Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Meet with Anyone by Sending Email

Today’s idea: “How to Get a Meeting With Almost Anyone Through Email”


This blog post at Boston College (a cute little school I used to live next door to) has some fantastic advice, and is well worth your read.

However, as a department chair who gets a handful of “cold call” emails like this each week, I have some additional advice. In brief, don’t b***s*** the person you’re writing to. It’s the fastest way to have your email labeled “spam” for any and all future contacts.

Let me give you some examples:
  • “Win a trip to Paris! All you have to do is round up 30 students who are willing to pay through the nose for our tour, and you as a faculty member travel for free.” (Yeah, like I really want to exploit y’all like this.)
  • “I have written a book. You must assign this book to all your students as required reading, and here is why.” (The writer knows nothing about what I select for my course reading lists.)
  • “I have written a very interesting book. I need a proofreader and ghostwriter. I can’t pay anything.” (Chortle.)
  • “You have been selected for inclusion in our exclusive Who’s Who Among Low-Ranking Administrators!” (As long as I pay a $1,000 fee, I can have a 2-line listing in a book nobody will ever read; additional info, of course, costs extra.)
  • “Your department website needs to link to our informative site on master’s degrees, because it’s really good advice for your students.” (On closer inspection, the site is a commercial listing for four online colleges which don’t even offer an English degree. When I googled the sender’s email, I discovered she had used identical language for motorcycle parts listings.)
  • “I wish to teach a course in Linguistics at Niagara University, and I require a $10,000 per course salary plus benefits. I’m that good.” (We don’t offer Linguistics; we don’t have adjunct faculty teaching upper division courses; and we don’t pay that kind of money. You can be Harold Bloom for all I care, the answer is “no.”)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Job Seeker as Hero

English majors should know all about these kinds of archetypal stories that can be used to describe your own situation. Here’s a cool post on how the various stages of job-hunting are very much like setting out to slay Voldemort:


I especially like the first comment that’s been posted, to the effect that using this framework in a job interview can make your impression on a prospective employer all the more memorable. And I know you English majors know all about story—plot, setting, character... all that stuff. You have the edge!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Your Thanksgiving homework

Cloud computing.

Every semester at the beginning of classses, I suggest that my students know something about this. Every year, I seem to be getting blank looks. It’s time for this to stop.

Here is a simple, summative article that pares down to the minimum what you need to know about getting into the cloud:


If you’re familiar with Apple’s new iCloud, or Google’s music streaming service, or Picasa or Flickr for photos, you’ve got the general concept. Basically, you “own” a piece of real estate out there on the internet where you can store your stuff. What stuff? You can store music, of course, or pictures. But more importantly for those of us who are not artists, you can store documents.

It’s probably something easier for you to experience than for me to describe—which is why I’m recommending this article with a curated short list of five services. I personally use DropBox and Box.net every day. Each has slightly different features and interfaces—one is good for some things, the other is good for other things.

These are “freemium” services. That is, you get a starter package of space; the company makes its money from those who sign up for more space. Unless you are storing film, image or sound, though, you’ll likely be able to live happily within your means.

Now—what can these cloud services do for you? Here’s a short list of imaginary scenarios:

  • You’re writing a paper due for a class tomorrow. Your hard drive crashes. But you’ve got all your working files syncronized to the cloud. You can go to any computer with internet access and continue working.
  • You’re at a job interview. You forgot to bring an extra paper copy of your resume (shame on you!) But your resume is online; all you have to do is hop on a computer and print a copy—not only saving the day, but impressing your employer-to-be.
  • You’re at an airport. Your flight is delayed; in fact, you’re sleeping overnight in the terminal, and not by your own choice. You have an important project that has to be on your boss’s desk by 9 a.m. tomorrow morning—and you’re not going to be physically present to turn it in. You don’t have access to a computer. But you flip open your iPhone or your Android phone or your tablet, and make the completed project available by a link you create on the spot.

While you’re on break, consider starting an account!

Just Say No

Gasp! You mean you’re telling me it’s okay to turn down a job offer?!

Here’s a great article with some thoughtful advice:


As the title promises, it’s a solid checklist of elements you might consider when turning down a job—and trust me, there are some you should turn down. I’ve kicked around the block before I become a department chair long enough to have seen some screaming stinker offers, and even to have worked in a few of those stinkers.

