Widen your loop --- and ours!

I've decided to create a list of the best professionalism blogs...and there are plenty to chose from!  For professionals in many fields, blogging is a way to establish professional credentials, build a reputation, and develop new business.  Some people blog about a technical topic, like accounting practices or technology solutions, or labor law....but many focus on the same skills that we develop through the Professional Readiness Program.

You can help!  If you follow a blogger that you think is particularly useful, send me the link! 

In the meantime, here are a few sites you might like to start following:

Lifehack is a full-service collection of "tips for life" and the feeds on communication, productivity, and work provide great tips for professionals.

Professional Development  Izzy Justice, a consultant in Emotional Intelligence, has been working with major corporate clients for over twenty years. 

Work Matters   Bob Sutton, a Stanford business professor, writes primarily for business executives, but he's brilliant. 

Professionalism Priorities

Wondering where to focus your professional development time and energy? A recent survey of human resources and line management professionals ranked the most important professionalism skills:

#1 Interpersonal skills

#2 Appearance

#3 Communication skills

#4 Time management

#5 Confidence

#6 Ethics

#7 Work ethic

#8 Knowledgeability

Click here to see the full story and here for a summary infographic.

Alumni thoughts

The annual panel of Alumni in Residence is always a highlight of the Graduation Celebration.  This year's advice seemed to focus on soft skills--the elements of professionalism that make a real difference in a career.  Here's the final "most important thing" from each of the five:

Jeff Bjustrom, Minneapolis tax market leader, PwC (Acctg '88): "Don't get buried in the details. Keep the big picture in mind."

Derek Thoms, Manager of inside sales, ESP International (Econ '02): "Your ability to make a positive first impression; you never get a second chance."

Rochelle Dotzenrod, Vice president, Wells Fargo (Finance & Real Estate '04): "You won't screw anything up. Take the step. There are enough checks and balances to keep the organization from breaking."

Mark Walter, Independent management advisor (Management '85): "Sell yourself. The biggest mistake is being timid. You have to act the role to convince others of your value."

John Hall, Founder, Goose Island Beer Company (Marketing '65): "Be engaged, and respect your co-workers. Every little thing adds up.

Check out the full story, including all the student, club, and faculty awards at the UNIBusiness website.

Flexible, adaptable, open to change.

When describing a professional attitude, employers nearly always mention openness to change.  As one appraisal form puts it, the excellent employee “recognizes and responds to the need for change and uses it to improve organizational performance.”  Meanwhile, resistance to change can be the basis for poor appraisals and a stalled career.

If you’ve been a little frustrated with UNI’s new registration system, new eLearning system, and new email system, this could be a good moment to think about your own professional skills. Do you know how to act professionally in the face of frustrating changes? Some people seem to never get frustrated, but the professional solution is obviously not to just turn yourself into a laid-back personality that doesn’t care. If you’re the kind of person who likes things to get things done and has a system down for getting them done right, any change is guaranteed to create some frustrations.

The person who refuses to be part of a change, won’t listen to the reasons for making a change, and talks negatively about the changes will probably be dismissed from the organization, but, the professional response involves more than just keeping one's mouth shut. The professional takes some specific steps to turn those sources of frustration into sources of organizational improvement.

1. Develops new systems and procedures.  One source of frustration is that old, comfortable ways of doing things simply don’t work anymore. Adapting to a new system or environment means thinking about goals and discovering how to achieve them in a new way.  It isn’t enough to “grin and bear it” while ignoring the potential of the new system.  The professional works out a new method, taking advantage of new tools, resources, or relationships that are now available, and comes up with a system that is even more efficient than the old way.

2. Speaks positively of the change.  Change seldom happens to just one person, and an important professional skill involves encouraging others.  When a group of people face the same frustration, they quickly look to each other to determine the “right” response.  Will that be a gripe session or a problem solving discussion? Obviously a professional would never drag the group down by whining, but he or she also takes the initiative to figure something out or uncover benefits of the new system.

