Category Archives: Career

10 Reasons Why a Theatre BFA is a Smart Move

For all the reasons why “getting a liberal arts degree” is a “waste of money” (I’ve heard them all), here are 10 reasons why getting a bachelors in theatre arts is actually a smart thing to do, in terms of your career.

1. Improvisation Skills are Golden in your Professional Life
When it comes down to it, everything in life is sales — regardless of your job. First, you have to sell yourself to get the job. Then, you have to sell your ideas to move up in your career. Improv teaches you to never say “no” in a situation, and instead to say “yes, and…” and think on your feet. It’s a hugely important skill in all aspects of business.

2. Direct Actors and You Can Manage Anything
Actors tend to be among the most difficult people to work with — with egos, I’ve found, only comparable to top-level execs. By managing actors (as a director, or even assistant), you learn how to placate their egos while still getting what you want. If you can accomplish this, you’ve learned 80% of skills needed to be a good manager.

3. You’ll Learn How to Budget Wisely
Unless you’re producing Spiderman on Broadway (and even then) you’ll have a limited budget to work with, all while having to create or source costumes, set pieces, lighting and more. By working with a tight budget for a project, you’ll learn how to prioritize where to put the money, and explain why you are making these choices.

4. There’s Never Enough Time, and That’s OK
Theatre people know that from the first read through of a script to opening night is never enough time. There are always freak outs during “hell week” (the week before opening) yet somehow every time things fall together and the show opens. By going through this process a couple of times, you learn to trust how things fall together as long as you have a team that’s committed to getting something done, regardless of your time or resources.

5. You are Your Brand, Write Your Professional Character
More than ever, your professional trajectory is largely tied to your personal brand. What is that brand? It’s a combination of a few things — your schooling and resume, but also the story you present to the world through social networks and events. As a theatre major, you’ll learn plenty about character development, and how to build believable identities as a playwright and/or actor.

6. You’ll Feel at Home in Front of a Crowd
Business leaders are often skilled presenters. They have charisma (or know how to fake it) and can transfix an audience with their presence. As a theater major, you’ll have lots of time to hone your “on stage” skills, so you’ll be ready for any career that requires you to make presentations.

7. A Theater Degree is More Practical than Most Liberal Arts Degrees
The argument against liberal arts degrees is that they’re not practical. If you major in English, you may read a lot, research and write papers, but chances are you won’t be working in a collaborative environment on larger projects (unless you seek out those opportunities.) Theater is inherently a project-based degree, and a collaborative one at that. You will be forced to work with other people to build something. That gives you a lot to talk about at job interviews, even if you haven’t had a lot of other professional experiences.

8. Theatre Teaches You How to Become an Expert at Everything
When preparing for a role, directing a play, writing a play, or researching for design, you’re fast learning a lot about subjects you’ve often never heard of before. This forces you to become a quick study — perhaps a Jack of All Trades, Master of None — but you’re certainly able to pick up enough information on any topic quickly enough instead of worrying about being a super-expert before discussing a topic.

9.  Don’t Underestimate the Value of Creativity
Theatre majors are required to be creative on a daily basis. In the modern business world, thinking outside the box is often a necessity to solve the challenges that are present in many industries today. While strict academics may struggle to brainstorm and come up with a lot of options for how to attack a given situation, a theatre major is likely able to use their experience of thinking on their feet to offer new insights that others could not.

10. You Can Always “Fall Back on Broadway”
For many theatre majors, a career in theatre – or a related field such as the entertainment industry – is not just a fantasy. Many of the people I went to school with are successfully working on stage and off in the industry. Making a living as an actor IS really tough, but there are plenty of jobs in design, stage management, production, and the business side of theatre. In reality a theatre degree is a lot more of a business degree than most liberal arts majors.

 

Should I Exercise My Right to Stock Option Exercising

Working in startups, your pay is always split somehow between salary and “stock options.” If you don’t know what that means — basically an option gives you the option to purchase a share of stock at a low “strike price” of the company. If the company does well, the price of the stock goes up, and if it does really well the nitty gritty details that can make the purchasing of the said stock through the option become less painful to think about. Trouble is, most companies, even good companies, aren’t Facebook or even LinkedIn. So exercising options early could mean to big losses down the line.

There are some tax reasons to exercise options early. From my understanding, if you have ISOs (which I do), you can buy the stock options up front, before they’re vested, and wait a year to sell them at capital gains tax rates. That is, if in a year, or after a year, they’re worth more than they were when you bought them. And that only really makes sense if your company goes public — the odds of a startup going public are very, very small. More likely, even if your successful,  you get acquired. And as I experienced at my last startup — an acquisition, even when the founders do well, might not result in a great turnout for the rest of the employees.