But it’s also a good read (or refresher) for how and when to frame questions about salary, benefits, working conditions as you are going through the process of looking for a job. For example, if you’re heading out the doors of Niagara University for your first real job, it’s difficult to know when to expect your prospective employer to discuss salary. Heck, it’s even hard for us folks with several lifetimes of experience to do that. (You know, of course, that you-the-job-seeker never, ever raise salary first—you always let the employer open the subject!)

This is also a great article for the point between the job offer and your acceptance—that grey area when you are courting and being courted, not quite signed on, but definitely entertaining the idea. If you only get one chance to make a first impression, then this time in Limbo of being “not quite employed” is an excellent opportunity to raise tactful questions about the terms of employment that will make your (hopefully future) employer respect you even more... It’s one thing to hire a new employee, but it’s another thing entirely to support and appreciate that employee as he or she continues working and moving up through the ranks.

Finally, if your intelligent, carefully-phrased questions lead an employer to rescind (take back) a job offer... trust me, you did not want to work for this bozo.

How to Suceed in Business

This item caught my eye recently: “Venture For America Wants To Create 100,000 New Jobs By Matching College Grads With Startups.” Read the original article here:


It’s based on the idea of “Teach for America,” which takes recent college grads and places them in underserved communities as teachers—even if they don’t have an education degree.

But “Venture for America” is interested in placing up-and-coming graduates in business positions, not education positions. I know English majors have the skills, the savvy, the chutzpah, to succeed in business. However, they might feel left out of the loop with concepts, official certification, or other intangibles in a very, very competitive job market. So much talent can go to waste! And so many start-up businesses in need!

The idea described in this article is to place very smart people in start-up companies as fellows. That’s something like interns—but pretty durned well paid interns (the website http://ventureforamerica.org/ mentions salaries of $32K to $38K plus the gold standard of a Real Job, health benefits.

I’m neither endorsing the idea nor expressing skepticism; as with any opportunity, do your research and listen to your gut instincts. Start-ups are, of course, less stable than Fortune 500 behemoths. But then again, Steve Jobs (God rest his soul) started Apple in a garage. From my quick read-through of the materials, this concept seems to be based on legitimate ideas and economic principles. Hey! You never know!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

12/04/11 deadline to contribute: Job Well Dunleavy

Calling all writers and artists! See the flyer here: http://goo.gl/5rGfo

Join us for “A Job Well Dunleavy 2011”! This event will showcase creative and scholarly work from Niagara University students including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, film, music, scholarly papers, poster presentations, acting and photography.

To participate, send a brief description of what you’d like to contribute including any technology required by Sunday, December 4. You’ll be notified of results by December 6, and be on the stage by Friday, December 9! See attachment for complete details. Contact Mary Beth Sullivan in English 716.286.8455 msullivan@niagara.edu with any questions or to contribute work.

This is a terrific opportunity to put a line on your vitae, enjoy free refreshments (I do the shopping--any requests?!) and build a little fun into your start of the weekend.

Friday, November 18, 2011

12/01/11 Event: Student Culture Expo

Update of information posted earlier this month!

Date: Thursday, December 1st from 7-9pm
Location: Castellani Art Museum, Main Gallery
Description: The event will serve as an opportunity for students to showcase their works of art, photography, or verse; as well as a time for other students to view the work of their peers. There will be food and five door prizes.

Contact Info:
Host: Laura J. Brownlie (Intern for CAM)
Email: lbrownlie@mail.niagara.edu

Official event logo: http://goo.gl/b53vS

Shameless plug

If you'd like to read the speech I was asked to deliver to the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, Alpha Alpha Zeta chapter, at Niagara University on November 16, 2011 -- here it is. Enjoy!

Witty Personal Finance

Here’s one for the long haul: personal finance lessons, in a blog post titled "14 Personal Finance Lessons You Never Learned in School."

What I like about it: three things.

First, it’s stuff I can get behind myself. I’m 56, and have time-tested most of this writer’s recommendations.

Second, it’s by someone young enough that he’s got the right to be giving advice to folks in their 20s. If I said this stuff, I’d just get eye-rolls. Can’t blame you—I would have rolled my eyes too.

