Skip to content

Having It All

It has been stated numerous times this semester that most of us are juggling multiple jobs, responsibilities, activities, family, friends, school, and sleep. The idea of having it all is a fantasy, reserved for people who can afford housekeepers, nannies, and personal trainers and chefs. While I do find that I am most productive when I am busy, I also get worn down by the mid-way point of the semester. Last week, I had every minute of every day planned to a T, which meant I didn’t have any room for flexibility. I had to move from one thing to the next to the next. In some ways, I do like to marvel in the accomplishment of how much I can accomplish in a 24-hour period on 4 hours of sleep. It shows how important it is for me to be efficient when I work. But in reality, I know that it’s unrealistic for me to expect that everything I have planned that day will go as scheduled. And even if I do get everything I have on my list done, I do it at a cost.

I will sometimes miss out on FaceTime chats with my nieces and nephew b/c my schedule isn’t compatible with a kid’s bedtime routine. I live b/t 6-12 hours away from them, which means I miss a lot of birthdays (I think I’ve only been to two birthday parties), and I generally can only do either Thanksgiving or Christmas because of the cost of flying up to NJ. I don’t get to join in family vacations to Disney World because my summer break doesn’t coincide with the kids’. There are certain times of the year that I can’t get away (i.e., finals). In fact, my absence from my niece and nephew’s lives when they were little was illustrated by my father’s less than subtle remarks at the holidays, “This is your auntie Jennifer. Do you remember Jennifer?” Because of the hours I work, it’s really not possible for me to own a dog (it’d be inhumane). I don’t make a salary that affords me the luxury to own a fancy home or to drive a fancy car. I see my really good friends maybe once a year since we’re in different cities, and we’re all doing the best we can. I work summers to pay for concerts and car insurance. It’s all a compromise.

It’s easy to think because you feel like you’re doing it all now that you will be able to continue juggling everything after you graduate. The consequences are greater after graduation. You might have to let one thing slide to do another thing better. It’s impossible to do 100 things really well. There are always trade-offs. And I’d like to think that most employers would rather have you do a few things really well, as opposed to doing many things average. Check out these articles on the work-life balance, this one by The Muse and PayScale, and tell me in this week’s post how you juggle all of your responsibilities. What do you sacrifice to make it work, what tips/tricks help make it easier, and what worries you about doing this after graduation?


Your Spokespeople

Anyone who thinks they can be successful on their own without any help is highly delusional. Even people who are independently wealthy still need the support of others, even if it’s people to wait on them at restaurants and fix their cars. As you prepare to embark on the job search, one of the most important things you should do is line up your references.

Simply defined, a reference is someone who has first-hand experience with you and your work, who can speak to both when asked by a potential employer. Too often students don’t take references seriously. This article may make you rethink the importance of good references. It references a CareerBuilder survey in which, “Sixty-nine percent of employers said they have changed their minds about a candidate after speaking with a reference.”

According to Randall S. Hansen on, “Having a few good references can be the deciding factor in your getting the job offer. Similarly, having one bad — or lukewarm — reference could cost you the job.” Hansen lists eight keys to choosing and using the best job references in your job search here.

If you Google “references in the job search,” most of the hits on the first few pages will direct you to articles that say similar things. The basics include:

1. Choose wisely. Select people who know your work and can provide specifics. These generally include internship supervisors, current and former employers, and professors. Keep in mind that teachers who have only had you in one class or in large lecture sections may not know you well enough to be able to provide a helpful reference. Brienne Discoll says on that you should always make sure that the person you are asking can say positive things about you in an articulate manner (another reason why you should ask for permission first). Also, it is a bit suspicious if your current employer or most recent supervisor is not a reference. Read Tip #7 of Career Builders’ “8 Tips for Getting Great Job References” for suggestions about how to handle a situation with a current employer that you don’t want to know that you’re looking. (I suggest asking someone you trust who works at that same company to be a reference instead.)

2. Be thoughtful about HOW you ask people to be your reference. (And YES, you should ALWAYS ask permission first.) If you want to be taken seriously (and what’s more serious than searching for a job?), then take the proper steps to secure approval from your potential reference. Don’t ask in front of others. It can put that person on the spot, and it’s awkward if the answer is no. If they’re on the fence, give them the courtesy of thinking about it first. Don’t ask via text message or on Twitter. Again, neither forms are very personal and professional. If you can’t ask me in person or in a professionally worded e-mail, why should I take the time to say positive things about you? (The jury’s out on Facebook, but I personally HATE it when people DM me on Facebook and ask. First off, I don’t have the new FB messenger, and I’m not about to download it based on what I’ve read about the privacy issues, so I generally don’t even see those messages until days later. Second, I work enough as it is — I don’t like to do work on FB, and my work e-mail is easy to find if you happen to not know it.) A good rule of thumb is to contact potential references in their preferred method of communication. If you don’t know what that is, err on the side of being too cautious and respectful instead of running the risk of insulting that person.

