Can You Write a Professional email in Spanish?

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 9.36.37 AMThis is a question I ask students at all levels; and often students in the highest level language courses offered on their campus do not know the basics of sending professional emails in their second languages. In my intermediate Spanish for the professions course, email is the practical skill that we cover during week 3, by which time there is usually a need for some email correspondence in the administration of the course.  

First, students have to send an email that:

1- Uses the subject line well (so that the recipient will know what to expect in the body of the message). This should be something like “SPAN 2000 presentation date & topic”

2- Uses an appropriate professional greeting: “Estimado,” “Estimada,” “Estimados,” “Estimadas” in Spanish. Fully half of students usually use the wrong of those four choices on their first try.

3- Uses an appropriate sign-off: “Atentamente” in Spanish.  

For my students, the content of that first email is simply the date of their first in-class presentation. This activity gives very basic practice in the most fundamental norms of professional email writing.

The upside for the instructor: when students want to know what date they signed up to present on, they can consult their own “sent” folder.  

For the second email assignment, I add the 5 W’s of journalism: make sure you include all relevant content that answers the questions who? what? when? where? why? / how?   The specific assignment is to send me an email to schedule a one-on-one appointment in my office to talk about their websites, their daily writing logs, or their course-long projects.  Students have to be resourceful to find information such as the location of my office so that they can clearly assert where they will meet me. It’s not difficult to look on the syllabus or the department directory, but it’s also not something most students have explicitly thought about.  

A third email would add more nuanced elements like “don’t bury the lead” and “don’t put your problems in someone else’s inbox.” These can be the most troublesome emails faculty receive, but the hardest to simulate as in the examples above.  

“Don’t bury the lead” usually comes up with letter of recommendation requests; students feel the need to “catch up” via email and write far too much before coming out with the letter of recommendation request.  I tell students to put “letter of recommendation request” in the subject line so that they don’t bury the lead no matter how much they write in the body of the message.  The body of the message should include the following: first name, last name, title of course and semester you took it with me, a clear summary of the work you uniquely did in my course (not the assignments–I have the syllabus too and can look up what I assigned; I need to know what you did that nobody else did), and a description of the connections between what you did in my course and whatever it is you’re applying to.  This is challenging. But if the student can’t do it, I won’t be able to do it either.  And this is excellent practice for cover letter writing in which the whole goal is to convince the employer that you uniquely meet a need or solve a problem that they have.

“Don’t put your problems in someone else’s inbox” are the emails that include, “what should I do?” anywhere in the body.  Instead, students should explain the who, what, when, where, why and include what they’ve done to resolve the problem (so that they’re just bringing you in the loop or letting you know they’ll stop by office hours) or propose a couple solutions for you to choose from.  I assign this when students are scheduling out-of-class oral exams and need to make a change–or simulate making a change–so that they can run through the possibilities of solving the problem on their own by getting classmates to agree to switch with them, getting a partner to agree to switch times, etc.  

As with all of these professional skills, pick and choose the examples that solve a problem you have; use these ideas to make the administration of your courses easier or  more pleasant for you and your students.

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. She is the author of the forthcoming volume from Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.” To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy:
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What Jobs Should I Apply To?

IMG_6376Monday evening I led a college to career transition workshop at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. As we were planning the content of the workshop, my host made the specific request to provide, “pointers about what jobs to apply to [because students] seem to be lost in that area.”

This is one of the topics I get asked about most by clients in all stages of their careers.

The first thing I say is that I do not work for employers. I work exclusively with candidates. Recruiters and headhunters work for employers, trying to fill vacancies–not trying to find a good match for the candidate.  Placement agencies (to which I do refer clients) work with both employers and clients.

The next thing I do is push students to re-frame their question.  It usually starts out as some version of “What can I do with a degree in ____?” Regardless of your major, there will never be job ads for “Psych majors.” You’ll never see a sign that says, “Help wanted: econ major.”

The real question is “how do my university studies enhance my chosen career?”  You have to choose the career.

