4 Holiday Tips for the Early Career Professional

It is no secret to anyone who knows me, I like to be organized and I like everything to go as planned. But we all know that never happens. Which is why around the holidays, I try to get as much done ahead of time as possible. That way if something comes up at work, with my freelance clients or with my team (I am coaching again at Nichols) I am not forced to rush through something.
Happy Holidays

But getting organized at the holidays is no easy feat and takes planning and discipline. It can be hard to manage everything, especially if this is your first holiday season in a new place, with a new job or it is your first time on your own.

I have been there and figured out what works for me so that when my vacation from work starts (December 23rd) I can sit down with some cookies and a holiday cocktail with my family and not be scrambling. In the last couple of weeks, I have had many of my friends and co-workers ask how I get everything done so early. So I thought I would share my secrets to staying sane with so much going on around the holidays.

Don’t Procrastinate

I think this year I bought my first gift in the spring. I don’t like just buying gifts for the sake of buying them. Which is why throughout the year as I see things that I know someone would like I buy them.

Almost all of my Christmas shopping was done by the middle of November; I would say approximately 90%. (I will also say that all the birthday presents for my family through the month of March have also been purchased and wrapped, not to brag). But when you are in the spending mood it makes things easy.

One of the things I don’t like about the holidays is all the wrapping that must be done. I come from a big family which means there are at least 50 gifts under my tree right now. So my secret is to not procrastinate the wrapping. The second I get something, I wrap it. I use a lot of the pre-wrapped boxes (the ones with the designs on the covers; as well as, a lot of bags. This makes it easier.

But you may be asking yourself how do I remember what is what? That is my tip #2.

Keep a List (and Check It Twice)

Every year, I have an entire excel file stored on my computer that outlines who is getting what. Sadly, my computer decided to delete this file in mid-December this year. Thankfully all of my shopping was done at that point and everything already had labels on it. If that had happened any earlier, my system probably would not have worked out so well. My recommendation to myself next year is to keep a backup of this list whether it is on my external hard drive, a USB drive, or a physical paper list. So that I am not stressing if this happens again.

Because I had this list, I knew exactly who I had already bought for and who I still needed to buy for. I don’t get as elaborate as I know some do with prices and things like that because frankly the amount I spend on people doesn’t really have to equal out in my mind because the gifts I buy for people are ones I know they will like and are so specific to them that price doesn’t matter (outside of breaking my bank account of course).

The only time price does matter at this point in my life is for office parties or the Girl’s Annual White Elephant where we set limits. I am sure this may change when I eventually start a family.

Amazon Prime

This year, I bought several misc. gifts from Amazon to have on hand as I was thinking about specific gifts for people. These were gifts that I knew two or more people in my family would like so if I found something for one of them then this gift would go to the other.

At the holidays, I always get my money’s worth for my prime membership because I order so much. And even better was this year, Discover offered 5% cashback on all purchases made on Amazon July-December. So it was like everything was at least on sale a bit. Or all my Christmas purchases were getting me closer to my cruise!

For the first time this year, I used Prime Day and Amazon Deals. They were great to see what was coming up on sale and buy it before the deal opened up to the masses thanks to my Prime Membership.

I highly encourage anyone to get Amazon Prime due to the free 2-day shipping benefits. Not only is it great for the shopper who buys ahead of time but also for the procrastinator who needs a last minute gift for a birthday or holiday! Plus, with all the added benefits of Prime Video and Music, it is like getting Netflix for free. Personally, I find their movie selection way better on Amazon Prime but Netflix still takes the cake when it comes to shows. At just $99 a year that is less than you pay for your Netflix subscription over the course of the year, so why not?

Decorate When You Have Timedecorating for the holidays

I am someone who grew up in a decorated house at the holidays and I just remember the look on everyone’s faces when they walked in. It is hard to not smile when you see the stockings over the fireplace or the Christmas tree in the corner of the room.

But we all know life gets very hectic (and I don’t even have kids yet). So don’t stress about decorating. Do it little by little or all at once, whatever works for you. Since this is the first year for Brian and myself in our new house, I went out and bought more decorations (I usually wait until the day after Christmas to get them all on clearance but I splurged). We had a lot already from our last place and from me in college but I wanted the house to feel like a home at the holidays.

