CYC: The S.E.E. Strategies
Now that you have a sense of the direction(s) in which you're headed, as well as what employers in your field are looking for, we want you to manage your time at school so that you're better poised for a successful career. The S.E.E. strategies—Smart, Experienced, and Engaged—will help you get there.
At NYU Wagner, we want you to be smart. We want you to do well in your classes, and we want you to be able to contribute to important conversations with sophistication and nuance. In doing so, you should choose your classes wisely, be thoughtful with your class assignments, and keep up on readings in your field(s) of interest.
Whatever the program and specialization you’re in and whatever courses you are taking, we want to draw your attention to the opportunities to explore CYC within your classes, as they offer multiple venues for this exploration. Many courses offer students a chance to focus an assignment on a topic or organization of their choice. Our advice is to be strategic about each of these choices. Consider what you are working on learning and maximize the opportunities given to you as a student to meet the people you want to meet or to learn more about an organization in your field of interest.
- What opportunities are there in my courses to use assignments as a way to further my career exploration? (e.g. is there an organization in my field of interest that I can use as a case study for a project?)
- How can I use an assignment to interview someone in a role I am interested in pursuing?
- What elective courses should I take? (e.g. do I want to hone my finance skills, do I want a broad knowledge of economic development?)
- How can I take advantage of NYU Wagner's faculty? (e.g. which professors have done research or are working in my fields of interest, are there professors’ office hours that I should take advantage of?)
- Are there self-study/reading opportunities?
- Should I form or join a study group of students who share a particular interest?
Identify what it is you are trying to learn more about each semester and review where the opportunities are class by class. And make sure to take your prerequisite courses first.
Readings in Your Field
Learning is a life-long process and developing the habit of reading professionally-related work is a key aspect of that process. While in school, you will have plenty of reading assignments, but even then, there are additional readings that can inform and enhance your understanding of field, organization, and role. We encourage you to use the time you are in school to set the lifelong “reading professionally-related work” habit so you can stay up-to-date and informed over time.
- What reading am I currently doing in my field?
- What are professionals in my field reading? What does the faculty read?
- What books or publications are most often cited or mentioned as having influenced the field?
- What online resources should I be keeping up on?
It may seem hard to find the time to take on more reading while you are in school, but reading more broadly can, among other things, keep you in touch with the main players in your field, what policy issues loom large, and how the external environment is shifting in ways that impact your field. Note the authors whose work had the most impact on you from class assignments and see what else they have written. Talk to professionals in the field and ask what they read. Ask faculty. Make lists. Collect material to read. Make time. Consider a professional “book group.”
We believe students need both rigorous academic study on the graduate level and relevant practical experience in organizations to succeed in public service careers. NYU Wagner is a place that values both theory and practice and offers multiple opportunities to integrate both.
Students enter Wagner with varying amounts of previous work experience, and our programs and schedules allow for both full- and part-time study. Wherever you are in your career path, we believe learning is a two-way street. What you learn in the classroom can help you make sense of what you are experiencing/have experienced at work, and what you learn on the ground can inform and enrich class discussions.
Full-time, part-time, paid, unpaid—the experience, and what you do with it, is what counts.
For those recently out of college with less than two years’ relevant experience:
- How can I draw on whatever previous experience I have (e.g. in undergraduate leadership roles, summer work, community service, work after college) to help me relate to ideas being discussed in the classroom? (E.g. how might my work as a summer camp counselor inform the discussion of human resource management, how might my volunteer work in a soup kitchen help me participate in a discussion about poverty alleviation in a policy class, how might my role as student group treasurer help me understand financial statements?)
- As I look for an internship, what kinds of organizations do the kind of work I’m interested in? (E.g. what are the top 20 employers in my field, what agency is doing cutting-edge work?)
- What kinds of roles are there in these organizations for people with my experience and skill set? (E.g. researcher, data analyst, program coordinator, executive assistant.) Do these roles exist as internships or regular employment?
- What do I want to learn through this work experience? (E.g. new skill sets, confirmation that this particular issue area or field is compelling, an opportunity to demonstrate competence of some sort)
- Do I want to work while I am in school? If so, part-time or full-time?
- How can I bring what I am learning at my internship or work into the classroom, and how can I apply what I am learning in the classroom to current challenges at work?
For those relatively early in their careers and working in their field of choice:
- How can I apply what I am learning directly to the challenges I face at work? How can I bring my learnings from the field into the classroom in a way that will help me develop my own theories about what works?
