Initiative is Everything – A Personal Narrative

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build the door yourself.

We all have been told to take initiative at some point in our lives. I have always been one to take things literally. I know what I want, and I know when and how to go after it. I’ve told this story to quite a few people in passing, but I’ve never just written it out. The way I got my first “big girl job” is a little different than most, but it is also the way I got my graduate assistantship. I’m going to start at my graduate assistantship, and work my way forward.

Graduate Assistantship

How often have you been told it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? Well, I’m living proof that you can use WHAT you know to get to who you WANT to know. In 2015, I was getting ready to graduate from THE Valdosta State University. I knew that I didn’t want to pay for grad school, I researched where I wanted to go, and how to get a free ride. In Janaury of 2015, I started researching marketing departments at various colleges I wanted to attend. Once I found those colleges, I looked up who was over graduate assistantships there. E-mails were sent to every single one of them. I told them my qualifications, my background, and why I deserved to be their graduate assistant.

I also took it one step further, I researched the head of every marketing department to see if they were looking for a graduate assistant. This was the first step, they would soon know my name. All of them said they weren’t sure, but would reach out later. (Which we all know rarely actually means anything.) I graduated May 10, 2015. On May 12th I got an email from the VP of Marketing at Armstrong State University requesting an interview as their GA had gotten sick, and they needed someone to start ASAP. I had already accepted my term at Armstrong for the Fall, and here they were asking me to come 3 months earlier PAID. My (now) husband and I took the trip to Savannah for my interview. They offered me the job on the spot, and asked if I could get enrolled that day.

My godmom opened her home to me for the Summer. I moved within 2 weeks down to Savannah to take a job + tuition that I had no plans to do. This is to show that initiative pays off when you least expect it sometimes.

Corporate America

If it works at least once, there’s a high probablity that it would happen again right? I knew the company I wanted to work for EARLY. The research was done, I knew people who worked there, and I knew I was skilled enough to do it. Around mid-2016 (before I graduated) I decided I was going to make my way into those walls. I searched “Company name college recruiter” on LinkedIn. After coming across her LinkedIn and sent her an InMail. (Check out my article on LinkedIn!) After about 2 weeks of not responding, I reached out to my sister in law, who previously worked there to find out how e-mail addresses at the company were set up. She told me the standard way, and I took my shot and sent an e-mail requesting an interview for an internship. In this email, I detailed my background, experience, and dedication. Within 24 hours, she responded to me stating that they don’t have internship opportunities for grad students, but they do have another program and she’d love to discuss it with me. We set up a conference call for the next day. She requested that I reach back out in 2 months when the application would go live. I reached out (thanks to a calendar reminder) on that day 2 months later. She set me up an interview, and the following Monday I had an offer.

Shoot Your Shot!

There is importance in taking initiative. Are you doing all you can for your career? When did you last reach out? Are you following up effectively? Being passive in your career search won’t help you in the long run. A leader is not one who sits around and waits, but goes after what they want!

 

When is the last time you took initiative? How did it pay off?

5 Books for the Career Driven Millennial

We may not be students anymore and required to read, but reading can help keep you motivated, teach you some new skills, or even just give you a different outlook on things. I am adamant about reading at least 1 book a month. Today’s goal is to share a few of those books with you.

How to be a Bawse: a Guide for Conquering Life – Lilly Singh

“A Bawse knows that if you want to be taken seriously, you need to show people who you are, and then keep showing them.”

This book is great for any millennial wanting to work their way to the top. She drops gems about navigating your boss and working through the drama. She wants you to succeed, and never settle.

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity – Kim Scott

The essence of leadership is not getting overwhelmed by circumstances.

If your goal is to be a relatable boss, to get to know your employees past the surface, then this is surely the book for you. I enjoyed every moment of this book, and I learned how to be a leader through not just title, but word as well.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win – Jocko Willink

Instead of letting the situation dictate our decisions, we must dictate the situation.

This was actually a required read in my old department. It may be military based, but every concept applies to corporate America. The basis of the book is clear, it takes the employees to make a good team. Leadership relies on having a team built in strategy. At the end of every chapter, there’s an applicable to business section that makes the book even more relatable.

Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers – Lois P. Frankel

A personal brand is a promise of performance that creates expectations in its audience. Done well, it clearly communicates the values, personality, and abilities of the person behind it.

The do’s are just as important as the don’ts. This book as a great focus on how to navigate through a male-driven economy. Lois talks about 101 things women are engrained with as we grow up, and how you sabatoge those things. It is by doing that that we can get that corner office.

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.

