Tag Archives: advice for recent grads

Why ‘Just Be Yourself’ Is Lousy Advice When You’re Young.

Here’s a piece of advice I don’t much care for, especially when it’s directed towards young people: Just be yourself.

You’re giving a talk? Just be yourself.
You’re writing a paper? Just be yourself.
You’re going on a date with Cindy Crawford? Just be yourself.

But the problem is, What if you’re not really sure who you are yet?

To the confused souls among us — and yeah, I’d put myself in that category some days — “Just be yourself” is lousy advice. Before you can be yourself, you have to find yourself.

That takes time. We find ourselves through trying new things, through experimenting, through stepping out beyond our boundaries and seeing what we like and what we don’t.

And we never really stop searching for who we are. There will come a time when you find a version of yourself that you really like. That’s fantastic.

But it’s only the 1.0 version. You cant stop there. You can’t stop growing. You can’t stop trying new things.

I’d like to do away with “just be yourself.” I’d rather tell someone, “Do something that scares you.” Action leads to discovery.

Don’t settle for being someone you’re not totally sure of. Do the work, and through that, you’ll find yourself.

Help! I’m Sending in an Application For a Job in Journalism!

The typewriter

I posted the job openings for Stry.us on JournalismJobs.com last week, and since then, the apps have been rolling into my inbox. Some are exceptionally good. A few have been exceptionally bad.

Many have left no impression on me whatsoever.

That shouldn’t happen. I’m seeing apps from talented people who just failed to catch my eye. Remember, Future Job Applicants of Tomorrow: The app is your opportunity to sell me on you and your skills. If it’s not eye catching, I’m not hiring.

Some of you guys really need help. So here’s some unsolicited advice for job seekers — specifically, college students and recent grads applying for a reporting job.

There are five questions I’m thinking about when I open your job application email. They are (in this very order):

1. What happens when I Google your name? You should know the answer to this already. I’m hoping to see a portfolio site, some work you’ve done for a news outlet, and maybe a social media profile or three. I will not look past the first page of Google results.

2. Do you have a website? If you’re selling yourself as a modern reporter, you must have an online portfolio. It does not have to be terribly fancy. It can be a blog on WordPress or Tumblr or — and I have seen more than one of these this week — Blogspot. It can be an about.me or a flavors.me page. It must have your contact information, a brief bio, and a list of links to your recent work. It must have been updated in the previous three months.

3. Do you have a LinkedIn page? I want to see where you’ve worked, and I want to see that you’ve actually connected with co-workers. I want to see that it’s been updated in the previous three months.

4. Can you prove any other forms of digital literacy? I want to see that you have an account on any of the following sites: Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Quora. Just having a single account on any of these sites proves that you actually use the Internet, which is good. (One job applicant this week offered to snail mail me a resume and clips. Another sent me a resume in a file format that I’d never seen before. These are equally bad things.) I want to see that you use the Internet.

5. How organized is your resume? Your email to me? This is important. I want to see that you know how to correctly format an email. When you send me a link, I want to know that you know how to use anchor text. I want to see that you can write succinctly, that you can spell my name correctly, and that you use paragraphs when writing. I need to see that you have an understanding of how words, pictures and links should be laid out visually.

If you can do those things — pass a basic Google test, maintain a website, keep a LinkedIn page, prove digital literacy, and keep your email/resume organized — then the chances of me following up for an interview are infinitely higher. I am likely to pass on you — even if you’re an award-winning reporter who does rocket science in your spare time — if you cannot answer these questions.

Because here is the simple truth: If you fail the five questions above, what you’re really telling me is that you don’t know how to do work on the Internet. And this job I’m hiring for — and pretty much any job in journalism today — is Internet-first.

Before you click “send” on that application to me, go through those five questions. If you can’t answer one, then you better get moving on the answer.

I’m going to close the application process for these Stry.us jobs in two weeks. Get going, guys. Wow me with your apps.

How To Make Friends In The Real World* After Graduation. (*You Know, The Real World? That Strange Place That Exists Outside of College?)

texas map

This post is really for anyone who’s about to graduate college and move to a new city. I don’t recommend graduation, but if you have to do it, and you’re moving to a new place, this post might help.