Third, it’s witty and worth reading—my favorite of his 14 lessons begins this way: “Don’t Date Girls Who Own Small Dogs they Carry in Handbags.”

Here are the 14 Lessons: http://theskooloflife.com/wordpress/14-personal-finance-lessons-you-never-learned-in-school/

And here’s the author’s self-intro video, worth watching just to see how someone who felt he had no direction pulled it together:  http://vimeo.com/28998608. Fair warning—he eventually wants to sell you stuff that our great Career Development folks can also supply. But that’s okay—it’s worth checking out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ninja Research Skills!

I have to admit that, while this is a great article — it was this delicious phrase that caught my eye:

“So when you see a job posting, your mission is to use your ninja research skills to find out who will be making the hiring decision, and to get your resume into the hands of that person.”


This article has some excellent material on how stuff works behind the scenes, and why merely firing off letters and resumes into the Great Beyond won’t do you much good. (This strategy might certainly benefit the post office, but it won’t get you a job.)

Fair warning: the site “Blue Sky Resumes” is a commercial website. They offer useful information, but they also want this information to encourage you to trust them enough to give them money for their products. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that — but bear in mind that as Niagara University students, you have access to a terrific Career Development office full of people itching to help you! And Career Development is free to you... or rather, you've already paid for their services with your tuition dollars.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Today’s tip is one that I imagine many of you will laugh at or blow off. It’s about why to save for your own retirement.

The point is that if you start saving for your retirement when you are young—in your 20s—you will have much more money in your Golden Years fund when you reach retirement age.

Here’s an article to read: http://www.kiplinger.com/features/archives/retirement-savings-tips-for-new-grads.html

A quote from the article can give you a sense of why: “To illustrate, imagine that you invest $2,000 a year for 20 years and it earns an average of 8% per year. Over 20 years, you would have invested $40,000, but due to the magic of compounding, your pot of money would actually be worth close to $100,000.” (To make this more understandable: $2000 per year is $166.67 per month.) In other words: even if the next 20 years are worse than average in terms of how well the stock market and other financial products are doing, you can expect to at least double your money—if you start young.

Age 67 may seem a long way off for someone who’s 20-some-odd years right now. It sure did to me when I was in my 20s. I guarantee that perception will change as you get older—your 20s will seem like “almost yesterday” fairly soon.

If you don’t have a job as soon as you graduate (and an employer-sponsored retirement plan to which you can contribute), get yourself to a reputable bank and start asking for advice. Shop around a bit and compare. Ask relatives. Go online and do some searching. And plunk a few dollars into retirement each month, even if it’s not much. Yes, I know—there are school loans to pay off, cell phone contracts to feed, and so on.

But the handwriting is pretty much on the wall that if something does not change radically, Social Security as we know it today will not give you even the poverty wages it doles out today to retirees trying to live only on that source.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interviews: Q and A

Today’s suggested reading is really about two things:

First, this blog entry  discusses the one question you will be asked in any job interview—whether you hear it expressed clearly like this or not. Every interviewer wants to know what you will do on the job. Now, you can’t puff a lot of hot air — you can’t talk about how you are going to leap tall buildings in a single bound — without describing what you have done in the past. But the point of mentioning your accomplishments in the past is to show what value-added you can bring to an employer in the future. After all, what interviewer wants to hear that you gave his or her competition a great advantage in the field in your last job, without also hearing that you’ll be able to bring an even greater advantage to your new and upcoming employer? The only real question, no matter how it’s dressed up and ventriloquised to sound like something else is, then, “what will  you do in the future?”

The second important concept that’s in this blog post is about calibrating your answer. It gives you some solid phrasing on which to build, ways to avoid sounding too wishy-washy, namby-pamby... in a word, how to avoid sounding like a “yes-man” (or woman). Any employer worth your interest and time does not want you simply to show up, do what you’re told, and tell the boss how great he or she is. That’s a suicidal path in the business world. Employers want people who can think for themselves. After all, that’s why they specified that applicants must have a college degree, and why you went out and go that degree. Remember, your degree entitles you to seek, find and hold onto a job that does not require you to ask “do you want fries with that?”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

11/23/11 Deadline; 12/01/11 Event: Student Culture

The Castellani Art Museum and the English Department’s very own Aquila Literary Journal will host a Student Culture Expo on Thursday, December 1. Santa comes early this year!

