Monday, December 29, 2014

An entrepreneurial path right after college

Today's special post comes from Alum Rafael De Armas and details an exciting opportunity for UM students and alumni.

Some people (including me) dream of making an impact on the world and creating something of value. We come to school to prepare for the “working world,” but some of us want to take it a step further; we want to start companies of our own. I came to college to do just that, but found it was hard. Getting access to training, mentorship and resources at this age can be next to impossible.

Luckily, I heard about Venture for America (VFA).

In 2011, serial entrepreneur and VFA founder Andrew Yang started this nonprofit fellowship program with the goal of creating a path for college students who want to become entrepreneurs. And recently, I was selected as one of Venture for America’s Fellows for the Class of 2015.

As VFA Fellows, we get training and join a startup in an emerging US city, where we’ll live and work for two years at one of hundreds of partner companies. We’ll learn hands-on what it takes to build a company, while getting mentorship, a network, and ongoing support to prepare us to become successful entrepreneurs. For me, I hope this gets me one step closer to my goal of starting my own venture.

In November, I traveled to New York for the last round of the VFA application process. Meeting the other applicants, along with the Fellows, team, and supporters, confirmed what I already knew: joining Venture for America was definitely what I wanted to do right after college. I couldn’t believe it a few days later when I got the call from Andrew Yang to tell me I had been accepted!

I’ll get to meet my fellow Fellows this summer at our 5-week training program at Brown University and will begin to find my job in March. At this point, I still don’t know in which city I am going to work or in what field, but whether it’s software development or business, I’m excited for whatever comes. Throughout the year, VFA finds great high-growth companies across the US with founders who are excited to have a VFA Fellow join them. By working at one of these ventures, I know I am going to get the experience I need to be an entrepreneur.

Even though I’m the first VFA Fellow from University of Miami, I know I’m not the only Cane with the goal of becoming a company founder. If you feel you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, I encourage you to apply to be a Venture for America Fellow.

There are still two more deadlines left on January 12thand March 2nd.

If you have questions or want to hear about my experience feel free to reach out to me. Let’s get more University of Miami students building things!


Rafael De Armas

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Stress Epidemic

By Maura Gergerich, Toppel Peer Advisor

As students, we tend to feel like we’re expected to balance so much in a college atmosphere. Between class projects, term papers, studying, day jobs, clubs, leadership, applying for grad schools or jobs, and wanting to be able to sleep occasionally there just doesn’t seem time to fit everything in. Unfortunately, trying to handle everything may cause stress in many students. Small amounts of stress are actually helpful. It stimulates productivity and motivates people to get things done in order to experience that relief after finishing a big project or final. Think about it this way, if you weren’t at all concerned about what grade you’ll get would you have any motivation to study? However, excessive amounts can cause detrimental symptoms such as muscle tension, colds and sickness, and fatigue as well as more drastic ones such as depression, high blood pressure, and ulcers.

There are four main sources that cause stress. The first cause is the environment, which includes stressors such as noise, pollution, traffic, crowds, and weather. The second is physiological stresses which come from illness/injury, and poor sleep or nutrition. The third is self-induced stress which comes from things such as negative thoughts and perfectionism. The last is social stressors. These include financial problems, work demands, school work, and social events. It is easier to deal with and reduce stresses in our lives if we can figure out the cause.

One of the most important steps to avoiding excessive stress levels is to try to maintain your overall health. This may be a struggle for many busy college students, but simply eating well and sleeping enough hours a night does wonders for your ability to cope in stressful situations. Many students feel that they don’t have time for sleep especially around finals week because of all of the exams and projects they have. Lack of sleep decreases your ability to retain information, and that plus your heightened stress level will make it difficult to concentrate. So keep this in mind for the next test you have to study for.

So, use winter break to actually take a break. Take the time to get back into your workout routine (don’t wait for the post-new year’s crowds), read the novels you’ve replaced with textbooks during the semester, cook some recipes now that you’re not confined to the dining hall, or ask you parents to get you the massage you’ve been dreaming about for the past month for Christmas. Find your happy place and plan ways to keep yourself there through the stresses of next semester.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is the Dream Job a Real Possibility?

