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Get Ready

People are always surprised to learn how long I’ve been at UNCW (this is my 13th year). Throughout this semester, you will learn a lot about my story and how I ended up here, but before we dive in, I need you to understand a few things about my approach to this course. The Discipline Capstone is a required course (now required by ALL UNCW students), so I am not under any delusions that you are enrolled in this class voluntarily. However, I do know that there are several sections of this course, so some of you may be sitting in this section by choice (I thank you for that). Last year I began this course by making some promises to my students. I will promise you all the same things. (Read them here.)

This course is about to challenge you in ways that many of you are not prepared for. You will want to resist it. You may start to stress out just thinking about this class. But this class is a GIFT. Thirteen and a half years ago, I was very much like you. I was getting ready to enter the job market, and I had NO IDEA what challenges I was going to face. I had no idea because I refused to let myself think about life after graduation. I didn’t want to think about it because it scared the crap out of me. So one day I was graduated, and suddenly there were no more classes to go to, and I thought, “What now?” This class will help you be better prepared to answer and act when that thought comes to you. (And believe me, it will.) This class will frustrate you at times, it will scare you other times, but most of all, I hope it motivates you. It forces you to be honest about where you are in relation to where you want to be. It challenges you to step out of your comfort zone and to start taking chances. The COM Discipline Capstone is certainly what you make of it (more on that in a second), and I promise to help you make the most of it to get to where you want to be.

I could write a book of advice for students about how to succeed in COM 400. However, I know by now that it means more when it comes from your peers. Last fall, I asked my students to post comments with advice for future COM 400 teachers. I want you to read them here.

I LOVE hearing from our grads. As cheesy as it sounds, it can really make my day. One grad sent me this note recently,

“I started working at a company in May…I got this job through the person I interviewed from the first project you assigned in the beginning of my semester. I think it’s crazy how it all works out but as cheesy as it is, I wanted to thank you for everything you taught me and for pushing us to do things we would probably never do on our own…Everyone I speak to whether at different colleges or different majors at UNCW didn’t get any real preparations for the real world – where I felt I was thoroughly prepared through your class alone. You’re an awesome professor and I hope you keep inspiring students to work their asses off…thanks for everything…tell your students to not complain because every assignment really does count for something in the end!”

After you’re read about the five promises I will make to you this semester AND the advice from our grads, I want you to use your comment to post your promises to me (and to yourself). I look forward to our time together this semester. Get ready.

Closing Time

The end of fall semester is always rough because it comes straight off the heels of Thanksgiving Break. Everyone has a ton on their plate with holiday get-togethers, shopping for loved ones, finals, and motivation is at an all-time low. Some of you are ending your undergraduate career in a few short weeks, so you’re also juggling graduation, sending announcements, applying for jobs, and moving. It’s easy to get so caught up in everything that you let it all pass you by. It has taken me awhile to learn that moments and memories are precious, and I need to stop and slow down more often to appreciate them because they can be gone in a blink of an eye.

This is one of the final times I get to address you, so let me say this. Collectively, you have been one of the best groups I’ve ever had in 12 years of teaching this class (despite the fact that only half of you posted a comment last week).  I don’t take the responsibility of being your teacher lightly. This class is personal for me. I love learning about you and helping you realize that you have it in you to do the things you’ve always (or sometimes never even) dreamed of. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, strengths, failures, and goals with me (and each other). Thank you for motivating me to be a better teacher and communicator. Thank you for the privilege of being your teacher this semester. You are an amazing group of students, and I’m excited about all of the great things you will do when you leave here. When you move on to your next step, be sure to drop me (or someone in the department) a line from time to time to let us know what you’re up to. We always love hearing from our students. And who knows? Maybe one day soon, you’ll be writing the next alumni blog post!

For this final post, I want you to offer two pieces of advice for future Discipline Capstone students AND I want you to discuss what being a UNCW COM Studies major has taught you/meant to you. Think about your entire experience as a COM major–what have you learned that will stay with you forever? For those of you graduating next week (congrats!), what do you hope to accomplish within the next few years?  And for those of you not graduating this month, what goals do you have for the next semester?

