How to: De–stress at Work

The last few weeks at work have been in a word, stressful. A lot of changes have come down the pipeline and my team is trying to handle it all in stride. Last week in particular was filled to the brim with challenges, and somehow in a matter of hours I became a little ball of stress. It wasn’t until I got home that I began to slowly feel the stress melt away.

boldI’ll admit, I have never been great at handling stress. I think it was easier in college when I could walk across the quad or down the hall to a friend’s room. Taking a few minutes to get away from the papers, exams, or extracurricular work was often all I needed to gain a little perspective. At work it isn’t quite as easy to find a “sit on the quad and watch the sunset” moment. That being said, I think I’ve found a few ways to help manage my stress.

  1. Walk Away – Going off my trick from college, taking a walk outside or simply to the coffee machine can do wonders. It clears your head a bit and also allows you to avoid the dozens of emails pouring in for a few minutes.
  2. Just breathe – So simple, but something I am not always mindful of when I feel the stress start to overwhelm me. Stopping for a few minutes to focus simply on your breathing can make a world of difference. There are a variety of techniques you can try to find the best fit for you.
  3. Wake up earlier – The most stressful days I have at work are when I am stressed before I even reached my desk. Running late, weaving in and out of slow walking New Yorkers, and reaching my desk minutes before my first meeting doesn’t make for a calm day. Waking up a few minutes earlier gives me time to grab a cup of coffee and go through my emails before the madness of the day sets in.
  4. Snacks – I am one of those people who sometimes forgets to eat when I am stressed. I bounce from one meeting to the other, and suddenly it’s 4pm and I haven’t had lunch. That makes for not only a stressed out Allison, but also a really cranky one too. Keeping healthy snack options nearby makes this step easy and keeps hangry at bay. I also recommend eating snacks away from your desk, find somewhere quiet for a few minutes of peace.
  5. Take your lunch break – Going off the last tip, actually take your lunch break! I know it isn’t always easy to get away for an hour, especially when you are in back to back meetings all day. However, it is so important to go out and grab lunch or simply step away from your desk for even 30 minutes. It is a necessary mental break that will recharge you enough to power through the rest of the afternoon.
  6. Music – Create a playlist of your favorite songs to always have on hand! Sometimes when people keep stopping by my desk and asking me questions, (and as a result breaking my train of thought!) I plug in my headphones to block out the distractions. I always opt for Country music because my Pandora playlist has become the perfect balance of calm and upbeat music. My all time favorite songs these days are Thomas Rhett’s Crash & Burn or Make Me Wanna, I am seriously addicted.
  7. Stretch – Get up and move around every half hour! I have been working on my posture at work and it has made a world of difference. Simply standing up and stretching your shoulders and back can help elevate those stressed muscles.
  8. Add some green I’ve already mastered this tip…have plants at your desk! Studies have shown that keeping plants at your desk can help reduce stress. I keep an ivy plant and a small bamboo plant on either side of my computer. I love these touches of nature, because it makes my desk feel like a happier place to work.
  9. Say No – This is more of a life lesson, but sometimes you just have to say “no”. I am the kind of person who will always take on different projects and tasks, and don’t always realize that I can’t handle it all until I am overwhelmed. I need to remember that sometimes it is okay to say “no” and push back. Stop adding to your stress by taking on things you cannot handle. It is better to reach out to your team for help or to better delegate the work. This will help to elevate mounting amounts of stress.

I hope these tips help you deal with the stress in your own life! Any helpful tips I should add into my own routine?

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Thoughtful Thursday: Passion & Careers

A few weeks ago, my team went out to lunch with an executive at our company. It was very informal and allowed us to openly discuss our department and the different projects we work on. First thing she asked us? Tell her one thing about ourselves that she doesn’t already know. I told her about my interesting experience interning in the fashion department of a magazine. It was a nice change of pace talking about things outside of our industry. It also created a bond with this executive in a very quick and unexpected way. Like, who knew that this woman was also obsessed with the show Awkward on MTV (aka the show that continually cracked me up throughout high school and college!). It was so refreshing to talk about things other than work, and it was the perfect mental break midway through the work day.

Not going to lie, having lunch together at Barneys was pretty cool!

Not going to lie, having lunch together at Barneys was pretty cool!

