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Op/Ed

How your mentors can push you and your career

(EDITORIAL) Moving up in your career can be dependent on your drive to be better, but improving does depend on who you choose to teach you.

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career mentor

Remember when you were younger and were encouraged to join extra-curricular activities because they would “look good to colleges”? What if the same were true for your career?

While applying to a university may be a thing of the past for you, there are still benefits to having extra-curricular activities that have to do with your career. Networking is a major piece of this, as is finding mentors who will help point you in the right direction.

These out-of-office organizations or clubs differ for every industry, so for the sake of this article, I will use one example that you can then interpret and tailor towards your own career.

The Past President of the national Federal Bar Association, Maria Z. Vathis, is someone who has taken the extra-curricular route throughout her entire career, and it has paid off immensely. Working as an attorney in Chicago, Vathis joined the FBA shortly after beginning her legal career and now is the Past President of the almost 100-year old organization.

She started working her way up the ladder of the Chicago Chapter of the association, and eventually became the president of that chapter. At the same time, she was also becoming involved in the Hellenic Bar Association, and would eventually become national president of that organization, as well.

“Through these organizations, I was fortunate to find mentors and lifelong friends. I was also lucky enough to mentor others and to have opportunities to give back to the community through various outreach projects,” said Vathis. “As a young attorney, it was priceless to gain exposure to successful attorneys and judges and to observe how they conducted themselves. Those judges and attorneys were my role models – whether they knew it or not. I learned how to be a professional and how to work with different personality types through my bar association work.”

Finding people in your industry – not just in your office – can be of great help as you go through the journey of your career. They can help you in the event of a job switch, help collaborate on volunteer-based projects, and help collaborate on career-advancing projects (like writing a book, for example).

And all strong networks often start with the help of a mentor – someone who has once been in your shows and can help you handle the ropes of your new career. Most importantly, they’re someone who you can seek advice from when you’re faced with someone challenging – either good or bad.

“I have been unbelievably fortunate with my mentors, and I cherish those relationships. They are good people, and they have changed my life in positive ways. I still draw on what they taught me to help make important decisions,” said Vathis. “My career success is due in large part to the fact that my mentors took an interest in my career, had faith in my abilities, and supported me while I held various positions in the organizations. Not only is it important to continue having mentors throughout your career, but it is important to recognize that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. You never know who you will learn something from, so it’s important to remain open. Also, after you become seasoned, it is important to give back by mentoring others.”

When asked why it’s important to be part of organizations outside of the office, Vathis explained, “To build a book of business, you need to be visible to others.” She also stresses the importance of putting yourself out there for new affiliations and challenges, because you never know where it may lead.

If you’re unsure of how to start this process, try asking co-workers and other people in your professional life if they have any advice or recommendations of organizations that can help advance your career. Another simple way is to Google “networking events in my area” and see what speaks to you. In addition, never be afraid to reach out to someone with a bit more experience for some advice. Take them out to coffee and pick their brain – you never know what you may learn.

Staff Writer, Taylor Leddin is a publicist and freelance writer for a number of national outlets. She was featured on Thrive Global as a successful woman in journalism, and is the editor-in-chief of The Tidbit. Taylor resides in Chicago and has a Bachelor in Communication Studies from Illinois State University.

Op/Ed

Why men are called ‘creators,’ and women ‘influencers’ (or not)

(EDITORIAL) A sh*tstorm has been brewing regarding why men are supposedly referred to as “creators” while women are called “influencers,” and it gets complicated before it simplicity is revealed…

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creators v. influencers

According to a recent WIRED editorial, a woman is more likely to call herself influencer, while a man is more likely to call himself a creator, because, “Generally speaking, women consider themselves part of the product, while men separate their notion of self from their labor, considering themselves its “creator.”

Besides being no more founded than “generally speaking” though, this sort of notion first assumes creators and influencers encompass the same job description, with the only delineating factor being gender.

In fact, one of the earliest assertions made in the editorial notes, “Really, the only way to guarantee that people will think of your online celebrity as ‘influence’ is to be a woman.”

When ”really,” there is a world of women who identify as creators and men influencers; the differences can be seen in their varying job descriptions, history, and business needs that each fulfill. Therefore, the issue at hand should not be “why men are called creators and women are called influencers,” but “why we should call influencers ‘influencers,’ and creators ‘creators’.”

