When there’s an opportunity to be online, I think it’s worth pursuing.
Elissa Sangster: That’s Lindsey Pollak, a frequent guest at Forté events. Lindsay wrote the recently released book Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World. In this episode, she talks about how to build an online presence to get your career off the ground.
Lindsey Pollak: Because I think the direction we’re going in is that your online presence is going to be almost as important as your in-person. I don’t think we’re going to have résumés in the future; I think we’re all going to have online profiles.
Elissa: Welcome back to our Career Lab podcast. Each episode, we bring you advice and insight about careers in business and how to make the connections to get you started. Today, we’re going to hear from Kimberly Hall. Kimberly works in Human Resources at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. She recently spoke at one of our Forté Career Lab events about how she found her calling, and the steps she took to build her career. But first, back to Lindsey Pollak. Lindsey is well known as a speaker and book author specializing in career advice. Just recently, she started a new project.
Lindsey: About three months ago, I launched a blog at lindseypollak.blogspot.com, and I answer student questions, I post event listings such as the Forté events, I link to articles about what you shouldn’t do on Facebook, I provide resources, and it’s just been so much fun. It was a college student who came up to me and said, “You absolutely have to have a blog, people want to interact with you,” and I think with the generation that I work with, it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done, because the book is great, and the speaking is great, but the blog is really where the exciting things happen and where I get to connect with the real people.
Elissa: At our Career Lab event in Minnesota this winter, Lindsey talked about how to build an online presence using blogs and other tools to help you make professional contacts.
Lindsey: I think the reality is today — and this is new, this is the past couple years — before I’m going to interview you, I’m going to Google you, and I’m going to check you out on Facebook and LinkedIn. And yeah, we’ve talked about all the things not to do, but if you’re a smart student, there’s so many ways that you can stand out even before you come into the interview room, and really impress somebody. So, writing book reviews on Amazon for relatively intellectual and interesting books, having a LinkedIn professional profile, a Doostang profile, having a Facebook page that’s not necessarily professional, but interesting and shows that you’re an involved person, having your own blog, commenting and posting on other people’s blogs. There are all these opportunities to make a first impression before you even walk into a room, so you can be a leg up on the competition just by building your online presence.
And I think a big mistake that people make when they blog is it’s all about them, and nobody wants to sit and read what you had for breakfast this morning. It’s just not going to cut it, and nobody cares. So with my role, and my advice to anyone who’s blogging in a professional way, is to always make it about the audience. With students, or those who want to get into business school, you need to be careful and realize that the way you intended something — maybe to be fun or quirky or ironic — may not come through in the people who are reading it. So I’m not going to say that every single thing has to be perfect grammar, you know, the Internet has its own rules, but it depends.
If you’re applying for jobs in the marketing field, you might do some quirky, fun, clever videos on YouTube. If you’re applying to investment banks, that’s not going to really work in your favor, so it depends on what you’re going for and where you want to be. So the design, marketing, creative types might be more on YouTube, do more on MySpace or Facebook, or start a blog, and the more business-oriented types might go on LinkedIn and, let’s say, answer questions; they have an answers section where people post questions about their career or anything at all, and you can go in and write very smart answers. So, depending on your goals, that’s where you want to be on the web, and the best way to find out where you should be is to talk to people a few years ahead of you in the business and say, “What would impress you? What would be acceptable for me to be on or engaging in?” and then sort of gravitate towards those areas.
I don’t think that anyone is going to expect an undergraduate student or a recent grad to have a fully formed online presence. You know, you don’t have to overdo it, nobody’s going to expect anything, but there are a couple generic things that are always good. It’s great to have examples of leadership about you. You’re president of a club, you wrote for your student newspaper, you volunteer and there’s a picture of you in your church newsletter at the soup kitchen. You know, anything that shows that you’re a good member of society and the community is great. If there’s nothing about you on the web, or you have a really common name, or there’s something about you 15 pages in on Google, don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal. The most important thing is to avoid any red flag. You don’t want to have naked pictures of you online. I mean, I think they’re kind of obvious what you don’t want. And above that, be authentic to who you are.
I don’t think you need to blitz and hire a search engine optimization person when you’re in college to make sure you’re on every site in the world, but I think professional networking sites like LinkedIn, like Doostang, are really helpful. I think blogging for your school newspaper or a volunteer organization is really helpful. Examples of what you’ve done, even if you play on the tennis team and there’s a picture of you on there, just to show that you’re an involved person.
Elissa: Lindsey pointed out that particularly for those interested in entering the field of communications, blogging can be a great point of entry.
