You Took a Few Gap Years – How to Successfully Navigate Being a Student Again

I had always thought that I would go to college, yet for many reasons I did not go after finishing high school (many reasons – another story for another time). Instead I entered the world of work, where I found a job with a large retailer that led to a career in management.  Yet, despite doing well in my career, which provided excellent compensation, there was always something missing.  That something was the achievement of a college degree.

College Degree – Check!!

Attaining a college degree was in fact the biggest and most important item on my “Bucket List”.  Yet, when I turned 50, I made peace with the fact that I would not achieve my goal of getting a college degree comforting myself with the fact that I had a good career and that I didn’t have all that many years until retirement.

Then something happened as year #50 was coming close to an end.  I had an opportunity to get outside of my comfort zone – one that required research, studying, a few quizzes, and an intense presentation and interview.  The epiphany I had during this process was that I could still do these things well and that I truly enjoyed the challenge – much more so than sitting on the couch watching T.V. after work.

This prompted me to research local college opportunities, which in turn led me to Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), which would give me the option of online courses or in-person classes at one of their satellite campuses in Brunswick, Maine.

You Can Achieve Great Things in This Zone!

For someone who had been out of the classroom for over 30 years, the prospect of being a student again was terrifying.  Luckily, the admission’s office at SNHU makes it a very easy process as far as enrolling is concerned.  While that is the most important first step, the truly challenging part is writing papers again, taking tests, memorizing facts, and OMG- math, how was I ever going to get through that.

I distinctly remember telling my husband that “I’m going to do this, I’m finally going to get my college degree”.  Yet, in my head I was thinking “really?  You’re going to do this?”  When I would start to think about the two math classes that I would have to take for my degree I would repeatedly remind myself to not even think about failing as it wasn’t an option.

Turns out it wasn’t an option as I got high A’s in both of my math classes, along with everything else, as I double-majored, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a BS in Business Administration/HR Management and a BA in Psychology in 3 ½ years.

The best part is that I had an absolute blast doing it (both online and on campus in Brunswick), I met a lot of terrific people, including the inspirational President of SNHU Paul Leblanc @snhuprez, as well as many other VPs and important people at SNHU while I was on the Student Advisory Board.  Best of all I emerged from the experience with the belief that I could do just about anything!

Here are my tips on how to get through college as an older, busy, student.

  • First, make a commitment to yourself that you’re truly going to do this. It would be awesome if your family supported it as well, but don’t let the thoughts of others make this decision for you.
  • If you don’t know what you want to major in, discuss it with the admissions people, and if still unsure start with the classes that are required of most Bachelors, such as English and History, etc. If trying to decide between a couple of majors, take a class from each one of them and if you don’t choose one of them that class will end up as an elective.
  • Review the basics. I used the online program Khan Academy to review my math skills before starting my math classes.  It was tremendously helpful!  As you know we do not tend to use a lot of the math that we learned in school, so this review process refreshed my memory and got me ready for Statistics and Applied Finite Mathematics.
  • Get organized – decide where and when you will do your school work. I thought that I would put a desk in my bedroom to have a quiet space to study, but once I got started I knew that if I did this I would never see anyone in my family (between working a lot and school full time).  So, I did most of my work at the island in my kitchen.
  • Start with one class to get back into the “rhythm” and routine of school
  • Review all the course materials and assignments before the class begins.
  • Review the Rubrics & Guidelines for the papers and projects you will be required to do.
  • Print out the syllabus to use as a checklist. I would put a “w” next to the assignment when the assignment was written, then cross out the “w” and put a checkmark and the date when it was submitted.
  • DO NOT wait until the due date to complete an assignment! I repeat, do not wait until the due date.  I always completed the work one week ahead of time in case something came up (illness, busy at work, death in the family).  This reduced my stress level significantly.  I started the assignments for week one the week before the class started and each week I would stay one week ahead on writing and completing assignments.  Then I would submit them the week that they were due.
  • If an assignment requires you to use a new form of technology, figure out how to do it/use it now, weeks before it is due. I had to record myself in “Tegrity” giving a presentation for my Sophomore English class.  This terrified me, but I figured out how to do it early and it went well.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the instructor a lot of questions. In most of my courses, I was the student who posted most often in the “General Questions” discussion forum.  I wanted to get it right, so I asked.  I was very excited that in my last class, MKT 555 Social Media Marketing, there were over 300 posts in the General Questions discussion board.  This was due to our outstanding instructor, Dr. Jessica Rogers, @DrJRogers, who was very interactive and present in all the discussions.  If you ever have a chance to take one of her marketing classes, do it!!
  • Get involved with the school and other students as much as possible. At SNHU there is an online community that is like Facebook.  It is called SNHUConnect and it is a wonderful place to share with other students, get ideas, ask questions, and form friendships.  I have personally met and worked with (on the Student Advisory Board) the Director of Online Engagement, Tiffany Fifer @tiffer00 and she is awesome!!
  • If writing assignments seem daunting, utilize the school’s online writing center that can provide you with a coach or someone to review what you have written. I used Smartthinking a few times to review papers that I had written and found it to be tremendously helpful in getting me back on track with writing (remember I had been out of school for over 30 years).
  • In many ways technology has made school much easier than it was 30 years ago. Libraries are online, which means that when you do research for a paper, you can do so right from home.
  • Sanity tip – save all your work to a USB drive in case your computer decides to go on vacation while you’re in the middle of classes. I save papers even before they’re finished to make sure that the work that I have done does not get lost.
  • Use your advisor as a resource and support person. I had an outstanding one during my undergrad degrees, Ron Poulin at the Brunswick campus.  He has since retired, but he was the best!!
  • Lastly, work hard to learn more, to grow as a person, and give it your all. Do not just aim to get a piece of paper.  Make every class count and try to enjoy the process.  For me it was, and still is, one of the best decisions that I ever made and one of my very best experiences.  I am now working on my Masters in Organizational Leadership at the same school, SNHU, and I’m enjoying that process as well.