Normally, I would leave it at that and turn to the usual topics of my workshops and blog posts: how to represent the skills and experiences from your college experiences in resumes and cover letters, how to prepare for job interviews, how to develop gatekeeping and written & verbal communication skills for use in the workplace.

But for Monday’s workshop, I decided to open with “pointers about what jobs to apply to” since I am uniquely positioned as both a university language department insider and a career coach.

Most language department faculty don’t know much about the job search and careers outside of higher ed. Departments tend to provide theoretical lists of what you could do with your language major (medical professions, legal professions, government and diplomacy, teaching and social service, etc.) without any explicit instruction in how to connect the college experience to such careers.

Most campus career service offices are staffed by generalists who have to help all students from all majors prepare for the college to career transition so they might not understand the unique qualifications of a language major. For example, they may think language majors complete professional translation and interpretation projects (when in fact those are specialized fields that require advanced training).

I know the specifics that are missing from both of those perspectives.

Here’s what we went through in the opening of the workshop:

First, some context: this is your entry level job–the first of many jobs you will have. Conventional wisdom says that current college students should expect to have 7-8 careers.

Don’t get that first job and stagnate—you have to keep refining by identifying what you like most about your first job so you can try to find a second job that focuses more on that while also identifying what you like least about it so you can try to minimize that in future work.

But don’t think you’re making the decision now that you’ll be stuck with until you retire. That’s not even really possible nowadays.

Second, go broad.  Working from the frame of what will be my first, entry level job out of college, go broad. Use job boards to see what’s out there that’s interesting to you. Experiment with different keywords (I like to enter “Spanish” and “Chicago” in regularly to see what kinds of jobs are trending—it varies from interpreter, sales, education—once, 3 jobs at a local zoo popped up). Find local and regional job boards. Find non-profit job boards. Find industry specific job boards. They are out there.  If you have a dream company, monitor their internal job boards (often linked from their homepage under “Careers”). Organizations’ own job boards have more and more-current “real” jobs than the broad job boards do.

Third, narrow it down.  Once you’ve spent some time exploring the landscape of job openings, refining your areas of interest, and identifying keywords from the job ads that you will have to highlight in your own job search documents if you are to apply, narrow your search to 2-3 areas or specific organizations and check those 2-3 online job postings regularly enough to know trends. That way you will be immediately aware when there are new postings.

During this process, you can revisit and refine your job search materials to match your own narrowing picture of “what jobs to apply to”—and that brings us back to the specifics of crafting resumes and cover letters, preparing for job interviews, refining the skills & experiences gained over four years of college.

Finally, don’t forget to network: 80%+ of jobs are internal hires or referrals.

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. She is the author of the forthcoming volume from Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.” To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy:


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Can Foreign Language Skills Can Add Up to Access?


This week students in my Spanish for the Professions course will practice taking phone messages.

This sounds like a simple task, but there are many layers to it:

1- On the most basic level, this is practice in the building blocks of language–the alphabet and the digits 0-9. In our first language, we become fluent in these building blocks through repetition in the pre-school years–singing ABC songs and counting objects.  For adult second language learners, those activities are not appropriate so we too often skip over the building blocks of language altogether.  You’ll notice this when you ask intermediate or advanced students to spell their own names in the target language.  

I train my students to practice spelling and giving numbers one at a time while taking and leaving phone messages.  They cannot use global requests for repetition and instead have to use strategies like asking how to spell something, asking a caller to give a phone number one digit at a time, and repeating things back to callers.  That’s all I’d ask of first-year students when taking a message.

2- Intermediate students have to take a basic message in addition to getting perfectly spelled names and accurate phone numbers & emails.  Taking a basic message actually involves significant higher order thinking skills.  When leaving a message, most people provide much more information than necessary.  The task of the person taking the message is to analyze the content and synthesize the most important details to document before passing it on to the recipient.  

As we make the case for the struggling humanities disciplines, using critical thinking skills to take a message provides a concrete example of how our students can apply the skills they acquire in our courses to the working world.

