The Cost of Education

I grew up in a small, quaint town in the middle of nowhere in upstate NY and I was raised in a relatively affluent and liberal household and community.  Like anyone else, I gained a lot of my opinions and values from my surroundings; my views on education being one such thing.  Having had my nose to the educational grindstone for the past eighteen years my views and understanding of education have evolved in the process.

I value education, to put it mildly.  I see huge benefits of learning and growing on a daily basis.  For me, I like the challenge; I feel some kind of weird euphoria learning new things - plus, it keeps me from feeling bored!  I want to emphasize that a college degree isn’t the only kind of learning – self-learning, certificate programs, and experiences can all provide many of the same skills that a formal education can – and college isn’t a goal for everyone.

Growing up, I picked up the idea that if you didn’t go to college you wouldn’t get anywhere in life.  I don’t remember anyone telling me this outright - I suspect I picked up the idea from my mother’s ideals and the media – and this idea was probably more relevant in 1970s.  Back then, a degree was gold and did almost guarantee the degree-holder a great job.  Today however, a lot seems to have changed.

This mentality – that a college degree is required – still exists, but it no longer guarantees you a good job.  Internships and connections are now an added expectation, but even with these assets under one’s belt a job can still be incredibly hard to come by.  Recent graduates struggle to find a job as (for lack of a better word) “legitimate” employers class them as under-qualified and retail/service employers class them as over-qualified.

This struggle, combined with the increasing cost of tuition and loan interest rates, begs the question, “Is it worth it to get a degree?”  For me, the answer is still yes.  I attended two wonderful, small private colleges, with enriching communities.  I paid more for my degrees than many and while I don’t regret the experiences I had and the education I received, I often wonder where I would be if I had opted for a cheaper public institution.  Certainly I would have less student loan debt.  Educationally speaking, I’d like to think that I would be in much the same place – although I had extremely small class sizes, which contributed greatly to my learning.  Would I have more/less valuable experiences?  Would I have more/less prestigious and rewarding internships?  Would I have more/less networking contacts?  I ask myself these questions frequently as I search for a job in marketing or communications.

I still firmly believe in the value of education.  However, looking at academia from the other end of the tunnel, I really wish the costs associated with a degree were more affordable.  Why should a degree create (in many cases) financial burden?

I’d love to hear what others think about education and the other things that you value!

Also, if you want to hire me, get in touch!

A Life Lesson from Veronica Mars

Remember that TV classic Veronica Mars? (There’s a movie coming out in March FYI, so I’m pretty excited).

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I love it – sure it may be off the air, but that doesn’t stop me from obsessing over the show in my free time.  Realistically I could re-watch episode after episode full of sleuthing and witty banter.  I was doing just that last night when I realized that Veronica (and the show’s creators) would probably be (and in fact, are) great at marketing.

I took Principles of Marketing my senior year in undergrad at Wells College, and the one of the very first things that came out of my professor’s mouth – other than her introduction – was, “Know your audience”.

Know your audience.

The Holy Grail of marketing in some ways.  Every marketing class I took from that point on, – whether it was Sustainable Marketing, Digital Marketing, Event Marketing, you name it – mentioned this key tidbit of information at least once.  And it’s true, it really is valuable advice.  Just think about it: if you don’t know your audience – who they are, what they like and dislike, what they want, what makes them feel – how are you going to speak to them, build a relationship with them, and connect with them?  Veronica Mars always seemed to know her audience; she knew when to use witty banter and when to be aggressive, and she always seemed to know exactly how to talk to someone to get what she wanted or needed.  Sure, sure, it’s scripted and thus ideal – I can’t count the number of times I thought of some impressive response to a conversation or an argument I’d had minutes or hours earlier – but, she knew her audience. Always.

For me, this sage piece of advice applies to much more than marketing. Thinking back, I used it a lot as a kid! If I wanted those oh so addicting Reese’s Puffs or wanted to sleepover at a friend’s house, I knew how to tailor my request depending on who I was talking to.  I know I still use it today – every day – too, in my personal life, in my academic endeavors, at work; whenever I have a conversation at work, I always think (both consciously and subconsciously) who I’m talking to and how to approach them in order to get them to see my perspective or help me with something.  How I approach my boss about something I want to change in the department is very different from how I approach my business group manager or general manager for the same thing – because, like everyone else, they’re all very different people who respond very differently to certain delivery methods and messages.  The same applies to my personal life; if I’m trying to convince my boyfriend to watch a certain movie (he’s not big on romantic comedies, and they happen to be my guilty pleasure) or eat a healthy meal as opposed to Taco Bell (his (understandably) guilty pleasure), I always think about how to approach the conversation, how to tailor the message to persuade him.

