The Niche Movement’s social media intern, Jaylene Perez, returns to discuss her recent networking trip to New York. A college senior, Jaylene was surprised to learn that landing a job is an organic process. It’s not about the perfect resume or the perfect cover letter. It’s about knowing the right people. Read about Jaylene’s experience chatting with marketing gurus at Bustle, Facebook, and Spotify, and remind yourself of the fundamental networking building blocks.
Based in New Jersey, Kendra DeBree works as the Business Development Director at Durga Tree International, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support and empower non-profits that work to end human slavery all over the world. Kendra spoke with us about her transition to the non-profit field, what she does at Durga Tree, and her advice for millenials. Keep reading to find out more about her story and experience!
Hi Kendra! How are you doing?
My day is very busy. I’m seizing the day, I feel like I got three hours of sleep because sometimes you get creative in the middle of the night and you write things down. So that’s what was happening to me and now I’m running on pure adrenaline. You know, as a business development director of a non-profit, I have my hands in like 50 different places, so it’s always re-evaluating and re-prioritizing what needs to happen, and when. I was at a convention over the weekend where I made some really solid contacts, so it’s important to follow up with those contacts before they lose sight. You get them excited but don’t talk to them for too long in between, and before you know it, you may lose them.
What were you doing before Durga Tree?
I was a manager for a little while but I always thought, “I’m only doing this because it pays the bills and I’m getting exposure.” I always knew that I wanted to run my own business and I’ve always been the type of person who always needs to have a job. I was supporting myself through school and working at night. I managed my first Pier 1 Imports when I was 19 and I had no idea what I was doing. They just kind of threw me in, so you know, through the years you just build certain skills and expertise.
On joining the non-profit field:
I have a degree in business management, but non-profit work was something I had never previously considered. You know, when you think non-profit, you think, “Oh, well that won’t make me any money.” I was in my 20s so I was all about making money. The only difference between a for-profit and a non-profit business is that at the end of the year, the extra funds don’t go into the pockets of shareholders, of the executives that aren’t necessarily doing the day-to-day. They’re hard-working people [at Durga Tree]. It goes back into program funding for the next year. It’s a business!
After I had my daughter, Emma, who just turned two last month, I was like, “Okay, I haven’t been working retail for nine-plus months now” and I thought, “I can’t go back.” If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do something amazing now. It just so happens that my very best friend’s Aunt and Uncle started this non-profit years ago. I heard about it, but I never really took the time because when you’re in your 20s, you’re not really thinking about this stuff or caring about it. As soon as I turned 30 and became a mom, my priorities changed and I just started thinking about things differently. You see the world differently; you realize how small your world really is.
How did you end up with your position?
I started volunteering last year and just started learning more and more about human trafficking. I was thinking about where I am in my life and thought, “I could really take this non-profit to the next level.” I essentially created this position within Durga Tree International and thought, “we could do something really big”. It turns out that they were ready to take the next steps to make that happen. We’ve raised, in two years, around $250,000 in single donations. We don’t have any grant funding or foundational funding, and that’s actually an element I’m bringing in.
My mother, growing up, worked for the Diocese of Paterson where she worked one-on-one with mentally disabled adults. It was always rewarding for me because I used to go in during the summers and do all sorts of things. I got a little taste of what rewarding work was really like.
What are you currently doing at Durga Tree?
As a business person, you’re always looking at things in a way that’s going to grow and build the organization. I’m making new, lasting contacts and impressions with businesses and individuals at the same time. I have a group of volunteers that I source, solicit and manage on a daily basis. We have a group that we call our “lotus guild”. They are essentially people who are really passionate about becoming day-to-day ambassadors. They also chair or co-chair a certain area of our business. I have someone in charge of “do it yourself” fundraisers, I have someone in charge of speaking engagements, I have someone in charge of social media. We have two large fundraising events per year. We have a gala coming up and we have a walkathon.
Tell us about what Durga Tree does.
