The Business Side of Volunteering

volunteer-1326758_1280I recently spoke on a panel regarding my career and how living overseas has impacted my options. During my preparation, and referenced in my speech, I thought about how volunteering is a big aspect of my life. The idea of giving back is a core value of mine that was instilled in me from a young age by my parents and was further solidified as a lifelong obligation once I became a member of Sigma Nu Fraternity. While giving to others and the community is an important aspect of life, personal benefits can and should be taken away from those experiences. Following the panel discussion, I spoke with several individuals about leveraging that volunteer experience to specifically add value to one’s career.

There are tangible benefits that come with volunteering. I have written about this idea before, but now I want to get into greater detail. Below is a breakdown of the business/career related benefits I have witnessed and/or received through volunteering:

  • Interpersonal skills: With each new organization and event, volunteering exposes you to a variety of people along all measures of diversity. Being able to effectively communication and build relationships in this capacity is excellent practice for speaking to customers and coworkers.
  • Networking: Along with interpersonal skills, the same people you come into contact with offer a great opportunity to share what you do and learn about them. These are connections that you would not have otherwise made and likely vary from your current network.
  • Time management: Adding time commitments to your schedule forces you to review how you spend that time. This is great practice for when work becomes more hectic due to increased responsibilities. Managing your time effectively requires practice.
  • Leadership: This is one of the best potential benefits from volunteering. Overall, I think leading a volunteer group can often times be more difficult than a work group because many of the same incentives for individuals to follow through are not there; such as not receiving a paycheck.
    • Management: Effectively managing and organizing is a great takeaway and helpful because it is often done with a limited budget.
    • Motivation: With no pay, new ways to motivate people must be found. Positivity and enthusiasm can go a long way, but the small things like recognizing others and creating small wins can help keep the ball rolling.
    • Delegation: Being able to delegate and follow-up with people on different projects or aspects of projects is great practice for the workplace. It is about finding the balance between allowing someone the freedom to own their work and not letting deadlines fall by the wayside.
  • Recruitment: Bringing in new people is an important aspect of volunteering, especially when looking for leaders. Seeking out the right people with the right skills at the right time is an important aspect of both the work world and for volunteers.
  • Business Development: Whenever someone has had to do fundraising as a volunteer, it is quite similar to conducting business development for a company. You have to try to find individuals and companies with a connection and lead them down a path towards “making a sale.” There are clear differences in the two ideas, but the strategy behind them is quite similar.
  • Problem solving: When volunteering, problem solving is often one of the most important skills to have across all levels of involvement because the solutions usually require a high level of creativity.

These are real benefits that can be taken away from volunteering. Taking on a leadership role only increases the opportunities. Using one’s skills when volunteering is a great way to give back and learn something new along the way.

Please share a time where you were able to use volunteer experience to benefit your career in a comment below.

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Motivation

blue-1845901_1920Motivation is a topic that is constantly on my mind. For the past few weeks, my motivation has not been at its normally high level.  It could be from getting over not feeling well, returning from a long trip, the holidays, a few work items not coming together or some combination of multiple factors. Either way, I must find a way to get back into my normal grove of high productivity though consistent motivation.

I know I am not the only one who struggles with motivation, so I compiled the top three actions that work for me to help get and stay motivated. Hopefully these can help others do the same.

  • Start with a routine: For me, part of motivation is about staying on track and reducing the amount of mental energy needed to get “in the zone.” This means creating a routine that allows me to auto-pilot certain activities. The easiest one is right when I get up; get dressed, eat breakfast, read the news and check for any important personal emails. This takes about thirty minutes, but allows me to feel ready to go and helps to knock out the small items that can usually distract me. After that, I can usually get several hours of work done without missing a beat. The fact that I work remotely presents additional distractions, but that is a different topic.
  • Finding a reset: After those few focused hours, my mental cup begins to overflow a little and I need to find a way to reset to get back on track. Working from home, I will often do something small around the house; dishes, laundry, a snack, work on a personal project, etc. Once I accomplish that small item, I am ready to return my focus back on work with a fresh set of eyes. There are also times that I need a larger reset, such as after a big call or meeting and writing the follow-up notes. For this, I often go to the gym, have lunch, call a friend or family member, etc. Then I get the drive back to finish off the day. The important aspect of this is doing a singular task that makes it easy to immediately go back to work.
  • Accomplishing a goal: One of my greatest keys to staying motivated is setting goals and achieving them. These will range from small to large. The small ones can simply be getting through all of my emails in the first hour of work or checking off my scheduled activities throughout the day. The large ones could be completing a project by the end of the week. Once I accomplish a goal, I feel better about what I am doing and am able to keep my focus until the next accomplishment.

