sure if they’d be happy somewhere new, especially someplace they’ve never been. If this situation occurs in your life, you will be able to confidently pursue the chance because you’ve taken the time to learn about the area. Don’t miss out on professional growth because of uncertainty.
  • Reap in the benefits. If you stay with a hotel chain enough or use a certain airline, sometimes these companies will give you perks for your patronage.  Some of these perks can range in discounted spa treatments, free tickets to shows, a free night’s stay, half price plane tickets, or a great deal at a local restaurant. These perks could be great to use either on your next business trip or even for a personal trip.

There are plenty of other great ways to utilize your business trips besides the ones mentioned above. I hope that you find these tips useful and work them in your favor on your next trip. There is so much you can learn about business and even yourself, so please make it a point to maximize every moment you get in a beneficial way.

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All Hail the Chief Culture Officer!

As I’ve mentioned a million times by now, I absolutely love Twitter chats. They’re an amazing source for information and also a great way to come up with some interesting topics to write about. This passed Wednesday, #TChat had a discussion about the Chief Culture Officer (CCO). Of course, this completely grabbed my attention because I love anything involving company culture and try to find other’s that are as passionate about it as I am. This chat helped shed light more on this particular role within an organization and also provided some great take-aways.

For those who are not familiar with this particular position or role, a CCO can simply be defined as the individual that focuses on cultural trends and applies them to the organization. For many years, this was considered a major missing component in maintaining a positive environment. Culture changes rapidly within an organization, so a CCO’s role is especially important in terms of keeping the organizational environment consistent throughout all of these changes, expected or unexpected.

I’m a huge cheerleader when it comes to company culture. It is important for so many reasons. Maintaining a culture is a full-time job and a company would seriously benefit from having a CCO to focus on this. Some positive reasons why having a good culture is imperative:

  • It creates trust among employees of all levels.
  • It helps employees to share and collaborate inter-departmentally and also cross-departmentally.
  • Good culture can increase productivity.
  • Can increase employee engagement.
  • It can increase employee satisfaction.
  • It can brand a company as “Best Employer to Work For” which can attract quality talent.
  • It promotes business growth and development.
  • It can reduce absenteeism and increase employee retention.

As I so eloquently said in the chat: if your culture sucks, what quality employees do you really think will stick around? Apparently, quite a few HR professionals agreed with this and consistently retweeted this sentiment. A CCO is the cultural fabric of your organization and helps the company shift seamlessly with change. Additionally, the CCO can really open up two-way communication with employees to determine what they want out of their employer to make their working experience a better one. I’m a firm believer that if you care about and invest in your employees, you’ll receive extraordinary results from them in return. What are you doing to ensure that you are their employer of choice?

Links:

TalentCulture #TChat Recap

The Rise of the CCO

The DNA Collaboration

A Job I Want Some Day: CCO

An Awesome Mashup that Justin Mass of Adobe Created of #TChat. Tweets from #TChat are spoken by Jocelyn Aucoin of WorkSimple, JD Dillion of Kaplan Higher Education, and myself.

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If you’re interested in learning more about TalentCulture, be sure to join #TChat on Wednesday at 7PM EST

Determination for a Successful Future

Recently, I was talking to some college students about their expectations for their careers. I was happy to hear that many of them had a bright outlook for their future but became a little distressed when I learned that they didn’t realize the lengths and effort they need to put into it in order to reach their career goals. Many assumed that simply getting a degree and getting a little experience from interning could help them easily land a job. I tried to explain to them that in this economy, the bare minimum just won’t cut it.

That conversation had me thinking about people I knew that were particularly admirable in this capacity. I instantly thought about my friend, Desiree Louca, who I’ve known since kindergarten. She had always impressed me with her drive and self-motivation, even when we were younger. As we grew older, she harnessed these personal traits and worked hard to obtain the future she dreamed of. Her determination allowed her to have a successful future at the ripe age of 21 years old. Her future gave her the financial security and independence to support herself in ways that some adults may never know throughout their lifetime. With that being said, I felt that she was a perfect person to interview for this topic. Here’s the story on how her hard work paid off:

Ashley Perez (AP):   How were you able to pinpoint what career path you wanted to pursue so early in your life?

Desiree Louca (DL): “Growing up, I always had a great feeling inside when I helped out people in need. I was always fascinated with the medical field, probably from watching so many reality shows of the ER in hospitals. This was the first position in the medical field I really had my heart set on. At 14, my mother took me to the local hospital and I signed up to be a junior volunteer. I volunteered for 3 years and it was such an amazing experience.

