The Fine Art of Stuffing Envelopes (and other career-related advice)

Hello, friends and colleagues. I haven’t been here in awhile, and I hope you haven’t forgotten about me! Honestly, I know you are all busy grilling, sunbathing and vacationing; however, I’d like to think we haven’t totally switched-off all of our motivation, inspiration and brain cells for vacation-mode autopilot. Unfortunately, I won’t be taking any vacations this Summer—Just one cross to bear, as I’ve started a new job that I love so far.

About that…

I have been at my current position for a little over two months now. In many ways, it seems like a lot longer. I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time, and I’m actually feeling fairly comfortable. Granted, learning the ins-and-outs of any financial institution takes years, and I am not anywhere near that point, but I like to think I’ve learned a lot of information pretty quickly. There are days I’m making sales, shaking hands with other members of The Chamber of Commerce and meeting our members at their place of work with smiles and lots of good conversation. But, as with any job, there are days of paperwork, busy work and grunt work.

I had one of those days today. Tomorrow looks like it may be a repeat of today.

Quarterly statements were mailed this past week. Also, as always, we are bringing in new members by the handfuls every week. For the credit union, it means endless opportunities. But for me, at least today, I was stuffing envelopes and comparing reports for the bulk of my 8-hour workday.

I don’t mind busy work. I’m pretty fast, and sometimes mindless work is just what I need. However, I started thinking during my third or fourth hour (snicker) that I didn’t imagine I’d be back stuffing envelopes. I’ve done more than my share of stuffing envelopes as a medical records clerk, promotions assistant, administrative assistant and loan specialist. Yet, with almost half of my MBA studies behind me and a 3.9 GPA in my undergraduate studies, I would think this “phase” of my life would be over by now. You’d think “Envelope Stuffer Expert” had a shelf life on a resume, especially beyond grad school.

Then, I paused.

It’s 2013. I am working a job that I both enjoy and that is in my field of study. That alone should be enough to be satisfied. I reflected on those two things. I am grateful – beyond grateful for this opportunity. But, as always, I’ve always been thinking of the next ten years. When I was four, I told my preschool class I wanted to be a teenager when I grew up so I could wear makeup, drive a car and carry a purse. As a college student, I wanted to graduate. As a graduate, I wanted to go back to school for my MBA. And on, and on…

I’ve always been told not to wish my life away, particularly by my mother. Her words are still heard strongly in my mind every day. But, I often wonder, are those aspirational, ill-contented and envelope stuffing experts those that make the most happen in their lives? (Yes, I made the last one up…possibly.)

I guess the bottom line is: Be grateful for what you have, but don’t grow stagnant. Don’t be antsy or impatient, but be present with perspective.

Although I am a fantastic envelope stuffer, I’d like to think my other talents shine brighter. Today I find myself thankful for a job in marketing, especially today. I only hope someday in the near future I am given the opportunity to master the fine art of…

Tweeters Anonymous

Hello, my name is Emily. I am addicted to tweeting.

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I started my first Twitter account a few years ago. I think I may have tweeted once or twice, but nothing much resulted of them. I followed my favorite celebrities and brands and tweeted about my day, much like a Facebook status. I really didn’t see the hype. My first Twitter account remains inactive today, as I can’t remember my original tag or password. Twitter made a lackluster first impression on me.

Little did I know, one day while studying for my MBA, I’d be hired by a fashion web site startup to become the Director of Marketing. Yes, I am a master tweeter now—And, it is my job!

Rewind a few months. Twitter was everywhere, and still is. Twitter is growing toward the future and beyond. A few months ago, I wanted to know why the world was so enthralled by the concept of sending 160 characters into the abyss of social media. I decided to construct an experiment.

I activated my 2nd Twitter account, branding it to match my e-mail address, and later my blog and LinkedIn profile. My favorite part of my name is the “J” in the middle. I think it adds sophistication and a bit of a wink with my signature. My goal of this experiment was to discover why the world was so fascinated with Twitter. I also wanted to see if branding myself – much like a company does – reaped positive results from a Twitter account. To do this, I un-followed the unnecessary celebrities, pop culture icons and reality TV stars. Then, I followed the major newspapers, magazines and news services. I added marketing firms, favorite companies and applicable publications to my feed. I started re-tweeting things that were well-written, interesting, relevant and applicable to my industry of marketing & advertising. Next, I started tweeting my favorite companies with compliments on new products and services.