3- The ability to leave and take accurate messages is about access. While it may seem trivial, this is an essential gatekeeping skill that every professional should master.  Where there is a language barrier, the ability to communicate your linguistic level, take control of a conversation in order to get or leave a message, and then ensure that messages gets passed on to a more fluent speaker who can call back is the difference between access to an organization and passive denial of access to the same organization.

4- Though a gatekeeping skill, this is something VIPs have to do all the time. Surgeons have to call their patients on the phone to let them know the results of biopsies. Can you imagine a higher stakes phone call? CEOs have to close deals over the telephone. Attorneys have to communicate with clients and opposing counsel.  

The ability to give and take phone messages is not just an entry-level task. It is an important skill to develop in both L1 and L2 contexts.

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. She is the author of the forthcoming volume from Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.” To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy:
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Networking as a Career Skill Integrated into Language Courses tagThis spring I will teach a 10-week Spanish for the professions course. It will be a special section of an intermediate course consisting of three elements:

1) Keep up with the vocabulary and grammar content of the other sections of the course so students are as prepared for the next courses as their peers in other sections.

2) Add profession-specific content (a research project and a course-long inquiry into content of specific interest to each student).

3) Professional skills that all employees need in every workplace.  

This third element is the topic of the series of posts I’ll be doing this spring because these are skills that can be integrated into any course at any level. Throughout the 10 weeks, I will post specific examples of how I’m weaving professional skills into the course as I teach it.  

Week 1 starts tomorrow and the professional skill for the first week is networking.

On the first day of class, students will exchange contact information with at least 3 other students.  

First, I will model using my own contact information and train students to ask specific questions to take control of the conversation (“how do you spell that?” “is that with an ‘f’ or a ‘ph’?” “one digit at a time please.” “I’ll repeat that back to you; is this correct…?” ). Global requests for repetition (“Repeat,” “What?” “Slower, please.”) are forbidden.

Once students have applied these skills to exchange new and authentic information (the basis of communicative language teaching that we can and should use at all levels), I will briefly explain the utility of the information they have for the administration of the course: their own peers should be the first line of inquiry for any questions they have about the course (homework assignments, due dates, content covered in class etc.–information that is often available in course documents anyway).  

The rationale is both practical (I am not awake at the times of day these questions usually arise) and professional (employers will want new hires who can independently solve little problems and make minor decisions, which is what these administrative questions about the course usually are).  

I am clear with students: if you send me an email, I will reply with one word: “yes,” “no,” “got it,” “done!” “thanks.” And any correspondence sent in the middle of the night won’t get a reply before class the next day anyway.  This significantly cuts down on the kind of email that we all regard as clutter in our inboxes. Of course, I engage in some substantive discussions with students over email or make appointments to do so face-to-face over email.

And most courses have one student who, in the first 24-hours of the course, sends 2-3 email queries about content covered in class and/or course documents. At the second meeting, I quietly take that student aside after class and repeat the policy and the rationale, using their email queries as specific examples, illustrating where and how they could have gotten that information on their own. Often, these students wind up being top students in the course who were just overly nervous and/or eager the first day.

On the second day of class, students get in pairs and chat until they find something new that they have in common. This is a real networking session.  Those commonalities are what networking is all about: long-term, sustained (if periodic) contact in which you can share tips, leads, articles, links, job postings, events, conferences so that ultimately you wind up doing favors for each other (but it is always mutual and never just about asking favors).  

After 5-10 minutes, groups of four are formed by putting two pairs together and two people in each group have to introduce their partner to the others. This is an essential networking skill that most young Americans are sheepish and awkward about doing. They should practice enough in the low stakes environment of my course that the Spanish-language fixed expression for “I’d like to introduce you to ____” is second nature–which means they will really excel in their first languages at job fairs, networking events and interviews.