What are your thoughts on “knowing your audience”? How (and where) do you use it in everyday life?

Just get a job?

Over the past few weeks I’ve been kept pretty busy and unfortunately have been MIA in terms of my blog!

I experienced my first ever Portland snow – I LOVE snow, so for me this was great!  Check it out!

I continued to apply for marketing/communications/PR jobs and watched a little Olympic figure skating in between.  I’ve always been jealous of the fluidity and skill these ladies and gents have, not to mention the amazingly intricate skating outfits!

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I also celebrated a few milestones with my wonderful boyfriend (we had our second Valentine’s day and our first anniversary within the last week or so)!

Excuses, excuses, I know!

Other than work, my job search is what’s kept me most busy and I’ve gained some interesting insights in the process.  Currently I work retail – not the most glamorous, but it’s a job.  I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for customers to comment on how my degree (which I earned less than two months ago) “obviously didn’t pay off” because “if it had, you wouldn’t still be working retail”.  Excuse me!?  I never ceased to be amazed by how blunt and completely rude total strangers can be.  These people know nothing about me, other than the limited information I share with them while I spend 30-60 minutes helping them with their purchase, and they clearly haven’t taken a look at the current employment situation in our nation.  I’m always tempted to snap back that I’m actively searching for a job where I can apply my interests and education, and an Always Sunny in Philadelphia gif frequently comes to mind:

I know I talked a little about how frustrating it is to come across entry-level positions requiring 3-5 years of prior experience in a previous post, but since then I’ve observed more and more with each posting I review, each application I submit, and each interview I attend.

Job hunting can be…frustrating, exhausting, and depressing.

Searching through job boards, company websites, Craigslist, and anywhere else you can find job postings, is time-consuming – filtering by field(s), looking for postings with titles that contain anything relevant, reading each post to see if everything matches up and you’re qualified, and deciding whether the salary (if listed) is fair and enough to pay the bills, only to come out the other end with a mere handful of potential jobs.  So you go back again, searching a little more freely and being a little less picky.  Search after search and day after day, this routine becomes monotonous, frustrating, and frankly, discouraging.  Pair that with the fact that you (probably) aren’t going to hear back from all (or many) of the companies you’ve submitted applications to, and things can start to look pretty bleak.

Over the past few months, my job search and rejections from a few coveted positions has at times made me feel pretty depressed –  my mom suffers from depression and I’m always aware that I’m potentially at risk – so I found a few ways to avoid letting the job hunt drag me down.  Taking breaks to go for a walk, clean, bake, re-pot a plant, or get crafty with a DIY project; just getting out of the house for fresh air or immersing myself in a creative or hands on endeavor has helped. A lot.

Valentine's baking

I also try to make sure to treat myself – for every x number of quality applications I submit I reward myself with a brownie or spend time giving myself a manicure.

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Basically, even though the job search can leave me feeling downtrodden, I always try to balance it with other activities so I don’t get burnt out or overly discouraged.

Interviews provide a lot of insight. Also, don’t let them freak you out too much.

Nerves are good – to a certain extent.  In my experience, if you’re not a little nervous, you’re probably not prepared, or you think you’ve got it in the bag – and a cocky attitude might not be the best attitude to take into an interview.  While a few butterflies are healthy, letting yourself get overly worked up before an interview can be detrimental.  The biggest piece of advice – other than a few deep breaths – that has been invaluable to helping me balance my interview nerves? An interview is as much an opportunity for you to learn about the company and the job as it is for the company to learn about you.  Every interview I’ve ever been to, from retail to professional jobs, has provided an opportunity for me to turn the tables on the interviewer and ask my own questions.  So show up prepared with a couple of key questions that will not only answer the questions you have about the company and the position, but also help you determine if the company is a good fit for you and your career goals.  I went to an interview recently and after speaking with the interviewer, asking my questions, and reflecting on what I had learned, I felt confident that, while the job had looked promising on paper and was a phenomenal position, it did NOT fit what I was looking for in a career.

Follow directions. Double check everything.

Read application directions carefully.  If it says to mention a certain phrase in the subject line, do it – no matter how weird the request might seem.  If it asks for your application materials in PDF, convert those .docx files.  Another huge thing I’ve learned along the way: research the company, figure out who your audience is and tailor each cover letter and resume (and hopefully interview conversation) to individual postings – if a company is very formal and buttoned-up use a more formal tone in your communication and demeanor, whereas if the company is more laid-back and creative, find a way to incorporate that.  I cannot stress the importance of tailoring your application materials to individual postings!  No two jobs are the same – and if they are, the companies are probably different, so find that difference (even if it’s small) and work it to your advantage!  Part of this individualization also involves proofreading!! Double and triple check your spelling and grammar (spell check and grammar check aren’t perfect, trust me), the dates you list on your resume, and – if possible – have someone proofread your documents before sending them off; one slip up might be what leads an interviewer to throw out your application, and no one wants that.

