Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Meet Stephanie Zimmerman, WIU Alum and Owner of Steph Zimmerman Photography!

This week, Stephanie Zimmerman is giving advice on starting your own business, based on her own experience starting up her photography business in Colchester, IL. Stephanie is a graduate of the School of Agriculture and currently works at WIU, too! 

1. When did you decide to start your own business? How did you make this decision for yourself?

I decided to start my photography business after about 4 years of practicing my skill set and learning about photography through a lot of reading and taking classes.  I believe that photography is not just taking a picture, its an art that takes time to develop. Even with everything that I have done, I'm still growing and know that I have a lot to learn.  I knew that this was something that I wanted to do, but I wanted to make sure that I had the skills and knowledge to support it, which takes time and practice. 

As a kid, I really enjoyed taking pictures and went through more film than I'm willing to admit, but I didn't truly start learning the art of photography until I was in college.  The first class I took was on film photography.  I fell in love with the challenges of understanding light, especially with night photography. From there I was hooked. I saved over the next few years to purchase a digital camera body, quality lenses, then another camera body, photography software, back-up equipment, lighting equipment, a new computer, marketing material, etc. I didn't want to be someone that jumped right in after getting a camera that had little skill and not enough supporting equipment, so I took my time to develop.  With the equipment I have now, I know that there is room to improve but I can also confidently run my business. We all start somewhere, I just wanted to have more experience before I actually started my business.  I practiced photographing family and friends and was a second shooter for some weddings, and then when I felt comfortable in doing it on my own, I started my business the Fall of 2013.  

I've been in business officially for about 9 months now and its a never ending learning process, but I really enjoy the challenge.  There's always more to learn about the business side and I'm constantly gaining knowledge and experience with my photography. I feel like I've learned so much, but I have even more to learn! 

2. What did you do to start your business? Did you take out any loans? Did you create a business or marketing plan?

To start my business, I did a great amount of research and I also spoke with someone at the Illinois Small Business Development Center in town.  They were very helpful in affirming the information that I had found and also gave me a few tips along the way.  I took out the proper business license, filed my information with the state, started bank accounts, filed more paperwork, developed my accounting information, learned about sales tax, got contracts, etc.  There's a great amount to learn and do to make sure that everything is legal and legitimate. 

I did not take out any loans, I save and purchase equipment as I am able to.  I saved to get the equipment I needed to start and now I'm updating and improving my equipment along the way.  I felt like this was the right decision to start off with for me and my business financially.  Booking clients in the beginning had been inconsistent and with them being unpredictable, I didn't want extra payments to start off with.   I still created a business plan for myself, just to help me set goals and set the direction that I want to take my business.  

3. How did you get customers? How did you expand your business?

Marketing is an ongoing process and I use face-to-face interactions along with an online presence to reach clients.  I utilize my website www.stephzimmermanphotography.com and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram) to create an online presence to communicate with current and future clients.  I'm studying and attempting to improve my SEO so that when potential clients search for photographers in the Macomb and Colchester area, I'll be listed in the first part of their search responses.  

Along side an online presence, a great marketing tool for any business is when clients share your information by word of mouth (it maybe an even better way in a small community).  I've loved working with all of my clients and do my best to create a great experience for them during their session. I've had many of my clients tell me that they've shared my business cards or information with friends and family that want a session in the future.  That always makes me happy because that means that they had a great experience and find value in my work. I also find a lot of value in face-to-face interactions with potential clients.  I've done a few vendor fairs this year, which have been great opportunities to meet new clients.  With just starting up officially last fall, this was a great way to get my name out and interact with those in the community. 

I'm also helping to expand my business through donations and working with local organizations.  This is a great way to not only give back to the community or support someone at a benefit, but its a good way to get your name out in the community as well. For example, a big event that's going on this fall is the West Prairie After Prom Family Session Fundraiser. I'm teaming up with the West Prairie After Prom Committee to do family sessions this fall and I'll be donating a portion of every family session completed in September to help them raise money for their after prom events and senior class trip.  I am so excited to do this because I'm not originally from the area and this will give me a better chance to get to know those in my community.

4. What words of wisdom do you have for someone interested in starting their own full or part-time business?

My advice to those wanting to start a business is to be confident in the decisions you're making.  If this is something that you really want to do, don't doubt yourself along the way because it will hold you back.  Take your time to learn more about the area of business you're going into and take time to study and learn about the different aspects of being a business owner.  Advice for the area of photography specifically, take time to learn the about the art.  I remember how excited I was to get my first DSLR, I wanted to jump in right away but decided not to.  I'm glad that I didn't.  By taking time to learn more about photography and practice, I think that I've learned many valuable lessons. 