Then, I started to see it.

Other tweeters started following me! I tweeted thank you mentions to each new follower with generic “How are you?” “TGIF” and basic hash tags for #business or #marketing. It became a lifestyle quickly, and I started targeting followers much like I learned in my MBA classes about targeting a customer. I noticed my engagement was waning, and I needed to “up” my game. I started replying to tweets and continuing conversations, intentionally and deliberately.

After about three to four months of semi-regular and sometimes daily,Twitter activity, I have nearly 300 followers. For an individual, and simply a student and young professional, I am pretty impressed.

I get it. Twitter is really fun. It’s a great tool. I feel connected to the world outside my own four corners, and networking seems boundless. It’s a rush to hear from a company or my favorite reporter from across the country – And sometimes the world! I’m hooked. And, now I have a job that requires me to manage our social media footprint. I am on Twitter nearly 24/7. I can only imagine what will stem from this kind of engagement.

What social media tool are you “addicted” to?

Are You Determined?

Although I work in the marketing department of a small private school, sometimes I find myself teaching. One example of this is my new(er) role as the yearbook advisor for the high school students. I couldn’t be more thrilled or excited. They all have editorial roles, and each student is simply bursting with creative ideas and articles. One of our Friday meetings was cancelled due to a snow day, and the kids took the initiative to work on a few of the pages and interviews during their lunch hour throughout the week. They completely surprised me with it last Friday, and honestly, I nearly cried.

Kids are awesome.

The truth is, over the last few weeks, I’ve become a friend to these kids. And they’ve started to look up to me as a teacher—not just the girl in the marketing office, running around making copies of flyers and spreadsheets. They’ve been saying goodbye to me at the end of every school day and making sure to include me in classroom discussions.

“What about Emily? We need to meet for yearbook!”

“Can we have a 2nd yearbook class this week?”

(My hair is big enough, let alone the swelling of my head they are encouraging.)

Last Friday, the students were so caught up in their articles and photoshop workshops, that some of them missed the first 15 minutes of their lunch hour. I made an announcement, but they just kept working! After most of the kids left for lunch, there was one kid that stayed behind from the others.

He said, “If you don’t mind, Emily, I’m not really that hungry. I’d really rather finish writing my article on the guinea pig farm.”

To give some context, the private school offers remedial support for students with learning disabilities, health problems, or otherwise need support the public, cyber or charter schools cannot provide. Some of the kids go to cyber school, but need in-class instruction to supplement their programs. It’s a melting pot of specialized educational programs and individual circumstances.

The student that stayed behind is a teenager that has been attending the school for years. He also has high-functioning autism. When he first came to the school, he wouldn’t make eye contact or speak to anyone. To be honest, I didn’t know this much about him before last Friday, and I didn’t suspect the severity of his autism because he is so talkative in our yearbook class.

Nonetheless, he stayed behind and continued reviewing the notes he took from an interview he gave earlier in the workshop. And then he paused.

“Emily, if you don’t mind, I have a few questions for you,” he said. “You know Sally is so determined about making this yearbook so good. She wants it to be perfect. And, Suzy is so determined about finishing her book and raising a lot of money for her cousin. But, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be determined about.”

I think my jaw hit the conference table.

“Well, Billy, do you mean you don’t know what to be determined about for the yearbook? Or, life in general?” I asked.

“Well, I want to do a good job for the yearbook because it’s a school activity. But, I’m not sure what I should be determined about in general,” he said.

Can you believe the conversation I’m having with this student? Not really a teacher, only advising the yearbook class for about a month and a half… I was dumbstruck for exactly three seconds. Maybe four.

“Billy, I want to tell you something. You don’t have to know that right now. It is great that you’re concerned about it, but you don’t have to have all of the answers right now,” I started.

His eye contact was unwavering.

“I’m going to tell you about me. When I first moved to Pittsburgh after high school, I was so determined to be a writer for a big newspaper. I had all of these great plans. But, then I got a great job at a newspaper—And I didn’t like it,” I continued.

He looked surprised.

