Value in Volunteering

19 09 2009

Now that I’m finally back from vacation and over my reverse culture shock, I’ll stop neglecting you, Awesome and Unemployed!  I had amazing adventures in China.  Here’s one photo of me on the Great Wall of China!

Photo of me on the Great Wall of China

While I was away, an old friend of mine emailed me to talk about his unemployment situation.   Here’s his strategy:

I’ve been unemployed now for a little over 13 months. Supporting myself by playing poker while I look for a real job. For the record, I don’t consider myself to be a professional poker player (though I seem to get that label a lot), my circumstances are fortunate enough to let me do this by and scrape by. Anyways, I’ve categorized my job hunt into 2 categories:
Category A) Jobs to fill my time. This includes counter monkey-type jobs, serving, bartending, etc. And;
Category B) Jobs in line with my career. Marketing-related fields where I’m trying to get in with a number of agencies in town.

He’s currently looking for category A jobs, completely unrelated to his field, while he waits for the recession to lift.  (Side note:  It’s lifting.)  But the category A companies wouldn’t even hire him because he had too much category B experience.

My thoughts?  STICK TO THE CATEGORY B ROLES!  During my unemployment, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do in life.  I knew that I needed experience and I didn’t really have any, so here was my approach.

I researched small companies in the area that were doing what I wanted to do.  Small companies need the help.  They really don’t have a lot of resources and if you’re a smart, capable individual, they could really use your help.

I found Winslow & Associates, a small event planning company in San Francisco, which was responsible for most of the well-known non-profit events in San Francisco.  The more I read about Lynne Winslow and her company, the more intrigued I became.  I emailed Lynne.

Dear Ms. Winslow,

I hope this email finds you well!  My name is Stefanie and I’m a recent graduate that just realized my life’s ambition: to plan spectacular events that raise awareness and financial support for charitable causes.  I have so much respect for the events that you and your associates put on, and I wanted to write you to see if I could learn more about event planning.

Would you be opposed to having an extra hand around the office as an intern or volunteer for your company?  I will work without compensation and am willing to work as hard as possible to learn about this industry.  I will do anything that you need me to do.  I’m positive, proactive, and resourceful and I currently reside in San Francisco, so transportation is not a problem.

Since I know you are very busy, I’ve enclose my resume.  I know that you are not hiring new employees at the moment, but I hope you find that I will have the basic skills necessary to assist your team as an intern or volunteer.  I am committed to this dream and I hope I will prove to be an asset to your company if you should take me.

If you would like to speak with me more or if you have any questions, you may contact me via email at me@ or via telephone at (415) 555-5555.

Stefanie Lau
Recent UC Davis Graduate

P.S.  I volunteered the past 4 years at the Academy of Friends Oscar Gala and your company truly does a spectacular job with that event.  I will be volunteering this year again and many years to come.  If you are not looking for help at this moment, I would love to take you out to coffee to learn about what you do and all the work that you have put into your company.  Thanks for your time!

(Caveat:  That was my dream after college and what I’ve wanted has changed since then, but I’m thankful I had the opportunity to learn.)

Lynne’s reaction?  YES, YES, YES! 🙂

She needed the help and she found that I had the skills to learn and get the job done.  She brought me in for a quick interview and signed be on as a part time intern making minimum wage ($10/hr).  It wasn’t much, but Lynne saved me.  Here’s how:

  1. I got off my @$$ and started being productive.
  2. I learned a lot about being detail oriented and applying tools like Excel, Word, and databases.
  3. I got to learn from the best in the industry and see how they managed their small company and negotiated with vendors, secured clients, stretched miracles out of a tight budget, and delivered spectacular events.
  4. I kept my skills current.

When I got my job with Google, she was not happy.  “You will miss this, Stefanie.”  She told me she was going to hire me and that she fully expected me to stay in touch and involved in her events.  I have stayed in touch and helped her secure some corporate clients, as well.  For everything that Lynne saw in me, I’m grateful and will pay it forward and back as much as I can.