You can do it too!!

Share your experiences with going back to school after years of being out?

Do you have any questions about going back to school that I might answer for you?

More Resources:

Adults Going Back to School

Facing Your Fears of Returning to School as an Adult

The Decision to Return to School

I promised my son a puppy if he actually smiled for this picture
I kept my promise – Our rescue pup, Brady
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Blogging & Twitter Best Practices for HR

Although it is a term that has only been around since the 1960s, human resources is something that is familiar to nearly everyone.  HR refers to both the people who work for an organization and the actual department.  More specifically, Human Resource Management refers to the recruitment, management, and development of the people who work for an organization.

In today’s technology-driven environment, where there is a significant focus on social media, HR professionals are frequently utilizing blogs and Twitter to educate others on what is new in the industry as well as what is considered to be best practices for HR.

Best Practices for Blogging:

The obvious first rule of blogging is to make it interesting.  Write about something that you know well and that many people are interested in and can relate to.  This is something that is easily achievable for HR as it is a subject matter that resonates with organizations and individuals as well.

Write it from your perspective, whenever possible, adding in your firsthand experiences or examples of those you have witnessed.  This will give the reader a real-life example of the concept you’re writing about and make them feel as though they know you better.  This may result in them following your blog and sharing it with others.

Keep the length of your blog somewhere between 400-800 words.  In today’s busy world, with so many social media platforms to keep up with, it is important that your blog delivers your message clearly and quickly.  No one wants to read a blog that goes on and on as though it’s a research paper, at least I know that I don’t.  At some point, you will lose people as their minds drift off to the next thing on their to-do list.  Additionally, make your blog easy to read and scan by using white space, headers, and images that relate to your topic.

Best Practices for Twitter

HR professionals can benefit by using Twitter to recruit, to form relationships with other HR professionals, and to share their blogs about HR.  Having a strong presence on Twitter will increase the recognition of their organizations, which will hopefully help them attract top talent for their open positions.  Some terrific suggestion from Mark W. Schaefer, author of The Tao of Twitter are:

  • First, follow, on Twitter, the people that you are hoping to attract. Your goal is to get them, and their followers, to follow you as well.
  • Take advantage of free apps such as Twellow that can help you locate new followers.
  • Look through your other social media accounts, such as Facebook and LinkedIn for people you can follow and hopefully convert to followers.
  • Post relevant information, retweet, and like posts from others. It is important that you Tweet consistently as this will encourage others to follow you and keep your current followers from dropping you.
  • Add your Twitter handle to your business card and email signature.
  • Join Twitter chats to determine who to follow in your industry and to get your name out there as well.
  • Tweet links to your blogs using dynamic headlines that will entice the reader to click on the link.