We pick and choose specific non-profits around the world that are all working toward the same goal. We all want to eradicate human trafficking but they’re all fighting for the same dollar. We’re bringing organizations so that they don’t have to fight. A lot of this is about planning - event planning is full-time and a lot of these non-profits don’t have the time and resources. That’s where we come in. There’s also the work of building awareness. There are a lot of anti-trafficking organizations in New Jersey where all they do is spread awareness, but we’re unique because we have a plan and we’re going to see it through. Right now we have four partners and we don’t want to take on anymore until we feel that the projects that we have are sustainable.
How Did the Organization Start?
Beth Tiger, on of our co-founders, began as a life coach. She ran “A Life Well Lived” which hosted women’s groups and talks. Her shop was committed to caring products that were made by women-owned businesses. When she started going to trade shows, she found out about trafficking and that is where she met our first partner. The company sold jewelry that was made by survivors of human trafficking. A Life Well Lived dissolved and ultimately became Durga Tree International. Now all of the proceeds made from items sold in the shop are donated toward eradicating human trafficking.
What Organizations Do You Work With?
All of the grassroots organizations that we support must fall in line with one of our branches of freedom. There are organizations that are really great at rescuing, some focus on housing, lobbying or economic empowerment.
Love 146 is awesome, we love them! We actually just went to their red gala, which was the first gala that I attended. We actually supported their creation of their school curriculum around trafficking, which they’re testing it out in Florida, Illinois and Connecticut. Throughout the world, the average trafficked age is 10 so the conversation needs to happen early. A couple of months ago, Love 146 built a women-only shelter out in the Philippines, but when I say women I also mean 10, 11 or 12-year-old girls. They just took in their youngest trafficking survivor who was age two. When you hear stuff like that you think, “who, why would you do something like that?” They also recently opened a boys-only shelter because people have asked why there isn’t a place for little boys who are being trafficked.
Another partner that we support in Guatemala (Asociación La Alianza). They have a shelter and they call it a “casa”. Girls can stay there until the age of 18. When our organization went out there, we wanted to support the babies but also to support the girls. We taught them different ways to care for their baby and that even though your baby was conceived in certain conditions, you can still love your baby. The trafficking issue is becoming a generational issue. They’re born into it, so this is all they know and then they do what they know. They don’t see other opportunities.
Another partner of ours is Truckers Against Trafficking. They are 100% based in the United States. They’re located around areas where there are airports and intercoastal highways. We support a “Freedom Rig” which is a big truck that travels around to different truck stops and educates truckers on what’s happening. They post about missing persons as well as pictures on their facebook. All of these truckers tap in and actually about once per week, they help save a girl and bring her home.
We also support an organization (Good Shepherd Academy) that works in West Cameroon, Africa. What happens there is that many children have to walk five-plus miles to school and on that walk they are taken and then sacrificed for their organs. What we’re trying to do right now is get $25,000 to support the guards that look out for the children as they go to school.
What else are you currently involved in?
I was recently hired as a consultant to help with a window cleaning and pressure washing association. I’ve been in retail for over 10 years and managed hundreds of different types of people, so my friend reached out to me a couple months ago to help out with this 500+ event.
Her advice for millennials:
I felt that I was in an industry that I didn’t really belong in and that I was meant to do something more. I was seriously job-hunting and networking, but I got a tip from a friend and volunteer. Once you start giving back and not thinking about yourself you realize that the more you give, the more you get in return. The moment you let go and when you start doing things that aren’t typical for you, you never know who you’ll meet through a volunteer experience.
Who Would Play You in a Movie About Your Life?
That’s so funny - my friends were just talking about this! Who did we decide on…I think Rachel McAdams.
What is your favorite social media platform?
Facebook is my favorite because I know it so well. I love following Clinton Kelly because I love the show “What Not To Wear”.
Thank you so much, Kendra, for sharing your story and insights! We had a great time talking to you.
Millennials are commonly labeled as the generation of overeducated and underemployed young professionals. A recent post in NPR's new boom series reads, "Millennials are often marked as Starbucks baristas with Ivy League educations,". Members of Gen-Y are the best-educated generation to date, yet too many millennials continue facing obstacles of underemployment nationwide in the United States.