Also, be open to criticism, especially constructive criticism. Allow someone to be brutally honest with you. Friends and family are usually supportive and don't want to rain on your parade, so find someone outside of that support group that you respect that has more experience than you so you can ask questions  and listen to what they have to say.  Someone out there is going to have more experience than you and even if you have a lot of experience, there's always room for improvement.  Never stop learning and always continue to grow.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

First week of work in “the real world”—Daniel Mitchel

Written by recent 2014 WIU School of Agriculture Graduate, Daniel Mitchell

It seems like I no more than started my college career, and then it was over.  Graduation came and went as I was getting ready to pack up and move out for my first full-time job.  Looking back, the past four years are already beginning to blur in my memory, especially the past few months.  I quickly went from being a full-time college student to a full-time Case Construction Product Support Manager Trainee at CNH Industrial in Racine, WI.

The first week of work was really quite what I had expected for working for a large company.  There are several people to meet and names to memorize.  I was busy with training, orientation, filling out paperwork, and getting a company phone, computer, and credit card.  I was able to select the benefits I wanted to utilize as well. 

Fortunately, I had an internship with CNH last summer in the same area where I’m working today.  If it wasn’t for that, this past week would have been much more stressful.  I was able to come into this position knowing about the town, the company, the position I am in, my coworkers, and even how to get around the building.  This “new place” didn’t seem so new to me.  It felt comfortable, welcoming, and most of all, like I was meant to be here.  If it wasn’t for the internship, I would be nervous, stressing out, second guessing my decision, and trying to find my way around town.  I never realized until now how vital to my success my internship could be. 

I also had an internship with another company.  I would encourage everyone to take at least two different internships.  Not only did I have a better understanding of what I wanted to do, but I gained valuable experiences from both internships, was able to see how two competing companies were managed, and, possibly more important, I knew what I didn’t want to do. 

So what can someone learn from my experience?  Get involved, stay involved, and go to the opportunities…don’t wait for them to come to you.  Also, be prepared for anything and everything.  It is never too early for an internship.  A nice looking, full resume (along with your skills) will go very far in attaining an internship after your first or second year of college!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Meet Stephanie Nelson- WIU Alum of the School of Agriculture- "Be Yourself, everyone else is taken!"

Stephanie A. Nelson

“Be yourself- everyone else is taken” A six word phrase which became the motto which I live upon every day. As the challenges we face with today’s big world and society, this is one of the MOST important things I feel one should remember. 
My name is Stephanie Nelson formally of Good Hope, Illinois, Western Illinois University Alumni graduated in the Fall Of 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Business and minor in Animal Science. Growing up just 12 miles north of Macomb, Illinois, Western Illinois University was second nature. Come fall you always knew when the college kids were back in town because the locals complained about going to Macomb for groceries and come May you knew it was graduation time because every student with a jam packed car headed north bound drove right through that small 400 population town of Good Hope.

Now I’m not saying this was a bad thing by any means, but I never made the move like these students did, lived on my own, or moved off to college. Instead, I lived at home with my parents, went to school full-time, worked for a veterinarian part time, and was home every night or between classes feeding cattle, growing what investment I had made to pay for my collegiate career with the goal in mind to have no student loans at all. Successfully I can say I made this goal a reality! 

After graduating I struggled to find that “big kid job.” The one that paid big money, offered vacation time, bonuses, benefits, 8 to 5 job, every weekend off, and lots of vacation time. Where are these jobs really at? After graduating in December I continued at the veterinary office as a full time status, continued raising cattle, and searching every night for that ultimate “big kid job” to utilize this degree I spent thousands of dollars and four years of my life to gain. Building connections was one of the greatest pieces of advice someone gave me one time. With that, one of the clients at the veterinary clinic told me about a job in Nebraska related to my field of study and interest. Now was the time to step back and look into the future, how will this impact my life? Am I emotionally and physically ready to make this move away from home and everything I know? What did I have to loose, spending an hour completing an application, a little postage, and time? Well it truly paid off! 

Today I currently reside in Kearney, Nebraska employed with the Nebraska Brand Committee as a brand inspector. As one feels comfortable in their home environment, relocation is one of the hardest things a person can do in relation to selecting a career. “You can justify anything in your own mind” a saying my dad has told me as a small child. At the time I felt he was just saying these words, however when it comes time to pack everything a person owns and move 525 miles west, these words come to life. Moving into an unfamiliar territory, having no connections, your only moral support is at the key pad of your mobile device to find those positive words of encouragement. It came time to become a grown up, remember all those things your parents had taught you about life, and utilize every day common sense. I constructed a mental list of what I wished to achieve, the things I was willing to change in my life and to grow as a person. Now ask yourself, are you going to take advantage of an opportunity when it came available or are you going to sit back and wait for the next? I can say from experience there are those opportunities available every day to everyone; it comes down to who is going to take it…you or someone else?? 