On the third day of class, students in the professions course will form groups based on their areas of professional interest. Each group will be asked to report back on the areas of common interest and where they differ in their career goals and areas of specialization. This activity is the beginning of course-long networking in which students will share content of interest that they encounter while preparing their individual reading & blogging assignments or research projects. It should become second nature to send a message to a classmate that says, “when I was reading about X on this site, I saw this headline: ____ and thought of you; maybe you can use it for one of your entries.”

To conclude this unit on networking, I ask students to reflect on who might be their go to networking contacts: is it parents of their friends? their friends’ parents? employers they’ve had?

Next week’s topic: gatekeeper (in the form of taking messages).

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. She is the author of the forthcoming volume from Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.” To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy:


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Unionized Faculty Reach Tentative Agreement with the University of Chicago


U of C

The day in December 2015 that non-tenure track faculty at the University of Chicago voted to unionize.

I have been largely absent from this blog for longer than I thought I would be.  But I’m back now and will do lots of catching up (including sharing info on my forthcoming book with Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.”)  

First, here’s some of what I’ve been up to for the past two years:  

In December of 2015, I went to the rally pictured here (I’m near the front on the right) to celebrate that non-tenure track faculty at the University of Chicago had voted to unionized. Then I joined the bargaining team.  Those of us who did the least spent 5-10 hours a week, every week for what turned out to be two full years organizing and planning our first union contract. We didn’t get paid. It was a coalition of the willing.  

During those two years, we negotiated with the university over the issues our members cared about most:

  • pay–a livable wage for Chicago residents,
  • benefits–parity with tenured and tenure-track faculty on our campus,
  • courseload–a fair and stable teaching load.  

Of course, there were a lot of details outside of those three things, campus-specific issues, unique needs of subsets of our memberships, and lots of compromises.  

Yesterday, the bargaining team and the university came to a tentative agreement on our first contract.  Members will participate in a ratification vote in a couple weeks and then lots of details will be available.

While I can’t share details of the tentative agreement, I can share some of my broad observations from the process.  

There is power in transparency.  To get fair pair, benefits, and workload for everyone, you have to know the status quo. What were we each getting paid at the time we unionized? What were the different teaching loads?  Who was getting what kind of benefits? We had to open up to each other. Taboos have to be lifted.  Women make less than men in part because we’re all trained not to talk about money and how much of it we make.  The truth: equality will never be achieved unless we talk about money and how much of it we make.

There is power in collective bargaining.  The idea that as an individual employee, you have the power to negotiate the terms of your employment directly with your employer is largely a joke–at least for non-tenure track faculty in higher education settings.  Absent collective bargaining, almost every offer is a take it or leave it offer.  Through collective bargaining, you can improve conditions for everyone. The past two years have taught me that it can be a wonky process and that there’s lots of capitalism mixed in with collective bargaining, but that the collective will ultimately get more for each individual than any individual would be able to get for themselves.

Employers lie to themselves about the conditions of those they employ. The industry I know the most about is higher education and the adjunctification of higher education is nearly impossible to justify.  Paying highly educated individuals a few thousand dollars per course with no job security and no benefits is the norm on college and university campuses. It’s poverty wages any way you look at it.  

How do universities justify this?

“It’s market driven” is one answer. Supply and demand. If there are a bunch of people with graduate degrees who are willing to accept those terms of employment, then that’s what the market can bear. And if we don’t like it, why don’t we just do something else with our lives?  

What universities don’t tell you in those market-drive answers is that they flood the market with PhD grads.  The bread and butter of tenured and tenure track faculty in university departments is grad students; to stay afloat, they have to keep admitting graduate students and train them almost entirely for faculty positions (some disciplines train for other industries, but not many)–even when they know for a fact that there are only stable, livable-wage paying jobs for a small fraction of the graduates they will churn out.

