Career Corner: Putting Your Fulbright Experience to Work for Social Justice and Global Positive Change

Career Corner: Putting Your Fulbright Experience to Work for Social Justice and Global Positive Change

Often when thinking about a career we separate our activism from our professional aspirations. Movements and causes that we feel strongly about we relegate to working on during our “off” hours: weekends, evenings, and holidays. These efforts are not our day jobs. This is an artificial distinction. We only have to look at those who have dedicated their lives to social justice causes and global positive change to see that their work was their full-time job, and not just a weekend diversion.

Taking steps to advance a career involves considering myriad factors. Some are grounded in financial necessity: I need to get a job that pays my rent, or my student loans! Or sometimes we feel the direction we take must align with the educational investment we have already made.  We ask ourselves: if I’ve spent all this time, effort, and money to get a degree in “X” then I really should make that my career, right?  These are reasonable considerations. But often they might act as blinders on a horse: only allowing us to see that is in front of us, and not allowing for a wider view of how we can contribute to the social good through a meaningful career.

We are in a time like no other. How people of color in the U.S. and worldwide are treated and marginalized must be addressed. Protests, statue removals,  and the questioning of the status quo (including the traditional role of policing) is taking place daily. Many of us now recognize that our “good future” or “luck” is in actuality the result of systemic advantages that we have been given and others denied.  It also relates to crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. Life as we know it has been turned on its head. The “new” normal has yet to be revealed.

A Fulbright grant is often motivated by the altruistic desire to do good: be that to advance cultural understanding, promote the arts to improve community life, foster scientific research to  better global health, or build peace through education. I have found with rare exception that those returning from a Fulbright experience have developed increased  awareness of the advantages that Americans have.  And if their Fulbright experience has taken place in a non-Western society, they recognize that there are many more “have nots” than “haves” in the world.  And they recognize that working to improve conditions doesn’t end with the completion of a Fulbright experience.

Can the convergence of passion for change and the current political and public health conditions lead to a career strategy redirection?  Can we pull off the blinders and consider careers that directly address some of the challenges we face? If you had not thought about a career in public health, is the current COVID-19 crisis offering you a chance to see how you might move in that direction? Could the current unrest and protests direct your interest to education in social justice?  How might you start this exploration?

Check Your Own Community First

It seems that the “big problems” facing the world draw our attention.  But I would suggest that the issues that we might work on – public health or social justice-  are also local.  Start at home.   The question then becomes: what work in my community needs attention?

Make Changes in Your Current Work

Of course there are some jobs that are designed directly to make change. But I would argue that most anyone can find space regardless of their work to advance important social goals. A retail professional can urge their employer to offer products that align with environmental values. An accountant can devote volunteer time to support the needs of a not-for-profit. An IT professional can offer their expertise gratis to social justice groups trying to advance justice reform.  Find space in your current work to improve social conditions.

Transition from Volunteer to Paid Staff

Those organizing a rally or protest often come together spontaneously. They are usually volunteers. As the effort grows, there might be the need to sustain the effort with staff who are paid. This will require getting financial support through donations, fundraising, or grants.  Once funding is obtained, then professional staff can be hired. As a volunteer, your efforts might lead to paid employment continuing to the do the work you are passionate about.

 Research, Reach Out, and Plan

If you come to the conclusion that your goal is a career that allows you to apply your convictions, you will need to spend time researching and planning. Not all social causes easily allow for paid work, but many do. You need to consider which ones can support a career.  Fields such as  human rights, humanitarian assistance, international development, legal advocacy, and policy change present clearer pathways to a career. Often through additional education or training, you can prepare yourself and learn the steps you should take.  Having  a game plan is important: making connections, training or education, and volunteer experience will likely be part of it.

The passion you brought to your Fulbright experience can be redirected now to other important social issues that communities face.  Many can benefit from what you bring to a cause.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

June 26, 2020 0

Career Corner – Focus on your “Paper”

Career Corner – Focus on your “Paper”

In my last column, I recommended using the COVID crisis as a time to invest in yourself. With an uncertain job market, making connections and building your skills are good ways of using your time.