3. Shows kindness to others.  Frustration is never pleasant. The process takes time and effort. People are asked to do new tasks that require learning new skills or fall outside their comfort zones. None of this makes people happy, but professionals use kindness to keep every member of the organization healthy and headed in the right direction. This is not the time to berate those who are tired, frustrated, or frightened.  Instead, a professional response includes a kind word to acknowledge others' feelings and an attempt to understand their concerns. Team relationships actually get better during changes because people have paid attention to each other.

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This seemed like a good topic for the first blog since UNIBusiness redesigned its website.  There have been some frustrations, but the outcome is spectacular!  Everyone who has registered should now be able to comment on the blog. (Please test the result!) All new PRP participants have been subscribed. (Welcome!)  Professional Development resources should now be coming to you on a regular basis.  Hooray for change!

Welcome back--more professional then ever!

The beginning of a new academic year is a great time to take stock of your progress in developing contemporary professional skills.  Just as you set goals for your academic progress, you should be setting goals for your professional development.  As you meet those goals, you can document your skills on your resume, include them in your answers to interview questions, and count yourself that much closer to contributing to an organization immediately upon graduation.

As you’re making the transition from internship or summer job back to campus, reflect on the skills you’ve developed in communication, critical thinking, time-management, networking…the list goes on!  Take a minute to review that list.  The more aware you are of the skills you’ve learned, the more you will be able to apply those skills in the next situation.

Then, while your new skills are fresh in your mind, review your personal goals again.  Did you meet one that turned out to be relatively easy?  Maybe you made a presentation to management for your internship, and it wasn’t so scary after all!   This would be the perfect time to set the bar a little higher.  Maybe you saw others use PowerPoint more professionally or create a really compelling narrative.   Make that your next goal, and make a point of finding resources at the Professional Readiness Center.

Maybe you realize you didn’t even have a goal in an area.  Or you really are less sure than ever about how a skill fits into your career plans.  You might even have tried something and realized you need to set some goals in another area. If you’d like to discuss your own development plans, make an appointment—or just drop by the new offices at CBB 5

Getting the most from your summer?

Getting the most from your summer?

A month ago you started your summer with a plan, and whether you realized it or not, an opportunity for professional development.  If you have an internship, you probably went into this with your eyes wide open.  There’s plenty of advice around, although mid-summer is a good time to refresh your memory and enthusiasm with these recent articles from Money and Quintessential Careers

If you’re spending the summer working at your “regular” job or engaged in a study or service project, you might not have thought much about the professional development aspects.  Now that you’re half way through the summer, you might be realizing there’s a lot going on.

Take a minute for this mid-summer review, and make the most of this checklist to reach your long term professional goals.  If you have questions, comments, or advice from your own summer experience, register now and post a comment!

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__Have you found a mentor?   You will learn the most from any activity if you have someone to tell you the “hidden” rules and show you the “secret” tricks—or just give good advice.  If you haven’t already found a supervisor, co-worker, or older worker who’s taken you under his or her wing, now is the time to identify someone.  Don’t be shy!  Just think of a question, and ask that person for a minute to “pick her brain” or “run something by” him.  People love to give advice, and next thing you know, you’ll be getting a lot of it.

__Have you become part of a peer network? Some of the people you meet this summer will continue to be your business associates, and you are creating a professional network of people that you can trust—and who can trust you.  These will be the people you’ll call for advice, references, and resources when you get your first job and need to “hit the ground running.”  Make sure you’re keeping track of names, phone numbers, and email addresses.  If you don’t already have a solid method for saving contact information, buy a system now.

__Do you like the job? Whether you answer yes or no to this question, you should be thinking about why you answered the way you did.  What are you learning about the company, the industry, the job, and your boss?  What are you learning about your own personality, preferences, and skills?  The answers become a blueprint for things you need to do or learn next year.  Whether you decide to change majors, read a book on dealing with difficult bosses, or just brush up on your office manners, you will have learned something from the summer experience.