I suspect another assumption that universities make is that people actually want crappy adjunct work in exchange for the status associated with “teaching college.” I think they tell themselves that bored housewives with PhDs and heiresses choose to do adjunct work “because they want to give back.” To be clear, I have no way to know if this is true or not. And maybe I’m giving too much credit here. Maybe it’s truer that universities don’t even bother making assumptions. But what is true in my own experience is that…

Gender, class and labor issues intersect in university employment practices. Note: assume white privilege; I encountered very few people of color in the entire process–thus no ‘race’ in the subheading. There’s a fairly rigid class system in place on campuses–administrators, tenure-track faculty, non-tenure track full-time faculty, non-tenure track part-time faculty.  Men are the majority at the top of that class system–in administration.  As you move down the ranks, more women enter…until you get to the bottom where the majority of part-time non-tenure track faculty is women (and this is tied to all sorts of other intractable social issues that are beyond the scope of this post).  Who earn the most and have the best benefits packages? Administrators. Technically, income is pegged to the titles, not the individuals and their gender.  But man, oh man did this process show me how once you have power and privilege and wealth, you are in a position to get more of the same.  And, conversely, if you don’t possess much power or privilege or wealth, you are in the fight of your life to gain marginal improvements that leave you at the bottom of the heap. It’s the old, “double zero and you still have zero.” You can increase adjunct pay, but as long as there’s an adjunct system in place, those will still be poverty wages.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Toward Professional Standards in Languages for Specific Purposes: Universal Workplace Skills


The Fourth International Symposium on Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) was last weekend at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

My presentation proposed using already-existing standards, such as ACTFL’s “Can Do” statements, 5C’s, and World Readiness Standards, to build common standards for LSP that rely on universal workplace skills that every professional needs in every professional context.  

The examples I developed in the presentation were networking and exchanging contact information. Along with specifying the “Can Do” skills for each task, I detailed the strategies students will need to deploy in order to succeed with each skill at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced level.  Development of metacognitive and “transprofessional” skills allow students to analyze examples in use to understand the consequences of not being able to successfully engage in the targeted professional skill (in this case, networking and exchanging contact information).  I will continue to build standards for balancing universal workplace skills and profession-specific content.

This conference always offers a wide variety of opportunities to learn about the field, find out what others are doing, and take away content that you can use on your own campus and in your own courses.  Some of the general themes that emerged this year included the need to communicate the rationale and relevance of LSP clearly and concisely, a desire to address employer needs by applying the backward design model to LSP programming, and alignment of LSP courses with political realities and other campus programs (such as study abroad and medical professional schools).

One conclusion I drew: the more “specific” the “purposes,” the more educators can address the needs of professionals.

In general undergraduate programs, students should be equipped with professional skills that every employee in every workplace needs, strategies to acquire linguistic and cultures skills on-the-job when they know what those needs are, and some general awareness of real-world issues and profession-specific content. Why less specific skills for undergrads? Because students at that level don’t know the specific purposes to which they will ultimately apply their language skills; for example, even if they know they’d like to work in medical professions, they don’t know if they’ll even get into the professional school of their choice–and if they do, they don’t know if their specialty will be orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, or oncology–each of which requires completely different “specific” skills.

But the presentation on veterinary Spanish on rural food-producing farms where many workers are monolingual Spanish-speakers illustrated that it is possible to address the highly-specific needs of veterinary protocols for vaccinating herds, identifying illness, and calving. Likewise, the nursing course directed at management of illness for sufferers of type-2 diabetes was able to direct highly-specific content to its students for immediate application in the workplace.

Thanks to Lourdes Sánchez López of the University of Alabama Birmingham for the photo in this post–and mostly for pulling off the inaugural International Symposium on Languages for Specific Purposes–what a great legacy!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

College Preparation v. Career Readiness: Close the Gap!

6187_544272209083923_3541349427109924735_nIn March, I presented at the Symposium on Languages for Specific Purposes in Phoenix on the mismatch between college preparation and career readiness.

When a new academic quarter began at the University of Chicago this week, I was determined to try to bridge the college preparation – career readiness gap at the level of administering the course I teach.  

Throughout the spring quarter, I will share specific examples of career readiness activities I deploy in class.

