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The Days Are Long but the Years Are Short

It’s been 3 weeks since I navigated the high school carpool line for the first time. I drove away wondering – how did that happen? How is that sweet 5-year-old in this picture now a freshman in high school? Like so many other parents, I shake my head – where has the time gone? And how can it be only four more years until she’s off to college?

In that moment, I realized – now it’s our turn. I’ve spent the last several years counseling families on the college search and application process. All the information that I’ve been sharing with others, I will now be applying to my own family. While we do have four more years with her at home, I know that it will go by quickly and there are things that we need to be thinking about freshman year to set her up for success in the years to come. Here’s a peek at what we’ve been talking about at our house:

  • GPA: Obviously, we talked about grades when she was in middle school, but reality set in when I told her that the grade that she gets on day one of high school factors into the GPA she will have when applying to college in 3 years. We have not had a deep dive conversation into college fit yet, but she does love the mountains and always seems to be wearing App State gear. Using App State as an example, we talked about the profile of the freshman class, pulled directly from the school website. Knowing that the middle 50% of first year admitted students have a weighted GPA of 3.94-4.48 will help her keep her eye on the prize and serve as a measuring stick over the next few years. Should her grades fall below or rise above that, we can not only course correct but also identify other mountain schools that could be a good fit (or maybe she’ll change her mind completely and want to head to the city or the beach).
  • Course Selection: We’ve also talked about how course selection impacts GPA as well as the difference between weighted & unweighted GPAs. At her school, an “A” in a standard course is worth 4 while it’s worth 4.5 in an honors course and a 5 in an AP course. There’s no pressure to take APs now but it’s important to understand what it all means. In addition, it was part of the conversation when we moved her from a non-challenging standard Freshman English class to Honors English during the first week of school.
  • Requirements: High school requirements and college admissions requirements are not necessarily the same thing. For example, my daughter is not required to take a foreign language in order to graduate from high school but in order to attend App, she must have taken two consecutive units of a language other than English.
  • Activities: My daughter dances, a lot. A lot, a lot. She loves it and it keeps her active, but it’s all done outside of school. While I’m definitely not encouraging her to join every activity offered at her high school, I am encouraging her to explore and freshman year is a great time to do that.
  • Planning: While school has just started, it won’t be long before we will be talking about summer plans and course selection for sophomore year. What classes are most interesting? What does she want to take more of? How does she balance taking a challenging course load with maintaining a life (and time to dance) and keeping her grades up? Outside of dance, how does she want to get more involved in her high school?

While she’s a few years away from finalizing her college list, writing essays, and asking teachers for recommendations, I want the idea of college to be in her mind and for her to understand what it takes to get there. If I have learned anything from a career in partnering with students and families, it’s that putting your student in the best possible position for the college admissions process is not something that begins junior or senior year.

Building Your Brand: Social Media and Your Career

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Raleigh Convention Center as part of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Network 2019 Conference. I was one of three speakers leading a breakout session on “Building Your Brand”. I addressed how companies are using social media to evaluate candidates for employment. Below are snippets from my 10-minute TED-style talk. If you are interested in understanding how an employer might view your online presence, take a moment to google yourself and then contact me to learn how you can use social media in your career in a positive way.

In October, a Texas company publicly shamed a female candidate by sharing her bikini picture on Instagram. They said that it was a public service announcement to other candidates of what not to share on social media if you want a “professional job”. While the company rightfully received considerable backlash for how they handled this situation, there is an important lesson in here for all of us.

Prior to transitioning to career coaching, I was a recruiter for 18 years. In preparation for today, in addition to using my own experience, I reached out to several other recruiters and HR professionals to better understand the role that social media plays in how companies view and assess your candidacy. Whether the social search is part of a formal or informal hiring process or out of natural curiosity, you can be sure that someone is looking. The question is, what are the looking for?

Among the recruiters and HR professionals I connected with the level of digging ran the gamut from casual google searches out of curiosity to in-depth deep dives through like & follow history.