Brave

Here’s a link to the video of the song by Sara Bareilles. I don’t really know why this song resonates with me. It just does. Maybe because Sara isn’t your typical artist played on Z107.5. She’s not a size 0, or Photoshopped, or on the cover of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People. You can tell by watching this video that Sara is a bit of a nerd, but I mean that in the best way possible because I was one also. I think it’s the Sara Bareilles-es and the Adeles of the world that remind us that we shouldn’t be afraid of letting other people see and hear who we really are. (Not to mention that they also make really good music also.)

I have always struggled with self-confidence. Strike that. I’ve struggled with it since some kid made fun of me in elementary school for being Asian.  I went home crying that day, and until that moment, I had no idea that people saw me differently than everyone else. My self-confidence issues manifested itself in strange ways. At first, it was performance anxiety before basketball and softball games. I always felt like I had to be better than everyone else at everything, but then when it came time to deliver, I preferred not to be in the spotlight (I purposefully misspelled a word during our class spelling bee so I could sit on stage as the alternate, but not have the pressure of actually competing during the school-wide event). When I did compete, I tended to remember more of the times I didn’t win than the times I did. I remember that I finished fifth in my first karate tournament, but I can’t remember how many times or when I won each of the intramural tennis tournaments in college. I can’t remember how many games our softball team won, but I remember a throwing error I made in the playoffs that led to us losing that game, and ultimately the tournament.

When I got to college, I sat in the back of the room, usually in the corner. I never spoke unless directly spoken to, and I spent most of my time in college thinking of various ways to leave (I requested many applications to transfer and to participate in the National Student Exchange to get away). I honestly have no idea what it was that made me realize that my opinions mattered. That I had important things to say. Just one day, I started speaking up and standing up for myself.  I realized that I had nothing to be afraid of. If someone didn’t like what I said, it wasn’t the end of the world. I wouldn’t die. The world didn’t stop. It didn’t matter if everyone didn’t like me. Turns out I didn’t like everyone, either. One day I just stopped being afraid. I decided to be brave, and that’s really the key to how I got here.

I know that for many of you, life after college is scary. It IS scary trying to find a job that you won’t hate yourself for taking. It IS scary not knowing anyone in a new city. It IS scary being interviewed by older people who are going to judge you. But you get through it. Just like you got through the first day of college. You just have to be brave enough to try your best, to be yourself, and show people what you’re capable of, and if they don’t like it, they don’t like it. Sure, rejection sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s just not right now. Pick yourself up and move on. The worst feeling you can have at the end of an interview is to feel like you didn’t show them who you really are. As you prepare for the mock interview, keep these things in mind:

1. Do your HW. Research the company thoroughly as you prepare for any interview. Your research will help you answer questions such as, “What do you know about us?” “Why do you want to work here?” and it will also help you figure out questions to ask at the end. There’s no excuse nowadays not to research the company before an interview.

2. Remember your 5-point plan. Always go into an interview with a list of 5 things that you want the interviewer to know about you. Work those 5 things (hopefully with artifacts) into your answers to the questions they ask you. This takes a good amount of practice so that you sound natural and not like you memorized all of your answers.

3. Speak honestly and from the heart. It’s easier to answer interview questions if you know yourself well because you can draw from your personal experiences if you are asked questions you didn’t prepare for. I know that I am competitive, and I like structure. I’m deliberate and sometimes brutally honest. I have examples for how I am all of these things. Most people can tell if you’re being sincere, so speak honestly and from the heart.

4. Send a thank you note. It’s always a good idea to send a quick e-mail thank you, and then follow up with the real paper version. Thank you notes are overlooked, so taking the time to write one can really make you stand out in a sea of qualified applicants. (Sending one addressed to everyone is appropriate–it isn’t necessary to write an individual one to everyone you met, although some people do.)

5. Never lose sight of who you are. You can only control how you choose to conduct yourself during the interview process. Not everyone will have the same values as you do. Remember that when you see others misrepresent themselves on their resumes or take credit for things they didn’t do. Eventually those lies will catch up to them. All I know is that at the end of the day, I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I represented myself in an ethical and respectful manner.

This week, tell me about a time you were brave and what happened as a result of that experience. And if you have any interview concerns, share them here, and I’ll try to address them during our last class meeting on December 2.