3. Keep in touch with your references. Be sure to give them a heads up when you’re going on the market so they can think of a few things to say in advance of being contacted. Make sure they have a current copy of your resume at all times, and let them know if and when you get the position, or if you relocate. It’s difficult to be a credible reference if you haven’t spoken to the candidate in several years. Any kind of good (effective) networking involves maintaining relationships, which means you need to communicate from time to time. Even if it’s just to say hi, hope things are well (which doesn’t sound as out of the blue during the holidays).

4. Don’t list your references on your resume (it takes up valuable space), and don’t submit them unless asked (they usually only ask if they are seriously interested in you). But bring the list to the interview in case you are asked while you are there, and always make sure you have your list up to date and with the appropriate information. References should also be included in your portfolio, says Kim Isaacs with  For example, I do not permit others to list my personal cell number or e-mail on their list of references. I also want my official position title accompanying my contact information. If your references go by other names, they may or may not want their official birth name listed. This is another reason why it’s important to ask for permission first so they can tell you what information to include.

You can save yourself a lot of headaches later down the road if you line up your references now. Try to get permission for about 3-5 references, and if you choose not to ask for permission first, consider yourself warned. The articles referenced in this post reiterated the importance of references in the job search, and all of them said you should ask first. Personally, I will not answer ANY questions about ANY job applicant if I haven’t been asked for permission first. (And if you list me on your list for this class without asking permission, I will not give you credit for it.) Here’s why — it’s my reputation on the line, too, and I have worked a long time to build my reputation, and I certainly am not going to risk it on just anyone. I also view it as a sign of disrespect when people use my name without my permission. Saying things like, “I put you down as a reference, I hope that’s okay” after the fact does NOT make it okay. You knew you were going on the interview, you should have known you would be asked for references, so line them up in advance. Don’t just throw my name in after you learn that whoever interviewed you knows me.

Someone said to me last week, “_____ and I hold your references in high regards. We both know that if you are willing to back someone, then they are good. She straight up asked me a question about you in my interview. She said, ‘If I were to call Jen and ask her about you, what do you think she would say?'” I know this story is true because I was called by her current boss after her interview, and I was called about another grad that they hired that I recommended. So when you think people aren’t called, they are. And more often than not, if a place I know has an opening, they ask me to refer people I’d recommend, so the reference is implied. They don’t want me to waste their time on people I wouldn’t want to work with. Now’s the time to put your house in order. Get your references, your spokespeople set. And if you don’t have any yet, you should consider what actions you need to take in order to line some up in the near future. This week, tell me about what you’ve learned about references previously, any horror stories you’ve heard about references, and what questions you still have about references. Remember, you will need at least 3 for the portfolio assignment.

Your Best

A year ago today, I ran the Chicago Marathon while suffering the effects of the flu. The conditions were less than ideal, and I was sick for about a month afterwards, but I finished what I set out to do — I finished my second marathon. It’s funny to think that in the year since that race, I haven’t run a single race. I’ve hardly run at all. In 2013, I logged more than 940 miles running. This year, I’ve probably run less than 100. It’s funny how goals and priorities change over time.

This year, we’ve discussed clothing, challenges, resumes, and dream jobs. But now I want to know what you are most proud of. What’s your biggest accomplishment so far, and why are you so proud of this?

I’ve actually used certain races as an answer in interviews. Most people seem impressed by it, and then they joke that they can’t even run a 5k, so I guess it goes over pretty well. Keep in mind that not all of your accomplishments need to be work-related. Running also shows that I have other interests, which is good if you want to make sure that you hire employees who will just as happy outside of the office as they are inside of it.

I am also really proud of the PCOM FastPass that I came up with, and I’m proud of how I’ve helped grow the fashion show and Rock for a Cure from nothing into what they are today. I’m proud of the activities I created as a TA at Virginia Tech, and I’m proud of winning Lecturer of the Year in 2012. I was proud of earning a varsity letter the only year I tried out for the tennis team in high school, and I was proud of myself for earning a 4.0 my last semester in undergrad (while taking Analytical Chemistry as an elective). My proudest running moment was running my first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in 2012 (while cramping for 15 miles), but I also thought I was pretty bad-ass when I completed 5 half marathons in one calendar year (2010).