Networking is key! This book is all about having the right people around you, and the importance of it. I have noticed that friendly personalities and optimism go a lot further than sulkiness and pessimism. I consistently recommend this book to anyone looking to further their career, because people are always the first step.

 

Let me know if you’ve read any of these books, and what books you would recommend for millennials in corporate America. I know many of these are aimed towards women, but if you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

XOXO,

Nikki

What Do Your Leaders Say About You When You’re Not in the Room?

“What do your leaders say about you when you’re not in the room?”

The board room door closes and chit chat amongst leaders begin as they wait for their meeting to start. “How’s Bob doing this month?” A senior manager asks. Your manager grins, “Bob is doing okay, he comes in late every now & then but he’s doing okay.”

That one statement can determine your next promotion. When you think people aren’t watching, someone probably is. My first year on the job, I was sitting in a meeting with high level executives, and an intern came in. This intern was brilliant to say the least however he spent his time in the meeting trying to connect to the internet in order to watch a soccer game.

The intern didn’t say much, but within that 2 hour meeting his manager had received four complaints about him. His brilliance was no longer the focus of attention because the negativity outweighed the positive.

Let’s think about this in another sense. When you go to hotels and they have comment cards for you to fill out, how often are you going to leave a comment: – when something good happens or when something bad happens? Likely you will leave a complaint over praise, if you are like most Americans.

Corporate America works the same way. That 3 day report you worked on finishing can easily be overshadowed by those 10 minutes you were scrolling through Facebook and a manager saw you.

Your strongest reputation comes from what people say about you when you’re not even in the room.

When I decided I was interested in a promotion, my mentor told me to make sure I told my current boss I was looking so that he could advocate for me. I was confused, why would I tell him I want to leave his team? Wouldn’t he try to stop me? My mentor explained that a good manager wants you to succeed. You succeeding means that they are succeeding.

After I made it through that conversation with my boss, he let me know that he was reaching out to the hiring manager to let them know how much he recommends me. Those little things matter especially considering he was probably going to get a call anyway.

What do you think your manager would say to another manager about you? Would they go on and on about your impeccable timing skills or details analytic reports or would they say that you miss the detailed tasks or small deadlines? Those small deadlines add up over time. 

There are 5 things I want you to think about when thinking of career progression.

  • Am I spending down time on my phone or am I asking for additional tasks?
  • Do I speak when I walk into a room?
  • How often have I completed my assignments on time WITHOUT having to be reminded of them?
  • When was I  reprimanded multiple times on the same topic?
  • Have I been caught off topic?

If most of these are negative, it may be time to rethink the image and persona that you are putting out into the world. 

Think through these and let me know how your answers turned out in the comments. Are you a pro in reputation management? Don’t forget to subscribe!

XOXO

Nikki

What Type of Career Seeker are You? – Quiz

There are multiple types of career changers. Take this quiz to find out what type you are, and keep reading for more detail. A career changer is someone who has an internal need for something in their workplace. See what type of career seeker you are.

The Meaning Seeker

You’re driven to do work that you care about, whether it’s on a small scale or a large one. Whatever you’re doing, it has to connect with your values and what you want to give back to your company, the community or the world.

You want to feel that you’ve made an impact, and that your work has done good in the world. This doesn’t mean that you have to work for a non-profit, though.

Your work could be anything from marketing and business to teaching and government or anything and everything in between – it just depends on what it means to you!

The Passion Seeker

Nothing is more important to you than being passionate about the work you’re doing. You want to enjoy the process of it, and be immersed in the day-to-day flow of your work.

Your connectedness and sense of well-being as a person comes from doing work that you’re passionate about because you’re an artist at heart.

No matter if your artist’s medium is paint or numbers, or whether you create with a computer or words or something entirely different, you are an artist because you come alive through your connection to the process of doing your work. Look for work that allows you to do what you love.

The Balance Seeker

You’d love to find a job you enjoy, but your job serves you – and supports the rest of your life and the activities that you care about – not the other way around.

Finding a job that fits with your life goals and that you can enjoy at the same time is the challenge for you.

The Goal Seeker

You are driven. When you set your mind to a goal, you do everything you can to reach it. You’re used to success and good at focusing on the steps you need to get there.

But when it comes to career change, you might feel a bit confused as your previous goals have already been accomplished or don’t seem to hold the same appeal anymore.

Now the question becomes: “What can you get fired up about?”

What type of seeker are you? Did you expect that? 

5 Career Questions Every Millennial Has Asked Themselves

If you’re anything like me, at some point before and even during the time you worked your first “big girl/boy job” you had a lot of questions. As a millennial, our job search is different than those before and even those after us. I’m here to clear some of those things up. What used to be $30K and prosperous, now takes at least $50K for a single person household. I’m here for your career questions every millennial has asked themselves.