Underemployment refers to an individual employed at a job that does not fully utilize his/her skills, educational achievements, and/or applicable qualifications. Being underemployed means a young professional has a job, but it's part-time and/or below the skill set s/he possesses. Basic entry level jobs with wages of $10-$12 per hour with no benefits and scattered hours are common among recent college grads. As of July 2015, this trend among millennials has resulted in 14.2% of young professionals claiming to be underemployed nationwide. Whether the cause of this employment unhappiness is reflected in the job responsibilities, hourly wage, scheduled hours per week, or a combination of other reasons, the result is the same: too many young professionals are underemployed and lack employment satisfaction.
Young professionals are in search of their career niche. They want a career, not an interim job to pay the bills. While many millennials are fortunate to be underemployed as opposed to being unemployed, the lack of employment satisfaction still has its woes. Navigating early career woes can prove to be challenging, yet there are ways for millennials to beat the underemployment blues.
Refer to these occupational tips to make the most of underemployment:
- Take your current job seriously. While you may very well and rightfully so feel underemployed in your current job situation, be sure to take this experience just as seriously as you would your dream job. Each employment experience offers an opportunity to build meaningful and lasting connections with colleagues. Similarly, you're bound to acquire new skills you lacked before. Show up to work everyday early, enthusiastic, and engaged. This positive, eager attitude will make your day more pleasant, and if you're lucky, will even land you a solid reference for your next interview.
- Stop waiting for the opportunity to come to you. Even though you are employed and it's effortless to fall into the routine of settling for what you already have, don't allow yourself to become stagnant. This isn't your dream career, remember? This is a temporary gig for you to afford your livelihood while you search for the perfect career niche. Don't wait for your dream career to fall into your lap, because chances are it won't happen. Be aggressive in your job hunt and force yourself to continue sending out your resume. You never know what doors will open by being assertive in your search.
- Appreciate what you have going for you. Young professionals in the early twenties and thirties blindly rush into careers. Appreciate that while you haven't yet found your dream job, you still have a job that pays the bills and adds experience to your resume. You're lucky to have something, even if it means being underemployed for a bit. Take a moment to be thankful for small favors in our highly competitive economy.
- Don't limit yourself to your day job. If you're underemployed and lacking ambition it could be the perfect time for you to startup a side hustle. In your free time begin pursuing part-time gigs. There are plenty of blogs, YouTube channels, and websites to join that welcome writers, artists, musicians and the like. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there by kick-starting your own business. Entrepreneurship is big these days and you never know if your side hustle could become a full-fledged job down the road.
- Remember, you're not "just" anything. You're not just a secretary, cashier, bank teller, or pizza chef. Every single job serves a purpose, and while your current gig might not be your calling, it's still a contributing key player to society. Give yourself some credit! You're actively aiming for your goals and doing yourself a favor by working in the interim. Don't allow yourself to get too caught up in job titles. We've all had some entry level work at one point or another. We have to start somewhere!
- Don't allow yourself to get too caught up in the drama. Workplaces often present the ideal setting for drama to fester. With a bunch of different people in the same office forty hours per week it's a bit testing to refrain from getting catty. Try your best to avoid office drama. This is your opportunity to shine bright and excel at the job at hand. Don't worry about cliques. This isn't high school, it's work. If your personality doesn't mesh with others, do your best to be a team player and move on. After all, this job is temporary, right?
- Use your part-time gig to your advantage. If you're underemployed with ample amounts of time to refocus your efforts on other things, consider taking classes or going back to school. Keep your mind sharp with studies, online modules, and reading to stay on top of current topics and abreast with trending news. Since you're not sucked into a demanding, all-consuming career right now, chances are you can spare some time to engage your mind while you're stuck in the office surfing the web.
- Don't let your job define your life. There comes a point when you may have to accept your dream career just isn't realistic. We can't all be award-winning pop stars like Taylor Swift or bestselling authors like J.K. Rowling; and that's okay! If you get too obsessed with becoming a New York Times bestselling author you might find yourself heading toward insanity if it never happens. Remember, your job doesn't define you or your life. Work is part of the life balance. It does consume one-third of our day, but it does not define who we are or what we're capable of. Life will go on, even if we don't win a Pulitzer prize or Academy Award.