We have an artificial tree because we aren’t home for the actual week of Christmas like many young professionals and know we would just come home to a dead tree and needles all over the ground.

I started decorating the house the weekend after Thanksgiving and it worked out great. Our tree only had lights on it for about a week as we wanted to make sure we decorated it together. But we weren’t worried. We knew we would be able to do it and eventually it got done.

Don’t Stress this Holiday Season

The holidays are stressful enough with trying to get wrapped up before the books close at work and have everything organized for your family time. Don’t sweat the little things this year. Setting yourself up for success early, before the malls get crazy and deals start selling out can pay off. After all, no one wants to be like those who are trying to get an Amazon Alexa just days before Christmas. All those people will be waiting until January 20th for it to be delivered. Being ahead of the game can save you the time of having to panic about what your backup gift will be.

It may be too late to not procrastinate this year but why not set yourself up for success next holiday season with post-holiday tips.

It is Time for the Millennials to Be Part of the Conversation

It is Time for the Millennials to Be Part of the Conversation

There has never been a better time than now to take matters into our own hands when it comes to our careers. As a millennial, I have been stereotyped into many categories including:

  • Lazy
  • Spoiled
  • Entitled
  • Over-educated

We have also been blamed for many things including the state of affairs today. At the end of the day, some of those things are true about some people. But never forget that any generalization about a generation is just that, a generalization.

The Women Millennials

As an educated millennial woman in a profession that has been dominated for hundreds of years by older, white men, it is time for this group of woman to take ownership. We can no longer afford to have others drive our careers for us nor can we afford to sit on the sidelines. Sitting on the sidelines has never been a game I have been good at; however, for many of my peers, they have been able to play it just as they have been instructed.millennials-on-the-rise

I am aware that my mentality can often scare people off and can sometimes be offensive but I am also not okay with standing by when things do not seem right. This can be anything from a poorly managed project to a policy change that was driven top down. I do not believe I would be doing myself, my family, or whoever I am working for at a given time.

Let’s Be Part of the Conversation

Nation-wide decisions and assumptions about the millennial generation are being written and made; however, most often, millennials are not involved in those conversations. One of the biggest things that has to change, in regards to the way we have always done it is that we have to allow the different generations to talk. Failure to understand each other will continue to drive unrest in the people of the workforce.

I am fortunate to have developed relationships with people who I trust and can go to in order to talk through a tough situation. But not everyone has established such relationships nor are they in a position to work for a company that is willing to listen. As a country, we have to work together to set us all up for success.

As a country, we have to work together to set us all up for success.

A “Smart” MDP Project

Since the end of September when we kicked off our MDP projects it has been an exciting time.  Though over the summer I had been leading our team of interns and a group of students who were working on the Buffalo Connect project, this opportunity was different because it was working with the program that had given me my start at M&T.  My boss and I were co-sponsoring the project, but I was fortunate that she was letting me take on the responsibility of overall managing the project from the sponsor side.leading-team

I had learned so much from my project sponsors within M&T Securities during the program that I wanted to make sure that I could share my experience including lessons learned, best practices, things I wish I changed, etc.  I also wanted to make sure they felt empowered to make project decisions just like my sponsors had empowered me and my group.  With the MDP project on the sponsor side you have to walk the line of being over involved and not being involved at all (both of which happen, though I wish they didn’t).  What was great about this project was it was a great way to think about the bank overall as a customer and helping the community (one of our core values).

I knew this would be my first real opportunity to test out how I could walk the line of being a mentor, peer and also a “manager”.  Since I am only a year out from the program, it is definitely important to make sure that I don’t come across as a peer when you have to make tough decisions.  But I also wanted them to be able to ask questions regarding my experience and know that things they were experiencing during the project, I had probably felt them too – after all in the grand scheme of things, outside of this project, I was their peer.