__What are the company’s expectations of professional behavior? Sometimes you learn the most from mistakes, but even if you are getting lots of positive feedback, take a little inventory of the communication skills, organizational awareness, reasoning skills, and attitudes around you. 

  • What kinds of communication skills are expected?  Does everyone seem to know how to give a polished sales pitch? Are active listening skills something a new hire should have?  What are the non-verbal messages being sent by attire, postures, manners, and vocal habits?
  • How much organizational savvy does it take to be successful? Are there a lot of unwritten rules and unstated assumptions?  How and why do people get rewarded? What does a person have to pay attention to in order to be successful?
  • How do decisions get made?  What kinds of evidence and reasoning are used to convince others? Do people write convincing memos or comprehensive white papers?  Are decisions made alone, by committee, or on the shop floor? What does it take to get what you want?
  • What kind of attitude do professionals have?  Are they going the extra mile, or only doing the bare minimum to keep the job?  Do successful people have a positive, optimistic attitude or a negative outlook?  Do letters, worksheets and reports get sent back for corrections, or do folks take the time to submit their best work from the start?

Everyday Professionalism Awards

As we wind up the semester, I am in the process of creating Certificates of Professional Readiness to recognize those who have completed all the requirements of the Professional Readiness Program at the Advanced Level IV. If you're on this list, you can be proud to have completed this first step toward professional excellence.

These certificates are important for job applicants’ portfolios, of course, but they don’t really say very much about the “everydayness” of true professionalism.   A professional business person practices a thousand tiny acts of problem solving, conflict resolution, communication, and emotional intelligence every day, just walking around the office, taking clients’ phone calls, and accomplishing the job.  There is no award ever given for any of that…just the opportunity to keep the job! 

I thought it would be appropriate to recognize the many students who are developing that kind of “everyday” professionalism.  This goes well beyond attending a few workshops to learn about professional skills and gets to the nitty-gritty of practicing professionalism as a way of life.

So, a hearty “good job” goes out to

  • all the students who made eye contact and said good morning to their co-workers in the Curris Business Building hallways,
  • all the team members who pulled up the slack when another member slipped up,
  • the student organizations that made a point of thanking  their advisors, supporters, and others who helped them get the job done,  (Nomination letters and cookies were especially noted!)
  • all the students who sent personal thank you notes to recruiters, interviewers, faculty members, UNI staff, or references, 
  • all the students who worked in town giving outstanding customer service to members of the community (and sometimes their professors!)  It gives UNIBusiness a good name.
  • everyone who practiced a presentation one extra time to make sure it was perfect,
  • everyone who proofread a paper one extra time to make sure it was perfect,
  • all the students who went out of their way to make an international or out-of-state classmate feel welcome at UNI,
  • everyone who didn’t complain about something—even when you had a right to be annoyed,
  • everyone who didn’t give up on a project, paper, final, or presentation.  You get extra recognition if you carried on with a good attitude and helped your co-workers get through as well.
  • everyone who was tempted to cheat but didn’t,
  • all the students who took on a service project of any kind,
  • everyone who used the right fork at dinner, kept your coat on in a warm room, stood in pumps all evening, or otherwise had to suck it up for the sake of professional manners.

I’m sure I’ve left out something…add a comment if you’d like to give a shout out to a UNIBusiness colleague who was “>READY>”  this semester.

Professional Emails Matter!

Getting ready to follow up on that conversation at the Career Fair?  Thinking about asking your former employer about an internship?  Wondering whether your professor will write you a letter of recommendation?  If so, you're probably thinking of writing an email.  Think about writing one that highlights your professionalism!