“However, after only a few months of volunteering, I quickly learned that being a nurse was not for me. I could not handle it emotionally. I always found myself to be extremely emotionally strong, but I could not bare certain situations that I watched. Maybe I was too young to have seen them and would be able to handle them better now, but it is something that will never leave my mind. I simply could not disassociate myself from my emotions on the job. You can’t have a cry break every 30 minutes as a nurse, especially in the ER!

“I still knew the medical field was for me, though, and that there were tons of other jobs in the field. Teeth were another fascination for me. At 16, I began a paid internship at a local dental office. I absolutely loved it! I worked at a multi-specialty practice, so I was fully able to experience every single aspect of dentistry. I was initially working as a dental assistant but I knew I wanted more, so I decided to go to school to become a dental hygienist. While in school I felt a deep sense of comfort, stability, and enjoyment. I knew that this career was meant for me. In conclusion, I was able to pinpoint my career path by basically going and trying out each field of employment that I felt I may want to pursue.”

AP: What course of action did you determine was necessary to get the experience and education needed to be successful?

DL: “Research and resources! We are lucky to have the internet these days but I feel that doing it the old fashioned way is sometimes better. Before receiving the internship at the dental office, I walked in to the office and asked to speak to a dental hygienist. That dental hygienist was very happy to sit and answer the questions I had written out on a notepad. My questions included; job description, schooling, and stability in life.”

AP: Did you have goals and timelines? What were they?

DL: “Absolutely. Procrastination gets nowhere. Everyone at this point in life knows that you will not get anywhere unless you make moves. Right after high school I went right on the path to becoming a dental hygienist while still working at the dental office. This helped me greatly because while learning everything I needed to know about the field, I was experiencing it hands on. My goal was to be done with school in 4 years, that way I would be starting my career at 21 years of age.”

AP: What are the sacrifices you had to make in order to stay focused? Do you regret making them?

DL: “Starting to work in a professional environment at 16 years old forced me to mature much faster than my friends. Going to college to become a health professional from ages 17-21 while all of my friends were partying at college and going out every weekend was very hard for me to deal with at the time. However, being on a career path that I loved was a constant reminder that everything was going to be okay and well worth it in the end. I have no regrets. Even though I hardly went out nearly as much as my friends, I still had the chance to occasionally, and that was all that I really needed. In the midst of my busy life, I sit back and feel very accomplished realizing where I am in life at 24 years old compared to most people my age who live in my area.”

AP: What advice would you give people just starting out?

 DL: “Be a go-getter! Don’t sit back and think something is going to come your way or that the wind will blow one way and magically you will know where you are meant to be. It is a natural instinct to have things that interest you in life. Write them down, research ways you can try them out; such as volunteering, internships, or actual employment. You will not know if it’s right for you in a day or even weeks, so give it at least a few months. As I’m sure most people have heard more than once in their life, ‘Just do it’.”

Desiree provided some great insight and tips on how to pave your way to a successful future. I’ve personally seen her dedicate time and determination throughout the years and can honestly say that it seemed to work. I’m proud of her success and happy to see that it paid off early on in her life. I believe that many college students and early careerists can benefit from these tips and should try to test them out as soon as they can. Desiree is living proof that putting yourself out there can help you secure a place in your career.

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Photo Source: Colourbox

The Impact of Lost Dreams

Today I decided to do something a little bit different. I don’t normally include “creative writing” pieces on this particular blog, but I felt that this might tie in nicely with some of the topics I discuss. I wrote this short, fictional story a few months ago. Basically, this story discussed how sometimes people get sucked into work and responsibilities that they don’t realize their dreams and life are passing them by. This piece is meant to remind people that you need to sometimes stop, catch your breath, and make sure you don’t lose that deeper part of you completely. I hope you enjoy this break from the typical business blog post:

The Impact of Lost Dreams

By: Ashley Lauren Perez

 

I sighed as I rubbed my hand down my face. My phone was sitting on the passenger seat, beeping uncontrollably. Another voicemail from my mom asking if I’m still alive. A text from my boyfriend confirming that I won’t be home for dinner again. A Facebook comment from my friends wondering when I’ll see them again. An e-mail from my boss giving me directions to the restaurant where a networking dinner is taking place tonight. I’m being pulled in a million directions and even though I extend myself, I’m still falling short.

The sun had already set. I’ve accepted that this has turned into another unexpected day of working overtime. I can’t remember the last time I left work at a reasonable hour and went home to relax. I don’t recall the last time my social activities weren’t a work event. When was the last time I did anything for myself or took the vacation I promised myself? My life has been so filled with engagements and obligations that all these days have blended into one continuous day of rushing to the next thing on my to-do list. I don’t know how I got to this point.