So most of my instincts are telling me it would be silly to exercise the options now. Why not wait? Well, my company is likely raising additional funding soon, which means the value of the option will go up. While I’ll still be able to buy the option for the lower strike price, I’ll have to pay tax on the difference between the strike price and the value when I buy the option, which could be quite a lot, especially given that I’d be PAYING for the option and owe money on it. And there’s still a decent chance that eventually it will be worth $0.

Now, I could exercise a portion of my options – take a little risk, and wait on the rest – but it’s not clear this makes sense either. There is a whole issue with AMT that I don’t understand (anyone want to explain this to me?) that you can avoid if you exercise early, so says the Internets. I’m not sure at what point you hit the AMT issue in terms of your yearly gross income.

Besides all of that, the reality is that I don’t really have the $20k I’d need to purchase all of my stock options right now. Well, I do have it — I have $130k in random investment accounts — but I don’t know if it makes sense to pull my funds from any of them to exercise my options. It’s a huge risk. It might be better from a tax perspective if, in a year or a few years we get acquired, but who knows if that will happen. I do believe in this company (which is rare) so that says a lot. Still, I’m relatively risk-adverse when it comes to money. Hmm. What do you think I should do?

Interviewing Mr. and Ms. Ivy League

It’s a little ironic that just one year ago I was staring at an Algebra textbook, attempting to (re?)master polynomials in order to ace my planned upcoming GMAT, and then that dream was replaced with a respectable, exciting role at a startup. That’s not the ironic piece, though. At the time, my quantitative skills that had escaped my mind sometime back in high school were not coming back to me all that easily… and my dreams of a Stanford GSB MBA or Berkeley Haas MBA were admittedly laughable.

It hurt knowing that I’d never be a competitive enough candidate to get into those programs — though the reason I wanted to go to the programs (to offer myself more flexibility and open doors in my career) was still not clearly worth the $200k price tag of an MBA, even from a school that would give me the golden resume pedigree my undergrad couldn’t offer.

Fast forward a year, and I’m literally in charge of hiring MBA students from these top tier schools for their summer internships. Yes, the same woman who would be an unlikely candidate for a seat at the student mock boardroom is sitting behind the interview desk, reviewing resumes of people who are often just about my age and much more “impressive” than I ever will be. And by “impressive,” I mean their resumes all blur together with impressiveness.

Often these candidates are whip smart, so there is truth behind the value in hiring them, but that’s not always the case. Not everyone who is able to “shape themselves” into the person that can get into a top MBA program is the same person who can think outside the box and solve problems that are far from textbook.

Regardless, my biggest bit of perplexity in this whole process, came yesterday when reviewing the very impressive resume of one of these applicants from one of these top tier programs with an extremely solid employment history, albeit outside of tech. I immediately went to email this person to invite them for an interview, based on the email on their resume, and a few minutes later it bounced.

I thought perhaps I had spelled something wrong — surely an MBA student from an Ivy League school would know better than to spell his own email address wrong on his resume. But lo and behold, a typo. His school name was spelled incorrectly. Ultimately, this guy will surely go on to great things, but I can’t understand how someone can spend $200k on an MBA, get a 780 on the GMAT, and not spell check his email address on his resume. Thank goodness the “impressives” aren’t perfect. Otherwise I’d never stand a fighting chance.

Without a Raise, How my Salary Increased from $20k to $90k in 5 years.

Some people get annual raises of 3% to keep up with inflation, or more if they’re lucky, and less if it’s in the middle of a recession in a company that can’t afford to offer raises.

I’ve never gotten a raise. Since graduating from college in 2005, I started out making $18 an hour at a non-profit and am now making $90k a year. This was not through raises. In fact, my income trajectory is due to learning to pick myself back up when I lost my job, re-brand myself as something more valuable, and attack the job market with as much belief as disbelief in myself, which allowed me to take a lot of risks as I wandered my career path to where I am today.

Had I remained at my first job for longer than 6 months, I might have received annual raises and be making somewhere north of $25 per hour today. I’d have five years of Admin Assistant at a non-profit on my resume, which, if I were to leave to another position, would move me into yet another admin role, or a very low-level assistant position in another department.

Instead, I got laid off. Well, in that case I was fired. I was in the depths of one of my worst depressions that year (yea, got to love being bipolar) and my boss didn’t exactly understand why depression made it hard for me to drag myself out of bed and get to work on time. So that job ended, and within a week I managed to land my first full-time position as an editorial assistant at an international magazine making $35,000 a year. At the time, I was extremely excited to be making more than $20k.

I stayed in that position for a year and it went well enough, though the career path was not quite right and when the opportunity to jump ship came I jumped. This was the only time I was actively recruited, and thus my salary went up from $35k to $50k. This was a huge jump. Again, had I stayed at my employer where I was working as an editorial assistant, I’d be lucky if I were making $50k today. Instead, I left. And I stayed at my next position for three months, at which time I discovered I was (and still am) a terrible reporter (too socially anxious to be a good reporter and ADHD to pay attention to all the facts) so I left that role, again depressed, thinking I had thrown away all chances I had of a career, and moped around for a few months.