Why does this matter? Because it speaks to your motivation, how you define success, and what your priorities are. And all of these things are important in an interview. Hopefully your answer will reveal that you had to work hard, that you had to deal with obstacles, and that you sacrificed to overcome those obstacles. Read this blog about why this question is important, and how you should answer it. Then tell me what your biggest accomplishment has been so far, and tell me why you feel the way you do.

Dressing to Impress

I was at an event last week, and one of our grads was there. The FIRST thing she said to me was how grateful she was that I sent her one of our recent grads to interview for a position over the summer. That recent grad made it to the final two (but ultimately did not get the job), but the grad who interviewed her said that she was so impressed with her, she was so polished, wore her suit, had her portfolio, etc. that she STILL has her resume, and it’s at the front of her file in case something else comes her way. Now, although I would have preferred for my student to have gotten the job, it did make me feel good to know that she did everything she could have done. She represented herself, the department, and me well, and the only reason why she didn’t get the job is because she didn’t have as much experience as the person who did. You can’t teach experience (just like you can’t teach height or heart). It’s just the way the chips fall sometimes. And when you’re right out of college, one of the toughest things is to get people to take you seriously, even though you’re likely to be interviewing against people who have more experience than you. So why risk it on the clothes you wear? Check out this article about one’s clothes and the impact it has on another’s first impression of you.

I’ve heard numerous stories from grads that interview students now who say that job candidates showed up to interviews in inappropriate attire. Someone wore a sundress. Didn’t get the job. Someone wore short shorts to an interview because they thought “it didn’t matter” because it was only for a work-study position. IT ALWAYS MATTERS. This Forbes article reiterates that some people view candidates who dress too casually as being disrespectful.

Some students fear they will be overdressed, and the interviewers will perceive them as not a good fit b/c they didn’t research what to wear. Remember that the interview is a different situation. You don’t have the job yet, so you should be dressed in a manner that says you respect the interviewer and the position that you’re fighting others for. Respect tradition and the others who came before you. You can start trying to change the rules AFTER you’ve gotten the job and have been there for a little while. You can still show your personality while wearing a suit. (And I firmly believe that everyone needs at least one good-fitting suit, no matter what career you go into. For guys, that suit will come in handy for weddings, formals, interviews, church, funerals. For ladies, even if you don’t wear a suit everyday for work, you may have to go to a function or deliver a presentation, and throwing on a suit shows others that you’re taking the situation seriously. You can also use the individual pieces for various business casual looks for networking events, and all of the aforementioned occasions.)

You can add personality to your suits with your shoes, your shirt/blouse, and your accessories. This article suggests 10 musts to include as you begin to build your career wardrobe. My list would include a reversible belt, one good pair of comfortable closed-toe shoes, a jacket with matching pants, a pair of dark pants, and three tops that you can mix or match. I’d also get a nice watch (not a Garmin) and a padfolio. That should be enough to get you started.

We just finished discussing budgets, and it’s not easy to invest in “grown-up” clothes. And even when you do, it can still be expensive to maintain those investments. Most of my favorite work shoes have literally fallen apart (but I got a good 10 years out of some of them), so I’ve had to re-invest this year. It’s cheaper if you don’t gain or lose a lot of weight after you purchase your suit. Don’t buy trendy – buy conservative so it doesn’t go out of style after one season. Find a good tailor, and make sure the shoulders fit (if those don’t fit, the cost to tailor will cost more than the suit) before you buy. Take a friend with you on your search (to make the task more fun and to offer a second opinion). If you’re willing and have the patience to dig, you can often find big savings. This week, share any interview clothing horror stories you’ve heard, the questions you still have about getting that first suit, and share any tips you have about purchasing clothes for your working wardrobe.

Alumni Guest Post — Taking the Road Less Traveled

My name is Genille Anderson and I graduated from UNCW with a B.A. in Communication Studies and a minor in Spanish in 2007. I went on to get my Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration and worked in various areas of Student Affairs before quitting my job and moving to the Middle East, where I have been living for the past 2 years.

When I was taking the COM Capstone course, I expected to become some kind of Manhattan-living, PR executive. Things just didn’t work out that way; I’m a pretty cautious person. I wasn’t ready to take a risk and move out to a bigger city market…alone and with virtually no money.

Luckily, I got a position out of undergrad in the Campus Activities & Involvement Center at UNCW and fell in love with Student Affairs. I continued to work and try to enjoy my safe and quiet life in North Carolina until, out of the blue, my husband found an opportunity to work in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I literally had to take out a map to figure out exactly where I would be living. I was terrified of pausing my career; I feared not finding a job and having to explain to future employers that I followed my husband to another country and lived as a housewife for years. How could we afford to live on one income? How could I remain competitive when we moved back home? What would I do with all that time by myself in a new country (literally new, it’s 42 years old) and thousands of miles away from everyone I know? And I don’t speak Arabic.