First, some background. Here are a few examples of what employers want in recent grads who are new hires and why college might not be preparing students properly:

1- Organized problem-solving, decision-making, information-obtaining individuals. The National Association of Colleges and Employers publishes the results of annual surveys, “Job Outlook: The Candidate Skills/Qualities Employers Want.” Those skills and qualities include decision-making; problem-solving; planning, organizing and prioritizing work; ability to obtain and process information.

But on campus, nearly everything is highly prescribed: our courses, syllabi, assignments, project descriptions, etc. make all the decisions for students. We plan & prioritize the work in tidy 10-15 week chunks. We point students in all the right directions for obtaining information, rarely asking them to explore new sources on their own and recoiling at the thought of them consulting Wikipedia.

2- New hires with real-world professional experience. The Atlantic cites the Chronicle of Higher Education in this piece on What Employers Want. It turns out employers want to hire recent grads with work experience, internships, volunteerism, extracurriculars.  College major does matter.  GPA doesn’t matter much.  

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 8.06.04 AMBut on campus, grades rule.  A’s matter. GPA’s are everything. How disappointing for the recent grad who has been trained over decades to value grades and GPAs above almost everything else in the educational experience.

3- A tolerance for ambiguity. Jeff Selingo has a second book on the campus to career transition coming out in April 2016, “There Is Life After College.”  Here’s my favorite quote from his LinkedIn post, “For What Kind of Future Work Are We Educating Our Kids?” 

Success in the future will belong to those able to tolerate ambiguity in their work. Too many recent graduates approach their job descriptions the way they did a syllabus in college—as a recipe for winning in a career. They want concrete, well-defined tasks, as if they were preparing for an exam in college. But jobs are a mash-up of duties. 

But on campus, we hand out the syllabi full of concrete, well-defined, short-term tasks. See item 1 above.  Also see my post here on one small way we can free ourselves and ours students from the tyranny of prescribed tasks and start to develop a tolerance for ambiguity.

4- The ability to apply the rich skills acquired in college to the real-world setting of the workplace. The Association of American Colleges and Universities’ “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success” reports that employers value applied learning, including “written and oral communication, teamwork skills, ethical decision making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings.”

But on campus, we focus on theory and neglect application. Our students have wonderful written and verbal communication skills when it comes to academic essays. But can they apply that to the kind of communication they’ll have to do in the workplace: writing emails, memos, agendas, reports; meetings with supervisors, vendors, customers?

Here is how I have started off my spring quarter course with some attempts to address the college preparation – career readiness gap:

Day 1.  Warm-up activity to start class: Talk to at least 3 classmates, find out names, majors and something you have in common.  After 3-5 minutes, a few students present their results to the whole class.

My favorite today: two students had worked–at different times– for the same Principal Investigator in the same lab on a combined psychology-biology project.

Professional takeaway: Networking must start with something that you have in common.  In early conversations, find out what that is. Then you can build on that through a lifetime of networking–first, just keeping in touch on a topic of mutual interest, eventually sharing opportunities, then doing & asking favors (note I put doing the favor before asking the favor!)

This takes a lifetime! It’s not a one-time conversation. It’s not a transaction. And it will never fit into a 15-week semester!

pencilsDay 2. Warm-up activity to start class: Take down my contact information, then exchange contact information with each other. The logistics of this activity are described in day 3 my earlier post, Make Professional Development and Career Prep Part of Your Language Courses–Every Day! 

The new twist for career readiness is that students received full credit or no credit for taking down my contact information correctly. The message to students is twofold:

1) In the workplace, there are no letter grades.  You succeed or you fail.  If you have one letter wrong on an email address or one digit wrong on a phone number, you might not be able to contact that person. You don’t get “partial credit” from your boss for having nine out of ten digits right on that phone number you took down and passed on.

2) This is a minor failure–the kind we all make everyday. You’ll fail in some small way everyday. Your boss will too.  The three important takeaways are to try to avoid mistakes, accept the reality that you will make mistakes, and embrace the consequences.

When you do make a mistake, own it! Acknowledge that you messed up, apologize and take steps to correct it if possible. Don’t engage in subterfuge, react defensively, or try to negotiate your way out of trouble.