In order to get your artwork. photography or written work considered for inclusion, please contact Ms. Laura Brownlie at lbrownlie@mail.niagara.edu no later than Wednesday, November 23.

A special suggestion from someone who knows how this sort of thing works: Please do NOT, repeat NOT wait until the last minute. Ms. Brownlie is doing a great service for students in being the collection point for your materials, but she needs some down-time just like we all do over the holiday break. I’m sure she’d appreciate submissions earlier than the first day of the Thanksgiving break... Even if you will have something ready for her by the deadline, you might want to drop a quick note ahead of what you’d like to share, so she doesn’t get whomped by a tidal wave at 11:59 p.m. on November 23... followed by a string of “desperate” pleas for consideration by latecomers.

The event itself will be held Thursday, December 1 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Castellani Art Museum’s main gallery, with food provided by catering services on campus. This is a great honor for the Aquila. The Castellani is one of our top-tier venues for events since it’s got the “wow!” factor; and they are including free food! Folks, the Aquila has arrived!

The event will be completely free for all students to attend. The purpose of the event is to promote the Castellani as a resource and an interesting place to hang out, bring friends, and keep an eye on. They have an amazing, dedicated, warm staff of folks, and they’re one of Western New York’s “best kept secrets” with a world-class collection and set of exhibitions. I cannot recommend them enough to you!

11/15/11: Peace Corps

Who: A representative from the Peace Corps, Anthony Trujillo

Where/what time
  • Conference Room in Lower Level Gallagher Center (Room 110) for a meeting with faculty and staff, 11:30 a.m. - 12:10 p.m.
  • A table set up in Gallagher Center from 10 to 10:50 a.m., and from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
  • Visiting several classrooms in between those times
More info
  • Contact Stephanie Newman - Assistant Director, Career Services & Internships - Niagara University - (716) 286-8539, snewman@niagara.edu
  • The October 20, 2011 post on this blog, with a link to a FAQ set of questions I posed at http://goo.gl/Visi6

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

11/30/11: Shakespeare Conference

Shakespeare! The Niagara University English Department is pleased to present a mini-conference featuring papers from Dr. Philip Collington's senior seminar English class on Shakespeare's romantic comedies. Our special guest speaker this year will be Sarah Gutman, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Buffalo.

For more information, please see the flyer here: http://goo.gl/V7JeU

No reservations, no expectations that you'll stay for the whole thing, and free refreshments! Wednesday November 30, 2011, 5:30 to 9 p.m., Dunleavy Hall Auditorium on the first floor of the building.

To go or not to go, that is the question...

Free e-book on interviewing

If you’re willing to type in your name and email address here --


You’ll be sent a link that allows you to download a 28 page book: 70+ Tips to the Perfect Interview: Advice from Leading Job Search Experts, Career Coaches, Recruiters and HR Professionals.

My full disclosure: I see that the site has “com” at the end; the people behind it probably hope to sell you (or maybe 10% of you who supply your info) something eventually. But I also have to say that I’ve leafed through the material, and I am impressed. You see—I am on the other side of the table when the department is hiring both fulltime and adjunct faculty members. I really, truly wish that some of them had read some of the tips here!

Some may seem obvious—for example, if you’re having a phone interview, for heaven’s sake use a land-line in a quiet place! No battery worries; no barking dogs or shrieking kids in the background.

Other tips give you more than enough starter material to ask employers open-ended but useful questions when the interview says “so, do you have any questions for us?”

A few of the strategies may make you feel like a used-car salesman (maybe even the one from Fargo, the movie...!) So adapt and use as you see fit.

And I believe that a good English major, reading between the lines and reverse-engineering the material in this e-book, might get a sense of how to set up a resume or cover letter which will actually get the interview.

One tip I would like to add (from a true-to-life incident): if you send anything by postal mail to a potential employer, especially a resume, do not, repeat NOT use a return-address label with a cutesy kitten or other goofy image on it. (Yup—we got an application for a fulltime tenure-track English professor like that a few years ago. Not hired.) Because more of us are opening our own mail in these days of belt-tightening; don’t assume that a “meaningless” secretary is opening and discarding your mailing envelope.