It is undeniable that the use of social media by HR professionals is growing and quickly transitioning from an optional tool to a staple of the industry.  Twitter and blogging give HR an opportunity to form communities that share best practices and new developments in the industry.  These platforms can also provide the organization with the recognition necessary to attract top talent and new followers for their brand.

Have postings on a social media platform ever made you want to work for that organization?

More great reads:

Blogging Best Practices by Mark Schaefer

4 Step System for Writing a Great Blog Post, Even When You Have Writers Block

The Proven Length of Every Tweet, Facebook Post, and Headline Online

31 Twitter Tips: How to Use Twitter Tools and Twitter Best Practices for Business

The Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts on Twitter

 

Risk of Using Social Media in Recruiting

Like it or not, social media has become a major player in both conducting a job search and searching for new employees.  In a 2013 report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), they stated that 77% of organizations were using social media in their search for potential employees.  That study was 4 years ago, so it is likely that the number is much closer to 100% at this point.
While there are many advantages to using social media to find potential employees – it’s convenient, you get to see another side of the applicant, you get to view a wider group of potential candidates, including some who may not have come to you otherwise, and you get to advertise your open positions to a much broader group of job seekers than you could with past methods – there is a downside that HR needs to be aware of.

Not Everyone is on Social Media

It’s a bit hard to fathom in this technological age, but there are still people who refuse to use any type of social media.  For instance, my husband has never used social media, doesn’t have an interest it in, and likely wouldn’t have a clue of where to start if he wanted to investigate what the fuss is all about.  But if you wanted to know who won the Super Bowl or the World Series in any year, just ask him, he’ll know (do not ask him to pick up milk after work because he will, consistently, forget that).

There are other highly experienced, knowledgeable, and highly-skilled people who, like my husband, do not want to use social media.  This means that recruiters are eliminating some very qualified applicants when they rely solely on social media for sourcing potential employees.  Some recruiters may even wonder what an applicant is hiding by not showing a part of who they are on social media.  Recruiters and hiring managers need to know that excluding people who do not have a social media presence is essentially another form of discrimination.

Speaking of Discrimination

Scanning social media to pre-screen applicants can provide a recruiter or hiring manager with some valuable information that is good to know before a job offer is made.  If a job applicant is making racist remarks or posting vulgar material on their social media pages, they may not be a good fit for your company.  Likewise, a recruiter needs to ensure that they are not using this medium to exclude certain protected groups.  During my recent job search, it took quite a while before I even got a call, leading me to wonder if my age had anything to do with the lack of responses.

The reality is, recruiters may have prejudices, that they’re not fully conscious of, so they need to ensure that they’re not eliminating applicants based on their race, sex, sexual orientation, or age.  Employers can eliminate this risk and possible legal exposure by only scanning social media sites after an interview, but before a job offer is made.  This will ensure that they are basing their decision on experience and qualifications first and foremost.

Do you think that you have ever been discriminated against due to something on your social media site(s)?

Additional Resources:

Point/Counterpoint: Should Employers Use Social Media to Screen Applicants?

4 Reason Social Media is a Critical Recruiting Tool

Reasons Employers Passed on Applicants Due to Social Media Posts

 

Recruiting On-The-Go

It is estimated that by 2018, one-third of consumers, worldwide, will be using a smartphone.  In the world that I live in, it appears that we have already exceeded that estimate as nearly everyone I encounter appears to have a smartphone surgically attached to their hand.  Recruiters hoping to attract top talent, before the competition scoops them up, are utilizing technology in every way possible, which now includes hiring and interviewing apps.  This enables the recruiter and the potential candidate to respond quickly and conveniently.

LinkedIn Recruiter App

The most popular app amongst recruiters is the LinkedIn Recruiter App for iOS and Android.  As most of you know, LinkedIn is considered to be the #1 place to recruit top talent.  The LinkedIn Recruiter App adds to that reputation by having search and sourcing functionalities that are better than what is provided by competitor apps.  LinkedIn Recruiter is a free app that gives the user the same types of functionality that the web-based platform offers, such as managing job postings, searching for and reviewing profiles, the ability to add and save notes to candidate profiles and access to over 433 million LinkedIn members.  While the Recruiter app is free, you do have to be a LinkedIn Recruiter customer.