But then another opportunity came up. I found a part time job writing copy for a local startup at a rate of something like $35/hour. My contract there expired monthly, and I managed to re-negotiate a higher hourly rate each time. It got to the point when both my boss and I were tired of negotiating, and he offered me a full time job. I pushed the salary up a bit in our final negotiation to $65k, which I was offered. At the time I felt like I was rich.

Two years later, I’m laid off again. This time because the product I was working on was being shut down. I go for a month without a job and again fall into a deep depression — oh woe is me — oh woe — oh what am I going to do?

I land two jobs in those two months — one full time contract at a large, international tech company where I’m able to negotiate a $65/hour payrate (! — I inquired how much the role paid — $30-$60/hr, told them I wanted $70 an hour, totally thinking I was going to throw away the job by asking for so much, and they came back with $65) and another hourly role at a startup on the side at $40/hr. After a two month hiatus from the work world, I had the most profitable 6 months of my life. But that too had to come to an end.

The contract role at the big tech company was not extended because the product I was working on was being shut down (story of my life) — but I was ok with that. The startup I had been working for over the length of the contract was doing well enough to hire me on full time. And while I could have pursued a full time role in the large company where I had the contract (I had a few leads that might have turned into something) instead I decided to jump to the startup, assuming I’d have a stable salary and health insurance, vs the contract setup.

Mission accomplished. I secured a role with not only a $90k salary, but also a title that (assuming I am successful in this role) sets me up for higher-paid positions to follow. I doubt I’ll get a raise in this job either, but I also assume that within the next 3 years I’ll move on to a new position, and ideally break six figures, because now that I’ve found an industry and role I’m good at, I am sculpting myself into a valuable prospective hire.

Those first few years were really rough, and I’ll undoubtedly have a ton of rough times ahead, but at the very least I am confident that the harder you fall, the more room there is to leap higher than you’ve ever leaped before.

A Note to Job Applicants

This month I’ve been put in charge of hiring for a few positions at my company, and I’ve learned a lot about the hiring process in the meantime. That is, there are a lot of people who are “paper smart” that don’t know the first thing about how to apply for a job.

Firstly, when writing a cover letter, instead of listing out your accomplishments (unless they are actually applicable to the role you are applying to), explain how you can help my company. Few people even mention why they want to work for my company specifically in their cover letters — generic cover letters that discuss the industry very vaguely are not impressive, even if you have an impressive GPA from a top school.

Secondly, if you schedule an interview, do not pick up the phone informally, and sound like you are on drugs and/or half asleep. Be enthusiastic and please remember that you scheduled an interview at that time.

Finally, if you really want a job, it’s ok to follow up — these days postings on Craigslist for employees generate hundreds of applications, and most of them are garbage. It’s difficult to scan them all appropriately, and sometimes good applicants get missed. I was very impressed yesterday when I received a phone call from an applicant who I had not responded to yet, and it so happens he was one of the few applicants for the internship who had written a very good cover letter and who I had intended to reach out to — this has moved him even higher up the pile.

Not every company who is hiring will want you to do these things, but from my perspective the few people that have done all three stick out from the pack, and are much more likely to receive a job offer. It’s a little bit of education I’ll use for my own purposes next time I’m out seeking a job!

The Big Deal About Small Talk

Shortly after landing on the other side of a college diploma, I realized the vital ingredient in success had little to do with a piece of paper and much more to do with how you could hold your pop culture stats on your tongue and liquor in your belly at the same time. They don’t teach you that in school.

These days, I often find myself at conferences with high-powered execs in business suits, with their slicked back hair and hearty laughs, holding martinis and conversing with each other about the latest (insert popular sports team name here) game or even something nerdier yet still detail-oriented. I’ve come to the conclusion that my biggest obstacle in the way of success is my inability to engage in what they call “small talk.” And yes, it’s a big deal. A really big deal.

If I’m spending time with someone who enjoys talking, I fall back on what I learned as a journalist — look interested and keep asking questions. But when it comes to talking to people — whether it be professionals or in a social setting, I can’t think of anything to say. I go through the same boring questionnaire about where they grew up, where I grew up, and yes, central New Jersey does exist, and no, everyone does not look like Snookie and The Situation there. Then I run into a wall.

In social situations, especially if alcohol is involved, I often find myself cracking a joke or twenty at the expense of myself. People seem to like my self deprecating humor, I like to think of it as charming, but it has no place in a professional networking environment. So — I have nothing to say, only questions to ask. I don’t think I’m all that interesting.