I think the most memorable aspect of this lunch was the amount of passion this woman has. She is truly bursting at the seams with drive, She regularly attends countless conferences and lectures outside of work. She takes digital design classes for fun. Annually she speaks in front of hundreds of college students. She brings the most unique ideas to the table and is constantly trying to push the envelope. It is an infectious quality she has, one that makes me want to work even harder towards my goals.

I think we were all pretty starstruck by her energy and enthusiasm, and couldn’t help but ask how she stays so motivated. She said that it lies in the escape of the everyday. We need to get outside the office and outside our industry, to see what else is out there. We spend so much time focused specifically on our company, that we are missing out on all the incredible projects other companies and industries are working on. Volunteer, read a book, attend a conference on a topic completely unrelated to your department but something you’ve always been fascinated by.

She explained that some of her best ideas have come from experiences you never would have guessed could be beneficial. Getting outside of the things we are hyper focused on during our 9-5 is the best way to embrace creativity and find a little more work life balance. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. So by not trying new things and reading different articles, you are limiting yourself to an endless stream of sameness.

The thing I admired most about this woman?

She brings ideas to every meeting and 9 times out of 10 she is shot down, but she never let’s that discourage her. She is hands down one of the most driven people I have had the pleasure to meet since joining the working world.

As we were talking, she told us the most memorable piece of advice she has ever received. Years ago her boss at an advertising agency told her, “I may not be famous, but every morning when I look in the mirror I can be proud of the person I see.” That struck such a cord with me. I feel like in this generation, if you aren’t a millionaire or entrepreneurial success by 25 you are considered a failure. Well maybe not a failure, but there is this constant pressure to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Lena Dunham etc. And oftentimes that can be a very discouraging measure of success, making us “millennials” feel like failures in our mid twenties for having not accomplished as much. This piece of advice reminded me that at the end of the day, I want to always be able to look in the mirror and smile at what I have accomplished and what I am working towards. I may not be famous, but I can be proud of who I am and the work I’ve done.

All in all it was a wonderful lunch. It was nice to escape the office for an hour, as I am guilty of eating my lunch at my desk while still responding to emails. This was the perfect reminder of the  importance of actually taking a lunch break. When I got back to my cubicle I felt completely refreshed and focused. It was clearly not just the lunch break, but the people sitting around the table that impacted me. There is just something about sitting with a passionate person. Their energy and drive is overwhelming and provides encouragement in a way that is hard to describe.

Networking Emails: The Dos & Don’ts

Lately, I’ve been receiving tons of emails asking for career advice and after the first few I realized it might be beneficial to bring this topic to the blog. Over the past two years, I have gone from a senior in college who had absolutely no clue what she wanted to do to a Digital Marketing Assistant in the beauty industry living in an apartment on the Upper East Side. To say that it has been a weird couple of months is a major understatement. It has been a strange transitional time between being a student to an “adult” navigating the job search process and networking opportunities.

Since I moved to the city, I have started attending different Bucknell Alumni Career Development events (mostly at the constant urging of my mom) where I have met tons of current Bucknellians. I tell them about my job and what I went through last summer while searching for the right fit. I get tons of questions because what I do is pretty unique, especially right out of college, and I am always more than happy to share my advice. After these events, I have received multiple follow up emails both thanking me for my advice and asking additional questions. Now, to preface the following tips, I am ALWAYS happy to take the time help students at my alma mater because Bucknell will always hold a special place in my heart. However, that being said, there are many things I have noticed in these emails and things that I have learned from writing my own networking emails that I hope help you when you sit down to write your own.

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Do: Always state the full name of the event where you met

I have gone to several different events this summer so when someone emails saying they met me at a Bucknell event, it’s not always easy to immediately recall who this person is. Thankfully I use LinkedIn or Facebook to help jump start my memory, but it makes things 10x easier if you say “It was so great meeting you at the Bucknell Summer Career Fair at the so and so hotel in June…”

Don’t: Assume they will remember you

Okay this point is a little harsh, but it’s true. If there is one thing I have learned from emailing people I’ve met at events and students now emailing me, people will not always remember you. I physically cringed when someone emailed me “As you will recall” because in all honesty I hadn’t the faintest idea who they were. So going off this point…

Do: Try to give context or a memorable story

Some conversations are more memorable than others, but try to pinpoint something you talked about at the event. It gives context and will help in focusing in on what we discussed. It also helps to remind me of your career goals or future aspirations. For example, someone I met 3 years ago, remembered me when I tweeted at her a memorable story from the first time we met!! (Still in shock about this!)