How is this relevant to you?  Well, let me ask you–what kinds of jobs are you looking for in this recession?  How can you keep your skills current and learn the newest trends in the industry?  Volunteer your time.  Someone needs you, somewhere.  Do your research, email the person in charge, and tell them why you’re awesome and here to solve their problems.

Go out there, conquer and succeed!

(Afterthought–I think this is another tip I learned from Charles Caudill.  Charlie, you’re the best!)


To Change Careers or Not-to-Change Careers… That’s the Question.

24 07 2009
Lyndsay, me, and some other interns in our 2005 Intern Program

Lyndsay, me, and some other interns in our 2005 Intern Program

My friend Lyndsay emailed me with the following question:

“I need some help! I’ve been unemployed now for almost 7 months and it’s not fun.  I’ve sent out probably over 700 resumes at this point and have only had 2 interviews. I am basically in the worst possible industry right now real estate and finance.  I was an acquisitions analyst for a private equity group for about a year and half when I got laid off.  Boo bad economy.  I try my best to stay in touch with friends and contacts I’ve made in the industry, but they all keep telling me the same thing: it’s going to be a few years do something else in the meantime.   One big problem. I’m only qualified to work in my industry.  All of my experience, internships and my degree are all in real estate.  So my question is how does one go about a career change when you have no other experience?

What Lyndsay’s not telling you (but I know) is that she is deeply passionate about the Real Estate Industry and Finance, two of New York’s most defining businesses.  She has received awards and recognition in the field for her work and she is a true young expert.

Career changes should come about when you have a real passion for another industry and you’re ready to explore it.  In Lyndsay’s situation, she’s truly passionate about these two industries and I would encourage her to stay close, not change careers, so that she can get back into it when it picks back up.  For more advice on career changes, read these tips.

In the meantime, it’s important for her to stay productive, creative, and continue to develop her skills (…so when they ask her, “What have you been doing?”, she can pull out her long list…):

  1. Certificate Programs. Lyndsay is already certified in Real Estate and Finance, but if you aren’t already, go get additional certifications in the industry.  This is also a good way to expand your skills and explore other fields without going back to grad school.
  2. Grad School. Or you can just go to grad school!  But make sure you know exactly why you are chosing the field and what you want to gain out of the program BEYOND just continuing education.  Graduate degrees can be highly specialized, so they will make you well positioned for very specific roles/fields after grad school.  If you do not have a good idea about your plans after grad school, don’t go until you know!  (Please chime in if you went to grad school and want to share your experiences.)
  3. Build your personal brand. Build your personal brand by increasing presence as a virtual “expert” on online networks, like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or create your own website (all about you!).  Gather endorsements, join groups, list all your awards and certifications, and post your resume online through all these channels.  Contribute to expert blogs, build your own blog (add AdSense to make some $ while you are in between jobs), and link back to related blogs.  The more active you are, the more visible you are.  The chances of someone noticing you is higher.  The chances of you being hired is higher.  Instead of you coming to them, the companies will come to you.  (I will follow up on this one–I think this is really important!)
  4. Read.  Keep reading books, online articles, blogs, academic journals and newspapers to stay on top of the latest trends in the industry and its trajectory.  If you can stay on top of this, you will be able to talk about the most relevant trends in your next interview.
  5. Maintain your contacts. Keep talking to people and sharing your experiences.  Even though they might not be able to help you now, they might be able to help you in a few weeks or months… and because you stayed productive and stayed in touch, you will become top of mind when they need to fill a role.
  6. Be an expert, but diversify your experiences. Even as an expert, it’s important to diversify your expertise so that you can bring together the top traits from each industry.  For example, if you take tips and skills from the tech industry (new, developing, creative) and bring it to real estate and finance (established, consistent) you can really enhance the more established industries and bring in new, cutting edge technology and perspectives.

Overall, career changes are great for your personal development, but they should really help you along the path towards a career that you will find most satisfying.  If you’re already there, continue to stay the course, but work harder on building your personal brand in the space.

Update on Lyndsay:  She was doing the right things and within a week of emailing me, she has a new job!  If Lyndsay can do it, so can you!

(Lynds, let’s get together next time I’m in NYC!)