By Kelly Martin, Toppel Peer Advisor

Last night during an outreach presentation I was giving for Toppel, I was asked a very interesting question. The girl asked me how to deal with the “issue” that even though she was a psychology major, every summer she had interned for a fashion or magazine company because it was something she was really interested in. She was concerned that her resume didn’t look like the resume of someone studying psychology and she was preparing to apply to grad school for psychology.

This question made me sad in a way; this girl was concerned that by pursuing something she was really passionate about she was maybe short changing another aspect of her life that she also cared about. My first response was that despite the fact that interning at a magazine or in the fashion industry may not seem directly relatable to psychology, at the end of the day, any internship or job experience teaches you invaluable skills that are applicable anywhere. So on your resume, even if you have a lot of experiences that may not seem to relate to your field of study on the surface, think about everything you learned at those experiences and you are bound to find skills that are universally applicable.

But the question continued to stick in my head. Since thinking about it more, I think I would add to that response. This girl was clearly passionate about the fashion industry, but also passionate about her studies in psychology as she was hoping to apply to grad school to pursue it. I would encourage her to think about those passions and how she can find a way to make them intersect.

I recently read an article on LinkedIn about a woman who had been in the marketing field as VP for a long time. But eventually, with the help of a career counselor, she reassessed what she was really passionate about, things that had occurred in her personal life, and realized she wanted a change, and ended up working for a non-profit for widows and widowers. She herself had become a widow 5 years prior, and felt a strong drive to helping others like herself, and as she now declares, she has her “dream job”.

I think we often worry too much about what we should be studying and what jobs we should get, when we should really think about what we want. If you’re doing something you actually care about, you will inevitably be happier. I think everyone has a dream job, we just often think it’s not attainable because we don’t have the right degree, or the right qualifications. But if you really assess your experiences, and combine those with your passion, it’s worth pursuing that dream job. You never know, you might just find it.


Monday, December 8, 2014

To Accept or Not to Accept

By Marian Li, Toppel Peer Advisor

The hardest part is over, the hiring manager called with great news: the job is yours! It’s smooth sailing from here, right? Maybe not. Determining whether to take a job offer can – and should – be a difficult decision. If you’re eager to get out of your current job or if it’s the job of your dreams, then it can be tempting to accept the offer; but before you take the job, you need to evaluate the situation carefully. Experts say that people switch jobs on average every three to four years, which means that being able to evaluate a job offer is a critical skill for today’s college grad and aspiring professional.

Shape the offer along the way When the hiring manager or recruiter calls you with the offer, it shouldn’t be the first time you discuss specifics. People should have a conversation about their aspirations for the job way before the point of the offer. Answering questions like, “what are you looking for in your next role?” honestly will increase the likelihood that the offer that’s extended includes things on your wish list. Deciding whether or not to take a job usually isn’t a simple yes or no choice, so prepare for the offer conversation as a negotiation. Rarely should you accept something at face value, if you don’t ask for anything you’re missing an opportunity.

More Research – One of the biggest mistakes that people make is not finding out enough about their potential employer. Dig around for as much information as you can about the organization, the culture, and your future co-workers. There’s a surprising amount of material people can sift through nowadays. Finding out what you can about the organization’s future prospects is crucial as well, determining the company’s future can help you ascertain the industry as well as your future job security.

Interrupted Timeline – But what if you receive your first offer when you’re still interviewing with or have just sent your resume to other employers? The job searching process for each company almost never syncs so you need to be realistic about your prospects. Look at the applications you have under way and reasonably assess which are likely to get to offer. Compare the offer in hand against a wish list of what you really want in a job. You’ll have to accept that sometimes, good enough will have to do.