- Avoid limiting your opportunities. You may think it's silly to apply for an internship after college or consider doing volunteer work because there's no financial reward. Think again. The value of internships and volunteer work are priceless. Opportunities such as these won't offer you income, but they certainly will give you experience, help you establish new connections, and network in incredible ways. Consider volunteering or interning at a company you strive to work for. Sure, you'll work your underemployed job in the meantime, but making new relationships with XYZ company that calls to you could get you one foot in the door.
- Believe in the future. Sure, working as a cashier after four years of college and 60K in student loans can feel very discouraging. You worked hard in school and earned that 4.0 GPA to the decimal. Sometimes things take time. One or two years post-grad might not be enough time for you to figure out what you want to do for work. It may not happen right away, but you must believe that it will. Life has a funny way of working out when you least expect it to. Keep pushing through that entry level job. Before you know it, the time you spent working as an underemployed young professional will payoff. Your future is just around the corner!
Underemployment happens to the best of us; 14.2% nationwide, to be exact. While that percentage may not seem like a lot, to those who work entry level jobs with overqualified backgrounds it can feel stifling. A big factor to consider is that you're working. You may not have employment happiness, but you are employed, and that's a huge step in the right direction. Even the most mundane, simple, and basic jobs can offer valuable experience, networks, and future references. Keep chugging along, millennials. Your career niche will come. Trust the timing of your life.
Establishing a career as a young professional is no easy feat. Rather, this goal is actually a lengthy journey filled with self-discovery, experimentation, and lots of trial and error. Coming out of college, graduate school, and/or the military is a milestone in itself. Yet, most of us take little time to bask in the glory of achievement of everything we just conquered. Instead, we move straight ahead onto the next milestone, which for many of us is establishing a lifelong dream career.
What most of us fail to realize early on is that it is very rare to discover what you want to do for the rest of your life at age twenty-two, twenty-five, or even thirty. We may spend the majority of our twenties job hopping and job shopping, determined to find the perfect match; and that's okay! Cut yourself a little slack. Accepting that your twenties is a chance to truly unravel your passions, discover yourself, and experiment along the way is bound to make you enjoy the job hunt a little more. Establishing your dream career will come in due time, but it does take time.
Here are ten practical, logical career tips for the young professional attempting to establish a career:
- There is no clearly defined pathway to success. Sorry, it's not quite that simple. Even if you went to college and successfully earned a bachelor's degree in marine biology, for example, there's no guarantee you're going to land a job as a professional research coordinator or go on to earn your PhD. Of course, there's a chance, but there is no clearly defined pathway before you that will lead you straight to this success. You have to make it yourself. Your degree is a stepping stone. It demonstrates you are academically qualified to apply for a position, but it by no means bridges you directly to an established career. You're going to have to work for the job you want to earn your royalties and rewards.
- Begin making connections early on. Many of us find ourselves qualified for little better than entry level work right out of college. Even when your first job or two seems like a complete waste of time and isn't even remotely connected to what you majored in, learn to network. Networking is a powerful tool that makes lasting connections. You may encounter new faces during company-wide meetings and discover someone from a different department that shares your employment values and goals. Introduce yourself! Invite him or her out to grab coffee during your lunch break to start a conversation and see if this new connection will open doors for you. Sometimes it really is about who you know and it could make all the difference.
- Cooperating with others is a continuous part of career development. It's very common to encounter challenging colleagues, bosses, and even clients we don't quite get along with. Sometimes it's a power struggle, other times it has to do with ego, expectations, and/or baggage. Whichever scenario fits your situation, understand this happens at any job — even your dream career. In the workplace these personality dynamics shape the relationships between everyone. Learn to work with these types of characters because chances are they won't ever disappear. Making peace with your differences will ultimately improve production and polish your career development.