While at Western, I took advantage of a few opportunities which allowed me to strengthen my ability to perform in relation to preparation for interviews and public speaking as a whole. The availability of Career Services was more of a treasure than some wish to reveal. The factor of placing a phone call, making a half hour to hour appointment, discussing what alterations and final touches to a bullet proof resume, and one-on-one mock interviews was virtually priceless. As students spend thousands of dollars to gain an education, why aren’t more students taking advantage of such a wonderful opportunity? An education is an investment; not just that piece of paper with your whole name given by your parents which is printed and mated in a high dollar fancy frame. My biggest suggestion, utilize your opportunities upon the investment you have made to continue forward to gain an education. Let those people who surround you every day become positive influences in your life. If you stop and look around to see that your peers aren’t those individuals, strive to find those who are on the same page as you, strive for the same goals and aspirations, and have the goal in mind to continue to climb the ladder, except the challenge and endless opportunities. 

Find a student organization on campus to become involved in. This isn’t for the factor of meetings every week to go to but more so, a resume builders. As much as a person thinks this is a waste of time, think again! One of the greatest organizations I found through the Agriculture Department at Western Illinois University was the Post-Secondary Agriculture Students (PAS) similar to a collegiate FFA. With this brought forth the opportunity to compete state wide with other collegiate students in interview competitions, public speaking, and sales presentations. I used this opportunity not only to be a resume builder, however to network with individuals whom were judges from big named companies. Who would have ever guessed going to some collegiate competition would ever gain career connections?

Winning at the state level in a mock job interview competition advanced that winner to the national level, the best of the best collegiate students all across the United States. I mean this wasn’t for just anyone, the heat was on! Today, I can successfully say I was the national winner of the Animal Health Mock Job Interview for the Post-Secondary Agriculture Students Organizations along with the national winner of the Agriculture Sales Presentation. All of this simply happened because I found something I knew, took my prior knowledge and constructed myself in a manner which not only gained me a couple of dust collecting plaques but cold hard cash. WOW!! Miss class, travel multiple states away, dress up for a few hours, give it all you have, win cash….a college students dream right?! Right then and there, I knew I had made the right choice on persuing my investment of a college degree. 

Being an alumni from Western Illinois University and a regular student from the University of Hard Knocks; from all of this take these words of advice not as words of wisdom but experience- grow to know yourself, be willing to take a chance, move from your comfort zone, make the most of your collegiate investment, be willing to make a change in your life, know when to take an opportunity which best fits you, but most of all….be yourself, everyone else is taken. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How "Career Services" Helped Me, the Assistant Director of the WIU Career Development Center

When I walked through the WIU-Macomb campus seven years ago on a warm fall morning, I felt very unsure of my new life at Western. Just a few months earlier, I had been joking with my instructors at Spoon River College, spending time with my community college friends at PAS (Post-Secondary Agriculture Students) events, and serving as the Student Trustee for SRC. One of my first encounters with a WIU staff member occured at the Union Bookstore while I was "stressing" over finding the right Western hoodie to showcase my new identity as a Leatherneck. Mr. Alfred Waters, the Career Services Director at that time, saw me fretting over the hoodie selection and decided to offer his advice. All I remember him telling me was to purchase the "dark-brown" colored hoodie, because it complimented my hair/skin tone. He finished his advice by telling me that he was in the "business" of helping people look and act professional. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask his name to further our conversation in the bookstore, but I NEVER forgot that interaction with that "nice" guy.

If we fast forward to my first spring semester at WIU, I was required to take a AGRI 320: Success Strategies in Agriculture course to further develop our skills with resume writing, interviewing, and professionalism. As a requirement for this class, we were to schedule two appointments with a Career Services staff member, one to have our resume/cover letter critiqued and the other to complete a mock interview. Now I am going to be VERY honest with you all......I did NOT want to take this class. In my opinion, I already knew how to write a resume. During my tenure at SRC, I had competed in state-wide job interviewing competitions and received first place each time. At the national level a few months before I graduated from SRC, I topped my state title by winning 3rd Place. It doesn't sound like I needed advice on how to interview or write an effective resume, does it?