Follow the leaderI am excited to see this group present in mid-February, but know we have a long way to go until that point. We have several practice sessions with unbiased audiences to get the team prepared for the “pressure” of the final presentation.  In my opinion, all the practice sessions over the next month will really make the team feel at ease on presentation day and any question they get – they should be prepared for.

What I have learned through both coaching and leading this project from a sponsor side is that I love being a mentor (at least I think that is how I am perceived).  It has affirmed that the role I want to play in life, whether it be formal manager or in-formal mentor to those around me, is just that – providing guidance to help others through life (fitting because my mom is a high school guidance counselor).  I want to inspire others with my passion for everything I do.  At Nichols, it is teaching my players that things won’t always go your way but how you overcome the adversity will ultimately make or break you.  It is also about reminding them that outside the bubble of high school and Buffalo, people don’t necessarily care who your parents are – but your work ethic and the way you lead your life is what matters to people.

At work, it is showing people that passion is so crucial in your career.  If you aren’t passionate about what you do it will feel like work.  When you put your all into everything you do – you will ultimately be happy and things will come to you.  Just like I said in the Interviewing Game – your first job shouldn’t necessarily be for the money you are going to make, it should make you happy and gives you experiences that you will carry with you throughout your career.  Money doesn’t buy happiness, although it does buy houses, clothes, and material things.  Finding something where you realize what you do matters to at least one person, now that is something.

The Recruiting Game

recruitmentIt is funny as you go through life – you find yourself looking at the recruiting game from all different angles.  When you are getting recruited for college or to play for a sports team, when you are looking for your first job or you are a seasoned professional and you are getting head hunted by an executive recruiter – it is all the same game with slight tweaks.  I look at it like learning the game of basketball.  I started off in 5th/6th grade with my elementary school team, moved on to 7th grade basketball, JV in 8th grade, Varsity for all of High School, and then 4 years at RIT and college basketball. It is all the same game but you get better at it as you go along, this can apply to a employee or a recruiter depending on who you want to be in this scenario.

As a recruiter at career fairs for the newest professionals in the workforce it is a lot of explaining, sharing what M&T is like, what some of the day to day responsibilities look like for positions in the MDP program, talking to different managers about the candidates I saw at the career fair and working directly with HR to make sure we bring in the right candidates for the job.  It is not only about sharing the on-the-job responsibilities but also the cultural aspects: what Buffalo is like, what is like to be young moving to a new city, etc. You have to treat this candidate differently because typically they have never been through this process before and I am responsible for their first perception of the company.

This part is exciting because you are sharing your passion for your career and your job with the students and helping them determine if they would be a fit or not.  You may not always get the candidate but you know that hopefully they have made the best choice for them.  I think this is where my coaching experience comes into play because I want what is best for my players, just like I want new career professionals to enjoy their first job, to find what they are passionate about and not just go for a salary. I will talk more about sharing my experience and the getting to know the candidate in the next post in the series surrounding interviewing, stay tuned!

The Other Side of the Table

new rolesSince completing the MDP program, I have gotten to partake in several things that have put me on the other side of the table and I am sure as I go throughout my career there are a lot of things that will continue to turn the tables. It is exciting and I have come to realize that something that I once thought was so big when I was in the MDP’s shoes just last year – is something not so scary from the other side. I decided this blog would be a three part series surrounding my latest table flippings: Recruiting, Interviewing, and leading an MDP Project.

Since I completed the program in June, it has been an interesting ride and I am doing things I didn’t think I would be doing for at least a few more years, especially when it comes to interviewing and leading an MDP project; however, I think that is the beauty of M&T, the opportunities that are just around the corner will always surprise you.

Things I thought were so nerve racking when I was on the other side of the table seem so small now.  I guess it makes sense, I am now in the place where I hold the cards but honestly, I don’t feel that way because M&T has been so good to me.  I think about it when it comes to all three areas I want to talk about as I am trying to be a mentor, leader, and responsible M&T Employee for ultimately making our next generation (that is so weird to say since right now the people I am interviewing for MDP are only 2 years younger than I am).

So over, the next few weeks I will be posting a weekly post, starting from the beginning with recruiting, then interviewing, and finally leading up to my MDP project.  It is an exciting time in my career and I am excited to share it with you all.