You might also focus right now on your “paper.” What I mean here, are the written ways in which you present yourself (that at one time were only on paper!): resume or CV, cover letter, LinkedIn, and other written forms.

Lead with Fulbright

After returning from your experience in the Fulbright program you need to update your social media and resume to mention your time abroad. Even if your Fulbright experience was short, it was still valuable, and you made important contributions to the community you worked in. Make sure it’s clearly noted on your resume and LinkedIn profile. It’s important to specifically and accurately indicate your service, reducing abbreviations where you can. For instance, if you were an ETA, you might write English Teaching Assistant, so that those unfamiliar with the Fulbright program know what you were doing abroad. Also state the period of your service and country.

Metrics are Important

Increasingly employers are interested in “how much” of something you did. Metrics speak to your ability to supervise, organization, manage, and other tasks that a potential employer needs done. If you taught as an ETA, mention how many students you had, the number of classes, and how large the school was. If you oversaw a budget, not likely in the Fulbright program, but maybe in another job, indicate the amount, particularly if it was $10,000 or more.

Metrics also look at outcomes: how much was produced or was developed as a result of your efforts.

Create Points of Curiosity

Your resume will be the document that an interviewer will launch the interview from. Create in it opportunities for conversation and curiosity. It is important to draw a reader to you and show how your experiences are not only relevant to their work, but intriguing. I find that listing the countries you have experienced – as a study abroad student, Fulbrighter, or in other projects (but not so much as a tourist) – creates an opportunity for the interviewer to ask questions: especially if you’ve been to some places off the beaten trail. Besides travel, consider other facets of your experience that might cause an interviewer to ask questions. Are you studying an obscure language? Involved in a project that is unique and shows innovation?

Flawless Design and Presentation

A resume, cover letter, and even a LinkedIn page is not about approximation. It is about precision. Errors in punctuation, spelling, or formatting will be noticed by an interviewer and might signal to them (maybe incorrectly) that you are careless or even sloppy. I remind my own students and clients: make sure your punctuation, syntax, and grammar are free of mistakes. We all make mistakes in our writing, even if we have reviewed it multiple times. Please have a friend read your resume or other writing over and give you honest feedback and edits. I learned from my father who was a letterpress operator (they don’t exist anymore) to proofread text backwards, word by word – out loud.

David J. Smith, Adjunct Faculty, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University

Make Sure That What You Offer is Obvious

You will get a job for only this reason: you have something (skills, knowledge, connections, etc.) that the employer needs. They will not hire you merely because of your enthusiasm, or your education, or that you are polite and inquisitive in an interview. These are important, but not critical. But making the case that you can do something that the employer needs: that’s the ticket to the job. As such, if you have something that relates directly to the position you are applying for, make sure that is obvious in your resume and in your cover letter. I recommend a summary of qualifications section at the top of a resume below your contact information indicating specifically how your skills can contribute to what that specific employer is looking for. This means you need to tailor each resume for each job you apply for.

In the end, your “paper” shows your seriousness and professionalism. Make sure it puts you in the best possible light.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

May 20, 2020 0

Career Corner – What to do with your time: Invest in Yourself

Career Corner – What to do with your time: Invest in Yourself

We live in a time like no other.   Looking back, we will reflect on the surrealness of it all.   Scientists and researchers will study this period for broader understandings of human behavior.  There will be much to ponder.

But right now many might be feeling some internal dissonance.  Some may feel lost and disoriented, with the sense of much time on their hands.  Others may feel they have much more than ever before to do but are having difficulty focusing.  And many are experiencing both – bouncing daily between idleness and panic.

Job seekers might feel a sense of dread.  There is the appearance that the entire hiring world – except maybe food service, first responders, and healthcare —  is at a  standstill.  Given that,  there are steps that can be taken now, and ways of setting your thinking that can benefit you in the future.  These six steps can provide you with something meaningful to do and remain in control,  which provides not only psychological reassurance, but also invests in yourself so that when “normal” returns, you will be in much better shape than others.