And that is what we will explore today.

First, let’s understand what an “influencer” is and what a “creator” is.

Before getting into explanations, and differences, it is important to note that influencer and creator are most always a term people use to identify themselves, so the true meaning of the word is specific to each individual.

Generally speaking though, today’s influencer is someone who has educated themselves enough to be considered an authority in their niche (or can at least present themselves as informed). They use this authority, along with their personal brand,to persuade and inspire their following for gain, which can be monetary, or in the form of free products, and/or free publicity.

Influencers often make their gains by partnering with brands to promote their product, or from creating a product themselves, and selling it to their following directly.

For an influencer, a larger audience or following is linear with gains, so a large amount of their focus is on the numbers – followers, website visitors, comments, and likes. The rest of their focus is in making sure those followers are influenced enough to consume whatever is being promoted.

Why businesses tap into influencers’ networks today.

The sole reason businesses hire influencers is for exposure. We’ve all heard “what good is your product/service if no one knows it exists?” or something similar, and for brands, that is exactly what influencers are hired to help with. They act as distribution channels by bringing more eyeballs which, if done properly, translates into more money.

A creator, on the other hand, is more concerned with the finished product of their work and the creation process it took to get there.

So, what is a creator?

Depending on what they are working on, a creator is an artist, producer, maker, writer, or composer who gets paid for captivating work. This person is usually more passionate about design, brand collateral, video creation etc. than persuading the people who will consume their work.

More followers, higher monthly reach, and increased engagement rates don’t excite the devout creator like strategy, composition, and contrast does. For them, one superior piece of work (think one overall cohesive brand package) is more satisfying than producing a mass of mediocre work.

Promoting themselves like an influencer isn’t as important as showing their work. Take my close friend, Chad as an example; he produces a podcast that boasts over a million listeners, and averages 20k views on each Instagram video, which you’d never know by looking at his personal profile. There, he has 2.5k followers, posts every four months, and gets most of his comments from old college friends – all of whom work for him. His virtue, like a lot of creators, is in the quality of his work.

Why businesses hire creators.

Creators do for businesses what a boutique ad agency would do, typically for a fraction of the cost. They use their art to build brand assets, establish brand identity, and create campaigns. While influencers are used as “the face,” a creator could be used as a “face” or the behind the scenes person who you never see. In a sneaker campaign for example, a creator might be tasked with taking cool pictures of other people’s street style, while an influencer would promote themselves in the shoes.

Creators and influencers are different and fulfill different business needs, but they are not mutually exclusive.

A creator can do influencer work, and there are influencers who create magnificent work without them in it. It’s a matter of self identity.

Influencers are also inherently tied to monetizing their content or, “…building a platform with he intention of being used by brands for marketing purposes,” according to Natasha Hunes, a Youtuber who self-identifies as a creator. Hunes adds that a creator is in for the self-expression, not money, adding “I don’t think the claim that most women don’t identify as creators is factual.”

Let’s dissect the history of the two terms.

The biggest factor in establishing the difference between creator and influencer is the history of the two. In a response to the WIRED piece, Taylor Lorenz gives an in-depth history of how “creator” predated “influencer.”

It all started in 2011, when YouTube wanted to replace the boring term “YouTube Stars” for a more inclusive way to describe their multi-talented content creators.

“These people were more than onscreen tales,“ said Tim Shey, a former employer of YouTube, “They could write, edit, produce, do community management, and were entrepreneurs.”

During the search, YouTube forged a partnership with Next New Networks, a multi-channel network specializing in viral content, and started a program called the “Next New Creators” program. This program was designed to help independent YouTube stars grow their audience to the point of monetization. The program became such a hit, the word “creator” stuck at YouTube and began to be the phrasing of choice for their press releases, and future programs.

They went on to open a number of “creator hubs” and studios for YouTube creators to collaborate with one another.

From 2011 to 2016, the video platform continued to promote their new world of creators and hit the sweet spot in 2015 after launching a massive creator ad campaign. This campaign plastered different creators’ faces on billboards, taxis, buses, and subway stops all over New York and L.A., as well as in magazines and commercials. All of the language referred to the people in the ads as creators, and that’s when the term became mainstream.

Not long after, other platforms caught on – in 2015, Tumblr also began referring to their power users as creators and launched a division called “Tumblr Creators Network.”