I graduated college on my 22nd birthday. I didn’t yet have a job. Three days later, I put all my stuff in my car and drove home.

Three weeks later, job in hand, I put all my stuff back in my car and moved to Texas.

I’d never been to Texas before, let alone San Antonio. I didn’t know anyone there, and I was very aware before moving was that making friends was going to be hard. Everyone kept telling me how hard it was going to be. It was always the fourth thing they brought up. Oh, San Antonio! It’s so nice there. Hot, but nice. Great Mexican food. And you’re going to have a tough time making friends.

I knew San Antonio wasn’t like DC. There isn’t much of a public transit system in San Antonio. The city is sprawling, and to get pretty much anywhere, you have to drive.

I figured — correctly, I should say — that picking the right place to live was going to impact the type of friends I’d make. So I decided to move into a loft near downtown, in the old Pearl Brewery. There was a 20-foot high beer can on top of my roof that lit up at night with the words, “Enjoy The Finer Life.” The Riverwalk was a block away from my apartment, and some of the city’s finest restaurants were steps away, and there was a yoga studio on the first floor, and nightly live music across the street, and a farmer’s market in my parking lot every Saturday.

It was a really great place to live. I miss that place.

The only thing was, I didn’t really have many friends.

Certainly not at first. Because as I started to meet people, I discovered two things:

1. Young professionals don’t live in San Antonio. They move to Austin, 45 minutes north.

2. If they do live in San Antonio, they live in the suburbs.

So I made friends in the suburbs. But that was strange. I couldn’t really drink with friends because I had to drive home. And forget about a cab. It would’ve cost $75 round trip just to get to a bar and back.

I like friends, but I wasn’t making nearly enough to be able to afford them, it turned out.

Anyway, where this is all going: I just finished reading a fantastic book by Rachel Bertsche. It’s called “MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend.” It’s about a writer like me — she even nailed the Jewish-but-not-all-that-religious journalism grad part — who moves to a new city and tries to make new friends. So she goes on 52 friend-dates during the year. She’s not looking for a man — just a new BFF.

And like me, she discovers: This is way, way harder than you’d think.

I’ve moved three times since San Antonio — to Biloxi, Miss., and then back to D.C., and then out to Columbia, Mo. And in each city, I’ve gotten better at making friends. In Biloxi, that meant actually becoming part of the Jewish community. (I was the 10th person in the minion most Friday nights, so they loved me.) In D.C., that meant kickball leagues and yoga and lots of live music. In Columbia, it’s meant infinite after-work drinks and meetups and lots of socialization.

The lesson that Bersche takes away from her friend search — and I’m happy to confirm that she’s dead on with this — is that making new friends in a new city takes work. Sometimes, it feels like a second job.

So if you’re graduating this May and moving to a new city, I’ll offer you this: Don’t feel alone in your new home. Making new friends is hard, and it doesn’t come easily. But don’t be scared. Go out, be friendly, do things, and be active in the friend search.

This comes back to something I’ve said before: In this life, find things you love and people you love, and make time for both. When you’re out in a new city, searching for friends, start by making time for things you love.

You’ll find the people you love soon enough.

The Secret to Networking. (Hint: It’s not really so secret).

Phone Me

Up front, I should say: I am not a great networker. Not yet. This goes back a long way, but the short version is: Sometime around the 6th grade, I realized that I was terrifyingly shy. Calling a friend to ask, “Hey, you wanna play basketball up at school?” was a Herculean ordeal. I remember riding the bus to school and hoping that it’d be late. It wasn’t that I wanted to miss class; I was more afraid of standing around before school with my own friends and trying to contribute to the conversation.

I was really, really shy, and people who know me now find it tough to believe that Dan Oshinsky — the guy who won’t shut up, the guy who won’t use four words where forty will do — was once quiet.

I eventually grew out of my shyness. I learned how to talk to people on the phone. I learned how to shake somebody’s hand and look them in the eye. I learned how to hide my awkwardness in awkward situations.

And the networking skills are coming along. But I’m discovering here at Missouri that the young j-schoolers on campus aren’t master networkers yet. In fact, some of them are rather worried about their networking skills.