The Threat of Burn Out

Burn OutIn my last post I talked about millennials and I thought to myself, why not continue that conversation and be a millennial in the business world talking about real issues that come across my desk or others desk.  It can be nice to know you are not alone in feeling one way or another.  It is also okay to not agree with me at all, that is the best part of the world we live it – our experiences make us who we are and shape our opinions and no two people should be the same.

So this week I wanted to talk about something that has been really getting to me lately and I am sure it happens to everyone who is in their second year on the job or anyone in general at some point in their career. That thing I am referring to is Burn Out or the threat that it could happen.

Burn out is not always easy to see coming, I know for me it had been creeping up on me for a while I just ignored and kept going at the pace I was going.  I think often times we as millennials feel that we have to overcome the stereotypes of not being willing to work and we take on ridiculous amounts of work which isn’t right either.

What I realized this week as my work life started affecting my personal life; as well as, my energy levels when I got home –  that I had a problem that I wasn’t dealing with.  I was on a path towards burn out because I was doing what I felt like was a job and a half.  Now I am not trying to toot my own horn or talk about how long I would work but there were days I would get in around 8 and not leave until after 8.  I know this happens all the time in the Big 5 and other industries but it is not the norm for the company I work for, they believe in work life balance, so I knew something was wrong.  I also knew because for 4 days in a row I had no energy to get out of bed at my normal 5am time to work out and go run and to me that starts my day off on the best foot.

As I let the little tasks that I was being asked to take on get to me, I began to dread doing them which made me not look forward to work because I always wondered what little task that I felt was not in my job description would come next.  Please don’t get me wrong, I am all for being a team player but what my issue was that my role was not expanding I was just being asked to do two jobs and expected to get my objectives, projects, and task done for my official job.  This became the issue because I would be staying 2-3 hours after everyone else had left to complete my normal job assignments because the day had been filled with the other tasks.

Finally, I was at my breaking point, as my manager was referring to another task, I nearly broke down at the thought of another task being added to my “responsibilities”.  I told her how thin I was being stretched and that my capacity level was to the maximum.  I explained that I wanted to be involved and that I wanted to help in every way that I can but not without her realizing the additional responsibilities I was carrying on to make everything continue to run smoothly in the space and with the team.

It is really hard for me to ask for help or to say enough is enough because I have always been the do it all girl and do it the best that I can but to do that I was breaking my neck and ultimately making myself unhappy.  I can see now why my generation job hops so frequently (no I am not leaving my position because at the end of the day I love the company I work for, the team I work with, and the work that I do I find meaning).  But I just mean that it is easy for my generation to leave jobs for a better sounding one because of one little thing, that is not me and will never be me.  I still find a thrill in engaging projects it is just when I am doing tasks that don’t make me think or challenge me it is hard for me to stay engaged.

But what I found out was that my boss did realize how thin I was being stretched and knew she wasn’t using me the way she wanted to but because of the way our team is right now we have to chug along, we know we need additional resources but at this point it is about getting done what we can, doing the best we can, and understanding not everything is going to be perfect and that is okay.

I am really fortunate to have a manager who I can have open conversations with, not everyone feels that way so I know I am very lucky.  I am lucky to work for a company that gives me the opportunities like I have been given to date in my career, so early on.  I am looking forward to this next step in my career and how our team develops over time.  After that conversation with my manager, I no longer feel that I am heading towards a burn out, I just want to make sure that I am utilized to the best of my abilities because for me it is about challenging myself, if I am not challenged that is when burnout will happen for me.  I will gladly work on challenging problems until the sun comes up because I am engaged and excited about problem solving.

Has any other millenial felt this way?

The Millenials are Coming

millennialsEveryone seems to be talking about the millenials and the generation that is going to define the workforce over the next few years. The statistics will vary but 30-50% of the workforce by 2020 will be the millennial generation. If this is going to be true and the other 50% of the workforce is not a millennial how are we going to deal? This period of time is unique; we have four generations working side by side across the world to me that should be more of a focus than how are we going to make the millenials happy.