If you decide to say no – Saying no to a job offer can be complicated. You’ve sent in your resume, shown up for a series of interviews, and the employer likely assumes you want the job. The LAST thing you want is for the company to think you played them. Don’t string them along. If you realize during the interview process that there’s a high chance you won’t accept the offer, let the hiring manager know out of courtesy so they can focus on more viable candidates. If you say no, remember that a lot goes into generating an offer. People have invested time and may have gone to bat for you. Never imply that the job or salary was to blame. Instead, focus on what’s not a good fit. This will keep the door open for the future.

I’m not saying this is an easy decision, but being smart can go a long way.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Keeping up with more than the Kardashians

By Rachel Rooney, Toppel Peer Advisor

If you go on Google News, and click the “world” tab on the left sidebar, there are two prevailing topics: Russia and Ebola. There’s a lot going on in the world and as a college student it’s easy to focus on academics and not pay attention. I actually started reading the news, because I’m going abroad to Sweden next semester and it’s in relative proximity to Russia. If you’re planning on studying abroad, it’s important to do your research, but also just to keep yourself informed of the going-ons in the States and the World. 

The college atmosphere creates a protective bubble around us that shields us from the outside world in a sense. At UM, we constantly here it’s our time and that “it’s all about the U.” And it is. Right now, we have a sense of being a part of something bigger than ourselves, because we are a part of our university. It’s where we belong. However, there’s also a bigger world outside of us and if we want to know about it we have to find out for ourselves. Priorities come into play, because we’re all busy; it becomes more important to read Campbell for biology and Ernest Hemingway for English. 

The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of time to get information. With the modern, digital age everything is available online. No longer do we have to wait for the mailman to deliver the paper for us to learn about what’s going on. It’s important to remember to not trust everything. I’m a skeptic about how accurate the media is, but I do believe there is reliable information out there. It depends on the source; trustworthy sources can be BBC news, PBS news hour, NPR radio, Forbes, the Guardian, Time magazine, and the New York Times.  Be careful of where you get your information from, because you can’t trust everything you read online to be correct. It’s the same way with television; choose well-known news stations with credibility in their reputations. Steer away from biased political news on either side of the political spectrum; try to take information from objective lenses. 

One of the things that I like about Google News is that they post the trending topics, but the articles are from different sources. They also have different sections: World, United States, Business, Technology, Health, Science, Spotlight. This is a good tool to use, because it’s hard to find out what is important if you don’t know what you’re looking for.  There is a lot of news out there, and it really comes down to what you find interesting. I’m from Missouri, so I keep my eye open for information about Ferguson. I also read about the earthquake that just happened in the Midwest. I’m going to Sweden, so I found the Guardian’s “Welcome to Sweden - the most cash-free society on the planet” article as an introspective piece on how the economy in Sweden works. I love to travel, so I’m fascinated by the “36 hours” that the New York Times posts on different cities around the world. Even though I’m no lover of chemistry or physics, I find the science section appealing, because I get to read about space and Antarctica. 

My two cents are to educate yourself and find your muse. Know what’s going on even if you don’t find it riveting; at this time, Russia is at the center of the world. Moscow might be 5,726 miles away from Miami, but Russia is planning to patrol in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, which is a whole lot closer to us. Then, seek out the intriguing pieces of the world, because the news can be just as thought-provoking as To Kill a Mockingbird.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Neglected Job Search Tool

By Marian Li, Toppel Peer Advisor

There are first interviews, second interviews, phone interviews, lunch interviews, and group interviews; you’d think employers covered all their bases since all of the above have purposes and best practices. And then there’s the forgotten interview of the job searching process: the informational one. Informational interviews are underutilized. People, especially college students, are unaware of the opportunities that are presented before them. The title of “student” shields one from the judging, probing stares of an employer when they search for an ulterior motive. As a student, employers gladly take one under their wing and treat the interview as a learning opportunity.