“I didn’t like working at a newspaper at all. So, you know what? I had to change my plans. I had to find out what I was going to be determined about again. Life is like that. Life changes your plans, and you have to start all over again. I’m still figuring out what I’m most determined about, but I think I’m getting close. You don’t have to have all the answers right now. You see?” I asked.

“Yeah, I do. Thanks for sharing your story with me,” he said with a small smile.

We continued to talk about me moving to Pittsburgh, school and plans. He never ran out of questions or curiosity, but decided that he was kind of hungry after all. As he excused himself to eat his lunch (while still scribbling away in his notepad), he said that he really enjoys yearbook and thinks I do a great job.

I’ve tossed around about a million ideas and dreams for my future, and I still do. Late at night, when the sound of silence is deafening and your eyelids become curtains for the play of your future life. I’ve thought about being a reporter, a novelist, a singer, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a therapist, and on and on. Today, I’m in an MBA program at the University of Pittsburgh, and I am exploring the pathway of a career in marketing and strategy.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m determined to be. At first, I thought that was an odd way to word his question. I wanted to correct him. But, the more I think about it, the more fitting I find the word. Determined. What gets my blood pumping? What keeps me up at night—in a good way? What gets me out of bed in the morning?

I don’t know quite yet. And, that’s okay.

I have quite a few things that I’m great at. I’m good at a lot of things, too. I love certain projects. I like doing others. But, what am I determined to be?

What are you determined to be?

 

 

What If You’re Both Underqualified AND Overqualified?

The job market is tough. We all know it. We all hear about it on the news. Every. Single. Day. But, unemployment in general isn’t the major economic issue facing the job force in our country today.

No. Instead, we need to further investigate the underemployment rate, especially for that of college graduates. Recent college graduates are taking jobs outside of their field of expertise simply because it is a job. That is an example of underemployment. Not to mention, underemployment includes part-time jobs and companies that do not provide benefits to certain employees. To stay in their chosen field of study, college graduates are taking unpaid internships while balancing one or more part-time job to pay the bills.

I have never been one to be unemployed. I always manage to find a job, because I have held full-time positions since my first summer vacation in high school. I have extensive–if not ecclectic–experience in various fields. But, one thing is true, I’ve always managed to multi-task and make my pay checks work for me. I was paying my way through school, living in my first apartment in the city when the Great Recession hit in 2008. I was working at three part-time jobs, freelance writing, taking 18 credits in college & babysitting and assisting a professor at my school. It hurt, but I made it work.

Today, I’m facing a similar situation. I’m working three part-time jobs, going to grad school part-time & trying to break into my chosen field of work. I am strategically promoting myself on all social media outlets, updating my LinkedIn profile and writing a business-minded blog. I am doing everything right—but, something is still missing. I am still missing the mark and receiving rejection letters & e-mails from wonderful companies.

What am I doing wrong?

It may not be me. It is probably the state of the economy and the job market. The climate isn’t stable yet. The job market is 10 times more competitive and reaping 10% less in salary and wages than in pre-recession years. We’re fighting tooth-and-nail for positions we would’ve laughed at a decade ago. Oh, and education is creating a smoke-and-mirrors effect on resumes. Some employers expect a graduate degree, and other employees see MBA candidates as a dime-a-dozen today. It’s hard to decipher these employers prior to an interview, so it ultimately wastes a lot of time. But, to a point, these employers together are completely reflective of the assumption of education in America today. We’re in limbo today. Some think a graduate degree is required and isn’t that special, and others think a graduate degree is a seal of approval of the highest quality. America is of the same mind—College is the new high school and now everyone has a degree, but an MBA still is seen as difficult and a great accomplishment.

In the job market today, too much education can make you seem overqualified for a position. For example, I am an MBA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. I am in my second year. And I have one marketing internship under my belt, equivalent to a little more than one semester. I am overqualified given the breadth of my education; however, I’m underqualified for certain positions I’d hope for this far into my education.

It’s a Cache 22. And many prospective employees are in the same boat Post-Recession Era. Perhaps my only way out of this mess is to invent the tactic to bridge this awkward stage in a graduate student’s career, and I can employ myself.

How many of you have a job, but still feel UNDERemployed? What’s your strategy of pushing the ceiling up a bit and moving up to your rightful seat?