Finally, as an additional element, I believe that time management and heavy involvement help keep me on track. Besides what I wrote above, keeping myself busy with different endeavors (work, volunteering, hobbies, exercise, community involvement, etc.) keeps my mind focused. By having multiple types of responsibilities, I am able to stay motivated and manage my time well because I am not having to focus my motivation in the same direction all the time. I regularly have fresh items that need my attention. I have to make sure I don’t over extend myself, but that is just a matter of finding the right balance.

Please share what helps you stay motivated in a comment below.

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Finding the Right Job After Graduate School

tie-690084_1280As soon as I began the UNR MBA Program in 2014, I always had an eye towards what I wanted to get out of my studies and my first job following graduation. There was a very different feeling looking at a new job knowing that I would have a master’s degree than when I was completing my studies as an undergraduate. There are several key elements that I felt I needed to emphasize. The first is that I had over eight years of business and organizational development experience, and the second was that I was not looking for an entry-level position. Because of my experience, I also felt that it gave me a good footing for negotiating. Below are three things I think soon-to-be graduates should consider when looking for post-graduate school employment.

  • Value: What value do you bring to the table? How are you going to improve the organization? What value in compensation do you expect in return? What long-term compensation items are most important to you, and is there potential for compensation growth? I feel these are important questions to have answered when considering a position. While compensation discussions should wait until an offer is made, the research on industry norms should be done early. Most importantly, you should know your strengths and what they could mean for a potential employer.
  • Future: What are the possibilities for growth within the organization? Will you be forced to move to another company to reach a higher position? Is there someone in the company who will help guide you in career planning? What is the culture related to growing people internally, as opposed to hiring from the outside? In looking at a new position, it is important to also look where it could lead down the line. Especially following graduate school, a career focus is more important than just getting another job.
  • Structure: What is the structure of the organization? What is the culture? Do both fit in with how you best operate? If not, do you feel the company culture will help you improve your skills and abilities? Do you feel you will be productive and find success within their framework? Is there potential for you to have your own working style within that company? How you work is extremely important and being able to maximize your productivity through focusing on your strengths is crucial. I have found it better to work for a company with a matching culture and structure that can allow you to shine than picking a better job on paper in a company where you do not fit in well.

There are several key facets when looking for a job after completing a graduate program. This period has far greater career implications with the job you take, more than almost ever before. Everyone should make sure a new position sets them on a path towards future growth and successful advancement of their skills, compensation and goals. I believe it is better to sometimes wait for the right opportunity than settling for the wrong one.

What do you believe is the most important aspect of a job after receiving a graduate degree? Please post you thoughts in a comment below.

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Adventures in Networking

world-1264062_1920As a young professional, I believe networking is one of the most important aspects of looking towards the future regarding my career. I will be graduating in about  a month, so relationships and connections are ever-present on my mind. The important idea to remember is that networking is a two-way street, and giving more will often get you more in return. The topic of networking has come up several times for me in the last few weeks, including facilitating a discussion on the topic for a group of undergraduates, so I decided to put my thoughts down here to help prepare.

  • Networking: To me, networking is about sharing information, contacts and ideas with people you are connected with based on past experiences, affiliations and other individuals.
  • LinkedIn: This is an amazing tool for networking, especially when looking for a job. It is used by so many that I feel it has become your online resume; your profile often comes up as a top hit when Googling an individual. Keeping it updated can be extremely important because you never know who is looking at it. LinkedIn can be used to find connections you would have never known about, as it shows all the links and connections for you; based on the information you provide, your affiliations, groups you join and people/organizations you are connected. There are many resources on how to put together a great LinkedIn profile, so I will not get into that here. I suggest that you add everyone you are connected with as you never know how they may be able to offer you in the future. This includes friends, family, coworkers, clients, etc. However, I would only add people you know and only add those you feel appropriate.
  • Volunteering: I feel volunteering is one of the most rewarding personal experiences and a great way to give back to the community. Volunteering can be an excellent networking tool because you will likely be connected to others who have the same general outlook on life regarding giving back. By putting yourself out there and meeting others who are volunteering, you open up an entire new network of people. As you volunteer more and more, and move up into being on a board, this network just continues to grow.
  • Professional groups: Professional groups are another great way to meet people and expand your network. I recommend only joining groups you have an interest in and not waste your time on something because it is the thing to do.
  • Business Cards: Business cards are a simple way to provide all of your relevant contact information in once place. Even if you don’t have business cards for work, you can still make personal business cards for almost no cost. I feel that people should wait to be asked for a business card before giving them out. Some may disagree, but I feel it can come off as pushy when people just sling out their business cards.
  • Staying connected: Once you have made a contact, make sure that you keep up with them. Depending on the circumstances, some individuals don’t need much in terms of relationship management. I have reached out to people who I haven’t spoken to for years because of the way the relationship was built. However, not all relationships are like that and I follow-up much more regularly with many in my network.
  • Giving and Getting: Now when it comes to actually using your network, I feel there are best practices to consider. I have found that giving to your network is a great way to build credibility; not asking for a favor for yourself, but someone else. That is most of what I have done over the past few years. When it actually comes time to ask for a favor from someone in your network, be honest and upfront.