Smile.

No matter how rough things seem, or how disparaging the job hunt can be, don’t forget to smile – on the phone setting up interviews, during interviews, and every day!  Life is beautiful, even when things look bleak. Go watch a sunrise/sunset, take a walk, visit with family and friends, cook a sinfully delicious meal, and eat one too many gummy bears, because things could be worse.

Anyone else out there on the hunt for a new job?  Let me know what works for you and how you’re getting through!

Pet Peeves: Social Media Edition

I love social media. Sure, it has its downfalls – like face-to-face interactions overtaken by technology, anonymity that makes bullies feel brash, less personal privacy…the list could go on forever if we wanted it to. But social media also has a lot of great benefits, like connecting people from around the world, sharing stories and pictures, opening doors to what the rest of the world has to offer, and it gives us the ability to connect with our favorite companies and brands.

Many of my social media pet peeves arise from how people use social media.  Dozens of game requests bogging down my notifications, poor use of grammar and spelling, hashtags on Facebook (am I the only one bothered by this!?), redundant content…just some of the things that tend to grind my social media gears.

One such example: I have a friend or two who consistently and frequently post complaints about their jobs, their coworkers, everything and anything they have on their plate.  I get it – it always feels great to vent a little and let out some stress and frustration – but I personally don’t think that doing so on social media is the route to take.

Why you ask?

Well, for starters, you never know who could stumble across one of your heat-of-the-moment grumblings.  What if it was a coworker you had complained about? Or your boss? A future employer?  Are those really the messages you want to send to the people in your life? Is that really the professional identity you want to establish on the Internet?  If we’re being honest, I know I get incredibly annoyed by friends whose complaints constantly pepper my various news feeds – I get it, no one wants to have to work, but if you’re blessed enough to have a  job in the current economy, recognize that while you may not have the job of your dreams, you have something giving you income and experience.  Unless you’ve just won the lottery and are set for life, no one should stick their nose up at either of these!

My advice for unhappy employees:

Take a few deep breaths or head outside for a walk.  Afterwards, ask yourself whether what was bothering you is worth complaining about.  Chances are, it probably isn’t.

Find a body to vent to; your friend, your roommate, your mom, your dog, anyone who you can trust not to broadcast what you’re saying.

Get a journal – not a blog – a real, paper journal and vent there.  Then go back a few days later and read what you wrote. You’ll probably realize that whatever was frustrating you was pretty insignificant in the scheme of things.

Consider addressing your discontent – rationally and calmly – with the people directly involved, whoever they may be.  Communicate!! After all, they might not know that they’re causing you stress.

And, if you find you’re still unhappy…it might be time to search for a new job.

What social media habits drive you crazy and momentarily make you want to cancel your accounts and go off the grid? Let me know what your social media pet peeves are!

Coffee and Hot Air Balloons

Growing up, my parents each had their own mug – that one mug that was on the table full of coffee every morning and in their hand, filled to the brim with tea every evening. As a five year old who desperately wanted to drink coffee ‘like them’ I wanted my perfect mug too, and not to jinx anything, but I think I’ve found it eighteen years later!

This past fall I made an early morning trip to New Seasons with my boyfriend to pick up some breakfast materials (bacon, anyone?). Now, my favorite part of a New Seasons trip is just ambling through the store examining all the deliciously sinful ingredients, cool knick knacks, and quirky housewares. In doing just that on this particular morning, I stumbled across – dare I say – my perfect mug. Just the right size, with a not-too-cramped handle, and a somewhat bowed shape that fits my palm like perfection. Plus, it’s adorned with brightly colored hot air balloons!

I’m big on coffees and teas, so finding this mug seems like serendipity. I know it probably sounds ridiculous and I can’t really explain why it’s so perfect, but I smile a little every time I use the mug; maybe the hot air balloons make me want to travel (more than I already do), or maybe the slightly imperfect lines make me want to dive into creative endeavors. Plus, some of the balloons have a chevron pattern, which is my favorite print, so I’m even more obsessed! Either way, it makes me wish I’d bought more than one of these vessels!

Check it out:

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Pretty cool, right?  Perfect for a cup of my favorite Green Mountain coffee.