Everyone seems to put so much focus on the millenials but in my opinion we are just people, the world should be focusing on how we are going to work with multi-generations who have all been raised drastically different. How as a manager can you be fair but accommodate someone who wasn’t born digital and someone who was? How do you balance experience vs. getting something done quickly if it involves digital?

The Millenials - who are theyI am a millennial and like so many of my counter parts, have grown up digital. We are the group that will be the first to grow up with cellphones, the Internet and many more items.  Call us what you want, Millenials, Gen Y, the ‘I” generation, etc. Our education has been different then generations before us and we have a work ethic that is different than those before us. Not all of us believe in staying 9-5 just to show face. When we are done with our work for the day we don’t want to sit at our desks and twirl our thumbs til the clock strikes 5 but when there is something to get done we are more than willing to stay “late” because to us that is just part of the job.  We do not believe in ideal time and that can drive some of our co-workers or family members crazy.

Lately I have been having several conversations with co-workers, peers, friends at other companies, millenials and non-millenials alike. The conversation doesn’t focus on workforce arrangements, technology or lack-there of in the workplace, or work-life balance. It focuses on the fact that generations before us see millenials as greedy and unwilling to work for what they have. There is a rumor floating around that millenials feel entitled to promotions and raises and have high expectations right off the bat and we challenge the status quo but that rumor has been set by those who have had a bad experience with one milllenial and is stereotyping us all into one group.the-great-divide-workplace-perceptions-that-millennials-need-to-rise-above-to-get-hired_51a4caa9eaa6c_w1500 (1)

You are right we do feel entitled, we do have high expectations, and we do believe we should be promoted or receive a raise. But we don’t look at it or for it if it is something we haven’t earned. We do want to challenge the status quo and ask why not just because we can but because that is how we learn. We are not just asking to hear ourselves ask, we are asking because we genuinely want to understand the thought process and the decision science. We have seen many of our generation (and other generations) before us create amazing new products and services by challenging the status quo – ever heard of Mark Zuckerberg or Twitter? Who would have thought people could say so much in just 140 characters?

We have the highest expectations for ourselves and want to do right by the companies we work for. We want to make our managers proud; as well as, our families. But in turn we feel that we deserve the respect of our co-workers. However, if the respect needs to be earned, we are willing to work for it and show those who doubt us or doubt our intentions what we are good for.

What is hard for us to understand is how someone who simply has “experience” can make double what we make when we are willing to work twice as hard. Now please don’t get me wrong, people older than us should make more money than us, they have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into their jobs for years often times before we were ever born.  No, those people have earned it.  I am not referring to the people who work hard everyday or those who add value to everything they do, the teams they are on, and the people they inspire but if you can look around your office and say that everyone is that way and gives 100% all the time or even 90% effort all the time, man I want to work there.

The people who work hard everyday, do their job, try and do better and do the best they can for the company they work for have earned what they make, the promotions they receive or the bonuses that are awarded to them.  I am referring to the people that are not like these people.  That may not even give 50% of their effort to a job they are making twice what a millennial is making (the math is simple and it doesn’t add up).  It is hard for us to comprehend the rules that have people sitting in a role when everyone on their team knows that person is not a contributor, rarely shows up, is always doing things that don’t relate to the help, is not a team player yet still earns a paycheck. This is probably the most frustrating piece for us and is also the single most de-motivating things out there for the millenials. I am fortunate to not be a part of a team like this, everyone is a contributor on our small team and we work as a team.  If we didn’t we wouldn’t be able to accomplish half of the things we do.

If we are a generation that is going to define the workforce in the next few years, we will not allow these people to continue on as they are. Our mission is to inspire others to work harder but we can’t do it alone. We need help from companies, no longer can it be okay that people sit idle and just accept a paycheck and the solution may not be what many companies out there do – fire the bottom performers – it may involve getting innovative with how you inspire those bottom performers to want to achieve more.