  • When I asked whether or not companies had formal social media policies, more often than not I found that companies do not have a formal process outlining:
    • what should be searched
    • when a search is conducted or who is responsible for conducting a search
    • what they do with the information they find
  • A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management unveiled that 57% of companies do not have a policy relating to screening potential employees’ social media.
    • If they have one, the social media review policy would define both what the employer is and is not looking for in reviewing social media. For example, a company might include a search for negative postings about past employers, material relating to alcohol or drug abuse, crime, dishonesty, etc.
  • Many in HR will not check social media until the candidate has signed off on the background check because of concerns about discrimination based on the information they now know about a candidate from seeing them online. It is illegal under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and discrimination laws to use the information found to discriminate against someone because of a protected class. If the information is related to religion, race, gender or another protected class, employers need to be careful before using it as the basis of an employment decision.
  • At the other end of the spectrum are the recruiters who said that checking is part of their MO. Recruiters in this camp will tell you that social media history is one of the most effective ways for a company to get a truly honest snapshot into who a candidate is as a person, and whether or not they are a “cultural fit” with the organization.
  • And if it’s not the recruiters, it’s hiring managers. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers are using social media to screen candidates during the hiring process. Of those who conduct social media screening of candidates, 57% say they discovered content that caused them not to hire a candidate.

First, let’s talk about why they are looking. Several reasons:

  • It’s a great way to find candidates, especially in a competitive job market. In fact, more than 70% of the global workforce are passive candidates. It’s our job to find you. And not just on LinkedIn. One recruiter that I spoke with recently found a candidate on Instagram. She said sliding into people’s DMs is part of her job.
  • Your social media can give a recruiter a more accurate or complete picture of who you are when you aren’t trying to be perfect on your resume and in an interview.
  • They want to know if your brand matches theirs and if you’ll be an advocate for the company. When you work for a company, you become a walking piece of marketing collateral for the company and ambassadors of the brand.
  • Your posts tell me something about your judgment. Employers want to hire someone who has strong decision-making skills and good judgment and ethics. Is what you post how you will behave on the job, at a meeting or on a client’s site? Will you potentially be disruptive to the work environment or create a potential liability for the company? Do you understand what types of content are appropriate for different types of social media accounts?

Let’s dive into things that companies care about.

  • Drug use, heavy drinking, sexually offensive materials, violent imagery or anything else that reflects poorly on the applicant, especially discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion or other sensitive issues.
    • A few years ago, we did not move forward with a candidate because of an excessive number of pictures of drinking/partying on her social media. She was going to be the assistant to a senior partner and communicating with clients on his behalf. If I could easily find these pictures, so could our clients. Right or wrong, the partner did not want those images to be a reflection of him or the services provided by our company.
    • When it comes to drinking (images of taking shots, drunk on spring break, passed out), the concern is how you will conduct yourself, especially if your role involves travel for work, attending conferences or working on a client site. How will you conduct yourself in those places – will you harm the company’s reputation or hurt a relationship with a client?
    • I’ve been involved in 2 situations in which we had concerns about the safety of our employees based on the number of images of guns and gun-related violence on their social media.
  • Bad-mouthing previous employer or fellow employees.
  • Lying about qualifications.
  • Poor communication skills
    • I once passed on a candidate because of the quality of her writing on her Facebook page.
  • Links to criminal behavior.
    • This is where it can get tricky for an employer if someone googles a candidate’s name before a background check is run and/or someone outside of HR becomes aware of this information and passes judgment on a candidate before they should or in a situation where that criminal behavior may not be relevant to the job they are being hired for.
  • Sharing confidential information from previous employers.
  • Unprofessional screen name or handle – I have passed on candidates for this before.
  • Posting too frequently. Will you spend your workday posting online?

So, what do we do when we find something that concerns us?

  • In a number of situations, there’s a broader conversation between HR, recruiting and the hiring manager. From an HR perspective, we need to make sure that we are not potentially discriminating against candidates and making sure that we are treating all candidates equally (meaning a hiring manager can’t look at one finalist on Instagram but not another).
    • If the information comes up as part of a background check covered by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, then we need to give the person a copy of the information, say it was the basis of our decision, and allow them to correct or clarify. But it does not mean that we have to hire the person.
  • Often hiring managers/recruiters will just decide not to move forward and the candidate never knows that they didn’t get the job because of something found on social media. If the information is not subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, then the employer does not need to share the information with the candidate.  
  • Sometimes, companies will ask for another interview for a candidate who is otherwise a great – this interview is focused on cultural fit.