Don’t: Write a novel

Although you should always give context, try to keep the email concise and to cut to the chase. The most valuable thing someone has is their time, so don’t waste it. For example, instead of being vague or throwing out the idea of getting coffee, be succinct and ask if this person is available for some time to meet with you about career advice/to learn more about their company/etc. Don’t make it hard for people to know how they can help you.

Don’t: forget to SPELL CHECK!

My inner English Major cannot help but silently correct misspelled words or incorrect grammar in emails. Take the extra 30 seconds to read through any networking emails you write. Sending an email with multiple errors or even just one, may make the person you are asking for help potentially feel less inclined because you didn’t take the time to write a professional email. Going off that point…

Do: Flatter your new connection, it is never a bad place to start

Lets face it, feeding someone’s ego a little bit is always a nice start! Don’t overdo it, but a compliment can go a long way!

Don’t: Forget the Thanks You

Always thank the person you met for their time and for their advice at the event. I think “Thank you” has somehow been pushed to the wayside and it has become more about what the other person can do for you. Be respectful and polite and never forget to thank someone for their time.

Do: Give first, and expect nothing in return

And lastly, there is nothing worse than an email that has no thank yous and simply assumes that the other person will help you. Remember that networking is a give and take, and try to focus more of your energy on establishing a connection with this person. Networking is about meeting new people with the long term goal of helpful contacts down the line. These initial follow up emails are not the time for you to ask a random stranger for a huge favor.

I hope these tips help you write your own follow up emails from Networking Events. These are by no means hard and fast rules to networking emails, but I have found them beneficial in the last few years. What are your tips for writing networking emails? Do you have any questions about writing your own follow up emails?

1 year at Estée

Exactly one week ago marked a HUGE milestone for me, I have officially been in the working world for one year. I decided to hold off on writing this post until after I successfully made it through my one year (didn’t want to jinx anything 😉!). It is absolutely crazy to reflect on how much has changed since last year. Since last September, I have been working in the digital marketing space for the Estée Lauder brand, basically my dream job! I still cannot believe how quickly time has passed. In a strange way it feels like this year went by in a moment, but at the same time being a college student seems long gone. It feels like two different worlds and I am slowly becoming the person that I thought I may have the potential to become if I worked hard enough.

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Looking back on this past year, I have learned so much and answered so many of those questions that were haunting me as I frantically searched for a job last summer. Landing this position was a huge blessing in my life, and I am so thankful to my manager for taking a chance on me. I still remember that phone call (less than 24 hours after my interview!) that they were extending me the job offer. It is a moment that rivals receiving my acceptance letter to Bucknell. Calling my parents and texting all my friends, I felt so excited, overwhelmed, nervous, but ready for the start of this adventure. Now a year later, I can tell you it has certainly been an adventure. I have learned so much about the digital space and the beauty industry. I have touched on the different lessons I have learned along the way in the working world from the Do’s & Don’ts on your first day to the 5 Lessons of an Assistant. Every day I am learning more about the industry, and the potential paths I could take in this field.

Although one year is only well… one year, it is still amazing to see how much has changed in this time. I slowly made the transition from lost newbie to skilled assistant. This is only the beginning of my career, but I truly cannot wait to see what’s to come!

* I work for The Estée Lauder Companies however all thoughts and opinions are my own *

Friends & Money

Money is always a tricky subject.

When I graduated and started searching for a job, I honestly didn’t know how much money I should expect from the get go. Every industry is different and I wasn’t sure how much to ask for or when to request for more. Interestingly, in my HR interview for my current job I asked for a salary significantly less than the position typically pays. The HR person said that with my experience I should typically ask or expect a certain range that I was surprised by (but delighted by none the less!).

As a result, I started talking with my friends about salaries and benefits of the jobs we interviewed for, or jobs we had recently started. Interestingly, when I spoke with different friends there was a sharp contrast in responses. At the first signs of a discussion around money, some immediately shied away or felt incredibly uncomfortable. Meanwhile, other friends were much more open about their monetary situation. Obviously we weren’t delving deep into the topic, but discussions about rent prices or how much their new job pays were discussed. I think whenever I spoke about money with closer friends, it was a way to understand our industries, not a competition of who earns more. Since we all work in very different industries it doesn’t feel like a direct comparison or competition but instead extra knowledge.

At the end of the day, knowledge is power and I think that talking about money has been very beneficial to my friendships. Whether its a discussion about benefits or how much we spend on our apartments, I think that talking amongst friends has given us a better frame of reference. For instance, recently my sorority little Melissa asked me about my rent before she started looking for a place on the Upper West Side. I did the same exact thing with my friend Alex who lives in the same neighborhood I was planning to move into (and now currently live!). It was helpful to get a frame of reference for what my range should be and how much I should expect to spend on utilities/wifi etc. Talking to Melissa, I felt like I was passing the torch and helping out a friend to better understand what to expect in NYC real estate.

I think that money can be very uncomfortable to talk about at first, but so important especially for us recent post grads. It is not only helpful for an understanding of rent and living expenses but also our careers in the long run. I have read countless articles about millennials (and surprisingly generations much older) not realizing that they were being paid significantly less then their friends in the same industry, because they never discussed money! I find myself constantly reading articles on The Financial Diet and the daily LearnVest email newsletter that help make sense or provide advice on finances. Money has become such a taboo subject, but I think if we were all a little more open we would recognize the benefits.

I am not saying we should tell our friends every itty bitty detail about our salary or how we spend it. However, I think there is a middle ground where talking about money can be beneficial for everyone involved in the conversation. Every friendship is different, but I think being new to the working world has made my friends and I much more open to discussing this adjustment and money.

Have you ever talked to your friends about money? Do you find it uncomfortable to talk about money? Is there a way we can become more open to talking about our finances?

There are no grades in the “Real World”

One topic of conversation that has come up again and again amongst my friends when we discuss our jobs is…

How well are we doing at our jobs?

Are we excelling or falling behind?

Where is the A+ or C- grade to give us a sense of where we fall on the spectrum?

The short answer: There is none.

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Unlike college, your job will not give you a regular stream of tests or exams to show you (and your boss) where you fall on the scale. Instead, typically there is a mid-year, and end of year review, and that’s it. When I first started working I had no idea how my manager felt about my work. I received some feedback here and there on specific tasks, but it was rare. It was not until several months into my job that she pulled me aside and told me that I was truly excelling at my Administrative Assistant tasks. I was surprised and relieved to know that she recognized my hard work and that other departments were also approaching her to tell her about me. It was the first time I received any type of feedback that felt like a grade, my usual way to gauge my work.

These sporadic reviews were the perfect reminder that in the working world, there is not someone who will give you a constant stream of feedback. Also, no one is going to hold your hand. Instead, you are expected to work hard and not receive constant reassurance.

That being said, reviews are very important and helpful aspects of any job. When I first started working I set up several personal and professional goals for myself. Over the course of the last year I have reflected on these goals and whether or not I have achieved them. At my end of year review in June, my manager reviewed these goals and commented on whether or not I had work towards them. It was helpful that we both noted my goals, giving us a frame of reference for where I should focus my attention. Now that it is a new year I am preparing new goals that I hope to achieve. Having these goals in mind creates a great way for me to “grade” myself throughout the year.

The transition from college to “real job” has been an interesting one for sure. Obviously I like the lack of grades, but also found that I needed some sort of frame of reference or goal to work towards. I appreciate that my manager will approach me when she has feedback. This gives me a better sense of my work, but at the end of the day it is on me. I always want to work hard enough to gain respect and keep moving forward. Many articles about millennials (which often frustrate me to no end!) say that we are used to receiving awards for simply participating or for basically no reason at all. I never put myself in that category, but when I realized I wasn’t receiving regular feedback at work I yearned for some type of reassurance. I’ve obviously learned that that is not the way most corporations work. I have always held myself to a high standard, and have translated that to my work life. Not receiving grades or regular feedback has definitely thrown me for a loop, but hasn’t diminished my work.

For those fellow post graduates out there trying to make sense of their place at their company, do not worry! The best way to help gauge your work is actually pretty easy! Start out by setting goals for yourself or speaking with your manager. Being on the same page from the get go will allow yourself to have a better idea of office expectations. No one is going to give you a gold star for showing up on time everyday, so instead find ways to ensure you stay on track with your manager’s expectations.

Unlike college, the real world does not hand out grades. Instead of constantly wondering where you fall on the spectrum, set goals and work towards them! And hey, if you get an amazing review…go out and celebrate! Instead of hanging up an A+ paper on the fridge, you might just get promoted and a raise! Not bad in my book!

My Elle Woods Moment

There is one career story from my life that I love telling others. I call it my Elle Woods Moment.

Elle Woods Moment

Three years ago I was interning in New York City at a small PR firm. The Bucknell Career Development Center sent out an event for collegiate women at the UBS Corporate office and on a whim I decided to sign up. Pretty much all I knew at the time was that an author was coming to discuss her book about finding a career after college and that there would be free lunch. I was sold! I knew next to nothing about UBS besides the fact that it was a similar company to where my father works. I was not at all interested in finance, but figured that since the event seemed more focused on the speaker rather than the company it could be interesting!

Since it was a corporate event I decided to break out my favorite internship outfit, a hot pink pencil skirt, a white blouse, and black open-toed summer heels. I felt confident and professional as I click-clacked through the massive lobby and checked into security. I was directed to one of the many elevator banks and rode up to the 35th floor. As I stepped out of the elevator, I suddenly felt all eyes on me. There was a line of about 30 other collegiate women checking in at the sign in table dressed in head to toe black, in nearly identical suits. The only variance I noticed was whether or not they opted for a black pencil skirt or black pants. I took a deep breath, smiled and in my head laugh that I was an Elle Woods in a sea of Vivian Kensingtons.

After check in, the event began with a buffet lunch where I was able to interact with the other collegiate women who were attending this event. I think that I am pretty good at interacting with people and can talk with pretty much anyone about anything. However, I quickly realized that many of these women were solely focused on the finance industry and it was difficult to keep the conversation flowing.

To escape my increasing boredom I decided to head to the bathroom between lunch and the speaker/main event. As I was drying my hands in front of the vanities, a woman (who I assumed worked for UBS) walked in and immediately complimented me on my outfit. She loved my use of color and thought it was fun and perfect for summer. I laughed and said “Yeah, I feel sort of like Elle Woods.” Her compliment instantly made me feel more comfortable, as I felt very much like the black sheep of the group (ironic, since I was the only one not wearing black!) As I left the restroom I was immediately shepherded into a small auditorium. A few minutes later, I watched as the woman who complimented my outfit was introduced as Lindsey Pollak, aka the speaker, the author of the incredible book Getting from College to Career: Your Essential Guide to Succeeding in the Real Worldand the Millennial Workplace Expert. I had to actively stop my jaw from dropping. It was one of those “Wait this is not real life moments.”

I was stunned that this incredible mentor, speaker, author, and LinkedIn guru was the woman I just had a casual conversation with in the restroom. As Lindsey spoke she gave us all tips and tricks to landing a job out of college. She is actually the reason I created a Twitter account! I never thought there was a purpose behind people tweeting random things about their days, but she explained how companies use it to post about jobs and industry news. At one point she asked if someone would volunteer to stand up and say a mock introduction aka:

Hi, My name is Allison Shook, I go to Bucknell University. I am double majoring in Political Science and English. I hope to have a career in media, journalism, or television.

So I decided to be ballsy and raise my hand. I was given tips from her and the audience on what I could improve upon and what I did well (they all loved my fun use of color in my outfit, but that I probably should have worn a blazer since it is a financial firm, and I should speak more slowly). It was a really informative session and I don’t think I have ever been so inspired to read a career book before.

I spoke with Lindsey afterwards and thanked her for all her helpful advice. I also followed up via email, which was the first time I realized the impact of following up. Although I have not kept the connection as strong as I should have, I am so thankful for all of her advice. Her book truly became my career bible over the next two years of college. (I truly cannot recommend Getting from College to Career enough and plan to write a post detailing all of my favorite career books!) I think it should be required reading for all college seniors about to embark on the job search journey.

I often look back and laugh at my “Elle Woods Moment” and remember all the important lessons that day taught me about transitioning from college to career. It is crazy to think how much has changed since that day, but I attribute many of my career goals to the lessons from that afternoon session.