Alumni Guest Post–From NC to NYC

By Katie White

I was the unique individual that counted down to graduation. I wasn’t actually excited about it since I graduated shortly after the economy fell in 2009, but I had a “fake it ’til you make it” mindset. I was involved in CSS, served as President and Vice President of the UNCW Advertising Chapter and was inducted into Lambda Pi Eta. I had completed an advertising internship at the UNCW MaC office, a sales internship at Clove Marketing and a PR internship at Talk, Inc. I was networking every chance I had, including tweet ups (meet up with local twitter users and bloggers), informational interviews and even went to local Chamber of Commerce social meet ups. My chances of achieving my goal of a PR job in Wilmington after graduation seemed realistic; however, the reality after graduation doesn’t always go according to plan.

There were no PR jobs in Wilmington, so I accepted a Sales position, but within 6 months decided to leave. I moved home to the Charlotte area (a larger job market) to look for a job, but I soon learned that with a larger job market, comes more competitors for the same positions. Eventually I started looking for other ways to be active in my community and network. One night I happened across the VH1 Save the Music website, reached out to their marketing contact to learn how I could get involved and attached my resume so she could put my skills to the best use. She responded shortly afterward and told me to apply for their unpaid internship that summer in NYC. What did I have to lose? I applied, received a call for an interview, flew up to the City and actually got the internship! Money was extremely tight after working as a server for a few months and with my dad being newly laid off, my family wasn’t in a position to help financially. Nevertheless, I found a sublet through Craigslist, sent the majority of my savings to a person I had never met, bought a one way ticket and moved to NYC for the summer. I worked at my internship Monday-Wednesday and as a server Thursday-Sunday.

The plan had always been to move home after my internship and with this great “big city internship” be able to find a job no-problem. Instead, I moved home for a month, long enough to sell my car, then moved back without a job, an apartment or a savings account. This is not something I advocate, but it was the greatest decision I’ve ever made. I couch hopped for 11 days before moving into my apartment with another UNCW alumna in a shady part of town. I was able to network and work as a freelancer for a few different companies before accepting a long-term freelance job at Coach headquarters as a North America Wholesale department assistant. After a year and two months in this position, I took over as our department president’s executive assistant for 6 months before accepting a full time position as the Associate Manager of Merchandising and Marketing and I’ve been in this role for over a year.

My long journey to my dream job has taught me a lot, but here are some of the key points:

Don’t be afraid to take chances and make mistakes in both your personal and professional life.  Clearly uprooting your life and moving hundreds of miles from your loved ones and comfort zone counts as a risk, but I’m also talking about in every aspect of your life.

Apply for everything…especially immediately after college. Even if you think you know what you want, you probably don’t. You’re still young and need to experience everything. Sometimes what you’re doing is less important than who you’re meeting. My first freelance position at Coach was working at their internal sample sale for a week.

Sell yourself as much as you sell your skills. When my position at Coach opened up, I was simply offered it. I didn’t interview because my team knew I would be perfect for the role. I didn’t go to school for fashion and I didn’t know half the jobs in my current industry existed until I started freelancing. I was competing with people who had recently graduated from FIT and other prominent fashion schools, but I got my job because I proved myself and showed I was eager to learn.

Read the news. Have things to talk about besides work, like current events, popular books, sports or TV. Being ignorant about major world events makes you look ignorant in general and we both know you’re not.

Save money and have a back up plan. This may sound self-explanatory, but lay-offs and lulls of employment happen to even the best of us. Plan accordingly so you don’t have to move home with your parents (unless you want to) or have to dip into your 401K and pay significant penalties.

Grammar is almost more important outside of college. I cannot stress this enough. Our world relies on technology more than ever, which means we rely on writing more than ever. If you can’t get your point across in an email, ad, press release, etc. then you’re making it difficult to work with you. Also remember, punctuation is your friend.

Speak up. Ask questions about projects if you don’t understand the full reasoning behind what you’re doing. Ask how your manager got to a certain conclusion. Ask cross-functional partners about the details of their job, position and department. This can only make you a more valuable asset and candidate going forward. Also, if you’re looking for a reference or advice, no one can help you if you don’t ask them to.

