What Are You Talking About?

When is the last time you had a thought-provoking conversation? These days, I find life happening so rapidly that I don’t know when my next good convo is coming nor who it will be with. I can usually count on between four and five a month (outside of home or work), between chatting with Sean, Maul, Vince, C.B.3, Juju, and Barry. While that’s more than many people I know have,  I miss undergrad and the think tank known as UNCG. I vividly recall going to the basements of Reynolds and Phillips-Hawkins to talk with other students from the wee hours of the morning until the sun came up. Or there were the countless times that the long hand on the clock hit the same spot two or three times as I sat in the cafeteria chatting with Devon or Jakiya.

Ideas flowed freely in college. We had time to think without the burdens that we would come to find accompany adulthood. We didn’t have to worry about bills. The only consequence to quitting jobs at that point for many was having to mooch for more hooch, a favor that would eventually be repaid when our generous friend quit his/her job and we were reemployed.

We have to create that free thought as (true) adults. Some people say childhood is the best time of lifetimes but I challenge that; College, for those of us who are privileged enough to go, is the best era. It is when we can be idealistic while having some semblance of control over our lives. No one can tell us when to go to bed, when to come home, or who to hang out with. We go into classrooms with people of all backgrounds and debate issues that actually matter but have been written off by the world because too much of the world doesn’t believe in happiness and change anymore. Life in college is inspiring.

My challenge to you is to make time to grab coffee or a drink with a friend who brings the best out of you sometime before the end of July. If you can’t get together because of distance, hop on the phone. Either way, without forcing it, make an effort to have an organic conversation with someone that you know feels comfortable challenging you and vice versa. Share what books you’re reading. Talk about politics, socioeconomics, and current events (without dwelling too long on the depressing state of affairs unless you’re figuring out a way to positively impact them). Discuss a business idea and have your friend shoot holes through it.

One of the many true things I learned from my fraternity is that, “college days swiftly pass, imbued with memories fond.” How can we keep those memories coming for years after?

Make free thought that stems from conversations a priority.

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Is Your Blade Growing Dull?

When I was in undergrad, I intellectually stimulated almost every day. Sure, there were the Saturday nights when the most intellectual discussion was how fast can we finish the beers at the track team’s party (shoutout to the homie Devon Smith), but regular days consisted of my group tossing around ideas about how we would take over the world while either eating in the cafe, working off our cafe eating in the gym, or making sure we still had access to the cafe/gym next semester by sitting in the library to keep our scholarship dollars rolling in.

I miss those days — the days when we dreamt and planned more than we worked ourselves into an apathetic torpor. Whether the goal was entrepreneurship or figuring out how we would climb the corporate ladder or improving the quality of life for others, we used our minds in an unconventionally imaginative fashion.  Their iron sharpened mine and mine theirs.

I still talk to (but rarely see) many from my circle, as many of us have gotten bogged down in the mundane and monotonous movement from Monday to Friday, only to pray on Friday for the weekend to move in the slowest motion possible and, conversely, for Monday morning to prey on us as hard as we pray on Monday for Friday. This is week in and week out. We do it for the bills and the insurance, the 401(k) matches and the paid days of sick leave, benefits which ultimately catalyze the very mental health days that we end up taking and retirement we long for (because I am convinced that I will never truly want to retire from a passion but I’ll be in a hurry to leave a job). Security holds many of us hostage, which is ironic, because our “security” only secures the prison we have chosen for ourselves.

Instead of security, we should reach for risk, which lies in having those around you  keep you sharp and hungry and thinking outside of the box that would become a cell were you to think inside of it. To keep from being a prisoner of habit, you must have friends with whom you can toss ideas around over a glass of bourbon on the rocks or a good game of Spades. Those who remind you that you are not the smartest person in the room. A circle whose skill sets don’t mirror yours but, instead, complement them. People who specialize in various fields so that, when one of their clients/friends needs help in your field, you’re going to be the first to get the referral.

Today, I charge you to reconnect with an old friend who once inspired you. Whether they pushed you to strengthen yourself spiritually, financially, physically, professionally, or otherwise, give them a call or shoot them a text. See when you all can get together for coffee or lunch or a drink after work. If they’re in a different city, find a time when you all can meet somewhere just to catch up. While I love technology, there is something magical about tossing ideas across an actual table and working through a problem face to face. In short, allow their iron to sharpen yours and do the same for them. It’s the only way you’ll get out of this stagnant stupor that “security” supplies.