I have been very fortunate with how large my network is, but it has only developed through the work I have put in to make sure it continues to grow.

If you would like to introduce yourself and find out ways we can network, contact me here.

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Change from the Middle

change-1076220_1280A topic that has been on my mind for the last year is the idea of change coming from the middle; people like myself who have about ten years of experience, but don’t have a title with the authority to make change without approval. There were several case studies I read in my Organizational Behavior class and a few experiences from my own career that have kept it consistently on my mind. With a course about change coming up in the final semester of my MBA program, I wanted to write my thoughts about the subject now and then reevaluate in several months.

With millennials now over 50% of the US workforce, I am in a category of individuals who desire to make positive change, but are up against an older generation with different perspectives on many issues. In this situation, change can come slowly, if at all. So, how does one go about making change then? These are my thoughts.

  • Become a leader: This doesn’t have to come with a title or position, rather the feeling of those around you. Take on added responsibilities and/or volunteer for projects, don’t take shortcuts, do what is right and not what it easy. These are the practices that others see and understand the value of positioning themselves alongside.
  • Be the change: As is stated in my favorite quote from Gandhi, we have to be the change we want to see. What this means to me is that if I want something to be different, I have to put myself out there and set the example and take the risk. An example of this is challenging an established culture and choosing to blaze your own trail, such as working hard because that is what should be done, as opposed to doing the minimum because no one is looking over your shoulder.
  • Define the change: Even though those from a different generation may hold different perspective, it does not mean they won’t understand and consider change. I think it is a matter of sharing in terms they will be able to understand. An example from a conversation I had with a client not too long ago comes to mind. He didn’t understand how spending time and money on being environmentally responsible would also be profitable. I explained that by being environmentally responsible, a different group of customers would be attracted to his business, which would increase revenue. A bit simplistic, but an example nonetheless.
  • Data: When all else fails, take the time to run the numbers and show what change can mean to the bottom line. This can result in more motivated employees, a more efficient sales force, better ways to reach potential customers and so on. Put together projections and reports using relevant data and let the numbers speak for themselves.

These are the best methods I have found and used to create change in my own environment. Now, I just have to see what new tools can get added to my “change” tool-belt this semester. I have big expectation from my professor, Dr. Bret Simmons, whom I have had for two other courses.

What other methods of positive change have you tried? Please add what has worked for you in a comment below.

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Arte Nathan – Takeaways From a Killer Keynote

ArteI recently attended an awards banquet for the Nevada College of Business and the keynote speaker was Arte Nathan, Executive Director of Professional and Leadership Studies at UNLV. He was also the Chief Human Resources Officer at Wynn Resorts for over 20 years. After stating that he wasn’t going to read his original speech, Mr. Nathan began reviewing his professional journey and shared words of wisdom to the soon to be business graduates. Below are some of his quotes and my thoughts about each.

Resumes:

“You think we spend more than a minute looking at your resume?”

It is sad, but true. With the state of human resources today, there are too many resumes for too few jobs and there just isn’t time to effectively look at them all.

“The top line that says objective is what they look at. You’re supposed to know what your objective is.”

While I agree that having an objective is important on a resume, the idea here that struck me was being able to state your objective in the first place. I have had to state my own objectives, as most everyone has, and understood that having an objective doesn’t mean knowing exactly how you will get there. It is about having the goal and working to reach it.

“GPA doesn’t matter. You graduated. That’s what matters.”