Everyone’s journey is different with varying degrees of ups-and-downs, but we all eventually get to where we belong. Have faith in your decisions, make them thoughtfully and you can’t help but succeed.

Belief

I’ll stop saying, “One of my favorite songs is…” since it’s obvious that I love music, and I love a lot of songs. However, this song is one that spoke to me the first time I heard it. I’ve seen Gavin DeGraw several times over the last 8 years, but this is still one of my favorite songs by him.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think I’m a pretty good teacher. Some people may read that statement and call me cocky or bold.  They have a right to their opinion, but I’m just being honest. It’s what I truly believe. I wouldn’t still be teaching today if I didn’t believe it, but I didn’t always believe that I was good.

When I first started teaching here, I believed I was a good public speaking teacher. I had taught it for 3 years at Virginia Tech, and my supervisor used some of my assignments as models for teaching the new TAs, so I had developed confidence in my skills, so I figured that making the transition to UNCW wouldn’t be that difficult. Boy, was I naive!

I had a student take me to grade appeal with the Dean’s office my first semester. The next semester, I taught 2 sections of Capstone, and I was so ineffective that I stopped going to one of those classes.  Thinking back to how young and stupid I was, I can only laugh and think about what I’ve learned in the 12 years since then.

1. Believing in yourself is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. There will be a lot of highs and lows before you realize you actually do have what it takes.  Come to terms with the fact that you will fail at some things, but it’s learning from it and how you respond to failing that ultimately matters.  I know I’ve come a long way since that first Capstone class.

2. Don’t fixate on your past mistakes, but never forget them. Your failures make you better in the long run. They make you appreciate everything it took to get to where you are. I love sharing stories about my mistakes with others. I love mentoring other teachers and students. If what I share can help them keep from making the same mistakes, I’ve done a pretty good job.

3. You have to be honest with yourself. Sometimes you have to face the truth–you’re not the best at everything (gasp!). You might need to ask others for help/advice/guidance. There may be other experts out there whose wisdom can actually help you…if you let them. Or sometimes you’ll need to admit you made a bad call. Fortunately I work with lots of people who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions when they think I’m wrong (I mean that seriously). It keeps me honest with myself and on my toes, and it ultimately makes for a better me.

4. Belief isn’t constant. It can change over time.  Various factors can influence your confidence, such as changes in your work environment, stress in your personal life, health problems, etc.  If your confidence isn’t there anymore, ask yourself why.  Part of having the belief in yourself that you can do [insert ____]  is accepting that confidence doesn’t last forever. You have to work hard to be good. This may mean continuing education, meeting goals or expectations, or passing yearly evaluations.

5. If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect others to believe in you. I believe this statement…to an extent. I do think that when you go into an interview, you must be confident in yourself because ultimately you’re asking someone in an interview to take a chance by hiring you.  However, I do know that I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for two of my mentors at Virginia Tech. When I graduated, I didn’t have much for my resume. I had a 3.35 GPA (although I like to point out that I earned a 3.9 my senior year and had a 4.0 my final semester) and not a lot of extracurricular activities, besides winning the intramural tennis tournament 3 times. I had one part-time job and a few summer jobs, but for the most part, my resume consisted of a lot of courses I took. When I changed my mind about film school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. More importantly, I didn’t know what I could do. What was I qualified to do besides teach tennis lessons or work at a library (my PT job)? Thankfully, my mentors saw past my rebellious (I prefer to call it headstrong) personality, and they agreed to write me many letters of recommendation to a lot of graduate programs. They met with me many times and listened to my insecurities (and my whining). And they called me out on my BS when I deserved it. They challenged me to be better than I was, and that’s what I’ve done.

So I recognize that some of you may not be there yet. You may not be confident in your abilities because you’re still working things out. You may regret some of the choices you’ve made in school. We all have some regrets. For those of you who still have time, don’t sulk in the decisions you’ve made. Rather make better choices with the decisions you have left. And all of you, your story is still being written. Don’t give up yet. Find a mentor, search for answers to questions you have, make new contacts, learn new things. It’s not over until you believe it is.