If you think you can let your guard down once you’re employed, that’s not necessarily the case. In the CareerBuilder survey, half of employers surveyed monitor the social media activities of current employees. This has resulted in disciplinary action, either terminating or reprimanding an employee.

So, does this mean you shouldn’t have an online presence?

Absolutely not. We know that you are human and have a life outside of work. And social media can be a great way to find a job. Most of us, assuming we have a LinkedIn profile, have been approached by recruiters about job opportunities. In fact, 31% of all hires are proactively sourced. We want you to have social media so we can find you. 1 in 5 employers expect candidates to already have an online presence and nearly half of hiring managers say they are less likely to screen an applicant if they can’t find them online.

You can use social media in a positive way by:

  • Providing information that supports your qualifications
  • Showing your creativity, especially if you are working in a creative field
  • Conveying a professional image
  • Sharing your wide range of interests
  • Aligning yourself with the values of a positive company culture
  • Using strong writing skills
  • Sharing awards and accolades
  • Asking others to write recommendations for you on LinkedIn
  • Interacting with a company’s social media

The best strategy is to be vigilant about what you post online and to monitor when others are tagging you in their posts.

  • Keep it PG-rated – you don’t know how people will feel about profanity, politics, drug use (even if legal in some states), religion and guns.
  • What do you find when you google your name? Who can see your social media accounts? Are you connected to co-workers or potential future co-workers? You don’t want to share information that’s too personal or deceitful, such as photos of you living it up while you’re supposedly out of the office sick.
  • Post work-related content – with the use of technology and how it’s blurring the lines between work/life, think about how you can incorporate a positive work image into your social media such as attending conferences and participating in a company-sponsored event. These things send a positive message about how you will behave as an employee.

As long as you are purposeful and aware of what you are sharing online, you shouldn’t have to worry about your candidacy for jobs or keeping a job you enjoy.

Reflections on the College Admissions Scandal

The last week has been an interesting one for those of us involved in the college admissions process. If I’m being honest, the scandal made me sad. Sad for the students who put in so much effort, not just during the application process, but throughout their middle and high school years. Sad for the parents who scrape and save to send their children to college. Sad for the counselors who work hard every day, are ethical and truly want what’s best for their students, knowing that does not mean buying their way into college.

I became a consultant because I enjoy working with students, helping them to understand who they are, what they have to offer and how to present the best version of themselves to a college or university. My role is to guide them to find their best fit college, not to create an illegal side door for them.

As an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), I have sworn to abide by the IECA’s Principles of Good Practice.

The fundamental role of independent educational consultants (IECs) is to help students explore college opportunities and find the right place for them to succeed academically and socially. IECs don’t get students admitted—they help students demonstrate why they deserve to be admitted at appropriately chosen schools. They help students find colleges they might not have heard of—often out of their region—and they help students put their best foot forward.

Here are 5 things families should consider when looking to hire an IEC:

  1. Does the IEC belong to a professional association such as IECA with established and rigorous standards for membership?
  2. Do not trust any offers of guaranteed admission to a school or a certain minimum dollar value in scholarships.
  3. Ensure that the IEC adheres to the ethical guidelines for private counseling established by IECA.
  4. Find an IEC that visits college, school, and program campuses and meets with admissions representatives regularly in order to keep up with new trends, academic changes and evolving campus cultures.
  5. Do they attend professional conferences or training workshops on a regular basis to keep up with regional and national trends and changes in the law?

I am proud to serve as an independent educational consultant and of the students that I’ve worked with who are thriving at schools where they, deservedly, walked through the front door.