They’re convinced that networking is some special skill that some people have and some people don’t. And they’re worried that they don’t have it.

That’s just not true. Everyone can be a great networker. Here’s the problem: Nobody’s ever given these students permission to be great networkers. And they’ve been waiting for permission.

So here’s what I know, guys. It’s four simple steps. Here’s your permission:

1. Show up.

Yes, this is a ‘duh’ kind of thing to say. But here at Mizzou, there are infinite networking opportunities: Meetups, speeches, brown bag lunches, even office hours. The first step is showing up.

The dirty secret is, most students don’t take advantage of opportunities like these. And they’re missing out.

Showing up is half the battle, the idiom goes. It was also, as Aaron Sorkin once wrote, Napoleon’s battle plan:

Casey: Technically, I have a plan.
Dan: What’s the plan?
Casey: It’s Napoleon’s plan.
Dan: Who’s Napoleon?
Casey: A 19th century French emperor.
Dan: You’re cracking wise with me now?
Casey: Yes.
Dan: Thanks.
Casey: He had a two-part plan.
Dan: What was it?
Casey: First we show up, then we see what happens.
Dan: That was his plan?
Casey: Yeah.
Dan: Against the Russian army?
Casey: Yeah.
Dan: First we show up, then we see what happens.
Casey: Yeah.
Dan: Almost hard to believe he lost.

And yeah, it didn’t work for Napoleon. But he was trying to defeat the Russians.

You’re just trying to make some new contacts in the journalism world.

So show up.

2. Get business cards. Get numbers. Hustle.
If you’re at a busy event — say, a conference — you might get a lot of cards. So on the back of a card, write down something about the person. Something you want to remember about him/her, something you want to follow up on.

And if you’re not comfortable with business cards, use a cool mobile tool like Bump to exchange contact information.

3. Follow up. Buy them coffee. Lunch. No one turns down free food.
I’m not kidding. If a student emails me and asks if they can buy me coffee, I will say yes. If they offer to buy me lunch, I will say yes. I will cancel important meetings and say yes. I have a journalism degree, and people with journalism degrees will do almost anything for free food.

Want access to smart, powerful people? Ask to buy them coffee. Ask to buy them lunch.

They will say yes.

(And here’s a take from an experienced networker: If they’re really busy, offer to bring coffee to their office.)

4. Keep following up.
Send your contacts links. Friend them on Facebook and like their posts from time to time. Tweet at them every few weeks. It doesn’t have to be often. A little thing every so often is just enough to keep you top of mind.

Modern relationships are built one click at a time.

Start clicking.

A Brief Word of Advice For Those About to Start Their First Job.

I’ve been gainfully employed for nearly four months, and I’m finally starting to understand a few truths about life inside a conglomerate. When you’re the new guy at a big company, the flowchart of power feels a little like one of those multi-piece Russian matryoshka dolls: you’d like to think you’re important, but if you were to peel away the layers, you’d find that you’re actually one of the tiny dolls hidden deep inside.

In my time at the office, I’ve learned a few things about the corporate life that seem pretty universal. So here are three pieces of advice for anyone about to start their first job in a new town:

1. Ask for a comfortable chair: Sure, it seems like an odd thing to do. And yes, it’s also a line out of “Jerry Maguire.” But if you’re starting life as a cubicle jockey, chances are you’ll be sitting more than you ever have in your life. Your chair might be the most important piece of furniture in your life.

2. Find a good mechanic: At some point, your car is going to break down. For me, the headlights on my car just stopped working a few weeks ago. And you do not want to go to a dealer to get the problem fixed. So if you’re moving to a new town, take a few minutes and find someone who won’t rip you off when your car breaks down. I’d recommend using the ‘Mechanic Files’ over at NPR’s “Car Talk” page. As an added benefit, this might just keep you sane when things go completely wrong.

3. When in doubt, ask: I’d worked at big companies before, but I’d never actually had to navigate a massive corporate bureaucracy before this job. So I’m learning that such places aren’t very good at keeping track of personnel. There’s a sign above the copier at work that speaks to this. “You may be essential,” it reads, “but that doesn’t mean you’re important.” It’s up to you to ask and to make sure that you don’t get lost in the bureaucracy.