Make Connections

Now is the time to make connections.  We should all, of course, be reaching out to our family and friends, and even folks we are only acquainted with who might be on their own and need our encouragement.  From  a career exploration standpoint, reaching out to possible mentors, peers, and even professionals you don’t know right now is a good investment of time.  Because many are now working from home, their daily routine has been recreated, possibly allowing for more time to connect. They might be seeking the chance to take a break during the workday.    Use LinkedIn or other means to schedule informational interviews and pursue other ways of connecting.

Confirm Before You Apply

Hiring is still taking place, especially in areas that are on the front lines of dealing with the pandemic.  In fields that are insulated from budgetary fluctuation, hiring committees are still meeting, albeit virtually, and starting dates continuing, but likely delayed.  Make sure that before you apply for a position, that you confirm that it is still available.  In government, there has been some move to freeze all hiring.  If you can, make every effort to reach out to the hiring manager before applying.  You might find a position listed as active on an aggregate site, like Indeed, only to learn upon contacting the hiring manager that the position has been pulled for the time being.

Work on Skills and Aptitudes Online

We have all gaps in our experience and training.  And we all have said “If I had the time, I’d take a course in ________ (fill in the blank).” Online learning can assist you in building a range of skills and knowledge:  from YouTube videos to asynchronistic and synchronistic formal courses at community colleges, options abound.   Language courses, tech and social media training, and certification offerings, all can be found online.   Consider taking courses that better position you to deal with financial issues like budget management or grant writing.

Good Habits and Routines: Now is the Time to Make Them Stick

It takes on average 66 days to create a habit.   What good habits dealing with not only career strategies, but with a healthy lifestyle can be started now?   If you are taking more walks, or engaging in yoga online, could you continue that once the crisis is over?  If you are making a practice now of reading journals or attending webinars in your field, then once things are back to the way they were (or almost were), you might have “hardwired” these as professional routines.

Manage Day to Day, But Create a Vision for Six Months Out

There is obviously a high degree of uncertainly right now.   Day-to-day might be devolve into a tedious routine. The conditions for looking for work will be uncertain for a while.  Make plans on a weekly basis.  What should you be doing? Set goals for the week: review your resume or LinkedIn or set up informational interviews or attend professional webinars.   But also think six months out on what you might doing. Create a vision for the future.  What kind of work would you want to do?  Maybe go back to school? (A number of universities including Tulane University are offering special enrollment and tuition discounts for returning Fulbrighters and recently Returned Peace Corps Volunteers).  A common vision among those similarly situated, fosters camaraderie and inspires collaboration.  Share your ideas (consider the implications for your field) and plans with your friends and colleagues and explore what your situation might look like in six months.  This is will give you hope and set goals to focus on.

David J. Smith, Adjunct Faculty, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University

Take Care of Yourself and Others

Taking care of yourself should be the first priority, but sometimes is the one thing that gets left off the list. This can mean different things to different people.  For some it is physical exercise, but for others, it might be an emotional need.   How are you feeling?  Are you dealing with stress, isolation, or feelings of distress?  Don’t let it settle in but take proactive steps to prevent a deeper sense of despair or unhealthy living.  And of course, check in with others: family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.  That sense of offering yourself to others provides you with a sense of meaning, and as a result helps your own emotional state.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

April 16, 2020 2

Career Fairs: How to Prepare, How to Engage

Career Fairs: How to Prepare, How to Engage

Looking for work demands different strategies and forms of engagement.   Some individuals are comfortable networking and looking for opportunities at events including career fairs.   Others are not as sociable and would rather more discreetly apply for jobs online.  Still others are looking for more direct referrals for jobs and seek informational interviews and one on one meetings with people who can make connections.   Ideally, looking for work should include all of these approaches.  In some cases, you might need to do more of one than the other.  For instance, if you are looking for work in a field that is narrowly focused with only a limited number of employers, one on one connections might make most sense.  If on the other hand, the types of jobs you are looking for are seemingly plentiful, and then online might be a viable approach (although you should also include other strategies).