I decided that this time, I had to take the risk. Steve Harvey explains why pretty well in this clip here (Watch it – it’s short!). I gave a 6-week notice at Duke, packed up as much as I could fit into 3 military duffle bags, and hopped on a plane to Dubai.

I started applying for positions as soon as I knew we were moving. I posted my CV on various UAE websites, sent it directly to employers, and joined an American Women’s Association to network. I didn’t hear back from anyone. That’s when I learned my first lesson of living/working abroad: be patient. The job search process took longer than I liked, but I had a job within 4 months of moving to Dubai. I didn’t start working until 6 month after moving. And of course, shortly after I started working, I started getting calls from various other companies and universities about open positions.

If I could give advice to anyone considering a career abroad, it would be this:

  1. DO IT. At least consider it as an option and apply for positions abroad along with domestic jobs. There are tons of opportunities around the world for Americans with skills that you now have. The perspective you gain with a little distance from the USA is life-altering.
  2. Be flexible about the nature of your work, but selective about the company and the working environment you are joining. You may not get the exact job you want right away, but working will get you connected. I am in a faculty position now, though I never wanted to teach. I absolutely love it and would have never considered teaching if I was in the USA and thought I had more options.
  3. Support others in their ventures and they will return the favor. My husband bought a suit from an aspiring fashion designer, who happened to sit on a board with the Associate Vice Provost of the university where I work now. He passed along my resume and I got an interview! Networking is everything.
  4. Invest time in your Linked-In profile and CV/Resume. On this side of the world, employers want to see a Curriculum Vitae listing everything you have ever done professionally, not the abbreviated resume. My husband ended up hating his job here and luckily got recruited on Linked-In for a similar position in a much better company.


This whole Dubai experiment hasn’t been easy; there were times when I wondered what in the world we were thinking. Moving here is one of the best decisions I have ever made, for me personally and in terms of my career. Eventually, I will move back to the USA and appreciate it more; I look forward to that.

Jim Carey recently gave a commencement speech where he said something that really resonated with me: “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.” Take a chance on yourself. Good luck and enjoy this time in your life.

Looking Good on Paper

How do I measure up on paper? This is a question anyone who will be applying for a new job/internship/grad school position should ask themselves. Most of us aren’t fortunate to know someone who has the power right now to hire us for our dream job. (I’m still waiting for Shonda Rhimes to call haha.) So we’re resigned to the traditional resume to get our foot inside the interview door. The resume is a company’s first look at who we are, and it’s often what get a potential employee’s application discarded. (One mistake = trash can.) One graduate who had a position open at her place of business said they stopped accepting applications after the first 100 resumes came in. You can bet an error was just one of several criteria they looked at before conducting phone interviews.

Personally, I kind of like the idea of resumes because I’ve always been a strong writer. I’ve never been good at making a good first impression when I meet people because I’m introverted (and apparently have an “intense” and somewhat “mean” look on my face). So I like that people’s first judgment of me is on paper. That’s where I shine. I have to work harder on the interview side, but I’m generally confident that if I apply for a job, I’m most likely going to get an interview because I look good on paper. I simply don’t make spelling errors.

There are a million resources out there about resumes, and everyone has an opinion about them (I hate objective statements because they’re usually written using vague and unhelpful language that ultimately takes up valuable space — a well-written targeted cover letter accomplishes the same thing). So my advice to you is to talk to lots of people before you push send. Talk to the person you secure an informational interview with to see what they think about resumes. They may be able to help you include some industry-specific terms that your company scans for during their initial review. Research industry sources and read company/organization blogs for insight (a lot of PR firms will discuss how to break into their company in a blog post or two). I know we heard last week that it’s good to be a duck. Well, it’s also good to be a sponge and soak up all of the information that is out there. (Start at the UNCW Career Center, and I used VT’s Career Services a lot — you actually don’t have to be a student to use most of the resources on there). I see articles posted all the time with titles like, “Top 5 Things to Include on Your Resume,” and sometimes I agree with everything that is said, and other times I see stupid things, like “Be sure to include ‘References Available Upon Request’ at the bottom,” and it drives me crazy (Any company that is seriously interested in hiring you will ask you for a list, and if you have a list, it will take a good 1/2 to full page to list them, so don’t waste a line of your resume for that). If you see advice that seems unusual, then simply ask. I’m kind of set in my ways of how I like resumes to be, but I always have a reason for why I do things the way I do. Just ask.