 

Make sharpening your sword a priority.

Paying It Forward

Next week, it’s time for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s homecoming! Best time of the year for me every year since 2006. Shoot, it’s so great that we got married around the time of G’s homecoming.

Today, I had lunch with two members of the UNCG family and we discussed giving to the school. Many of my friends who don’t give don’t because they are paying their loans. And yes, you’re paying money back but are you paying opportunities forward?

Were it not for UNCG, I would not be where I am today. I wouldn’t have met my best friends. Secondly, I wouldn’t have been made a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. by way of the Playboi Pi Zeta chapter. And, thirdly, I wouldn’t have received the education I did.

Now, many would say that education is the primary reason for going to a university and I agree. But it’s not the most important thing I took from my university. From it, I took relationships, a spirit to give back, and a better understanding of both business and African-American studies (along with many other subject areas). UNCG made me a more well-rounded and more prepared adult.

That’s why I give back to my institution. Why do you give back to yours? And, if you don’t, you should give something. Every dollar counts.

Make giving back a priority.

I’m Your Pusher

 

Yes. I admit it. I’m guilty. I am a pusher. Not a pusher of illicit substances but of an unpopular point of view. I am a pusher of black positivity. I believe that, historically, barriers have been set up that force Americans of all races, black and otherwise, to look at people of African descent through less than favorable lenses. Negative or less-than-sophisticated images of black folks are spread across the world, affecting the global views of us. Often, at worst, we are stereotyped as violent, undisciplined deviants. At best, entertainers. Though portrayals have changed thanks to shows like Grey’s Anatomy, the black doctor, lawyer, and professional are still viewed as anomalies while the black prisoner or athlete is seen as the status quo.

There is nothing wrong with being a rapper, singer, or ball player. Nothing at all. I have respect for anyone who does these things and uses their talent to uplift the community. But there are other options. As a professional, it is sometimes challenging to walk into room after room after room and meeting after meeting after meeting where I don’t see anyone who looks like me. So I have to change the narrative. I have a responsibility to myself, my family, my community, and my nation to provide true facts of the positive impact that blacks have every day on America, as opposed to the alternative facts that we are all murderers, drug users, and dependents of the welfare system.

Yesterday, I went out of my way to make the point of associating positive image of with the hashtag #OmegaPsiPhi on each of my social media accounts. I didn’t do it because I have great friends that are Ques or because my football coach from high school is a Que or to go viral. I did it because they, like  Alpha Phi Alpha (my fraternity), are focused on doing positive things across this nation, specifically in the black community, and anyone feeding positivity into my life deserves to have me do the same.  Secondly, negativity associated with any historically black fraternity is not good for any of us. Hiring managers probably do not know Alpha Phi Alpha from Omega Psi Phi from Iota Phi Theta. They just know that Steve Stephens was apart of one of those black step groups and his organization got bad publicity as a result.

People of all races, we must change the narratives surrounding non-whites in America. All blacks are not here to either rob or entertain you. All Jewish people aren’t here to be your lawyers or manage your money. All Latinos aren’t here illegally and looking for migrant work. All Middle Easterners aren’t looking for an opportunity to commit acts of violence. This is the point in history where we have the most access to the most information but we are regressing as a society. So, just as all white domestic terrorists are categorized as either mentally unstable or “lone wolves”, let’s start placing the same designation on non-white individuals whose actions are not a depiction of love for all humankind. And, when we see a group being negatively stereotyped, whether members of that group or not, we have a responsibility as good individuals to say “Not all people from group x commit the act of y. John Doe was acting as an individual and not as a representative.”

You have a sphere of influence. Change the narrative.

As a starting point, type #BlackMenSmile in on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. As J. Cole said, “There’s beauty in the struggle.”

 

Make peace and love priorities.

What Employers Are Looking For When Hiring Recent College Grads

To all my recent/soon-to-be college grads, this Forbes article by Sergei Klebnikov hits the nail on the head for you.  Feel free to share and leave a comment that speaks to your experience, either as a hiring professional or a recent/pending graduate.

Many employers today feel that recent college graduates are falling short in their preparedness to join the workforce. The qualities that result in job success are becoming harder and harder to find in college graduates, according to many findings from education research authorities.