If the millenials, a generation stereotyped as greedy, spoiled, and unwilling to work can make a change and prove the previous generations in the workforce wrong – than as the millenials we have to give companies who use the excuse “because we have always done it this way” a chance to prove us wrong. The road goes both ways. And we are willing to learn.Top Brands for MillenialsThis post is solely based on conversations I have had with peers from around the country and research that I have been doing on this topic, it is in no way a reflection on any of the companies I have worked for or currently work for.  This is a growing issue and a topic of hot debate.  I am excited to see how it plays out through 2020 and beyond.

MDP Graduation

It’sgraduation hard to think that just last week was MDP graduation.  It was the last time that all of us would be together as one group, as MDPs.  It seems funny that less than a year ago, the 40 of us in the green group and the other 40 in the gold group did not know each other.  At this time last year we were all thinking about enjoying the last few weeks of the summer before our real world journey began.

Graduation week was fun with happy hour events, a boat cruise, a capstone project, final thoughts, and a conversation with Mark Czarnecki, the President of M&T and the COO.  Now, I know what you must be thinking when I say graduation and no there were no cap and gown or diplomas; however we did receive our 1 year anniversary gifts and a class picture which we had taken the first week.

Most people aren’t as lucky as I was to be able to learn about a great company, make instant friends because of a common experience being in the program, and have a true hands on experience on the job that never once felt like an internship which often times programs can.  If I had to go back and do it over, I would do it again in a heart beat.  I am one of the lucky ones of my friends from college, who love what they do.  Who enjoy going to work every day and has found something I am passionate about.  So I encourage you to consider M&T’s MDP program or another development program if you feel that it is right for you.  Never take a job because someone else says its good or someone tells you to do it. Take a job because it scares you, take a job because it makes you nervous, often times those are the best experiences.  But hey, I have only been in the working world for a year so what do I know.M&T Plaza

With MDP now over and for those of you who have followed this blog over the course of my first year in the real world, you must be thinking what next? Well, I will work as a Business and Planning Analyst in the Innovation Center of Excellence.  It is an exciting time for banking and don’t worry my blogging doesn’t stop just because the program is over.  No way!  I am in the real world to stay and this is just the beginning of my journey in Corporate America. I have ambition and big dreams which I intend to make a reality.

How I Felt when I was 22

It is hard to believe that another year has gone by.  It feels like just yesterday I was walking out of my apartment at Park Point to the blaring sound of Taylor Swift’s  “22” from one of my amazing friends and teammate’s car!

To me it is funny the memories that stick with me. But 22 was no joke, so many things happen that it is hard to believe that it was just one year. We will go in order:

  • Graduated from graduate school with my MBA.  To say I did this when I was so young is amazing.  I have realized in the last few weeks that I don’t need to be embarrassed or give people a reason why I went straight through to grad school. Getting my MBA is an accomplishment, something I would have had to do eventually and thankfully I was able to do it when it worked for me, not when I had to or when someone told me to go get it to further my career.
  • Took my first real vacation with Brian.  As a graduation present Brian got us a cruise to the Bahamas.  It was an awesome time and an amazing experience to share with him. Read about it here.
  • Enjoyed my last long summer break.  If sometime down the line I want to become a full time professor than maybe I will have a summer break again; however, right now in the corporate world having weeks on end to relax, hang by the pool, travel and spend time with extended family can’t happen.  I am so glad I took those 6-8 weeks off from work to be able to prep for my next phase of life.  I am going to be writing a blog post about it because if you are fortunate enough to have a gap in between college ending and your career beginning I would encourage you to take it and let your brain check out.  It also really helps from an organizational standpoint (I got my life in order, sorted through my apartment and prepared for my move).
  • Moved to a new city.  Relocating to a new city after college was a struggle.  I really worried about liking Buffalo after my first experience here (my tire was slashed); however, I couldn’t be happier and would say it has worked out great.
  • Moved in with Brian.  This was a big step and test in our relationship.  Roommates are not really my thing.  If you want to know more talk to my previous ones.  I like my space, I have a dominant personality and typically the people I choose to room with do as well, maybe not freshman year (that year ended decently).  So moving in was a big step and it ended up working out amazing.  I learn something new about Brian all the time, I love having my best friend around and getting to see him everyday.  Who knows what life holds for us but right now I couldn’t be happier.
  • Started my first official job…post college.  I worked so much in college that adjusting to the real world wasn’t that big of a wake-up call.  I had someone ask me that in one of the lunches I hosted for the bank: what was the transition like for you? Honestly for me work life is easier than my time spent in college.  I have more freedom with my schedule, no coach wondering what I am working on to get better, no tests or papers to turn in.  Life is about me now and being the best me I can be.  I really do enjoy what I do and I find that I am really lucky. I have a lot of friends who I graduated with struggling to find a job, living at home with their parents (which is completely fine if you are comfortable with it – I wish I could save what I pay in rent and utilities each month). I have had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing people at the bank and made connections with senior managers I never expected.  I have also transitioned roles within Technology – to an area I wanted to explore at some company at some point in the future.  I have been given opportunities I never thought possible and for that I am forever grateful.
  • Coached my first basketball season. I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to coach at Nichols and I am looking forward to returning for my second season. The group of girls I had the pleasure of working with were awesome and the school is a great organization to be apart of.  I loved seeing the girl’s improvement in just a few short months and I am so excited to continue to work with them this summer and next season.
  • Ran my first marathon.  It was a crazy experience.  You will only run your first marathon once and boy was mine a memory.  It poured almost the entire time, my knee decided to not cooperate and I got to see friends and family I hadn’t see in a long time.  You can read all about it in my #marathonmonday series!  You can also read about the training leading up to the marathon in my marathon section.