So first off, what is an information interview? An informational interview is a one-on-one conversation with someone who has a job you might like, who works within an industry you might want to enter, or who is employed by a specific company that you're interested in learning about. These interviews are excellent options for plotting a career path or focusing your aspirations. Because they're preliminary in nature, informational interviews are also useful for someone who knows what type of job they want but is still at the beginning of his or her search. It’s also a good way to practice your interview skills without conducting a formal job interview. And it's always good way to network into an organization.
Sounds helpful, right? Then how do you conduct an informational interview? For some people, the hurdle of an informational interview isn't understanding its purpose, but going about arranging one. After all, if you're at this early stage, you probably have limited means of approaching industry-specific contacts. Those in the know say the first and easiest solution to this problem is to speak with people within your inner circle. Friends, family members, and LinkedIn connections might know of appropriate sources. See if you can contact a suggested person through email, telephone, mail or otherwise to try to arrange a meeting. Veer away from contacting human resources employees, since their standard answer will be to send a resume, and keep in mind that a company executive might have limited time for face-to-face meetings. You're best option would be to find someone within the role you're hoping to fill, or one-step above that, who is close to a hiring manager.

Now what to do? It would be a shame to ace all the initial steps only to botch everything on interview day. To start on the right foot, Crawford recommends dressing the way you would for a formal job interview. This might mean a dark suit and tie for a corporate office, or some slacks and a button-down shirt for a more-casual workplace. She also advises you bring copies of your resume, a generic cover letter, any work portfolio you have, and some spare business cards. Be prepared to ask questions about a typical work day, the corporate culture, the management style, and industry trends. And cue up responses on your personal career plans, your experience, and your skills. Above all, keep in mind that your goal is to come away with more information—not a job offer.

What do you do after the interview? Take a breath and give yourself a pat on the back if you've made it all the way through successfully setting up and conducting an informational interview. But also know that how you follow up is just as important as how you behaved in the interview itself. And you should always follow up—even if you're disinterested in pursuing the lead any further. If an interviewer doesn't hear back from someone they gave an informational interview, they would feel used. If you're not interested in the company or the field, you should still send a quick thank you. An email will suffice, but if you are interested, then your tone and the frequency of your follow up will change.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Applying to a Non-Profit Successfully

By Kelly Martin, Toppel Peer Advisor

This summer I was an intern at a non-profit organization—the New England Aquarium—and while they couldn’t give me a paycheck for my work, the experience I gained there is more valuable to me than any amount of money ever could be. However, to make up for the fact that they couldn’t compensate us in the form of money, the intern coordinators provided us with a few professional development lunches throughout the summer. A lot of what we learned were things that I had already learned from working at Toppel (we know our stuff!), but some of the things I learned were more specific to the non-profit sector.

I recently connected on LinkedIn with the NEAq Intern Alumni Network and a few of the intern coordinators, and this article from the Harvard Business Review was posted the other day:

The article as a whole provides a lot of good advice on writing a cover letter, so it’s definitely worth the read if you’re starting to write one for a job or internship application. But what sticks out the most to me are the two case studies provided at the end of the article. Both address how important it is to go the extra mile and show your enthusiasm and passion for the company.

To me, this is the epitome of what I learned from the New England Aquarium. In the non-profit world, people aren’t doing what they do for the paycheck they receive, but because they are extremely passionate about their work. So anyone who they’re going to consider hiring to join their team has to share that passion as well. Beyond your past experiences and qualifications, having a strong knowledge of the field and the work that the organization has done, as well as a genuine desire to contribute to that work, will put you ahead of the pack of applicants.

Personally, I usually have a hard time conveying my passion genuinely in writing; there’s a fine line between sounding genuine and sounding fake. But I think this article also provides good insight on how to express that passion in a cover letter. By doing your research and putting thought into the position, you can show that you really care about the organization and what you can contribute to it. As case study #1 says,“she’d done her research and ‘listed some things she would do or already had done that would help us address those needs.’” And you can’t go wrong giving specific examples of how you’ve followed the organization's work—in case study #2 the applicant listed various exhibitions and events of the organization she was applying to that she had attended. In both cases, the applicants had gone the extra mile to express their genuine interest in the position, and clearly expressed their passion for the organization as a whole. And in both cases, the applicants eventually got the job they wanted.