I pulled out of my company’s parking lot and onto the highway. I slowed down to a red light at an intersection when my phone started ringing. It was my boss, most likely calling to confirm that I was on my way. I contemplated ignoring it but knew she would just continue to call until I picked up. I selected the “Answer” button as the light turned green. And that’s when it happened.

I turned my head to my left to see headlights heading straight towards me from the driver’s side. It felt like slow motion.  I knew I was defeated in this situation so I closed my eyes, gripped the wheel, and braced for impact. This couldn’t happen. I barely even got to live my life.

My breathing sounded foreign when I finally came to. My eyes slowly fluttered open and light penetrated my irises causing me to squint. That’s strange- I was driving at night, last I recalled. I slowly sat up and assessed the environment around me. I expected to see the highway, the inside of an ambulance, or a hospital. You can imagine my surprise when I realized I was sitting on a dirt path in some sort of forest. I looked up and saw the sunlight dancing between the fluttering tree leaves. Everything was silent except the faint sound of nature surrounding me. There wasn’t a person or house in sight.

I pushed myself up and tried to search for the best direction to bring me back to civilization but the path seemed to disappear into thick brush behind me. The only direction to go was forward, where I could see a clearing in the distance. I followed the path and enjoyed the feel of the soft dirt under my bare feet. The spring-like breeze lightly blew my hair away from my face and I couldn’t help feeling déjà vu. I felt like I’ve been here before but this version was better. I should have been terrified because I had no idea where I was or how I got there, but strangely, I felt more comfortable here than I ever have anywhere. I walked further.

After a few minutes of walking I had finally reached the clearing and my breath caught in my throat. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. Directly in front of me was the beach and ocean, but the scenery was far better than any travel magazine could ever attempt to capture. An expansion of white sand and colorful tropical flowers led the way to the clearest, bluest, and calmest ocean I could ever imagine. The sound of the rolling waves onto the shore was soothing. But that wasn’t the thing that caught my attention. Every direction I turned had a different landscape. Surely, there could be no place in the world that could combine all of these things in one place. Where was I?

I wandered off to the right side into a deep, heavily treed part of a forest. Ducking under low hanging branches, I stepped carefully on smooth stones to cross a cool-watered creek. Across the creek, I came upon an abandoned stone building. Part of the ceiling had caved in and a tree sprouted out of the opening. It looked ancient and I highly doubted anyone roamed in there for decades. I stuck my head inside and saw a disheveled library hidden among the rubble and vines. Curious, I stepped through the door and traced my hand along the uneven, stoned walls. My fingers felt the dirt and moss that lingered on these walls until I came upon a loose stone. I wiggled it free and noticed a leather-bound book hiding in the hole.

I slowly pulled the book out, careful not to potentially destroy the weathered pages. The cover gave no indication on what it could be so I opened it up. The first page had a statement written in sweeping, beautiful calligraphy. It stated, “Only in the purest solitude will you rediscover forgotten dreams.” I fanned through more of the pages and concluded that it was a diary of someone’s hopes and dreams.

I crossed the creek again with the book in tow and headed towards the left side of the path. This side offered a wide expanse of meadow, peppered with colorful wildflowers and a distant mountain range for a backdrop. Wild horses galloped and played, while others grazed peacefully. I trudged along through the tall grass to a lake surrounded by blossoming trees. The fragrance of lilacs filled my nose and reminded me of an old tree I had in my backyard as a child. Soon, I found a swinging hammock tied under a cherry blossom and decided to lounge in it. The branch shook as I got situated in the hammock and caused the petals to fall around me like slow rain.

I got lost in reading the words on the pages. It seemed as if this author had the same thoughts and hopes I once had. A soft smile spread across my lips as I felt the passion and optimism in the words. I felt something inside of me change, like I was young and innocent again. I was inspired; almost like these dreams were truly within my reach.

I lost that feeling along the way when life’s obligations took away my imagination and only offered a reality that left no room for it. The more I got rejected or told that these things were impossible, the deeper these dreams got buried in my soul, to a place that they would never be found again.

As I read further, I came across a dog-eared page that simply stated, “This is your world now. You will need nothing more and nothing less.” I reflected on those words and quickly decided that they would resonate with me forever.

I didn’t know where I was or if I’d ever find my way back home but there was one thing I knew for sure- I will fight to take back my life and I will never lose that part of me again.