“Over half of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed,” says Josh Jarrett, CPO and co-founder of Koru, a job placement program for students out of college looking to enter the work force. The new start-up program, which has over 25 college partners and locations in Seattle, Boston and San Francisco, focuses on immersive learning programs that allow students to translate academic skills into professional use and bridge the school to labor market gap.

Fifty-eight percent of students said college should adequately prepare them for a career, according to McGraw-Hill Education’s 2015 Student Workforce Readiness Survey. However, only 20% of students at the time of graduation felt very prepared to join the workforce. According to a recent Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) study which surveyed over 400 private and non-profit organizations, less than two in five employers rate college students as well prepared (8 or above on a scale of 10). Fewer than three in 10 think that recent college grads are proficient in applying knowledge and skills in real-world settings or areas such as critical thinking and communication.

However, there is good news for today’s graduates. Another recent survey, by theNational Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), found that employers are planning to hire 9.6% more college grads this year than they did from the class of 2014. With this uptick in hiring, what can college grads do to improve their chances?

Many of the recent surveys have suggested that there are fewer than a dozen essential sets of skills which help. Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based leading labor market analytics firm, found that liberal arts and non-professional degree graduates in particular are having the most trouble finding employment opportunities after college.

In its report, they identified eight workplace-focused technical skills that are “in high-demand among employers” and which drastically improve labor market prospects, especially for liberal arts grads. These skills are marketing, sales, business, social media, graphic design, data analysis, computer programming and IT networking.

The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to learn them in a classroom. Nearly all can be developed during broader college experiences, such as extracurriulars, or can be learned through internships, explains Matt Sigelman, the firm’s CEO. “Simply by accruing even one of these you roughly double the amount of job opportunities available.” Similarly, Koru identifies seven of its own ‘competencies’ that help distinguish students – grit, rigor, impact, polish, teamwork, ownership and curiosity.

Some of today’s most in-demand employers look for a variety of skills. Large companies such as Goldman Sachs and J. Walter Thompson both cited that instead of hiring students with Ivy League diplomas, there is an emphasis on hiring self-driven individuals who show “an entrepreneurial spirit,” according to a Goldman Sachs spokesperson. Successful hires at JWT are “innovative problem-solvers” and “have awareness to other people and cultures,” says Stacey Klein, head of human resources at J. Walter Thompson North America.

Among some of the other key qualities listed by employers were teamwork, adaptability, and communication. A university recruiter at Microsoft, Anthony Rotoli, highlights potential candidates who are “willing to take risks” and “offer a fresh perspective.” Many of Microsoft’s college hires need to be “self-motivated and excited about technology” to succeed. In the NACE survey, 160 employers nation-wide responded with the specific skills they look for:

Reprinted with permission of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, copyright holder.

The NACE survey also examined employers’ hiring expectations by major. At the top of the list is engineering, with 72.1% of respondents looking for graduates in that field. Unsurprisingly, business (68.2%) and computer sciences (57.8%) are also successful majors in the job market. At the bottom of the list ranks health sciences, education and agriculture. Only 11% of employers were interested in hiring humanities majors, and 10% for the social sciences.

Despite this lack of enthusiasm to hire humanities students right after graduation, “Liberal education is better preparation for the global economy and the complicated world we live in precisely because it prepares students to be adaptable,” argues Carol Quillen, president of Davidson College.

With regard to the so-called debate’ between the liberal arts and STEM subjects – the real winners are liberal arts graduates with internship experience,  says  SymplicityCEO Bill Gerety, which facilitates matchmaking between students at large partner colleges, such as NYU and Notre Dame, and big brand name partners, like Google. While STEM grads have more opportunities and higher pay in the short term, the “real-world experience and outside-the-classroom learning” of liberal arts students give them “a unique edge,” he says.

Overall, the AACU study found that as opposed to the major or skills sets, what most employers continue to highlight is having both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of skills as most crucial for recent college graduates to achieve career success.

Reprinted with permission from Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success. Copyright 2015 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

A resume with both of these ranges can prove to be crucial – employers placed the greatest values on demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that “cut across all majors.” Peter Cohen, group president of U.S. Education at McGraw-Hill Education, believes that today’s employers ultimately “need people that have skills that transcend the educational content they get.”

Source: Forbes

Make professional development a priority.