Ripping the Band Aid off

It’s been about a week since I spoke at the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Professional Women’s Luncheon about Career Empowerment. Talk about getting out of my comfort zone. Speaking about empowerment got me fired up to keep that momentum going (vision boards, anyone?) and hopefully, the event got the attendees motivated for 2019 as well. I got so much positive feedback afterwards; these are a few points that seemed to hit close to home for people:

• “When I graduated from college, I’ll be honest, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Not that I admitted that to anyone at the time.” I was really honest with the audience about this and a lot more. Let’s be real, we don’t always have it all figured out. But as I said, we don’t always say that out loud because we think that everyone else has it all figured out, so we should too.
“Please stop apologizing.” After sharing my own story about quitting my job to be home with my oldest daughter when she was sick as a baby, I reminded the audience stop saying sorry. Stop apologizing for taking time off to be at home with your children or for changing careers or trying the entrepreneurial life and failing; what you’re really doing is devaluing that experience. Be proud of your path.
“Tell everyone.” I could have done another TED talk on the power of your network but for this talk, I focused on the power of your network to keep you accountable. “It’s like marathons – if you tell everyone you are going to run one then you have to actually run one because everyone is going to ask you about it. My network has been unbelievable in terms of supporting me. They’ve reminded me when times have gotten tough that I could do it and they’ve had my back.”
“At some point, I had to rip the band aid off and go all in. I have never taken a bigger risk than the one I did in June when I quit my full-time job to pursue career and admissions consulting and the start-up life.” Now, here’s where my vision board comes in. For that year plus when I was working full-time while building Best You and helping build Kruted, I was mostly just keeping my head above water. Now that I’ve quit and have more time to focus on what were once my side hustles, I can do a lot more than just keep my head above water. Getting up on stage in front of 300+ people was a huge accomplishment for me and I’m already brainstorming what other goals I can conquer in 2019.

Happy Holidays! Here’s to an amazing 2019!

Tell Me About Yourself…

I know what you are thinking – do I have to? Yes, you do because in all likelihood, you’ll be asked this question numerous times during the interview process. In most initial interviews, it’s the default launching point and nailing this question goes a long way towards creating a spark with the interviewer, getting them onboard with the idea that you could be a great fit and ultimately, moving you forward in the process. This is also a question that gets asked and answered in networking situations so it’s important that you nail this one.

As a recruiter, I can’t count the number of times that I’ve asked this or the number of  candidates who have been ill-prepared to answer it. A few tips and things to remember when you ultimately must tackle it:

  • Don’t wing it. Practice (out loud) what you are going to say in advance. You don’t want to stumble over your words while you make it up on the spot.
  • Don’t recite your resume. This takes way too long and goes into way too much detail for what should be a relatively high-level answer. Average time to shoot for: 2 minutes. Any longer and the interviewer has likely zoned out.
  • Personalize it Part 1. You are not a robot. The recruiter or hiring manager genuinely wants to get to know you. Consider mentioning a hobby or community involvement. You never know which detail will be the one to build that connection but doing your homework on the interviewer will help. You can bet that if I’m interviewing someone and they make a connection with me about Boston, Colby College, educational access or hot yoga, my ears perk up.
  • Personalize it Part 2. Your answer should be customized for the role and company. When preparing what you’re going to say, go back and look at the job description. Which skills/attributes are highlighted? Be sure to speak to these things in your answer.
  • Past, present, future. Consider this simple format for telling your story. Take the interviewer on a journey with you – where have you been, what are your biggest accomplishments/achievements, what crossroads are you at now and where do you want to go? Some questions to ask yourself as you piece this story together (because you’ve promised me that you aren’t going to wing it!):
    • What have I done?
    • What am I passionate about?
    • What did I learn, develop or accomplish?
    • What am I interested in doing next?
    • Why did I take that particular step/make that move?
    • Why am I sitting here today?

While it might change slightly from situation to situation, here’s how I’m currently structuring mine: I have almost 20 years of experience managing recruiting and HR programs for a variety of industries – legal, non-profit, consulting and financial services. Across all of my recruiting roles, I’ve focused on helping hiring managers to identify best fit candidates for roles from entry-level to c-suite. After moving from Boston to Raleigh 6 years ago, I decided that I wanted to stretch myself outside of corporate recruiting and use my skills in evaluating candidates in a new arena so I joined the admissions committee at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. Today, I use my background in recruiting and admissions (and the knowledge of knowing what hiring managers, recruiters and admissions officers are and are not looking for) combined with my passion for working one-on-one with people (most HR people will tell you they are part therapist) to now help my clients put their best foot forward when applying to college or grad school or approaching the job search process.

Need help developing yours? Drop me a note at megan@bestyouconsultinggroup.com.