Additional Benefits of LinkedIn Recruiter

Over 75% of recruiters and talent managers use some type of recruiting software and/or app, with approximately 94% reporting that it is well worth the effort and added expense.  This is based on the functionality and convenience of using the app.

The next generation Recruiter has added features that give recruiters the ability to search even if they have very little knowledge about the skills necessary for certain professions.  The recruiter can simply type the profession into the guided search bar and receive a list of the top trending skills necessary for that career, as well as a list of potential candidates.  This information will also update in real time.

Additionally, next generation LinkedIn Recruiter has a function called “Spotlight” that lists the potential candidates that are more likely to engage with a recruiter.  This is a great starting point for the recruiter, as well as a considerable time saver.  These candidates are typically someone who has some type of connection to the organization, making it very worthwhile for job seekers to make connections with people who work at the companies that they are interested in.  Also, following the company on LinkedIn is another way of showing up during the spotlight search.

Job Seeker Beware

Something for job seekers to be aware of is the fact that recruiters can see all of your profile information, without you even being aware that someone is checking it (you) out.  This is because LinkedIn wants the paying customers – recruiters and businesses – to have the very best LinkedIn experience possible.  Just a reminder to make sure you formulate a killer profile.

Rating the App

The current version of LinkedIn Recruiter iOS has thus far received a 4.5 rating (83 reviews) for its well-thought-out design and great functionality.  The former version had a rating of 3.5 from over 71,000 reviews, which is how Android users were rating it as well (chart below).

Other LinkedIn Apps

LinkedIn Recruiter app gives the user the ability to engage the best talent, from anywhere and at the recruiter’s convenience.  While this app is geared towards recruiters, it is important to note that LinkedIn also has other mobile apps to fit each user’s needs, such as LinkedIn Job Search, LinkedIn Lookup, LinkedIn Learning, LinkedIn SlideShare, and LinkedIn Groups.  Check them out!!

Which apps have you used to recruit or to find a job?

More articles on LinkedIn Recruiter App, Recruiting Tips, and Social Media Resumes

5 Reasons to Check out LinkedIn’s New Mobile App

15 Social Media Recruiting Tips Proven to Attract the Best Talent

The Top 6 Apps for Recruiters

10 Creative Social Media Resumes to Learn From

 

 

Ways That HR Uses Social Media to Discover the Real You

Now that I have finally found a job in HR, I am on the other side of the job search process, yet I will never forget how daunting and discouraging looking for a new job can be.  You have heard the phrase, third-times-a-charm, well for me it was the 61st time, as that it how many jobs I applied for before receiving a job offer.  Even with over 30 years of management experience and two bachelor degrees from SNHU, I wasn’t even getting called in for an interview.  I often thought” if I could just get one foot through the door, I could convince them that I was the right person for the job.”

Out of the 60+ jobs that I applied for, I got one video interview, which was a disaster and I didn’t get a call back (no surprise there).  I made the mistake of trying to make eye-contact with the one-inch picture of the interviewer.  Not good!  I then had a first and a second face-to-face interview with a manufacturing firm, yet they eventually went with someone who had manufacturing experience (mine was all retail).  After a full year of job searching, with help from a job coach, and working with SNHU Career Services, I was finally offered an HR Administrator position for a company that had never had an HR department.  This meant that I had the task of setting up the office (fun), yet I also had to spoon feed them many aspects of HR that they had never done, and were somewhat reluctant to do, such as sexual harassment training, performance appraisals, etc.  Now that I am on the other side I have a few tidbits to share about the job search process.

LinkedIn

In my first post, I shared the importance of setting up a LinkedIn account, as this is a site that HR professionals look at when reviewing the abundance of applications that they receive.  LinkedIn is one social media site that HR expects to be mostly professional, rather than social in the way that Facebook is.  LinkedIn can be used to see if the information on your submitted resume matches your LinkedIn profile.  Keeping it real, I must tell you that LinkedIn is not the place to post a profile picture that includes you and your spouse/partner, or you and your mom (yes, I’ve seen this), or your dog (I love my dog too).  This profile really should be as professional as possible without being too stiff.

Facebook

Is this what you want a potential employer to see?