Let’s discuss some of those questions and the answers here.

1. What if I don’t get a job in my degree field?

Honestly, that depends on your field but even so find a stepping stone and climb. I have a BFA in Public Relations and am now working in a very technical role. I have worked in finance, data analytics, & even change management. So while I may not be in my degree field, I have been granted opportunities to work in a various amount of disciplines. Keeping this in mind, you have to start somewhere.

2. What is a good starting salary?

Let’s be transparent for a moment. I interviewed quite a bit before I started my first job. I thought $30K a year was a decent starting point. Then I looked at how much bills cost. I aimed for significantly higher when accepting my first offer based on the average salary. What I recommend you doing is using Glassdoor.com or Salary.com and looking for the median income for the role you’re aiming for as well as the city you live in. Once you see that number go up by 5%-10%. This gives you negotiating room.

3. Negotiating? Wait? I have to do that?!

Absolutely! You deserve to be paid for your work and deserve to be paid fairly. Never accept the starting line offer. I will have another blog soon about that. I have quite a few negotiation templates you can use for any situation.

4. Should I apply for that job I’m not 100% qualified for?

Absolutely. If you’re missing a year or two of experience aim for it! As long as you know you can get in there and learn it. If you have a certification for it, do it.

My current role required 5-7 years of experience. I applied on a whim. The recruiter reached out and asked about years of experience. I told her about the training experience I had in corporate America and soon thereafter I received an offer. If you want something bad enough and it’s meant for you. It will be for you.

5. What should I be looking for in a career?

There are a wide variety of things that should be thought about when looking for a career. Salary is very important, but you need health insurance right? Ask about the deductible for your insurance. (You want a deductible that is no higher than what you could pay out in case of an emergency. If it’s just you look for $500-$900.)

You want to know what the atmosphere of the company is like. Is it family focused? Strict? Attire? What do work from home days look like?

Do they include supplemental insurance? Life insurance? 401K? Do they match your 401K, if so by what percentage?

This is part 1 of a 3 part series.

What questions do you have about your career? Let me know in the comment and they’ll be in the next series.

Let’s Talk LinkedIn – Quiz

Is your LinkedIn up to par? No matter how you scored there are a few tips we could all use to optimize the job search and optimize your LinkedIn. Did you know recruiters all have LinkedIn, and use it to scout you? They look at the number of references, the number of connections, and the skills that have been endorsed. Do you think you stand out against the rest of your peers? I have some tips for your success.

  • Does your summary truly showcase your skills?
    • Don’t just add skills, make sure you are actually good at them.
  • Is your headline captivating?
    • Are you a Business Analyst or are you a Data Driven Business Process Analyst?
  • Does you experience show up & show out?
    • Ensure that all of your past jobs are there and that the experience is able to be quantified.
  • Do you have recommendations from past professors? employers?
    • If not you’re missing out on a major way to get references in advance.
  • Are you optimizing your LinkedIn for searches?
    • Make sure that you have key words in your profile, so if a recruiter is looking for a certain type of employee you will pop up.
  • Are you engaged in groups?
    • RESPOND RESPOND RESPOND! Make sure that you are networking in groups and making those connections.
  • Are you using the job search feature?
    • Use the job search feature to tune into key words, key companies, and connect with the job poster! That’s what LinkedIn is for.

There are over 600 million members on Facebook. Do you stand out?

What did you score on the quiz? Why do you think you scored that? Let me know in the comments!

Shoot Your Shot – Templates for Getting in the Door

There have been so many times I’ve wondered how to write an email to a hiring manager? How do I negotiate a salary? Is it okay to reach out to a recruiter? Today I’m going to share with you the templates that have worked for me over the last few years. I usually use the same e-mail, just making changes for industry or the type of person.

I have 5 freebies for you all today:

  • Salary Negotiation Letter to HR
  • How to reach out to a recruiter after applying for a job
  • How to reach out to a hiring manager/recruiter BEFORE you’ve applied to a job
  • How to request a mentor
  • Thank you post interview letter

Salary Negotiation Letter to HR

I’ve found myself having to negotiate a salary, have you? Did you know that women make less than men? One of those reason’s is because women don’t negotiate their salary as often as men do.

The best way to negotiate a salary is to compare salary for your role and in your area using Glassdoor, Salary, or Payscale. The following template is one that I have used myself and it works!

Subject: (Your Name)(Position Title) Offer

Body:

Hi (Recruiter Name),

I hope you had a great week(end)!