For this week’s post, tell me about a time you’ve failed at something (I’ve told you about enough of my failures), and what you learned from that experience. This is a very common interview question, and it forces us to be honest with ourselves. The way you answer this question can tell an interviewer a lot about a person–including their sincerity and willingness to learn, so give this a lot of thought.  [And I'm pleased to report that everyone posted a comment last week--first time in the history of the blog! Thanks everyone!]

We Belong

This song is a throw back to the 80s, but I saw Pat Benatar in concert a few years ago, and she was amazing. Check out the video here.

When we were handling media requests for the Dress for Success Fashion Show this past spring, I was asked about why our fashion show was so unique (the theme was “Find Your Voice” based off the hit TV show. Here’s what I wrote,

The tips that we share about interviewing are universal.  If you’re looking for a job, it’s tough out there.  Everyone can use a refresher.  This year’s theme of “Find Your Voice” is especially relevant to anyone because I think we’re all in the process of finding ourselves and trying to persuade others that we’re the right fit for them at the right time.  I think back to how naïve I was when I interviewed for this position that I have.  It took a lot of time, introspection, and experience through the years for me to find and be comfortable with who I am as a person and as a teacher now.  If we can help students understand that their voice is more than what they say in an interview—that it’s what they look like, how confident they sound, what they wear—that it’s everything they COMMUNICATE in an interview, then I think we’ve done a pretty good job.

[And BOOM, that's your sound bite!]

This class is all about finding your voice. This class is not difficult in terms of course content. Rather, its difficulty lies in discovering your voice–who YOU are–and the search for the right FIT for you right now. What’s good for you right now might not be right for you in five years.  How can you begin to discover if something is the right fit?

1. Know yourself. Know what’s important to you, what skills and qualities you possess that can add value to an organization, and why you think you want to work there. The assignments we’ve done thus far this semester have been designed to help you figure out some of these answers.

2. Do your HW. Research the company. This page is a good start. Ask questions during the interview. Take in everything during your interview–how your potential co-workers interact with each other, how they dress, what the office looks like, etc. If you don’t get a good vibe when you’re on site, it might not be the right place for you.

3. Trust your gut. You know you better than anyone else. Be honest with yourself. If something doesn’t feel right, you’re probably right. Similarly, if you have a good feeling about a job opportunity, don’t be afraid to admit that you want it.

4. Don’t be afraid to try new things. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be planning fashion shows and breast cancer benefits. When I got the job, I figured I’d teach a few sections of Public Speaking and PR and that’d be it. My life would probably be a lot less stressful if I hadn’t taken on those things when the opportunities presented themselves. But deep down, I know that those events have become part of the reason why I still teach.

5. Be patient. Finding your voice at work takes time. I certainly wasn’t as outspoken my first few years here as I am now. It takes time to figure out where and how you fit in with people who may have been with the organization for many years. I think I was the first new FT hire in at least 3 years. I was the new kid (or as Tammy used to call me, the “child”), and it took me some time to figure out what I wanted my classes to be like, what my teaching style should be, what I felt I should wear (I used to wear a suit everyday), and what I wanted to contribute to the department. And a lot of that was difficult because I’m not the most outgoing person, and I’m certainly not the most patient person, either. Eventually I figured it out, but it’s still a work in progress. As you get older, your opinions and priorities change.

The point of this blog is to remember that just because you haven’t found a job opening for a job you love doesn’t mean you won’t. It just means you haven’t found it…YET.  Just because you’re not sure what you want to do after graduation doesn’t mean you’re confused. It just means you haven’t figured it out…YET. Learning who we are, what we want, and where we belong is a work in progress.  So give yourself a break. I wasn’t always as put together as I appear to be haha. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start at the beginning and start with YOU.  Only after you’re honest with yourself about who you are (your strengths, weaknesses, qualities and skills–and if you need a refresher, maybe go back to your Forte profile) can you tackle the idea of fit and where you belong.

When was the last time you felt like you belong? What made you feel like it was a good fit? How do you think you will know when your first job is the right fit? What questions do you think you should ask that can help you determine if a potential job is the right fit for you? And, conversely, what could a potential employer say to you that would tell you it’s not the right fit? What would be a deal-breaker? 