Rainy Days

Since moving to Portland just over a year and a half ago, I’ve discovered the wonder known as…the crock pot.  Throw all your ingredients in, set the dial, go about your day, and you come home to a meal and a deliciously scented house!

Now, I actually like rain – the sounds, the smell – and I always seem to get some quality self-reflection in when the sky is open. Even though it rained in New York and snowed in New York and got cold in New York, I was never a big fan of soups and stews.  That being said, I became attached to warmer, steamier dishes my first rainy winter on the ‘left coast’; the rain makes everything feel an entirely different kind of cold – not the dry snowy air of the Northeast, but a damp and biting cold that makes me want to curl up in a blanket all day.  Enter the crock pot.

Once again, Pinterest has provided me with endless ideas and opportunity for my own creativity in the crock pot meal realm. Currently top on my list of winter favorites, Ropa Vieja.  My mom made this dish when I was little, and when I stumbled across the crockpot recipe for it a few weeks ago, I knew I had to make it.  Since that fateful day I’ve cooked the dish twice, with a few alterations, depending on what I had in my fridge and what sounded good to me.  Both times, I left out the capers because (and I’m not really sure why) they creep me out when I see them in a jar.  I also left out the bay leaf because I hate having to fish it out when everything is done cooking.  Other than that, I left the recipe the same and both times it came out wonderfully.  The second time I changed up the color of the peppers the recipe called for based on what I had on hand – because, I’ll admit, I didn’t want to run to the store.  For me the key to the recipe is the meat; buy a good cut – seriously.  I spent a few minutes talking with the butcher at my local store and he explained some of the differences in chuck and recommended a cut – and let me tell you, the meat fell apart perfectly (and just as he described) as it cooked!

Pair it with some nice crusty bread and a wine and you’re set for a rainy night in.  My brother and my boyfriend both have tried my version and love it as much as I do!

There are a million other recipes I want to try, although I’m a little limited in what I can make – no dairy for me, which means nothing with milk or cheese in it.  Unfortunately, I keep running into dishes loaded with cheese (I start drooling perusing the recipe to see if I can leave out my favorite – but forbidden – ingredient).  Despite this, I have managed to find a number of other recipes, including this Brown Sugar Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin.

So that’s where you’ll find me for the rest of my second Pacific Northwest winter – perusing Pinterest and loading my crock pot full of ingredients!  Be sure to let me know if you have any crock pot favorites that you’re willing to share!

A Project for a Lazy Sunday

Since I didn’t have work today and my motivation for going on a run was at an all time low, I decided to do something crafty.  I’ve had a lot on my mind lately as I try to break my way into a marketing job, and anything creative usually helps me sort out my thoughts.

About a year ago, I started using Pinterest – the best and worst decision of my life, considering how much time I can spend on the site without realizing it!  A few months ago I saw a pin for making paper feathers.  I’m obsessed with feathers, I have this odd attraction to them and I find them beautiful and somewhat mesmerizing.  So I decided to tackle the paper feathers.  I made a bunch…and then was left trying to decide what to do with them all.

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Some I’ll use to make cards – my mom is long overdue for a letter from me – but I decided to make some decorations for my house.  I had a matte black box on hand from a gift I had received for Christmas and some silvery grey ribbon from a Nordstrom-wrapped gift I had given my boyfriend.  The ideas were forming…I decided to make some hanging decorations for my house.

The lid and bottom of the black box were the same dimension, which worked perfectly for what I had pictured.  I separated the lid and the bottom, set each piece on a flat surface, and arranged my paper feathers – I chose yellow and white to match the colors in the room I was making the decorations for.  Once I had an arrangement I liked, I affixed the feathers to each box piece (although I would have preferred a hot glue gun or tacky glue, I didn’t have either on hand, so I ended up using a scrapbooking glue stick, which worked well).  I let the glue dry completely and in the meantime went to grab some lunch (homemade sloppy  joes, yum).  With a satisfied meal under my belt, I found my ribbon and made sure each piece was the same length before gluing each piece to the inside wall of the box pieces to form a sort of handle by which to hang the decorations.  Again I let the glue dry, and voila!

These are the finished creations:

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For an impromptu project, I’m pretty pleased with the end result and the decorations ended up matching the other pieces in the room pretty perfectly!  I can’t decide which of the two I like more; I like the balance of the one with fewer feathers, but the fullness of the one with more feathers.  Either way, these feathers are definitely my new favorites, let me know what you think!

And the job search continues…

Let me preface this post by saying I don’t mean this to be a sob story – because I’m incredibly grateful what I do have – but, long story short, I’ve been on the hunt for a new job.  With my recently acquired Master’s degree under my belt I really want to segway into a job more in line with what I’m interested in, and let me tell you, it’s not easy.  I’ve been scouring job postings for entry-level jobs in marketing, public relations, and communications and nearly every entry-level job requires ’3 to 5 years’ of experience.