I’m very excited about the (Position Name) position and I know that I’d be the right fit for the (Team or Department name) team. I’m also excited about your offer, and knowing that I’ll bring a lot of value to the table based on the experience that I discussed with the hiring managers during the interview (Input what experience that is), I’m wondering if we can explore a slightly higher starting yearly salary of $XK instead of $XK. My market research showed that as the lower range of the industry average for (City/State) and I’m confident that they will be very happy with how much I can contribute to the team and department.

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to talking with you soon.

Best Wishes,

(Your Name)

Reaching Out to Recruiter Post Application

Sometimes you have to shoot your shot long before you have actually even talk to someone. All you have done is apply to the job. Google becomes your friend. Search for the recruiter’s e-mail address. Once you have their address, this is the letter for you.

Subject: (Position Name) (Job Number) – (Your Name)

Body: 

Good Morning (Recruiter Name),

I applied to the (Position Name) position #(Include job number) a week ago and would like to get some information on the interviewing process timeline. I’m very eager to learn more about this position as I feel my communications background and knowledge of (Insert 2 valuable skills) make me a great candidate, and any updates you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you
Thank you,

(Your name)

 

You want this to be short & sweet! You don’t want to take up too much of their time.

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Reach Out to a Hiring Manager/Recruiter Before You’ve Applied to a Job

This one is my favorite as it’s how I got my start in Corporate America. I knew I wanted to work at my company, but didn’t know how to get a start. I looked up the college recruiter on LinkedIn, and sent her an e-mail. She had no idea who I was. I asked about an internship. She proceeded to tell me that they did not have internships available for graduate students, but she had another role I would be a fit for. I had an interview before the next 48 hours ended.

Subject Line: (Your Name) – Interested in (Department Name)

(Recruiter Name),

I know that you are very busy, so I will get right to the point. I am VERY interested in being apart of the (Company name) Summer Internship Program. I know that the application is not up at the moment, which is why I reached out to you once I found you via LinkedIn.

I have a BFA in Communications and I am in my 3rd semester of graduate school. I am a take charge person, who is able to step outside of the box, and not afraid to challenge the status quo. I have 2 years, 5 internships and 2 brand ambassador positions worth of experience to bring to the table. (Insert your own accomplishments here)

If you have a small window of time available, I would like to discuss applying for (Company Name) Summer Internship Program with you. I look forward to hearing from you and I hope you have a great rest of your day.

 

This should be short, sweet, and to the point but leave room for the recruiter to reach out to you for more details.

Requesting a Mentor

Refer to my mentor blog post in order to see why it’s important to have a mentor. Here I’ll explain how to send an e-mail requesting a mentor that is both short and simple, but important. What will be important in this template is personalizing it based on who you are asking, and why you are asking them.

Subject: Request for Mentorship

Body: 

Good Morning,

I hope all is well. I met you my first career fair about 2 years ago during my 2nd week of employment here and your words have rung in my ear since then “I can’t wait to see what happens with you 5 years from now. I see something in you.” After that I asked our manager if you could be my mentor. SNow that the my role has transitioned, I believe that it would be extremely beneficial and enhance my chances at growth to have some mentoring at this point to gain first-hand insight regarding my professional journey through (company name).

I’d love to meet with you for 30 minutes every so often, maybe even once a quarter. It doesn’t have to be a formal process because I know your schedule is packed. It would be a chance to learn from you and get feedback as well.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank You Post Interview Letter

This one is an often forgotten about, important part of ANY interview. This is whether your interview is via webcam, phone, or in-person. This should be individually sent to each person who completed your interview. They should also be completed after each stage of interviews if you have more than one. This one is my go-to. Of course you will change it to fit your experience and qualifications, as well as the things discussed in your interview. I am attaching 2 templates for this one. One for the hiring managers, and one for your recruiter.

I try to give them handwritten notes if it is an internal role.

 

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To the recruiter

Subject Line: (Position Title) Interview: Thank You

Body:

Dear (Recruiter Name):
Thank you very much for setting up my (Position Title) interview on Friday! I think it went pretty well.
They told me that they would be making a decision on who to hire by this week, and Human Resources would be in touch with me then by the end of next week.
This feels like a very good match for me. I fit right in, from my skill sets to the culture of the office.
If you can, please let me know how the process is going and what I should be doing for follow up, in addition to the thank you notes I have already sent.
Looking forward to working with you in the future. Again, thank you for all you did from setting up my reservations to escorting me to the interview, I really appreciate it.
Best regards,
(Your Name)

To the Hiring Manager

Subject Line: (Position Title) Interview: Thank You

Body: 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the interview this morning. I was highly motivated by the valuable information you provided. I would like to confirm my strong interest to be a/an (Position Title) at (Company Name). What I lack in (specific experience), I make up for in (specific experience) .