Alumni Guest Post–Winging It

Written by: Lisa Huynh

Looking back on the last two years since I’ve graduated, a few reigning themes come to mind. 20-something-problems is a big one. Dazed and confused and YOLO are close seconds as well.

But to be honest, even with a full-time job that I love, I will be the first to admit that I still don’t have my stuff together. I still don’t know the first thing about being an adult. I don’t understand taxes. I’ve tried and failed to keep a budget at least four separate times. I still haven’t figured out how to successfully balance my personal and work life.

What I can tell you though, is that this is all normal. It’s a part of being in your twenties that I’ve learned to begrudgingly accept. We aren’t supposed to have our shit together. It’s okay. It’s okay that I drove cross-country to Los Angeles for an unpaid internship that I didn’t end up getting a job at. It’s okay that I worked at a restaurant to pay for rent during that time. At that moment, I kept thinking that I had somehow gotten the equation of being a post-grad wrong. But there isn’t a formula on how to find the perfect job. We all sort of have to wing it.

It took me six months of working two jobs to save up for moving to Hollywood. I made sure that I had enough in the bank so that I could sustain myself for six months of unemployment. Turns out that that forward thinking was probably one of the main reasons I am still here. Sure, up and moving to a city where you have no idea what you’ll be doing past three months is a little risky, but make sure you aren’t entering the ring completely blind.

Tip #1: Always have a backup plan. I’m a strong believer in backup plans. They are your own personal life insurance. They recognize that things don’t always go according to plan (and believe me, they rarely do), and they make you prepared for the inevitable. Backup plans allow you to keep on dreaming, but still be realistic as well. They keep you grounded.

After realizing that I would not be getting a job after my internship, I spent the next six long months unemployed. I like to refer to this time as my “freelancing” period. At first I was embarrassed that I had graduated and still didn’t have a “real” job yet. I avoided calls from my mother and friends from back home because I didn’t want to talk about the monotonous routine of applying to jobs every day.

And then my roommate’s father told me something that I ended up changing my perspective completely. He told me to enjoy my unemployment when I could, because once you get a job, you will never get a chance to again. This shifted my way of thinking, and I decided to take it to heart.

Tip #2: Take advantage of unemployment when you can. Oddly enough, those six months without a job turned out to be some of the best times of my life. It was finally a chance to do all the things that I never had time to do before when I had commitments and responsibilities. I started a blog, finally. I read more. I made it a goal to do something new every day in Los Angeles and truly discovered the city that I now live in. Sure, I still applied to jobs everyday as well, and went on interviews, but I felt like the most happy, jobless person on earth.

All this free time in turn left me lots of room for creativity. I tried to see what worked and didn’t work when I applied to jobs. I would try different things to see what garnered more of a response. I kept asking myself the question “why?” Why didn’t that cover letter work as well as this other one? Why did my resume cause the interviewer to act that way?

Tip #3: Get creative. During those six months, I probably applied to well over 100 positions. I spent on average about an hour per application, and even more once I actually got an interview. I made a visual resume (kind of like an infographic for your resume) and a professional, traditional resume. I re-designed my portfolio so that it was more visually appealing and up to date. I analyzed my past jobs and responsibilities multiple times a day. I even submitted myself for temp jobs.

I owe this persistence in trying new things to finally landing a job. By then, I was way more well versed in my strengths and weaknesses than I was after my internship. When Madame Tussauds Hollywood called me into an interview for Marketing and Events Coordinator, I was prepared. I was confident in my answers to their questions, and I knew that my advantage over other people that were in line for the position might just be that I had more time than they did. I had time to create an in-depth presentation, I had time to design handouts for all my interviews, and I had time to go above and beyond. I didn’t have an excuse.

I’ve been the Marketing and Events Coordinator for almost five months now, and I couldn’t be more content. I feel like everything happened for a reason (as cheesy as that might sound), and I was meant to go through that “freelancing” period so that I could learn more about myself and making it in the real world.

Now although I definitely don’t expect everyone to have the same perspective as I do, I do want you to know that if you don’t know what to do next, it’s okay. You don’t have to know. You still have so much time to figure that out. There isn’t a perfect equation on how to live life after graduation…sometimes you just have to wing it.

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