Take chances and make mistakesWhat I have realized in my first year out in the real world, life is about the experiences and the chances you take.  You can’t be afraid of failing because chances are by holding your self back you are missing out on an experience you will love.  They say getting to the starting line of a marathon is half the battle and I would definitely say it is true and true for others beside marathons as well.  You log more training hours than you do actually running.  You spend more hours thinking about the race than race day is long.  To me signing up is the chance you take, training is the physical battle and the race is the mental one.

There are so many risks I have taken this year, so many chances I am glad I said yes too, life would be pretty boring if you never took a risk.  I would rather live my life without any regrets then look back and wish I did something.

Top 10 Tips for Working on Team Projects in the Real World

team projectsTeam projects can be stressful.  They can be a lot of fun but there are a lot of challenges that you will have to overcome that you may not have thought of.  As MDPs at M&T, you know coming into the bank that you are going to be put on a project team that is going to be the main focus of your MDP experience.  The project feedback from your teammates, group sponsors, managers and the outcome of the project plays into your review.  Not to say that this is the only thing that will go into your review because there will always be more factors including your on-the-job work but the project does make a difference because you are working with managers from other areas of the bank and all senior managers are invited to the presentations.

So through my experience with my team and through the presentations I have come up with a list for both future MDPs and also professionals working in team projects.