Lindsey: I built my writing career based on writing for free for anyone and everyone I could, and if I had had the opportunity 10, 12 years ago to have a blog, I definitely would’ve done it. It’s a free way to get clippings with your name. And you want to be careful, you don’t want it to be too personal, unless that’s very important to you, but examples of any work you’ve done to be able to post on your own blog is huge for somebody who wants to go into writing or communications or marketing. On my blog, for example, I invite students to guest-blog. They write 400-word articles about a career-related topic, and then they get posted on my blog, and other people might pick it up, so that … The cool thing about the blog world is it’s viral, so you might post on one site, and other people will link to you and pick up on it, so it’s a great opportunity to show your writing skills, if nothing else.
Elissa: At our event in Minnesota, we also spoke with Kimberly Hall of the Mayo Clinic, where she works as a Human Resources service partner. Kimberly says that human resources turned out to be the perfect fit, but it wasn’t quite what she thought she’d be doing when she was an undergraduate.
Kimberly Hall: I actually thought I would become a sports broadcaster. It was when I took a course in psychology that turned my mind on to the humanistic aspects of life, quite frankly, and always had an interest in corporate America and the business environment, and so that’s where I determined that HR was probably an area where I could bridge the two together. In human resources in particular, in that field, I have the opportunity to work with a number of people, number of different backgrounds, and being able to help the workplace be a better environment. And that’s what I really enjoy, whether it’s policy, or whether it’s employee relations, dealing with conflict, staffing, bringing people, new talent on board, it’s just a variety of different facets that I really enjoy.
I tested the waters in undergrad. This was back when there wasn’t even a bachelor’s degree in HR management at the time, so what I did, I actually took two paid … Unpaid, actually, internships during one summer, and also worked at a department store just to keep money in my pocket and gas in the tank, just to get a glimpse of what HR really was like day to day, and that’s what really made the difference. The beauty of that was that not only did I get the exposure, but the exposure gave me additional opportunities down the road, so I built my résumé from those unpaid internships, and one job led to another while I was getting my degree.
Elissa: Kimberly talked about her advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in human resources.
Kimberly: I would say trial and error as always. Look at all the different internship opportunities, as many individuals that they can talk to, shadow with, get exposure, go into corporations, understand what a day in the life is for an HR person. There’s a number of different functions within the HR field. If they’re interested in the financial aspects, they could look at compensation. If they’re interested in more of the people, the day-to-day, that’s the employee relations piece. There’s a number of large organizations that have individuals that specialize in that. Gone are the days when HR was seen as just the personnel office or the back office function, where you’re just transacting and signing off on paperwork, and doing change of statuses. Now, human resource is involved in the strategic planning of business. Workers are seen as an asset to any organization, and so how do you maintain those individuals, how do you grow their careers? And that’s the value that HR brings to business.
Have an interest in helping people in where they spend the majority of their days, majority of their hours in a day — we spend more time at work than we do at home or asleep, in some cases — and wanting to have a variety in understanding business, understanding operations, and how the human capital component plays a part in that. You can honestly be successful in business by having any background you want to. I have colleagues who have degrees in history, degrees in theater. It’s amazing if you’re able to really follow up, if you’re able to organize, if you’re able to be a team player. All the other skills, the business core competencies, for the most part can be learned, but if you can come in with leadership skills that cannot be taught, if you can come in with the ability to prioritize, to organize, to strategically pull people together to complete or accomplish a common goal, those are the raw fundamental skills that would help you be successful in any facet of business.
Elissa: Kimberly participated in an executive MBA program, an important stepping stone in her career.
Kimberly: That was probably one of the best decisions I made, was waiting, getting some work experience under my belt, and then really defining what I wanted to get out of the MBA program. I had some years of experience, even though I’ve been in human resources my entire career, having different experiences and exposures from different industries helped me understand business in general. Then going back into the classroom environment, actually having a different mindset, mind being a little more mature, had a different passion and approach to how I studied, had a different appreciation for what I was learning. But also having the ability to take some of the exposure and experiences I got in the corporate environments into what I was learning, and being able to apply that, even day to day, was phenomenal, so that it kind of helped it stick, and helped me to retain what I was learning in my program. What was very helpful, and which was really my ultimate goal, was being able to speak the business language.
Elissa: I want to thank Kimberly, Lindsey, and everyone who participated in our Career Lab events this fall. If you’re interested in hearing more about what business school is really like, tune in to Forté’s MBA Video Diaries. We’re following Forté fellows around the country as they navigate their first year of business school. You’ll find a link to the video blog on the Forté Foundation home page. To learn more about the Career Lab, visit fortefoundation.org. This podcast is sponsored by the Graduate Management Admission Council. Visit mba.com for more information about the GMAT, test preparation, careers in business, and finding the right school for you.