Are We Smothering Our Customers with Social Media?

I bought a tube of lipstick on a rainy weekend afternoon. I love lipstick, and I love the store in which I bought it. But let’s be real—It’s just lipstick.

After the purchase, I was given a receipt that had an online survey to fill-out about my experience in the store and my purchase. As a former sales associate, I understand the employee bonuses are often tied to these survey results. I almost always complete these surveys, especially after a good experience. So, I filled out the brief survey with all positive marks.

Next thing I know, I’m invited to join the mailing list, follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Then, I’m encouraged to follow Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and Photobucket for special offers.

“Hashtag our name, and you can get a free sample of face wash!”

“Like this picture, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a $500 shopping spree!”

“RT and we will follow YOU!”

When does it all end?

As a fellow marketer, I understand where the company is coming from with their social media campaign. They want to be connected and part of the conversation with their customers.

Awesome.

There is definitely something to be said for staying current and constantly evolving with the changing times. It’s really important! And most large corporations have entire teams or task forces managing a specific and separate social media platform. In a small business, like the one I work for currently, I am pretty much it for our social media footprint. I can see from the front lines when engagement turns to smothering; however, the further the person responsible for the update on Facebook is from the customer, the further they are from seeing this change.

How do big corporations fix this?

This isn’t necessarily a problem for each corporation or business individually, but the trend has a possibility of becoming overload. It can lead to Unfollows, De-friending, Opt-Outs in e-mail blasts, or even, causing a customer to leave the business and adopt a new company.

I think we would all benefit from a minute to think about that. We don’t want to smother our customers, and for the most part, we are coming from a good place. We simply want to talk to our customers. It’s important to practice balance. Consider a balanced approach to social media. And for those big corporations with different teams managing Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest: Let’s commit to do what we intend to do. Let’s actually engage and communicate with our customers. And each other.

What companies are you following on Twitter today?

Refreshing Customer Service

How many times have you gone into a store, hoping to achieve something or receive some retail therapy, only to leave frustrated, angry, or disappointed? I am willing to bet that nine times out of 10, those feelings stemmed from a mishap on the service end of the experience rather than the products purchased or not purchased.

Of course, if a business doesn’t have a quality product, there is little hope for the business to “make it big” and find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I mean, a shoemaker that uses felt for soles in the shoes to save costs will not be selling or making shoes for long! That being said, even the best quality products can leave a sour taste in your mouth if coupled with poor customer service. You may purchase that product again, but you’d find it elsewhere. Unfortunately, if you can’t purchase the product elsewhere, you will find another substitute. This is true across the board in consumer behavior. I would take a “good substitute” shampoo at another store than get the best shampoo at a store with poor service any day.

But, what about the opposite? Would you take less-than-perfect service for the best product?

Probably not.

However, there is always a niche product that you will deal with anything for to purchase and enjoy. For example, last night, my boyfriend and I went to his grandparents’ house to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. We were planning a pizza party from their favorite pizza place and a fondue party afterward. I made my almost-famous homemade brownies and fondue, and it was delicious! However, the pizza was not allowed.

Nope. Desallas Pizza is closed on Mondays.

Have you ever seen a pizza shop closed during dinner? I’ve never had Desallas Pizza, but I hear that they play by different rules. They make up the rules. Being closed on Mondays is just one example of one of their rules. There is nowhere to sit. They yell at you to order. The line is out the door. The shop is tiny with just a cash register and a pizza oven. No bathrooms. They answer the phone “What do you want?” when a customer calls for pizza. Even so, customers keep coming – They keep coming in lines out the door every single day!

And even so, my boyfriend’s family wouldn’t accept any substitute for the pizza party. Instead, they made leftovers and we got Chick-Fil-A on our way to their house. Instead of picking up another shop’s pizza at the dozens of pizza shops from our house in Point Breeze to their house in West Homestead, they opted to postpone our pizza party until a day other than a Monday soon.

It just goes to show you, customer service has to be good, but sometimes good doesn’t mean professional, cheerful or a certain number of rules. Sometimes good customer service is just different. For that, customer service must be refreshing.

Do you have a place with refreshing customer service – Unconventional service you wouldn’t dream of replacing?