Influencers went mainstream in 2017, two years after creator did, and according to Lorenz, was the response to the rise of Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and sponsored posts.

As the “new kids on the block” influencers were initially stereotyped as less worthy than traditional YouTube creators, who had spent years establishing their base on an older platform, and a larger platform than IG, Twitter, and Pinterest. Therefore, Lorenz believes the distinction between creators and influencers are not gender related, but more so “platform-agnostic.” This means you’re more likely to find YouTubers identifying themselves as creators, while IG, Twitter, and Pinterest users typically identify is influencers.

And while I do understand Lorenz’s “platform-agnostic” argument more than WIRED’s position that it is a gender-based distinction, I believe that the differentiation as self-assigned terms are a lot simpler than we think.

Man or woman, YouTube or Instagram, people just want to be called what they identify with.

Creators want to be called creators because they relate more with creating, and influencers want to be called influencers because they enjoy interacting with and influencing their following.

Remember my friend Chat, the podcast producer? I asked why he identifies with creator and not influencer, despite some of his work being influencer-based.

His answer?

“I feel more like a creator.”

And I felt THAT.

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Op/Ed

5 ‘lies’ HGTV tells viewers that impact the housing market

(OPINION EDITORIAL) HGTV has long been a fan favorite for renovations and home searches, but is the information they portray accurate? What influence does this really have on consumers?

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Man watching HGTV show on tablet device.

It’s no secret that reality television very often does not, in fact, depict reality. One of the most frequently viewed “reality” television networks is HGTV, which features a wide range of home renovation and DIY shows that cater to a variety of home improvement enthusiasts.

While HGTV wants you to get lost in the latest episode of House Hunters, you may be surprised to know that these episodes are in fact, at least partially scripted.

Although there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good home improvement show, especially those ever-addicting home flipping shows like Fixer Uppers, there are a few things HGTV portrays that are less than accurate. Here are five of those things you may want to consider, or have your clients consider before embarking in the home ownership process yourself (or with a client).

Consider the following…

1. Realtors work a lot harder/longer than people think

Unfortunately, HGTV often portrays real estate agents as people who do the bare minimum for their clients, when in fact most Realtors® go above and beyond for their clients.

According to CheatSheet, Sissy Lapin, author and co-founder of ListingDoor, stated shows like House Hunters “make the agent look like they’re just these lazy people who show two houses and negotiate $1,000 off the asking price,” rather than showing the whole host of duties a good agent performs for their clients.

Good agents tackle the whole home buying process; informing clients about what they should consider when selecting a home, negotiating a better deal, and making sure that they do their very best to ensure nothing goes wrong throughout the entire process from start to close.

This is not the impression a potential homebuyer would get from HGTV alone. Realtors are an amazing asset to have on your team when you’re considering buying or selling a home, and they do a lot more than HGTV portrays.

2. Over-emphasizing the importance of new features

HGTV shows make a production out of showing homeowners frantically searching for the “perfect home” with all the “must have” features. In all fairness, sponsorship from the latest and greatest in home innovations is how they make some of their money. While it’s certainly understandable that most homeowners have a list of things they want in a new home, worrying sellers into thinking they won’t be able to sell their home unless they have these highly coveted features is an entirely different thing.

Lapin commented, “I can’t tell you how many times that I go into a house and they’re like, do you think it would add more value, or do you think it would sell faster if I put in granite countertops?” In fact, like many other trends in homes, consumers are moving away from granite to other sustainable materials. But you would never guess this if you believe everything HGTV is promoting on their shows. Again, the key is to do your own research. Consult a professional and inquire as to what would increase your home’s value.

3. Downplaying the expense of renovations

If you took what HGTV shows to heart, you’d be inclined to believe that major home renovations can be completed in mere hours for a few hundred dollars. If you’ve ever seen Property Brothers, you know the brothers function on extremely fast renovations schedules and very low budgets. This is likely not the situation you’ll encounter if you decide to renovate your own home (or a project home). Even contractors have complained that these types of shows are giving people an inaccurate picture about renovation expectations.

“Remodelers say that shows such as Love It or List It and Property Brothers, which often cram whole-house remodeling projects into too-small budgets, give clients the wrong impression regarding pricing and time constraints,” notes Tim Regan, writer for Remodeling.com. Also, according to CheatSheet, some renovations may not even be up to code.

One couple who appeared on Love It or List It are suing the show’s production company stating their home was “irreparably damaged” and a that a licensed architect was not hired.