As an HR professional, if I want to get a sense of who a person is and if I think that they will fit in with our company’s culture, making sure there are no red flags, I will check out their Facebook page.  Regardless of what you normally post, I think that it is in your best interest to set your privacy controls to friends only on Facebook, as your friends may be the ones who lead us to think you may not fit in well.  I mean, didn’t your parents always think your friends were a bad influence?  Now a potential employer may make the same rash (or correct) judgment based on what is posted on your FB page.

 

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Due to the incredible volume of applications an employer now receives, they have had to find a way to sort through them so that only the ones that meet most of the criteria make it through to their desk.  Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) were designed to recognize keywords in a resume that match up with keywords mentioned in the job posting.  Regardless of how qualified you may be, you will not get a call for an interview, believe me I know, if your resume doesn’t make it through the ATS.  Using a program such as JobScan can help you to write a better resume, include the right keywords, and get your resume pulled from the pile and placed in front of the right people.  The terrific people at SNHU Career Services (@SNHUCareer) introduced me to this idea and it finally got my phone to ring and a job offer.  Best of all, you can get several “scans” for free each month.

Keep in mind that a recruiter, or HR professional, knows that you are presenting yourself in the very best way that you can during an interview so they will use social media to get a glimpse at the real you.  Make sure the “real you” is someone that they can see as part of their organization.  From an HR – social media standpoint, it is important that we keep our minds open and not discriminate against individuals.  We need to continue to embrace diversity within our workforce.

Share your Best Practices for using social media to find a job?

More useful articles to read for those seeking to get or fill a position.

To Land a Job Know How Employers Use Technology to Hire

Seven Tips for a Better Resume

Five Ways Social Media Has Changed HR

 

 

Using Social Media to Market Yourself

There are few things more daunting than looking for a new job after working for the same company for over 30 years (yes, me!).  There is the obvious fact that you are typically much older than many of the other job seekers that you will be competing against.  Additionally, while you were tolling away in your comfort zone, the world of job searching has changed dramatically.  No longer do you pound the pavement, filling out paper applications, hoping doors won’t be slammed in your face.  You now get to apply to as many jobs as you want, from the comfort of your home, hoping that your resume will somehow magically rise to the top of what is often (usually) hundreds of other eager job seekers with perfect, JobScanned, resumes.  Moreover, you are now expected to market yourself on social media as though you are the hottest new gadget or luxury car, or in this case the smartest, most innovative, committed, resourceful employee, brimming with initiative and enthusiasm.  So how does one use social media to market themselves for a new job?  As a newly minted HR professional, let me tell you a bit of what I learned along the way.

LinkedIn

Today, more than ever, recruiters use LinkedIn to scour the human capital being held captive at another employer.  Recruiters certainly assess skills, knowledge, and abilities, but they’re also looking at geographic location, years of experience, and education.  Yet, it is very important to go beyond the facts and set up a profile that showcases a bit of who you are as a person, what you care about, who you follow, as fitting in with the company’s culture can be as important as the experience that you have.

LinkedIn is your opportunity to sell yourself, sharing who you are, where you’ve been, why you’re successful, who you know, and how professional you look.  Yes, you need to post a picture of yourself, smiling warmly, looking professional.  Or you can do what I did and cut your spouse out of the picture you had taken at a Red Sox game and post that!

Twitter

With nearly 700,000 users as of Sept. 2016, Twitter is another networking opportunity for those wishing to connect with people in their field or in a field that they’re hoping to break into.  Companies often Tweet about job openings and/or what is new in the industry.  Moreover, it is usually easy to join in conversations that are happening on Twitter.  Additionally, following people, who are in the field, is a terrific way to get your name recognized, especially if you are actively adding content to their conversation or starting relevant conversations of your own.  Using Twitter as a tool for branding yourself while looking for a new career is a wise choice in this technology dependent, social media driven society.

Do you think potential employers would hire you after looking at your social media profile and posts?

If you’re starting your job search, start here first to ensure you’re branding yourself properly so you will be recognized and sought after by recruiters and potential employers.

LinkedIn Profile Checklist

Build Your Brand on LinkedIn

Twitter Profile Checklist

Twitter Tips for Beginners

Share how your experience with these social media sites helped you in your job search!

 

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Jessica Rogers, PhD.

University Educator, Marketing Practioner; Social Media Marketing Researcher

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