(PS--There's no such thing as a meaningless anybody. I've been a secretary, and I know how easy it is to sabotage somebody if they treat "the help" in ways that are less than respectful.) 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pre-Law Workshop

Pre-Law Workshop II  Cracking the Law School Admissions Process -- see the flyer here: http://goo.gl/iIFrq

If you’ve ever been even vaguely interested in parlaying your English degree into a law degree, this might be a great opportunity to find out more. Dr. Pete Baxter is both knowledgeable and a terrific speaker—I’m sure that if you come away from this presentation thinking “law is not for me,” you’ll still find yourself enjoying your time.

An English degree would make a terrific complement to credentials as a lawyer! Lawyers work with language all the time. From my experience—they don’t always do it terribly well. I worked for lawyers as a secretary and a paralegal before I became an English professor—and some of them have real struggles getting their thoughts on paper! If you’re good enough with writing and speaking skills to get an English degree, I guarantee that you’d have an advantage over many of the lawyers out there.

So there’s my confession for the day. Consider attending this meeting; where else can you get this kind of sushi-bar sampling of careers than while you’re at college?

Friday, November 4, 2011

How LinkedIn is more than Facebook for Grownups

You may have read about LinkedIn, a social networking site that I’ve mentioned a few times. I’ve been touting it to you as a networking, career-helping destination in cyberspace which you can leverage—not only as you look for your first job, but also throughout your professional life.

Here is a terrific one-stop article that will give you a sense of why, and more importantly what:

An especially nice feature about this article is that it has hot-links which take you directly to LinkedIn when you click them. A handful of examples:

  • ways you can make either visual or written materials available for prospective employers to read—a whole portfolio, free!
  • joining groups that are related to the industry or general area in which you want to work.
  • how to tweak your profile with headline, keywords and other features in order to stand out as a strong candidate for a job.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Everthing you always wanted to ask about social media

My generation is jealous. We call our students, who were born in the late 1980s or early 1990s, “digital natives.” That means you grew up after the internet had been invented—in fact, you grew up while it was booming.

Me—I remember sitting down at my first Macintosh computer in 1984 or 1985. It had all of 128K RAM, no hard drive, no ports worth doing anything, and modems (you remember—the hardware before wifi?!) that took a degree from MIT to figure out how to hook up. Overly-ambitious salespeople told us that a box of a dozen 400K floppy disks would store enough programs and data to last us a lifetime!

But I’m willing to bet that there are holes in your knowledge. A lot of stuff has been invented and taken off in the past decade which you might not yet know how to run. If you’re 22 now, Facebook was invented when you were 15—you’re probably all over Facebook, because it was marketed to your age group.

But what about LinkedIn, blogging and QR codes? Can those help you? If you’re not sure, today’s link is to a site you might find useful: http://www.socialquickstarter.com/. It’s designed for small business owners, not college students—and probably for people in their 30s or 40s. If you’re feeling like there is a piece of your digital repetoire you ought to use, but don’t know how or why—this site has short animated videos which can show you.

And if you already know all this stuff—at least it’s a handy link for you to pass along to your parents or grandparents! (Assuming you want them to be able to read your tweets.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Privacy is 'an old people issue'"

I found the subject line quote from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman interesting; it appears in this article:


On today’s website, you’ll find a discussion with lots of good links to ideas which will help you stand out if and when an employer has enough interest in hiring you to do a Google search for your name.

One of the most interesting links: http://www.visualcv.com/www/indexc.html, which claims it’s a free service allowing you to create a visual CV (curriculum vitae, or in other words a resume). I’ve got to admit, their samples look compelling! I’m not sure how much effort you would need to put in to look like the samples — but I would imagine that making the effort to explore the site and do a mock-up (even if you don’t actually use it) will help you think about ways to articulate your skills and abilities.

Note that while the first link, Blue Sky Resumes, has some solid free tips and ideas, it does eventually want to sell you something. However, our Career Development center c
an give you anything Blue Sky can offer and more—remember, NU’s Career Development center has a serious stake in helping you find a job!