You've probably thought of the obvious things...using a professional email address rather than "HotBabe@College.com"....Starting the message with "Dear Mr. Smith" instead of "Yo!"... Spelling words out and avoiding emoticons or "text talk".   These are mistakes that can get an email deleted unread, and this is basic good sense.

Now, raise the bar another notch, and use the email to showcase your professionalism.  Business readers get used to reading well-organized emails with complete signatures.  If yours rambles on and leaves out your contact information, it sends the message that you aren't yet a professional! Here's a quick checklist: 

1. Write an informative subject line. That recruiter will get hundreds of messages, and one titled "About Your Opening" is not going to stand out.  Something like "Sending the Resume You Requested at UNI Career Fair" is more helpful!

2. Start with a summary paragraph that provides the purpose of the email and your main points. Don't ramble on through a few points, finally ending up with the question that you actually want answered. Start with the main point, followed by supporting details or explanations.

3. A business email always ends with a complete signature, which includes name, title, and full contact information.  If that recruiter wants to call you back, she'd better be able to find a phone number to do so, and the place she'll look is in the signature.

By the way, UNI professors also respond better to professional emails.  A recent study conducted in the department of Communication Studies* found that professors are "often frustrated or annoyed by emails they deemed ‘unprofessional."  If you want to be persuasive with the professor and develop a professional reputation that will get you that letter of recommendation down the road, practice your professional emails while you're still at UNIBusiness!

*Wetlaufer, T. "Professors’ Perceptions Concerning the Effectiveness of Email Communication with Undergraduate Students: A Qualitative Study"

What NOT to Wear!

As recruiters set up for a Career Fair, they start swapping stories--horror stories, sometimes--of students who wore, said, or did something outrageous. So, as you start getting ready for next week's event, you might want to review the expectations...and take a peek at some of the mistakes made last Fall. Today's topic is attire.

If you are a junior or senior looking for an internship or employment, you should be wearing corporate attire: a properly fitting suit with dress shoes and appropriate accessories.  Take a look at the attire website for specifics. 

Of course, not everyone seems to check out the expectations, and we always see a few examples of what NOT to wear.

*The most common error is probably wearing casual shoes with a business suit, which includes any kind of sandal or open-toed shoes as well as shoes with heavy, treaded soles.

*If you don't yet have a suit, it is acceptable to wear slacks or skirt with a jacket.  Men should NOT wear a tie without a jacket, and women should NOT wear a dress or skirt without a jacket or dressy sweater. This creates a half-dressed look that sends a message that you don't understand business attire.

*Nobody should show up in casual attire.  Denim, shorts, sandals, t-shirts, and athletic attire should all stay in your closet. Instead, wear slacks (think dockers, not cargo or stretch pants) with a conservative shirt, sweater, or blouse, which creates "business casual" attire.  Gentlemen should make sure the shirt fits properly and stays tucked into their trousers. Ladies should avoid any kind of clingy, sparkly, or lacy fabrics, as well as flower prints and bright colors.  

Professional-ism beyond professional

Every graduate of UNIBusiness expects to be a professional upon graduation--professional accountant, professional real estate portfolio manager, professional logistics specialist--and being professionally prepared means knowing the content of each field.  The expectations of professionalism are not career specific, however, and that means they are never taught in any classroom.

So, here's a quick take on Professionalism 101: Things they didn't tell you in the classroom.

1. Business people are expected to have a calendar (and to use it.)  The business world is schedule driven, and professionalism means knowing and meeting deadlines, showing up on time to meetings and appointments, and allocating enough time to accomplish quality work.

2. Business is conducted collaboratively. Professionalism means an ability to locate and reach a network of resources.  One of the most unprofessional excuses for failure is that "I couldn't get ahold of anyone...."  Part of any job is knowing how to contact the people that help you get that job done.

3. The business world is rule-governed.  Professionalism includes reading (and understanding) job instructions.  If you can't find instructions, professionalism means going out of your way to find them!  Same with missing data or tools: don't stop working because you don't have them.  Go find them!

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