 Hold up.

This doesn’t make sense to me.  Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that in today’s job market individuals are expected to have completed internships to gain some real world experience – and I’ve done some of those myself.  My issue is that, realistically, it’s not easy to work as an intern (often unpaid) for three years when I have rent, bills, and student loans to pay.  My other issue: I work hard. I don’t like not knowing how to do something and I’ll admit, I’m competitive and I don’t like being second best, so for me, even though I might lack experience, I know that I could take on most of these jobs and grasp them pretty quickly.  I don’t want anything handed to me, but I do want a company to take a chance on me (I’m not stupid, I know that the chances of some fairy-godmother company sweeping me up are pretty slim – but a girl can dream).

So all in all, I feel forced into a corner – a corner where I’m applying for retail and somewhat secretarial customer service jobs because I don’t ‘qualify’ for entry-level jobs in the fields I want to work in.  Frustrating to say the least, but such is life, so all I can do is keep pushing and trying to get experience all on my own.  And if anyone wants to see my resume…no seriously, if want to see it, please ask.

No one ever said success was easy, right?

A New Year, A New Blog – Mixing Things Up

I know, I know – I’ve been terrible at posting anything recently! Bear with me though, I’ve had a lot on my plate what with finishing up this semester, transitioning jobs and navigating a career path, and…successfully finishing my graduate program!

That’s right, you’re now looking at a girl who has a Master’s Degree in Management Communications! Admittedly, I feel happy and sad all at once about it. On the one hand, I’m incredibly proud of myself – for moving 3,000 miles away from everyone I knew and cared about, creating a life for myself on the West Coast (or the ‘left coast’ as my brother calls it), growing and changing as a person, and for finding out a lot about myself in the process! On the other hand, it feels so alien and strange to know I’m done with my formal education – I’ve been in school straight for the last 18 years and the nerd in me loved every minute, from the friends I made to what I learned to who I became because of it. It’s also more than slightly overwhelming, because now I need to pay off student loans, and launch a career – which is surprisingly challenging considering that most entry-level marketing, PR, or communications positions want more experience than I have – all while balancing my desire to be young and live this ‘perfect’ life with friends and a cool apartment and amazing experiences.

So originally, I started this blog for a class assignment and – since the class was about social media – a lot of my posts were geared around social media, digital technologies, and the class itself. Now don’t get me wrong, I love social media and I have a strange fascination with it – its reach, power, how it works and ebbs and flows – but I’m going to be switching gears a little here. I’ll still focus on social media, but I’m going to throw a bunch of other things in here too; marketing, digital media, personal revelations or accomplishments, stories that make me sit up and think, really anything I come across as I try to figure out my life. This will – I hope – work itself into a place for me to share what’s on my mind, but also a place for me to continue learning (about anything really).

In honor of the new year and the changes I’ll be making here, I’ve changed my design up a little too – let me know what you think…and Happy New Year!

Figuring Out the Secrets of SEO

In nearly every class I’ve taken, I have heard the term SEO used at least once, but no matter how many times I’ve had it explained to me I’m still spinning trying to make sense of it.  Search Engine Optimization. It’s an important hammer to keep in the toolbox for many websites, blogs, and companies looking to succeed.  So, I figured it was high time to do my own digging and get my fingers around the neck of this beast.

Search Engine Optimization is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or web page in a search engine’s unpaid search results. Typically, the higher ranked on the search results page and the more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users.  SEO can help you position your website properly to be found at the most critical points in the buying process or when people need your site.  During all of my research and digging, it seemed as though there isn’t one right way to optimize your website for search; it takes a lot of trial and error, combined with a certain intuition as to what will work and what won’t.  While this only adds to my confusion, it is reassuring to know that there’s not a cookie cutter mold for using SEO to:

  • Have the best opportunity to rank highly in Google and Bing
  • Earn traffic from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.
  • Be worthy of links and shares from across the web
  • Build your brand’s perception, trust, and potential to convert visitors

I had the privilege to hear from an SEO expert recently and while I have a somewhat better understanding of SEO and how it works, I really believe that it takes savvy, practice, and a lot of work to be successful at it!  And get this, there’s no real science to it; yes, there’s a whole algorithm and a ton of systems that can help you figure it out along the way, but it depends on your industry, your product, your audience, how you want your audience to perceive your brand or product, the list of potential factors is innumerable… So, here goes nothing: I’m going to dive in and give SEO a go on my own blog!

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