  1. conference calls at workWorking in team projects in college is different than working in team projects at work.  In college it is easy to meet up at the library with your teammates and hash out a project but with workplace projects you are not always able to meet in person.  My group was spaced out between 3 buildings in Buffalo, one person was in Syracuse and the other was Baltimore.  We found ways to make it work by holding conference calls, having a group message going on and through solid email communication.  We had a team SharePoint site set up at the very beginning of the project to help keep our documents organized as well.
  2. Procrastination barely worked in college, it definitely doesn’t work in the real world!  MDP projects are completed from September to February.  Putting off your work can be detrimental to the projects.  Almost all of the MDP projects require a lot of research and you will not be able to analyze that research if you wait until December to even start.  Starting early and meeting regularly will help keep your team on track.
  3. Don’t expect the project deliverables to be laid out for you from your sponsors.  This is the real world, you are not going to be given all answers when you are presented with a problem.  My group’s project was focused around the client experience and our sponsors wanted us to form our own opinions on the process so they didn’t want to give us a lot of background which at the beginning was frustrating but we made it work in the end.  I really believe we delivered a very successful presentation for the department.
  4. Schedule your meetings at the beginning.  The thing that made my group successful and not have to deal with people skipping meetings or having a lot of conflicts come up was scheduling meetings at the beginning that worked for all parties involved.  We scheduled meetings at 830am for our group’s weekly call which was half an hour and we scheduled an hour at 8am with our sponsors on a bi-weekly basis.  This helped us get on our sponsors calendars and it also made sure we stuck to the commitment and hit our weekly deliverables.  The early morning times may not have been ideal but when you are working with groups that are both on the corporate track and in the branch network it is important to consider all parties.
  5. Understand things will come up.  As a group we made sure that we were always forth coming with things that were coming up with our calendars.  As a future MDP it is important to understand whatever role you are filling in the M&T footprint – if you are on the corporate or retail track, if you are in Buffalo, Baltimore or another location things are going to come up and you have to be able to communicate with your team and just be honest.  As one of our team leads I wanted to make sure that the two members we had on the retail track who were studying for their Series 6 knew we understood that their test was bigger than the project for that week and I really wanted them to be able to take the time to study without the pressure of the project.
  6. There is another step to working with people beyond college.  Any RIT grad or other real-world project based university grad will tell you they feel extremely comfortable working in projects.  I would be lying if I said to me it was completely different but there was one variable I wasn’t expecting.  After working in so many project teams, being a member of sports teams throughout my life and working in different work positions since I was 16, I thought I knew what it meant to work with people coming from diverse backgrounds.  But the difference with our MDP groups and school projects was the fact that we all came from different education backgrounds which meant different techniques, learning experiences, different courses and degrees.  At RIT everyone learns how to work in teams and work with real world clients but once we were assigned to our MDP groups it became very apparent different schools have different methodologies and some are more theory based, others are more research and others are more project based.  That was something I quickly had to learn and was an obstacle for me.  In the end I think it worked out but be aware that when you get put into work project situations everyone is going to bring something different to the table and that is the beauty of the MDP project, you get to learn from 4 or 5 other people.
  7. Create a project plan for your team’s benefit and also your sponsor’s benefit.  At the beginning of the project we created a team charter but to follow that up our group had a project plan that outlined when we were going to get things done including when we would start, aim to complete and what the actual finish date was; as well as, the status of the project.  This plan was kept on the SharePoint site so that the President of M&T Securities (MTS) could show his manager and reports what our group was working on.  It helped the group stay committed but also ensured our sponsors we were moving toward the end goal.
  8. Run your recommendations by your sponsors early and often.  My group started running our initial recommendations by our group sponsors in early December.  We had a large list of things we had started to put together as observations rather than recommendations to start the conversations.  This gave us the ability to gauge our sponsors responses on our initial impressions of the research we were doing.  We ran our recommendations by our sponsor’s HR business partner, many different levels at MTS, the people we were interviewing, former MDPs in MTS and of course our sponsors repeatedly. It is important to keep your sponsors updated as they know their business best and will be able to give you input regarding the status of select things that are being worked on currently.
  9. Learn to accept criticism and expect questions from all angles.  You will get a lot of positive feedback but you will also receive a lot of criticism.  What is important to remember it is all meant to make you a better professional.  Coming out of college our generation has a lot of stereotypes that we have to overcome which can be a challenge but it is possible to overcome them when you learn to accept criticism. We are not the trophy for everything generation but that is the next generation to hit the workforce which will be my generations problem as managers to overcome.  But being so young in our careers and really anytime throughout your professional track, taking feedback both positive and negative is important and taking it the right way can be just as important.  Everyone giving feedback has your group’s best interest at heart so it is important to accept it and really consider what that person is saying.
  10. Understand your teammates and their strengths. Identifying your teammates strengths early in the project cycle is important.  As an MDP you will spend two months with the larger group before your projects and teams get selected but that can be hard to learn about everyone in that group of 40 or 80 people.  Once your groups are determined the best thing our group did was talk about our past experiences, we looked at our DiSC assessments (something we did through MDP) and talked about roles.  It can be easy to get lost in the concept of the team leader but in reality it doesn’t mean as much as it does in say high school.  Being the team lead you have more responsibility but you don’t make all the decisions you help the group work as a team.  The most successful teams work in a collaborative environment rather than in silos.   I was very fortunate to have a team that worked extremely well together – not everyone will be that lucky but that is the real world and you have to roll with the punches especially with work projects.millenials