Your clear explanation of the (be specific) processes reinforced my confidence that my background and passion for helping others are a good match for this position and that I will prove an asset to both (company name) and the department. I have always considered myself a good communicator and passionate about others and I would welcome to opportunity to demonstrate my commitment and ability to excel in the (type of industry).

Thank you for the time extended to me and I look forward to hearing from you all soon.

 

I hope these help you find your career success! Shoot your shot at your career, and you won’t be disappointed.

If you have any questions, would like to see more templates, or just want to talk feel free to leave a comment!

The Criticality of Having a Mentor, Champion, and Coach

Do you have someone to mentor you? Do you have someone to coach you? Do you have someone to Champion for you?

Mentors will play a critical role in your corporate journey. What many people don’t realize is that there are 3 different types of mentors. Each for a mentor has a different purpose.

The Mentor is the person who supports you. You can discuss your career goals with them, and they share similar experiences, how they overcame them and can give you their lessons learned. The goal of a mentor is the relationship. They should be in your preferred career goal.

I had a few amazing mentors at the beginning of my career. My first mentor at my current company was a PR (Public Relations) Manager, another black woman. When I started in corporate America, working in PR was my dream goal. We met on a monthly basis for lunch and talked through every possible hurdle I could overcome. Things worked out for the best when I told her, I just wanted to get some corporate experience in Public Relations. She allowed me to help her on some of her scripts and campaigns and even tasked me with finding venues for events. This allowed me to grow as a professional.

The Champion is the active supporter of your career. This should be someone significantly higher than you, a senior manager and above. It should be someone who wants to promote your interests and ambitions. Their goal is to see you succeed, and they’re willing to help in any wy possible.

I recently found my champion. My champion and I sat down and discussed my goals. She started making a list of people over the departments that I hoped to end up in. Our conversation ended with her giving me 2 homework assignments. “Email both of these VP’s and tell them what you’re interested in and can you meet with them. I will email them as soon as we finish to tell them about you.” The next day I passed her in the building and she told me she had already spoken to one lady, and she was excited to meet me. That is the purpose of your champion. Your champion should have connections and know who to reach out to. While you should be your own champion, having a champion is a critical part to Corporate Success.

The Coach is someone who dedicates time and effort to help you success. They may teach you technical, soft, or professional skills. Their form of coaching is based on tasks. You’ll need a coach when you’re entering a new department or company and you want to master your skills.

I had my coach for about a year. I just received a promotion and suddenly my tasks were based on finances. The Communications major is me was TERRIFIED! My coach met with me on a weekly basis. She taught me the GAAP principles of accounting, how to build and manage departmental budgets, how to run tons of reports, how to write contracts, and even then some. I suddenly had an entire new skillset all thanks to my coach.

Many people just think of a mentor as a general term, and for some that may be the only important thing for them in order to be truly effective and you being the pilot of your own career.

Action item: Do you have any of the 3? What roles do they play in your professional career? How have they helped you?

XOXO,
Nikki

Welcome, Introduction, and a Bunch of Random Thoughts

 

That’s my goal for each of you reading: to show you that comfortability won’t help you move forward, that safety isn’t your friend, and that stepping OUTSIDE of the box will yield you more than staying in it ever will.

So you’ve made it this far into CMM. I’m Nikki, a corporate woman in the middle of the Midlands in South Carolina. You’ll often find me binging Netflix, playing video games, playing with my puppers, or cuddling with my husband. Career wise, I’m a Business Analyst at a local insurance firm as well as a college professor for a local for profit University. Over time, the way that I got into both of these roles will come out and they are both really funny, but innovative ways.

Something brought you here I’m sure. It could be wanting more out of your career, wanting to know about others careers, getting advice, working through the corporate kinks, or just browsing through.

I started Corporate Melanin Millennial out of a need for a space with resources for black millennials by a black millennial. I hope you’ll find use out of my tip sheets, personal stories, interviews, and how-to’s. I promise to keep things honest, blunt, and sometimes hilarious.

I call master a subject matter expert at many things. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Public Relations, and a Masters of Fine Arts in Professional Communications. How does a Communications major find herself in the tech world? A lot of mentors, training, and willingness to NOT just do what I thought was comfortable. That’s my goal for each of you reading: to show you that comfortability won’t help you move forward, that safety isn’t your friend, and that stepping OUTSIDE of the box will yield you more than staying in it ever will. If you have any questions I am always available to answer them. Browse through my blog, sign up for the newsletter, or send me an e-mail.

I look forward to this journey with you my Corporate Melanin Millennial friend.

 

XOXO,

Nikki