This last point is where the gap between college preparation and career readiness is the biggest. Within the educational context, we tend to encourage students to negotiate for partial credit, to ask us to give up time to “solve their problem” of missing a point, or to argue over a point lost on a test item. That’s exactly the opposite of an appropriate professional interaction–employers will want employees who are accountable for their actions and who own their mistakes; not employees who take up a bunch of other people’s time trying to cover up or weasel out of their mistakes.

Day 3’s participation quiz consisted of arriving on time.  Full credit for those who were present at 9:30 when class officially starts. Zero credit for those who had not yet arrived.  I cited Sreeraman Thiagarajan’s quote on BuzzFeed’s “36 Career Tips No One Will Actually Tell You:”

Reviews only happen once or twice a year, but appraisals happen everyday. Assume that everything you do will have an effect on your raise and promotion opportunities. 

I’ve seen this with students’  service-learning experiences–and it mirrors the professional workplaces they are likely to encounter after graduation. If you consistently show up late, nobody’s going to say a word to you—but it will be reflected in your annual performance review. Likewise, community partners will give a low overall evaluation at the end of the service-learning experience and comment that the student consistently showed up late. To which the student will respond, “what!? I knew I was running late a lot, but nobody ever said anything so I thought it wasn’t a problem!”

Before students graduate and go out into the working world, they need to know this: if you consistently show up late (or otherwise behave unprofessional in a consistent manner), you’re not going to get tapped for any interesting work—new teams, new projects, out-of-office activities at which you represent your employer, extra assignments that can help you get ahead. You’re going to stagnate. That’s high stakes!  What’s low stakes: your quiz grade or participation grade stagnating in this class. Better to learn & practice now when the stakes are low!

Day 4’s lesson on ambiguity, obtaining information, problem-solving, decision-making. At the end of class today, I went over the first composition that students will have to hand in next week.

 The two professional takeaways:

1) Use good judgement when the prompt asks for “a complete answer.”  This small amount of ambiguity is a challenge for many students. They want to know “how many words should it be?” “how many lines should it be?” “what font should I use?”  

My answer: use good judgement and give me a complete answer.  I won’t punish you because you didn’t reach some arbitrary word count; but if you’re answer isn’t complete, you will lose points.  If you use bad judgement and turn in an assignment with script yellow font on white paper, your grade will suffer. But better to learn that lesson now than once you’re in the workplace.  And in the workplace, your employer will likely delegate small tasks like email writing, memo writing, agenda preparation–assuming that any college grad can handle it.  They won’t want to answer questions about word limit and font choice!

2) Google your question to find out how to do something new. In this context, I told students to set the language to “Spanish” in Word when they write their compositions. One student asked how to do that.  

IMG_4945My answer: type this questions into Google: “How do I set the language to Spanish in Word?” I know you can figure that out on your own.  No need to ask anyone else–especially not your instructor or supervisor in the workplace.  

Be resourceful! Obtain information on your own! Solve all those little “problems” and make all those little decisions for yourself.  

Week 2 participation quiz: draw a seating chart and label each seat with the name of the students sitting in each seat.  

Knowing names is important in professional contexts–including networking: people are impressed when you know their names on a second or third encounter.

Also important:  knowing how to quickly and smoothly get over the awkwardness of forgetting a name. It’s easy: “I’m sorry. I forgot your name.  My name’s Darcy.  What’s your name again?”  We did that in Spanish to wrap up this warm up activity.

Note: I’m teaching a multi-section basic Spanish course so there isn’t much room in the curriculum for me to “do my own thing,” but I do have flexibility with students’ “participation” grade so each day one of these daily activities is a 10-point “participation quiz” and the average of all those will be the 5% of the grade at the end of the course that is participation. You don’t have to rewrite your curriculum (nor abandon the humanities) to integrate career readiness into your courses.  

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy:
Posted in Career Advice, Careers for Humanities Majors, darcy lear | Leave a comment