Being in marketing means making those connections by engaging in small talk, by gaining trust, respect. And if there were a college degree in networking I would never have passed. I am such an introvert, with social anxiety to boot. This is why I wonder if I can ever succeed in this industry — even if I were able to get on top of things the whole introversion piece of the puzzle will hold me back. I’m forever awkward. And even when the best connections are available to be made, I manage to misplace them in the unspoken chaos of insecurity.

jumping off the career plank

I often write about how I have a great job, yet I still feel like I haven’t found the position where my talent can best contribute to a company or cause. I can get by in marketing… I’m decent at telling a story about a product, understanding how people might want to use it. But I’m by no means a brilliant marketer. In this career, I can only go so far, and it really shows everyday at work.

Every year, every month, every day, I come back to wanting to be on the product side of tech divide. I highly value my experience in marketing and know it will help me in the long run, but I honestly do not want to spend the rest of my career as a marketer.

While I’m dedicated to my marketing role at my current company, at some point things will need to change. I’m 27 now, and I’m dedicated to this role until I’m 30 or 31. At which point, I need to figure out what’s next. And that time will be here before I can count 1. to. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Continue reading

Startup Stock Options: Taxes and Risk

One of the supposed benefits of working at a startup is the equity you’re offered as part of your compensation package. Given that more often than not this equity is in place of a 401k and a portion of your salary, in theory it may offer great reward in the long run.

However, what I didn’t realize about stock options (ISOs and NSOs) years ago is that in order to actually receive the stock, you still have to pay for it. Options just mean that you are able to buy the stock at a strike price, which is “low” but may very well still be higher than what the stock ends up being worth. Continue reading

Personality Types: What’s INTP Got to Do With It?

Apparently a bunch of top personal finance bloggers over at Yakezie had a blog carnival of sorts discussing their Jungian personality types.

Since I’m a Myers Briggs addict, I figured it was as good a time as any to retake the test and see what my results would be. I tend to swing back and forth between INTP and INFP depending on my bipolar phase… hypomanic and I’m INTP, depressed and I’m INFP.

So, today I tested INTP.
I think that’s accurate, at least for now.

Introverted: 67%
Intuitive: 38%
Thinking: 12%
Perceiving: 56%

INTPs are known as “The Architects”

Bolded are the pieces of the description that really speak to me… and also, in a large part, explain much of my frustration in the various career paths I’ve pursued thus far…

Architects need not be thought of as only interested in drawing blueprints for buildings or roads or bridges. They are the master designers of all kinds of theoretical systems, including school curricula, corporate strategies, and new technologies. For Architects, the world exists primarily to be analyzed, understood, explained – and re-designed.

Continue reading

Faking Passion vs. Finding Passion

It’s 1pm on Wednesday, I’m wide awake, full from a nice lunch with co-workers, and my brain is stuck at writer’s block. While I’ll never pose that I’m the most talented writer in the universe, if I have passion for the topic I’m writing about, I can at least revel in getting a lot of copy out. Without that passion, I stare at my screen for hours on end, and don’t know what to say.

Everyone has that thing that drives them, that defines their passion. Mine has always been honesty. I love telling stories, but I love telling true stories. Marketing is not exactly about lying, but your job revolves around how good you are at making tiny successes seem like major accomplishments, and to find an interesting and relevant story around the day-to-day business in order to generate excitement, leads and ultimately sales.

If there’s anything I learned from being a theatre major, it’s how to put myself into another character’s mind, to improvise, to always accept what’s thrown your way and go with it — yet when it comes to marketing writing, I always find myself a wall. I guess when I’m not personally excited about something, I fail at faking it. I’d always rather be involved in improving things than promoting things that are good, but have room for growth and fixes.

The problem is that I have an amazing opportunity for a long and profitable career in marketing, and I don’t even need to go to grad school or get an MBA to accomplish this. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’ve been lucky enough to fall into one opportunity after the next that has generated a solid resume (finally.) I certainly won’t be offered every job I apply to — far from it — but I’ve moved beyond “entry level” and now have 5+ years of experience with some impressive companies, and a lot of (true) stories to tell about those experiences.

Even though I won’t be CMO overnight I know if I could just get myself excited about this career path, I have a shot at really making a name for myself in this business. But I’m not sure this is the path I want to take for the rest of my life. My heart is in product, in building something people use, iterating, creating, and honesty. Marketing covers some of that, but not in the way I see myself looking back and feeling like I’ve used my true passion the right way over the years… if there is a right way.

If money had nothing to do with it, would I be on this marketing trajectory? I’m not so sure. Would I be happier in design or something related to that? Probably, but who knows. In the end it’s a job, and regardless of what your job is, sometimes it’s hard to be passionate about what you’re doing to make a living. And sometimes its better to keep your passion separate from your career, so you don’t kill it.

What do you think?