I cannot emphasize this fact enough.... I WAS TOTALLY WRONG!!  During my first visit with the graduate assistant to review my resume, I was shocked to learn that my format left too much "blank space" on the page, my bullet points were too short, I had too many awards listed, and needed more relevant work experience. WOW!!  I am fairly sure I remember leaving that appointment feeling defeated and even more "unsure" of myself at this new place. Luckily the mock interview left me feeling more confident in my abilities once again, but there were still some areas that I needed to improve upon, such as giving unique answers instead of the "canned" responses I had been previously taught to recite.

These appointments started a chain reaction of events that led up to my passion for career development and Western. After taking the advice of the career services graduate assistants, I tried to get more experience through an internship (the lady NEVER called me back) and I tried to get more involved in student organizations (I never quite found my fit). I decided to contact one of the graduate assistants, Alycia McCullough, who had assisted me with my resume and mock interview. After having coffee with her at Adams Street and talking about her graduate program, I decided to venture off into the "unknown to me" career path of Student Affairs and Career Development.

Within the next few months in the spring of 2009, I interviewed for Graduate School, got accepted to Graduate School, got married (would not recommend marriage and graduate school matriculation during the same summer), and started my graduate program where I served as a Career Services Graduate Assistant for two years.....and where I was reunited with that "nice" guy who helped me pick out a WIU hoodie.  I graduated from the College Student Personnel Program in May 2011 and applied for a full-time position in the office, where I have passionately served students and Western Illinois University since that time.

Two Morals of this Narrative:

1. STOP BY THE CAREER DEVELOPMENT CENTER- Our office is a free resource for all students who need help with career planning, development, and job search preparation. Even if you think you know everything about how to interview or build a resume, it is helpful to get multiple perspectives on your career preparation. I know that I learned ALOT from my two appointments as an undergraduate student! Don't be shy, just stop by Memorial Hall 125.

2. YOU NEVER KNOW WHERE LIFE WILL TAKE YOU...... BE NICE TO EVERYONE!  You never know who you might meet in this world, and the impact those people could have on you. In the Fall of 2007, I never knew that in two years I would be working for Mr. Waters. In the Fall of 2007, I never knew that I would change my mind about pursuing agriculture as a career field. In the Fall of 2007, I never knew that I would eventually choose Student Affairs as a career because of the guidance of Alycia. For someone who likes to have their life planned out to the minute, I enjoy reflecting back to those years of uncertainty, to that time where I had no clue how those relationships would positively impact my life.

Thank you for reading about my experience with Career Services and how the office has truly changed my life. I have received many emails and notes from students telling me how our office has helped them improve their skills, change their minds about career paths, or encouraged them to work harder on their goals.

What are you waiting for? Make an appointment TODAY!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tips for Job/Internship Searching Success

This information is published on the WIU Career Development Center website at www.wiu.edu/cdc

Congratulations! You are about to take part in one of the most rewarding and challenging times of your life...job searching. The challenging part involves spending hours searching for open positions, updating your resume and cover letter for each job application, and taking part in multiple job interviews. But the rewards outweigh the challenges, the reward of putting your college degree to use in a career that is fulfilling (and you might be excited to pay off college loans or purchase your first flat screen television!). But careers and jobs are not guaranteed to everyone, so here are some very important tips and guidelines to follow when you start the job search or internship search process.
  1. Start Early! You should start job searching approximately 6-9 months before your projected graduation date. If you graduate in May, then you should start job searching and applying for jobs in the previous fall semester. Feel free to schedule an appointment with a staff member (309-298-1838) if you want assistance with the job search process.
  2. Create a resume if you do not have one, and have it reviewed by a Career Development Center staff member. We can also review your cover letters, once you have decided on which jobs to apply to.
  3. There are many websites to utilize during the job search process. Please review our extensive list Job Listings sites. You also have access to our free eRecruiting website. This is an on-line system where students can create an account and upload their resumes into a resume book which can viewed by potential employers. Students can also use this system to view and apply for jobs and internships that are posted through the CDC office. This system is free of charge, is simple to use and allows students to access a variety of employers and jobs.
  4. Utilize your personal and professional network. You need to tell your friends and family that you are job searching and that you would appreciate them referring you to any job openings that they hear about. You should also reach out to prior supervisors, coworkers, internship sites, etc. The majority of jobs are filled due to networking and "knowing the right person" at the company. Send your resume to your personal and professional connections so they know what you can offer a potential employer.
  5. Network some more! Try to expand your network during your job search, in order to increase your chances of finding employment. Attend a conference related to your career field, meet new people, and collect their business cards. Be friendly and "get-to-know" those around you on-campus, at the doctor's office, at the bank, etc. You never know who could get you in contact with the company of your dreams!
  6. Attend one of our three Career Fairs. We host a Fall Career Fair, Law Enforcement & Justice Administration Career Fair, and Spring Career Fair every year. These career fairs bring in over 60 companies who desire to hire WIU graduates and interns.
  7. Use social media websites, including LinkedIn and Twitter to build your professional identity and search for open positions at companies.
  8. Have an internship completed before you start job searching. With a very competitive job market, more employers are "expecting" graduates to have some sort of experiential learning in their profession completed before a student graduates. So, while it is not necessary, internships can only increase your chances of securing a job.
  9. Practice your interviewing skills before you start interviewing for jobs. Schedule a mock interview with our office to make sure you are presenting your skills and experiences in an appropriate manner.
  10. If you get a job offer, be sure to check out our guidelines for salary negotiations and information about benefit packages. You do not want to miss out on a great offer, just because you have not looked into regional salary information and benefits. What may seem like a low paying job, may in fact have great health insurance. So be sure to analyze the entire job offer before making your final decision.
Once again, these tips and suggestions WILL NOT guarantee that you will find a job or discover your dream career. But you will be at a greater advantage than those people who do not implement these strategies. If you would like further assistance with job searching, please call our office at 309-298-1838 to schedule an appointment with a staff member.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Preparing for the "world" of work!