Some tips to get you started:

1. Don’t use a template. We can spot them a mile away. Create your resume in Word and focus on making it easy to read at a glance.

2. Be consistent. Don’t use your resume as a chance to get cutesy with different fonts and sizes and strange bullets. If you put the dates on the right margin at the top of your resume, then put all of your dates on the right margin. Use the same symbol for all of your bullets. Use periods at the end of all of your bullets, or none of your bullets in the experience section. Use the same amount of spacing throughout in b/t each job, each section, etc.

3. Be selective. Don’t list everything you’ve ever done b/c you think a longer resume is better than a shorter one. Yes, your resume should be one page in length, but only list positions/activities that relate to the job you’re applying for. Cross-check it with the position requirements and responsibilities. Prioritize. What is MOST important to your getting selected to the next round.

4. Be prepared to be asked about anything you list on your resume. If you list it, they can ask about it. So either figure out a way to talk about the job you hated in a non-scary way (focus on what you learned from that experience), or don’t list it (that goes for positions that you held where you didn’t actually DO anything). And it goes without saying that you shouldn’t list anything that is false or a gross embellishment. There was an article that circulated on Twitter last week about a VP of Walmart that was having to resign over an “inaccuracy” in his resume. This isn’t the first (and probably won’t be the last) high profile resignation over similar circumstances.

5. Add numbers to quantify your experience. People love numbers. When you watch football on a Sunday, you hear things like, “Cam Newton is a great quarterback.” Sure he is. But then you hear how great he is when they say, “Cam Newton threw 24 touchdowns in 16 games in 2013.” That’s more impressive, and it clarifies what you mean when you say he’s great. Similarly, if you say that you have experience training employees, that’s not as impressive as saying, “trained 10 new hires in 6 months.” If you were responsible for fundraising, tell me how much you raised. If you were president of a club, tell me how many members were in the club when you led weekly meetings.

6. Proofread. Repeat. Proofread. Repeat.

This week, tell me about your previous sources of information about resumes prior to this class. What questions do you still have about resumes, and what are some of the mistakes/horror stories you have heard about resumes in the past?

Resistance to Change

I HATE change. I’m not afraid to say that, and I won’t pretend that I do like change. I’m someone who likes to figure out how things work/are, and then I’ll try to find out how to be the best at those things, but when the system changes, I don’t tend to respond well. I like knowing what to expect because I like to be prepared. Scratch that. I like to be better prepared than anyone else.

It’s difficult to exist in a world that is full of constant change. The students always change. By the time I feel like I get to know a lot of them, they leave and I get a new batch that need breaking in. People get new jobs, and move away, or have kids, and start going to bed at 9:00 pm. My nieces and nephew are growing up, and they’re changing, almost every minute it seems. One minute, I’m awesome “auntie” and the next, I’m replaced by Princess Elsa and Olaf.

Today I embraced my need to have a better attitude about change, and I purchased an LG G3 Android phone. The reason this is so out of the box for me is that EVERYTHING I own is Apple. Initially, I was an Apple skeptic. I was slow to adopt the technology. It started with the iPod (of course). Then I tried the phone (3G) with limited success (my students had to show me how to do basic things on it). That was followed by the iPhone 4, then a MacBook (which I’m STILL probably paying for after 4 years), a 4s, several versions of the iPod, and an Apple TV. So when I say that I really am immersed in the Apple ecosystem, I really am. So it’s kind of crazy that I would pick the G3 over the iPhone 6. I’ve done a lot of research, and if I’m ever going to like an Android phone, it’s going to be this one. (I have a plan–try this phone for 5 days, and if I don’t like it, I can return it for the iPhone 6, so I do have a back-up plan.) But I did this because I wanted to prove to myself that I’m not afraid of a little change. Has it been easy making this switch? Absolutely not. I spent 2 1/2 hours at the store trying to transfer my data to the new phone, only to have to pay another $3 on an app to restore my calendars (hadn’t thought of that). And I still can’t figure out how to get my music on this phone. But there was a lot I didn’t like about Apple’s “update” to the new phone. And I’m tired of settling for less than what I want or what I feel I deserve. I’m tired of taking the path of least resistance b/c I’m afraid of dealing with changes. So today, I did more than just purchase a phone; I had the courage to try something new, to do something “not me. “Who knows? It might not work out, but at least I can say I tried. At least I won’t always wonder about “those Androids.” Either way, it’s a learning experience, something that will help me take more chances that may make my life better.

This week, tell me about something that you’ve wanted to do or change about yourself, why you haven’t done it or changed it yet, and what you can realistically do to work on this.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: