Monday, April 30, 2012

Four ways to start your summer break off on the right foot

I hope you rocked your final exams and are excited to have finished another semester! And even if you're taking summer classes, you'll still have a decent chunk of summer coming up where your class load will be either reduced or non-existent. 

Sometimes after an intense period of stress our instinct is to go to the other extreme and do nothing for a long period of time. I'm a huge believer in taking periods of rest and relaxation (essential!), but letting intense stress serve as an excuse for intense prolonged laziness is not good.

So here are some ways to make sure you are getting your summer break off to a great start!

Get up.

Set the alarm. I think you should sleep in over the summer, just not every day. If you are working late nights, sometimes sleeping until noon is essential. However, try to find that balance. Get sleep, get rest, but don’t miss out on the mornings; 3 month-long summers are a perk of college life – don’t miss too much of them by being asleep. 

Get going.

Develop a daily routine – exercise, socialize, journal, clean – do whatever you can to keep yourself moving. Sometimes you can forget the benefits of having that structure of a schedule of classes. Keep your energy up by building a routine and resist the urge to vegetate for the entire summer. 

Get experience.

If you are working a job that has something to do with your future career ambition, talk to your supervisors and see what extra responsibilities you can take on over the summer break to gain experience. The extra time without classes (or with less classes during the summer term) can allow you to gain some incredible extra experiences and challenges. 

If you are working a job that you don’t want to work after you graduate, take the opportunity to get volunteer experience at a place of interest. It doesn’t have to be much – a day or a few hours a week is great – but think of the benefits both to your community and your resume! Next summer, you could be working there gaining valuable post-grad experience. 

Get memories.

If you do find yourself with time to spare this summer, make the most of it. Like I said, the long summer experience is hard to replicate in life after college. Take a trip, strengthen relationships, read a great book, see a good movie. The simple things that free time can afford should never be passed up – especially during your college experience.  

I hope you have a great start to your summer!

And here is a quick preview of some of the things that I will be writing about this summer:
  • Tales of transferring – stories of students transferring from community college and the advice they can offer for other students getting ready to switch schools.
  • Student volunteer opportunities and experiences – places where students have volunteered and the beneficial experiences that they have had.
  • Informational interviews – I have quite a few interviews with interesting professionals coming up – I also will offer some more advice to you in terms of getting and setting up networking opportunities.
If you're interested in being featured on the blog this summer, check out

Sunday, April 29, 2012

From college blogger to sports media star: my interview with J.E. Skeets

I recently interviewed the guy single-handedly responsible for helping me understand and enjoy sports talk television - J.E. Skeets
And his journey towards being an incredible (and young) co-founder of The Basketball Jones podcast and contributing NBA personality for The Score has a lot to teach college students (and all of us) about how to make money doing what you enjoy – even in a tough and competitive industry.

My interview with Skeets reveals what this incredible and continually rising sports media star did to get to where he is today – and do not be mistaken by the short length of this post. We are about to cover how Skeets has been working diligently towards this for the past 11 years. He’s also one of the nicest (and most engaging) people I’ve ever met.

His story holds many secrets to success. See if you can uncover them.

Could you tell me a little bit about your college journey?
“I took a year off after high school because I had NO idea what I wanted to do, or even if I wanted to go to college.” Skeets wanted to travel for a while, and in order to afford to do that, he worked in a factory for a year and saved his money while living at home. He then set off for Australia. Though as Skeets says “money goes fast when you’re traveling, so I ended up working on a tree farm in Australia for six months, but it was a great experience.” 

From there Skeets traveled to New Zealand and the Cook Islands.

This dreamy “I’m off to travel to find myself” is hard to do when you come from a low-income household, as Skeets did. But he made it happen with, what I find to be a trend throughout his life: really hard work and relentless dedication to a goal.

After traveling, Skeets got the idea that he wanted to work in TV, possibly writing and producing commercials. So when he returned home he applied to Ryerson University in Toronto, which had a great radio and television program.

In this hands-on program Skeets found his niche, and met Tas (co-host of The Basketball Jones) and JD (directory/producer). Instead of a thesis in this program, these three wrote and produced a full comic TV pilot (the DVD of which he promised to mail me....yess!)

What was your first job out of college, and how did it lead to where you are now? 
If this were a normal success story I would jump right to the point where Skeets and his friends’ podcast was purchased by a major network and they were all living-the-dream creating sports content and becoming overnight sports media stars.

But it’s what happens in between that that so many stories forget to mention. It’s glossed over and we read these stories and feel like failures. But there is hope. And Skeets had a lot to share about the hard, hard work that happened in between.

Skeets’ first job out of college was not a glamorous radio or television job. Like most post-grads, he needed to pay the bills. And thus, the flexible job he had while working in college – as a physician recruiter – is what he moved to full time once he graduated. He says simply: “Toronto is expensive.”

Even though Skeets did not want a career as a physician’s recruiter, this job worked for him because it was flexible. It allowed him to develop the podcast with his friends on the side.

And here lies the greatest lesson I learned from talking with Skeets.For anyone looking to do something outside the normal 9am-5pm job: you have to be willing to work 2 jobs (one without pay) for a long time.

Skeets and the other three guys all had day jobs and stayed up nights to produce their podcast. “It was really taxing,” Skeets said. “There were times we really wondered if we should give up because we weren’t making any money and our schedules were getting so hectic.”

They did a daily podcast for free for four years.

Think about that for a second. Four years. Two jobs. One income. No sleep.

This is what it takes. Too often that part is left out. But those who achieve that level of success never forget that part.

Eventually, their friend Matt graduated law school and was able to help them sell the show. As Skeets said: “It’s kind of hard to sell your own show. It’s weird to be all like ‘hey you should buy my show I think it’s really great.’” 

Today, you can see the work of Skeets, Tas, JD, Matt (and Trey and Leigh) in so many forms – their online show The Basketball Jones, their daily podcast and blog, and on the Canadian TV network The Score (shows I wish they had in the US, like Channel Surfing where they switch channels between games and give commentary). In addition, the NBA is starting to reach out to them to get them involved in what they are doing.

Skeets’ story was so engaging that I just had to ask him a few more burning questions:

What should my readers consider if they are thinking about starting something like a podcast, blog, vlog, or anything similar that relates to what they want to do for their future career?
“Just do it!” Skeets says. “Try it and see if it works for you. What’s the worst that can happen? If you don’t like it or find you’re not very good at it, it’s okay! It doesn’t cost anything.” And yet, if it does work, you never know what opportunities might come from it.

What’s really amazing is that you were picked up by AOL as a blogger in 2005, before many really knew what blogging was. You then were doing a podcast before many knew what podcasting was. I have to ask, what do you think is next in technology? 
“Well of course I can only speak for my area, but media is definitely getting more specialized; we have a show with two guys literally just talking about the NBA.TV is also going to be much more synonymous with your computer, and I think it’s going to be much more interactive. For example, you could watch a game on your computer and then choose which commentator you want to listen to. It will be more personalized.”

You guys seem to be the youngest of what I would classify as well-known sports commentators; what advice do you have for others who are hoping to find success while they are young, especially in industries that do not have a lot of young people. 
“Put in the work. Period. We do our homework. We really watch the games. It’s easy to tell when others do not. And we never try to be something we are not. We are fans, and we are happy to come from that perspective. The biggest compliment we get is when people tell us we sound like their buddies talking about the game at the bar.”

And just in case you got so caught up in Skeets’ story that you weren’t able to reflect on the incredible success secrets hidden within, I want to pull some of them out for you. I enjoyed talking to Skeets more than I can say, and he taught me that to succeed in your life, especially in a competitive industry, you need to:

...Understand market need: Skeets started a blog in 2005 when a friend bet him he couldn’t write every day. He found he enjoyed writing his blog, and would write about almost anything. When he wrote about sports, other websites were linking to him, and his traffic went through the roof. 

Skeets did something key here – he started writing more about sports. He noticed what content interested people the most, and he focused on that. 

Play at different things, and don’t be afraid to notice what has the most potential to help you make a living. You have to have some interest and talent in it, but you also have to match that with market need. Interests apart from market need are wonderful and should always be pursued - they just won't pay the rent. 

...Take risks to stay ahead: Skeets was always ahead of technology. And not necessarily on purpose. He was just active and unafraid to try something new, even if it was simply for a bet. Take risks. 

...Have a team: Skeets notes how vital it was to have other guys with him in the podcast production adventure. “There was always one optimist in the group, and who it was always changed,” he said. He also frequently raved about the talent and intelligence of the guys who work with him and how integral they've been to their current success. 

Even if your venture isn’t a team-venture, surround yourself with positive people who believe in what you are doing. Self-doubt inevitably follows great risk (especially creative risk), and a few positive words from a trusted friend are as good as gold. 

...Want it: It was obvious to me that Skeets is a really, really hard worker. He has such an engaging and fun personality, and yet it was so clear in his story that he and his team work really, really hard at what they do. And in order to work that hard at anything, you have to really want it. They wanted this, and that is what kept them going for so long, even when things were tough.

Ask yourself if what you're pursuing in your life right now is something you really, really want. If the desire is absent, the necessary hard work can be difficult to muster. 

...Enjoy it: Hard work definitely will not always be fun. But on some level, especially when you’re working two jobs, you’ll want to make sure you really enjoy your side-venture. Have fun with what you are doing. 

Check out an episode of The Basketball Jones (see below), and I promise, even if you aren’t into sports, you will enjoy yourself just be seeing how much these guys enjoy what they do.

*Update 10/2/2013: Hard work pays off. Skeetz and his team are now officially on NBA TV!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fueling your future

When I got my driver’s license almost ten years ago, I could fill up my gas tank for around fifteen dollars.

Fifteen dollars.

For dramatic effect, I’m going to write that again.

Fifteen dollars!

And now, well, I don't own a hybrid, so, I pay a lot more.

Prices may rise – but your car still needs gas if you want it to go somewhere. And the same is true of college.

In this current national crisis of college completion and the subsequent rising costs of college, we have to remember: 

We get degrees so that we can go somewhere.

And if we aren’t filling our tanks, we run the risk of not going where we need to go. 

Fuel gets us to a destination.  And education is both a fuel and an investment.

In fact, I believe an education is the best investment you can make - because ultimately, it's an investment in you. 

Every time you sign up for another class, pass another exam, take a leadership position, or decide to study instead of take a nap, you are filling your tank

So set your GPS (e.g. sit down with an adviser to make an educational plan) and envision your destination. Where can your degree take you? What are you excited about? Where do you really want to go? Is it worth it?

Until you're excited about a destination, all you'll be tempted to do is complain, and it will be a struggle.  

So enjoy the ride, set your sights high, and commit to keep filling up until you get to your destination. 

To learn more about how to create a culture of college completion on your campus, check out Phi Theta Kappa's College Completion Corps toolkits!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Top three must-reads for this summer

Okay so I know you're finishing up exams right now and the last thing you want to do is read. 

But here's the thing...

I was recently listening to the CD from SUCCESS magazine in my car, and in it publisher Darren Hardy talked about when he asked bestselling author Brian Tracy, "what's the difference between the 5% who are wealthy and the 95% who aren't?" 

Brian Tracy said that those who gain wealth spend the majority of their free time on education, while the rest spend most of their free time on entertainment.

I'm a huge fan of entertainment: fiction books, a few TV shows (HIMYM anyone?), and broadway, just to name a few. There is nothing wrong with entertainment.

But I think it's safe to say we are pretty overloaded with entertainment in our culture, and it is pretty distracting.

Lately I've even found myself having my phone out while I'm casually walking. While walking across campus, to a restaurant with friends, or through a parking lot. And there is no real reason to have my phone out...I'm usually just waiting for Facebook to load. Lately I've stopped myself and asked what am I doing? What am I missing on this walk with actual other people around me? 

It's difficult to resist. And regardless of the pursuit of wealth, evolving with this ever-changing economy will indeed rely on your ability to educate yourself in your free time. Those who continually update their skills and spend their free time learning will be the ones who succeed above the rest. 

So as hard as it might be to think about now, if you really want to pursue college success, win lots of money in scholarships, and pursue a successful financial future, those habits must start now. You can start small; make a goal to read at least 10 pages of a non-fiction book of interest per day. Print out a calendar and put an X on every day, promising yourself not to break the chain. 

The key to your free-time learning is to choose non-fiction books that truly interest you and what you are pursuing in your life right now. Below are my top three recommended books that will impact your pursuits, no matter what they are. In addition to general books like these, I highly recommend reading something that will teach you about your intended career. has great deals on used books, and never underestimate the power of your local library. 

Top three (kinds of) books to read this summer --> 

1. (A general success book) The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy is my personal favorite. You can read my full review here. If you're really serious, I highly recommend subscribing to SUCCESS magazine. It is packed with the most incredible and inspiring stuff. I am amazed at how incredible it's been as a subscriber for the past year. I can sincerely say it has impacted my life. 

2. (A college success book) I am a huge fan of Cal Newport and all of his books - check out How to Win at College (review here) or anything else by him. If you really want to do well in college, it is paramount that you invest your free time in reading up on how to do well. I promise it will be money and time well invested. 

3. (A biography) The best thing I read after I graduated college was How to be Like Walt by Pat Williams. This biography of Walt really inspired me, and since I first read it I realize why I was so drawn to the creativity, vision, and child-like whimsy of his life. Reading this book made me feel like I could do anything. Find a biography of someone whom you are drawn to. Get lost in their story, and then reflect on why that person interests you, and what you can learn from his or her success.  You'll find you'll learn a lot about yourself as well. 

Final tip: find a favorite place to read. This is mine ( FL beaches don't look exactly like get the point ;))

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How to make sure your resume stands out every time

I’m not going to blow your mind with any profound or original idea when I tell you this:

Getting a job is tough.

But the thing is – something being tough, or challenging, doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility.

Most things that are tough require effort – and in this day and age, the best things require extra time and effort.

And yet, when it comes to applying for jobs, sometimes the process can feel so time-consuming, stressful, nerve-racking, and boring that you can find yourself rushing through a key element of a job hunt.

The resume.

If you feel an internal "ugh" when you read this word don't worry - I'm with you. Resumes are so time consuming and often connote impending rejection. 

And while resume writing is only one aspect of your job hunt, it is proven to be a powerful one. Getting it right can serve you well. 

But there is a very common mistake some people make with their resumes: they send the same one out to every person. 

Your resume is kind of like a handshake, or a knock on the door – it is the first instinctual moment of forward momentum and opportunity.

Have you ever met someone who didn't look you in the eye when they shook your hand, and whose personal spiel felt fake, like they say the same thing to everyone?

That is what it is like when you write one resume and send it out to dozens of employers.

Because like most things – there isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to resumes.Whether you realize it or not, you have a plethora of experiences, classes, and job duties you can put on your resume. Which ones you share and how you share them should depend entirely on each individual job description.

See why I feel "ugh" when I hear the word resume? This is not fun. It's not easy. So why am I sharing it with you on a blog?

Because it will get you a job.

This will take time, so resist the temptation to breeze through the process. Sending out lots of one-size-fits-all resumes is like playing the one of those ridiculous power-ball-whatever lottery games. Hope is high because there is so much money at stake, but the chances of winning are so, so very low.

Those who get the job are those who are willing to do that extra work; instead of gambling one resume on dozens, or even hundreds of application, each one is focused, tailored, and personalized.
How do you do this?
  • Have a document that lists all of your accomplishments, awards, classes, degrees, and any significant experience you've had in your life thus far (e.g. jobs, volunteer work, leadership in a club/organization, etc.) that you continue to update throughout your life.
  • Under each job, leadership experience, or volunteer experience, write out the results of what you accomplished in each job (e.g. recruited 20 volunteers for lake cleanup). Do not limit yourself. Describe the results, duties, and accomplishments of everything you've done so far fully.
  • Then, for each job, choose the top 2-4 results that showcase skills that the job is specifically looking for. Change the language around if you need to in order to use words specifically in the job description. 
  • In the objective section of the resume, do not say what you are looking for, instead, explain which top 3 of your best and most specific skills you hope to contribute to help that specific company reach one of its specific goals in the specific role they are looking to fill. (notice a key word here?) ;)
This takes practice, time, and effort. But I promise it will also get results. And if you aren't sure how to write a certain job duty to relate to a specific job posting, feel free to send me the job description and a job duty or two and I'll show you how to tailor it at

Monday, April 23, 2012

What is your study habit grade?

It is time for the final Study Tipping Tuesday of the semester! 

And it won’t be long before you find yourself logging onto your college’s web site, entering in your password, and opening up that link that posts those ominous words:

Final grades.

But while grades are obviously important, the bigger picture is that grades and courses are meant to help you develop positive habits of study and thinking that you can take with you the rest of your life. 

So while you can’t open that web page with your final grades just yet, you can see how you did this semester when it comes to developing those positive study habits.

And since Study Tipping Tuesday will be on hiatus until the fall semester (lots of other exciting things to come in the summer, though), let’s see how you did with your study habits. 

Review the questions below and honestly evaluate yourself. Your answers to these questions will correlate pretty well with your final grades. 

And as you look back on this semester and look forward to the next, I hope you'll commit to improving your study habits every day. 

Because success requires continuous effort. 

And you deserve that success – so get pumped up and go get it!

And if you haven’t yet, get revved up for your final exams :) 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The case for walking in graduation

I’ve asked a few students recently who are graduating from community college: “are you walking in graduation?”

Many of the answers are: “no.”

I completely understand this. When I graduated community college I too initially didn’t plan on walking. I kind of figured that since a Bachelor’s degree was my end goal, and students at 4-year colleges didn’t “walk” half-way through their Bachelor’s degree, why should I?

But I ended up walking because I found out I had won the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship a few weeks prior.

And walking in graduation – both for my 2-year and 4-year degree – felt great.

Because in the end, completing community college is a big deal that is worth celebrating. You are one of the few who’ve made it.

And you are worth celebrating.

Invite your family. Take pictures with your friends. Make memories and commit yourself to walking again for your Bachelor’s degree – and maybe even again for your Master’s and Ph.D’s.

Even though you may still have more education to pursue, weird cardboard square hats to don, and aisles to walk, each walk matters. Because each one represents your accomplishment, your completion, and your honoring of the college and the people who helped create your collegiate foundation.

And in the end, graduations symbolize both and end and a beginning. The new beginning is obvious, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s also important to properly say goodbye – to reflect on the people and opportunities that brought you to that very moment.

If you’ve missed out already on applying for graduation and picking up your cap and gown this time around, it’s okay. But find some way to get together with your community college friends and/or family and celebrate this important milestone. It is a big deal. And you’ve earned it.

And for those of you who do walk – embrace the moment, engage fully, and take lots of pictures. Feel free to tag Community College Success in your graduation pictures and/or share them on our Facebook wall. I would love to see your beautiful face in one of those hats, and I know it will inspire others on the page. 

Congratulations to all of you who are graduating this semester. I hope you know the full gravity and beauty of what you have achieved.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The secret to success for the undecided

Almost all of the highly successful professionals I’ve ever talked to have admitted that they are still trying to figure out what to be when they grow up.

But studies show that not having a direction is not a good strategy for success. Simply wandering doesn’t work.

But that doesn’t mean you always have to have it figured out. And that is what most successfully undecided professionals have figured out how to do, both in college and beyond.

I recently interviewed the incredible difference-maker Kristen Cambell, who admits she had no idea what she wanted to do in college. Her journey holds the secrets to evolving your career and moving forward, even when you’re unsure.

Kristen is the Chief Program Officer for National Conference on Citizenship, a 67-year-old nonpartisan nonprofit organization that was chartered by congress in 1953 and is dedicated to increasing civic engagement across the country.

Kristen attended college at East Central University in Oklahoma. She had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, and – like many – changed her major many times. Kristen even admits today she still sometimes finds herself unsure of where she wants her life to go.

As she put it, she has a diversity of interests and skills and is excited by the many opportunities she can create (and that might be created) that may not fit into traditional buckets.

And this is key – because even for those who might feel very decided about your future, you’ll always want to be willing, open and flexible. We live in the most rapidly changing economy in history, and we have to be willing to adapt a wide variety of strengths and interests to meet those changing economic needs.

Yet like most of us, Kristen still knew it was important to choose a major and have a direction. How did she choose?

She was inspired by her professors.

The professors who taught the courses in mass communication inspired Kristen. She wanted to learn from them and could see herself emulating their careers. Kristen said, “I still carry this through in my professional career. A lot of the people I work with and for now are people I truly admire and respect.”

Kristen was so thankful for the personal attention she received from her professors, and attributes much of her success to that early mentorship and guidance: “My professors didn’t just teach me skills, they taught me how to be a thoughtful person, a critical thinker, and to think about how information can teach me about how I want to live my life.”

Kristen graduated with her degree in mass communication in 2004 and got a job in advertising. As she put it: “I really felt like something was missing emotionally in that job. I felt like I had a larger calling then helping business owners raise their sales of candles 10% that quarter. I didn’t feel like I was making best impact I could with my personality, time, and talents.”

It’s not that advertising jobs are bad. It’s just Kristen could feel it wasn’t for her. But it’s what she did next that has led her to where she is today. It’s what she did next that too many people are afraid to do, and then get stuck.

Kristen left her job. She then joined Americorps VISTA, the national service program specifically designed to fight poverty through contributing to a wide variety of community service programs.

Americorps brought her to Washington DC where she worked with a faith-based institution on their volunteer recruitment, and then served on the planning committee for the International Conference on Faith and Service. An executive for the Case Foundation was also on that board, and hired Kristen after seeing her great work. After a few years there, she was ready for a new challenge with the National Conference on Citizenship.

The key here? Kristen noticed her feelings, made a leap, and kept working hard. It’s as simple as that. The hard part is the courage and persistence this requires.

Kristen’s advice she wished someone would have given her in college? “Don’t try to rush it and appreciate the journey you are on right now. Learn where you are, and continue to figure out how to balance your long term goals with the present, without devaluing either.”

And the final thing to draw from Kristen’s story. Can you guess? (Again, I swear I don’t script these or try to get them to say this…)


It’s just key to success. Everywhere I look, it’s just there.

(The exact question I ask in these interviews is: “What is one thing you think my college student readers should do as soon as they finish reading this article in order to be more successful?” I’ve been amazed at how often the answer has been mentorship.)

Kristen’s take is really great: “sometimes we think mentorship is walking up awkwardly to a 50-year-old man and asking him to ‘be our mentor’ in some structured way. Someone once told me mentors should be like your personal board of directors; people you can talk honestly with, ask for guidance, and trust. Just like boards of directors are carefully chosen, you should be intentional about finding mentors in your life.”

Talking through new decisions and confused paths is also one of the best conversations with a mentor. So if you’re undecided:

1. breathe
2. tell someone
3. do something
4. ask for advice
5. keep experimenting

For more information about working in the nonprofit world, Kristen recommended these websites:

NGen – Developing next generation of nonprofit leaders

And I recommend you check out Americorps VISTA as well to learn what it’s all about and see if it’s something you might want to consider when you graduate. It’s a great option for the lost and undecided (i.e. all of us).

For more interviews with interesting professionals you can check out previous posts below. If you also know of someone who you think is a really amazing and admirable professional,or would like me to talk to someone in a specific profession, e-mail me the info and I'll try to get in touch!

Jennifer MasciaNew York Times Journalist
Lucas Boyce, NBA Executive
Jason McIntyre, Founder of The Big Lead
Jeff Selingo, Editor of Chronicle of Higher Education
Ashkon and Stephanie, Founders of
Mark Babbitt, Founder of