To ensure your next project goes smoothly the best thing you can do is consult with a licensed, bonded, and insured contractor. They will be able to give you a time table and price range that is more realistic than what you see on HGTV.

4. Location, location, location

While not as important as the other factors on this list, in my opinion, it is certainly something to be considered. HGTV shows like House Hunters very rarely focus on the importance of location with the home buyer.

Lapin stated in one episode, she watched as a couple chose a home because of its stylish features even though it meant they would have to make a 45 minute commute to work. While everyone is entitled to make their own choices, Lapin makes a good point in stating that she would have “made [her] client make that drive to work three days in a row” to see if they would still enjoy the location of their new home.

This is one of the many benefits to having a Realtor® on your side: they know the ins and outs of home values, location, and more. Getting your information from a Realtor® will take you a lot further (and very likely save you money) than the information you can get from HGTV programming.

5. Buyers know more than some think

Contrary to what HGTV would like you to believe, buyers are not naïve. For the most part, buyers are real-world savvy and have a good idea about what they need and the price range they can afford. This is the age of digital technology, and most buyers are putting that technology to use, researching before they set out to buy something.

Sites like Zillow give buyers an idea of what’s available for how much, and they can even see what the home looks like without getting out and driving to the location. HGTV tends to show buyers that don’t know what they want or how much they can spend.

This is likely done to make their professionals seem more knowledgeable, but in reality, as Lapin states, “the buyer, the consumer, is very savvy and I feel like that’s not portrayed. Buyers have a lot of confidence now.” This isn’t to say most buyers don’t still welcome guidance from a professional, but they do have a general idea of what they want and what they can spend, by and large.

Instead of viewing HGTV as an example to follow, or representative of the market as a whole, it should be treated as entertainment.

While there are some aspects of the show that may be useful to some viewers, such as window replacement and selecting new flooring, it definitely shouldn’t be held as the gold standard for service or the home buying experience.

Consumers’ best bet is to consult an industry professional who can give you a more realistic picture of cost and time.

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Op/Ed

Tried to escape a conversation? This Harvard study reveals you aren’t alone

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) A Harvard study shows that 98% of conversations leave at least one person dissatisfied – here’s how you can improve your conversation skills.

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A Black man on the left and a white woman on the right deep in conversation in a blue and yellow room.

We’ve all been there before: Politely smiling and nodding our way through a conversation that, despite needing to be over 20 minutes ago, is somehow still chugging along at full steam. Perhaps the opposite is true for you, too—a situation in which the other party ends the conversation before you feel it has had a chance to take off, leaving you unsatisfied.

Well, according to a recent Harvard study, you’re certainly not alone in desiring more—or less—from your conversations; in fact, almost every conversation leaves at least one person wanting something different.

The study in question entailed over 900 paired conversations, the vast majority of which ended either far too early or far too late per the participants. The number of times both people actually walked away from the conversation satisfied was shockingly, abysmally low: Only 2% of conversations were deemed appropriately long (or short).

One aspect of the study was particularly fascinating. Researchers gathered and partnered off 252 strangers, gave them a time limit of 45 minutes, and allowed them to converse. At the end of this portion of the study, a whopping 69% of participants said that they felt like the conversation had a definite stopping point, while the remaining 31% said they never felt like they reached the end of the conversation.

And, counterintuitively, the average participant wanted the conversation to go around a minute longer.

The results of the overall study are equally staggering. While the aforementioned 2% of conversations were acceptable to both parties, 30% of the conversations ended when only one party wanted them to, and an additional 46% of conversations went on for longer than either party wanted.

A mere 10% of conversations fell short of time expectations for both parties despite one party terminating the conversation.

Aside from providing depressing confirmation that many of us—despite our own perceptions—talk too much in conversations, this study holds some truly fascinating data for how we interact with each other, especially in a business setting. The plainest takeaway is that manners prevent conversation participants from communicating what they would prefer—something that was clearly absent from every conversation.

In fact, the research posits that simply not knowing what one’s partner wanted out of the conversation was a massive barrier to conversational satisfaction. A simple tweak—saying “I have two minutes to talk”, for example—eliminates this barrier for at least one party, and may provide some relief to the other if they want to know the parameters for their conversation.

Harvard plans to continue with this research in the future to determine which minutiae further complicate these results.

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