For the most part, I agree with this statement. It is difficult to say that a GPA from one school is an accurate measure to compare against someone from another institution. This is not necessarily about the quality of the education, but the simple fact that the two systems are likely not the exact same.

“Your internship and attendance at the London School of Something or Other doesn’t matter. What matters is what you did when you weren’t studying. Those involved were holding offices and still graduated. They are multifaceted.”

While I don’t agree that internships and your institution don’t matter (and I don’t think Mr. Nathan does either based on his other comments), I do agree that what you do outside of the classroom can be more important than what you do in it. The reason for this is the application of what you have learned and the ability to build experience.

Life Advice – for Business:

“If you have a can-do attitude, you will go far.”

Attitude is one of the only aspects in our lives where everyone is on an equal playing field. By feeling and living the belief that you can get the job done shows confidence, and implementing that attitude will show your dependability and skills.

“If you never fail, you will never learn.”

While I don’t believe anyone sets out looking to fail, I do believe that if you haven’t failed, then you haven’t tried enough. Additionally, without failing, you will likely be ill-equipped do effectively respond when that inevitable time does comes.

~             ~             ~

It was reassuring to hear the words of Mr. Nathan as I share many of his beliefs and he has led a highly successful career. The three key elements I took away from his keynote were to know your objective, put your best foot forward and always be ready to learn.

Now, take a look at your own resume. Do you feel it puts your best foot forward? If not, make changes, ask others for their thoughts, get advice. For most of us, a resume is the first impression, so it is worth taking the time to make it count.

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Leadership – Lessons from Nevada Head Football Coach Brian Polian

Last week I had the privilege of attending a lecture on polianleadership by Nevada Head Football Coach Brian Polian. Becoming the 8th youngest FCS head coach in the nation at age 38, Coach Polian has a unique view on being a leader. Growing up under the watch of NFL Hall of Fame Contributor, Bill Polian, Brian has gained many valuable insights that have led to his own style of leadership. While I found many connections to what Coach Polian does on the field and what I have learned in the business world, there were several key quotes I felt really stood out.

  1. “Effort is the price of admission” – Bill Polian. This quote from Coach Polian’s dad sums up my opinion of what every sports movie captures. However, I don’t believe there is an industry in the world where this is not the case. Long-term success is built off of effort.
  1. “Youth is no longer a reason you can’t lead. It is about your ability and production.” And, “don’t worry about your age in an interview. You are there, so they know who you are and saw your skills and potential.” This stood out to me for two reasons. The first is because I have seen this in my own career. The second is because I just wrote a blog about leading as a young professional.
  1. “When you think you have arrived, there are always moments that will take you back a step.” Coach Polian shared a great story about his first college coaching job and bursting with confidence and cockiness, and then being taken down a few notches. I have certainly been in similar situations and truly believe you must have confidence, but also a healthy dose of humility.
  1. “Bloom where you are planted.” Having worked in a previous job for six years, I feel there is something special about really getting to know one organization and growing within it. There may be jobs where you feel like you have to jump around a lot to advance, but there really is a benefit to sticking around and building something.
  1. “Success demands grit.” Having perseverance is truly one of the most important qualities and another topic I recently discussed.
  1. “To succeed, you constantly have to be trying to grow.” Coach Polian talked about his experience coming up as a coach; taking notes, talking to other coaches, listening and understanding what truly made a great leader. If you aren’t learning and making yourself better, you won’t get very far.
  1. “Success demands courage. Are you ready to have uncomfortable conversations?” Whether it is leading those who are older or having to let someone go, if you are not able to have the uncomfortable conversations, positive change will not happen.
  1. “There is no secret to success. There are no shortcuts. You have to be willing to pay the price.” While there are certainly people who we think violate this assumption, I believe that over the long-term everyone has to work hard to get where they want to be. For some, the hard work just seems easier.
  1. “Be yourself.” I ended up having the only question at the end of the lecture and asked the Coach about the most valuable lesson he learned since starting at Nevada. He said it was needing to remember to be himself. You will end up going farther faster when you aren’t trying to be someone else. You can, and should, always try to be better, but being yourself is extremely important.

All of these quotes follow the idea of finding success as a leader. I will have to write another blog about the rest of his many excellent pieces of advice. What I primarily took away from listening to Coach Polian about leadership and success was that every lesson we have learned remains true – work hard, be dedicated, treat others well and, above all, be yourself. So now that you are pumped up with these inspirational quotes, take one and use it the next time you need a motivational shot in the arm. Image Credit