Last week, I asked Peggy Perry from Dot Foods about the top skills her company looks for in an employee. I also asked her to explain how students can prepare for their future careers after graduation. Here are her thoughts!     

The top two or three skills we look for in a potential employee… I don’t know if I can limit it to just two or three!  The number one skill we look for is communication skills.  That’s the whole communications package, professional and positive verbal and written communication skills.  It may start with a firm handshake and looking someone in the eye when speaking with them, but it doesn’t end there.  It’s the ability to express yourself clearly, comfortably and confidently in speech and written communication.  It includes being able to discuss ideas, processes, strategies and to create and/ or present information in different formats.  And it includes, most decidedly, knowing when to listen and learn. Active listening is a huge but often overlooked piece of the communication skills package.

Another skill on our top two or three preferred skillset list is the ability to work professionally, comfortably and confidently within a group…also known as teamwork.  If you’re a team player, you’re in it together, you’re going to build positive working relationships that help everyone achieve goals and meet business objectives.   Set your ego aside a little bit and work together for the common good of the business.

I’m going to lump a couple of items together on this third skill, critical thinking (using logic and reasoning to identify strengths and weaknesses of solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems), problem-solving (identifying problems, then reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions) and judgment or decision-making (considering the relative costs and benefits of different actions to choose the most appropriate ones).  

In addition to the skills listed above, we also look for business or commercial awareness (knowing/ understanding the business, what affects it, what the business wants to achieve through its products or services and how it competes), an interest/ effort in lifelong learning, computer skills, investigative and analytical skills, flexibility, time management, and self-awareness. 

Preparing for the ‘real world’ of work – so much advice is available on this topic and some of it bears repeating again and again and again.  Network, get involved in some activities that interest you, reach out for internships, network some more, get an internship or two during college, network some more, listen more than you talk, then network some more.  How do you network?  Put down your phone, computer, tablet, etc, take off your headset and talk to some of the people around you.  Talking is where you can polish your communication skills, figure out whose style you appreciate, incorporate some of that into your own style and polish some more.  Talking to some of the people around you is how you can learn about others, find out about opportunities, share your thoughts, ideas, questions.  Some of that talking might lead to an internship opportunity and that can open up even more opportunities.  Understand that you can always learn something from the people around you, no matter the age, gender, race, background, religion, job, etc.  Understanding and embracing that mindset will serve you well in the years to come.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Meet Jeffry Cape, Business Development Expert at Groupon and WIU Alum!

My name is Jeffry Cape and I attended WIU Fall 2007-Spring 2012.  In my time at Western, I completed a Masters of Arts in the college of Communication.  I was very involved on campus with various clubs; Greek life, student employment, community service, philanthropy, and different networking events within the College of Communication Studies.  All of these experiences exposed to networking for the future.  I was able to use those skills while searching for a career, which launched me into the current role I have with Groupon.  

I am currently a business development expert for Groupon's Arizona market.  I work with businesses in all product and service industries.  In my role, I plan the operational and financial strategic plan behind the Groupon.  I have been in this role for 6 months, and I used my networking skills from WIU and social media to get a interview.  From there, the magic happened. 

 If it wasn't for the staff and faculty at WIU I wouldn't have wanted to get involved in campus life.  That motivation, education and experience has cultivated me a successful business person.  If anyone is interested in interviewing for any position at Groupon, email me your resume (jcape@groupon.com) and I will help you get a interview.