- Do your best to stay at a job for at least one year. Starting off in entry level roles is often degrading and miserable. Most everyone has been there, between the dumping ground of miserable tasks that has become your to-do list to the lack of recognition for your hard work, it comes with the territory of being a young newbie in the office. Even if it's a struggle to get out of bed in the morning, the job you have is better than the alternative: unemployment. Do your best to push through for at least one year. By doing so you'll learn a lot about perseverance and you won't have to worry about explaining any significant unemployment gaps when you begin interviewing for something better and more fulfilling down the road.
- Finding your dream job is a process of elimination. Most of us don't decide at age five we want to become a doctor and actually grow up to pursue it. As a child, any job can seem enchanting and feasible. As a young professional it's important to remember that finding your career niche is a process of elimination. You probably won't wake up one morning with a lightening bolt of inspiration striking you. It could happen, but more often than not you'll learn what you want to do for a living by trial and error. Sample different jobs during your twenties. Try knocking out a year or so at a couple different spots before setting into a career you love. You may think a job reads as the perfect fit on paper but actually going through the daily motions of the job's responsibilities could shock you. This is a great time to look into internships, as well. They require less commitment and formality, and give you a taste of the job before you sign your contract. Remember, it's a process of elimination.
- Remain open minded. If you don't really know what career niche you belong to then there is no harm in being open minded to pretty much anything. Coming out of college with little to no experience is the perfect time for you to experiment with different job opportunities. Even if you have never considered becoming a marketing specialist, research coordinator, admissions counselor, or financial analyst, allow yourself some time to experiment. You may discover skills and talents that you never even knew you had. Be open minded to any possibility that comes your way.
- You will probably fail, but get back up again. There may come a point during the early stages of your career that you find yourself making mistakes. You know what? Brush it off. With any job there comes a list of rules, regulations, and expectations to abide by. If you slip up once or twice all it proves is that you're only human, just like the rest of us. No one is perfect. We all fail at something, but it doesn't mean we are failures. It means we are learning. There's a learning curve with any new job and we have to take risks to become better. Not taking risks is risky. Allow yourself to slip up but get right back up on your feet again.
- You are so much better than you know. At work you are going to be tested. You will be purposefully put in situations that will challenge your instincts and force you to act quickly. Use these opportunities to demonstrate your resilience. When you're new on the job and your colleagues and boss are busy with their own agendas, things will happen that will require you to act off the cuff. If you find yourself bombarded with customers as a receptionist with no back up, politely ask clients to take a seat while you check-in your customers one-by-one. Or, thank everyone for their patience. Courtesy goes a long way and you will come out on the other side so much more resilient and better than you ever knew.
- Adopt a "what can I give" rather than a "what can I get" mindset. We work to earn a living. Our money pays our bills, cares for our families, and if we are lucky allows us to take vacations and buy the things we want in life. Even though we are looking to get the things we want, we must learn to give first. Adopting a "what can I give" mindset improves your attitude. Consider the types of skills, talents, experiences, and unique traits you can offer a company. You have to give before you can receive. Once an organization sees all of the wonderful things you can do for them, they will be more apt to offer you things in return, like the dream title, salary, and benefits you've been waiting for.
- Follow your pursuit of happiness. You will learn in time that work is about finding your craft and polishing it every single day. If your real passion is writing, art, music, travel, and more, follow it. Determine your pursuit of happiness and see where it guides you. There's no greater reward than loving what you do and doing what you love. Truly being passionate about your work shines through and others do notice. Once you bring that attitude to the table, there's no stopping your professional development and subsequent success. Everything will fall into place.
These top ten practical career tips are essential for every young professional searching for their dream career. There is no magical recipe that will establish your career for you. Rather, finding your career niche must come from within. Only you know the type of work that inspires you and makes you happy. There will be ups and downs along the bumpy road it may take to get there, but never give up. Perseverance and passion payoff big time!
We are excited to introduce the I Love My Job campaign! Each month, we will feature a different professional who has found their niche. The Niche Movement's mission is to help young professionals discover what they're passionate about and to inspire them to find a career they love.