Career fairs are typical venues for identifying potential employers.  These opportunities can be good places to get a “lay of the land” so to speak.  By attending, rather than applying for jobs at the fair (which you can do at times), you should be more focused on the types of employers who are there.  Are they small firms or international groups?  Not for profits, or for profits?  Local or federal government?   Getting a handle of who exactly is hiring should result in your better honing a pitch and revising your resume.

If you are fairly sure about what you are looking for at a career fair, then attending with the intent to engage an employer at a fair is important.  In that case, dressing for an interview, bringing resumes, and having business cards would be in order.  Though your conversation with a representative of an employer might be short and in the midst of other conversations and crowd noise, making a good first impression is important and critical.  Representatives tend to be either (1) human resources staff who might have only a general sense of what the firm is hiring for, but can provide specific guidance on the process or (2) program specific staff, who know more about specific needs, but might have less insight into the hiring steps.  In either case, your initial conversation can leave an important lasting impression and help advance you to the formal application process.

David J. Smith, Adjunct Faculty, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University

Career Fairs can be intimidating.   There is much a buzz, they can be crowded, and as a result might cause some anxiety and stress.  Try to find a quiet place to take notes, review your resume, grab coffee, and then reengage.   A good outcome is meeting someone, possibly someone also looking for work who you can share notes with, or a more senior professional who might offer you some advice.   Get their contact information and try to connect with them later through LinkedIn,  for coffee or a Skype call.

In any case, you should not shy away from a career fair.   Some are general and deal with a range of employers such as a specific kind (e.g., not for profit work) or governmental sector.  Others might be more specific as to a field such as international development, or peacebuilding, or for a specific group, like State Department program alums (like Fulbright!).  As you can see, I linked to a few I’ve attended lately.   They are a good opportunity to get your feet wet and see what opportunities you should be considering.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

February 20, 2020 0

Career Corner: Sharing Your Experiences as a Fulbrighter Will Open Doors

Career Corner: Sharing Your Experiences as a Fulbrighter Will Open Doors

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to join other Fulbrighters at an academic conference for community colleges to share about our experiences.  We participated in two panel discussions and presentations.  The panelists included visiting Fulbrighters from Kyrgyzstan, Togo, and Morocco; U.S. Fulbright ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) in Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, and Peru; and U.S. Fulbright Scholars researching and teaching in Nicaragua and Estonia (me!).  Our audience consisted of community college educators and professionals.  Community colleges are the least represented higher education sector in the Fulbright program, so it was important to share with this group.   Afterwards, several faculty members indicated interest in considering a Fulbright as part of their future professional plans.

Sharing about your experiences as a Fulbrighter is a powerful way of connecting with professionals and the general public.   With professionals, it opens up opportunities for career possibilities.    Your experience overseas will be viewed as an important asset to a company or organization in an increasingly globalized world.  With the general public, sharing about your Fulbright grant offers you a chance to show how international experiences are important for learning and growth, as well as global economic development and intercultural relations.   U.S. taxpayers should be aware of how the Fulbright program contributes to national objectives.

David J Smith — career coach, author, and Fulbrighter

Finding opportunities to talk about your Fulbright experience can be formal, such as a conference or professional meeting, but can also be informal such as at a social gathering.  Sometimes the best places to share are with youth in educational settings.  Schools are frequently looking for guest speakers to talk about interesting work that might inspire young people.  This is an ideal setting for you to share about your time overseas.  Stories about living in another country can be powerful ways to show our connection with others around the world.  Talking about food, work, family life, and other customs can intrigue youth to think about what they can do to make the world a better place through international engagement.   Think about where you went to school.  Contact the principal or a teacher there and offer to share: you will not be turned down, I can guarantee that.   International education week in November is often a time when presenters are needed.  And when meeting with youth, don’t merely talk to them, but get them involved in an activity that allows them to really understand the culture that you experienced.  Teach students a song, or engage in some artwork.     If you are looking for a formal way of engagement, check out the Fulbright Association’s Fulbright-in-the-Classroom Program, which facilitates opportunities for Fulbrighters to talk in K-12 schools.

Making connections can be done in many ways.   Giving back to students, professionals or the public by sharing your experiences advances not only the Fulbright program, but also introduces you to individuals who in turn can open doors.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

January 22, 2020 0