Meet Brandon McCollough, founder and CEO of Generation Next in Washington, DC. Brandon, a New Jersey native, left his position at the National Society of Black Engineers in October, 2014 to launch his own company. Last month we had the opportunity to sit down with Brandon and pick his brain about his change in career and how he found his niche.
Why Did You Become an Entrepreneur?
"I actually was just thinking about this a few weeks ago, so it’s funny you ask. Throughout my life, I’ve always had the ambition to do something on my own. It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to become an entrepreneur; I just wanted to start my own thing. I was a little bit of a tech geek when I was younger. When I was in middle school, I remember a friend and I decided that we wanted to build our own video game. We drew out all of the characters and started to learn what it meant to build a video game. That’s what kind of drew me into the tech space. Then in college, when my friends and I would have events, I would be in charge of the operational aspect, bringing people together and building things out. Professionally, though, everything I’ve done has been in the space of community development. The job that I left was at the Society of Black Engineers and I kind of see my work here as a continuation of that. They were both community oriented in terms of creating a pipeline for talent and helping people find their passions."
What is Generation Next?
“We are a social enterprise that helps young Millennials in the DC area connect to job opportunities, advance their careers or launch their own businesses. That’s what we’re into, trying to help people find out what they’re great at and what they love. I would say our real birthday was last year in November. That is when I started doing this 9 to 5. Before that, we started with just a few folks who like to connect people and have events in their spare time. Now we are in the position to have two people full time and we’re looking to add some more team members."
Who is Your Demographic?
"Definitely Millennials, that’s our sweet spot, that’s the age range we’re targeting. We help folks that have two years of experience onto five to seven years of experience, so about 20-years old to 35-years-old is our sweet spot. They’re a whole range of folks in terms of backgrounds and industries. You know, we get a lot of people in DC from the Federal background that either want to transition into the private sector jobs or folks in the tech space. That’s kind of our niche within our niche because DC is a growing hub for technology."
What Has Been Your Biggest Success?
"Yeah, I’d have to say the Millennial Job Summit. It was our first big Generation Next Sponsored event. We were able to connect about 400 registrants to startups, businesses and Millennials who are looking for a job. We also had an entrepreneurial panel to give registrants information about starting their own thing. We got a lot of good feedback. Even though it was on a smaller scale, the registrants were able to make a lot of good connections whether it was finding co-founders for their own organizations or taking on new employees. It was great to play a role in the economic development of young folks, that’s what we’re all about, that’s the space where we’re trying to make a big impact."
What Advice Do You Have For Young Professionals?
"I like that this generation has come to embrace mistakes and failures and can learn from them. You can’t have people who are scared to try something different or try something new because that’s when the best things are created. Have the tenacity to put your ideas out there. Especially for the DC area, there are so many resources and Meetups or groups, you should always try to meet new people and make new connections. It’s really important in a “Who You Know” kind of city like DC. Don’t be afraid to go outside of your own expertise. I didn’t study computer software when I was in school, but I go to hack nights and code for progress events where they teach you how to create your own website from scratch. There are folks in there who’ve never written a line of code in their life, but they’re building websites better than people I know who when to college for it. Do something outside of the box because you might find something that you’re good at that you would’ve never known. Definitely get out there and meet new folks. Every week I try to set up coffee or lunch with three people that I’ve met. A lot of times you’ll go out to an event in DC and have this whole collection of cards but most people don’t follow up after that. If you don’t tap into that, what’s the purpose? By following up, you build a good personal brand and as long as you’re selling something dope, something that people understand, they’ll be your brand ambassadors."
What Are Your Favorite Places in DC?
"Aw man, well I’m a foodie so… I like a lot of places. I like the whole 14th street district because they have everything in there you could want within walking distance. There’s this place on 14th and T street called Tico that I really like and my favorite bar is down there too; it’s called Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. My favorite restaurant is Fogo de Chao which is a Brazilian steak house. They bring by every cut from filet mignon to sirloin and they just keep chopping, it’s awesome."
If you or someone you know is working at a job they love and would like to be featured on our blog, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.