- If I am working and going to school at the same time, what “stretch” assignment can I take on? (E.g. if I am mostly in a staff role at headquarters, could I get some operational or field experience; if I have been in one unit and need a broader systems perspective, can I join a task force at work that would expose me to different perspectives/roles/systems/people?)
- If I am not working while going to school, what internships can I get that will help me set the next steps in my career trajectory? (E.g. does my internship best position me to work outside the New York region after graduation, as I plan to do?) What organizations will expose me to best practices? (E.g. excellent leadership models, strong professional networks)
- What skills and knowledge from my previous career or other relevant experience can I leverage as I shift to a different career?
- How is the job/sector that I am moving from similar to the job/sector that I am moving to? How are they different? Are there common themes and experiences? (E.g. required financial statements in a private organization versus government)
- How can I get experience in this new field of interest? (E.g. can I serve on a nonprofit board of directors; can I find or create an internship, even very short term, which gives me some exposure or experience?)
- Do I need to think of a “bridge” job? (E.g. if I am trying to move from being a lawyer in a firm to healthcare administration, does it make the most sense to try to find work in the counsel’s office of a hospital or healthcare system first?)
- How can I develop my capacity to integrate learning from both theory and practice?
For seasoned professionals already in their field of choice:
- How can I maximize the opportunities to apply what I am learning in the classroom to challenges at work?
- How can I identify one or two ongoing challenges for me in work settings (e.g. struggling with delegation, difficulty asking for or giving feedback) and then use my Wagner experience as a laboratory to take risks and learn?
- How can I develop my capacity to integrate learning from both theory and practice?
- How can I use school to broaden my horizon at work?
- How can I think of next steps at work? (E.g. going from a local to a national platform on a policy issue, managing a much bigger operation, writing or speaking about what I know)
Whether you are clear about your career goals or juggling multiple possibilities, your next move should advance you in some direction you want to go. It can add to your repertoire of skills, it can build experience, it can confirm or eliminate possibilities, it can bring you into contact with people you need to know, it can credential you by association—and, of course, it can bring real meaning to your life and make a difference to others. You don’t need to know everything about where you want to end up to get started.
Volunteer work matters in many ways. It builds community, serves people, bridges divides, teaches, and broadens perspectives. Volunteer work can also be a great way to practice skills, enlarge networks, and gain experience.
- In addition to the rewards of service, what can I learn from my volunteer experience? (E.g. what can work in a food pantry teach me about service delivery, how can serving on the PTA help me understand the challenges of school reform?)
- What professional skills do I have that can benefit a nonprofit organization?
- Do I want my volunteer work to use the skills I have and be similar to the work I do on a daily basis or do I want it to be something completely different? (E.g. some people who are already good managers like being on an advisory board, while others might want to get the chance to do some direct work with clients.)
- Are there opportunities for “stretch” assignments in my volunteer work that would enhance my skill set? (E.g. serving on a fundraising committee, giving public presentations, conducting intake so I can hone my listening skills.)
- What commitment can I make and keep to a volunteer position? Do I prefer a series of one-shot assignments (e.g. New York Cares), a week-long engagement like Alternative Spring Break, or am I able to make a more regular or long-term commitment?
Decide how and when volunteer work is going to fit into your life over time. Be mindful of keeping the commitments you make, as other people will be depending on you.
Networking is the strategic cultivation and development of your pool of professional contacts. It is more than collecting other peoples’ business cards or asking people for a job. Networking puts you in touch with people you might not otherwise encounter. It opens doors. It offers opportunities. And it is best done when you are not desperate for a job.
When taken seriously, networking acknowledges the importance of building and maintaining relationships with other people in and out of your field. It assumes that we need each other, not just to get our next job, but to succeed in our current roles. It assumes that none of us knows all we need to know.
Networking involves reciprocity. It takes work. People with good networking skills follow up. They remember what they’ve learned. They think to send other people notes to thank them for a meeting or send on an article they’ve read that they think might interest the other person. They often refer colleagues on to others in their networks and are willing to act as resources for each other.
- What kind of a network do I want to create?
- At this stage in my career, what are the one or two most important things I am seeking from my network?
Step back and think about your existing networks and what shape they’re in. Do you need to reach out and reconnect with some folks? Do you need to find current contact information on some? Sit next to someone new each time you go to class and spend a few minutes before or after class talking with them about their work. Arrange some informational interviews. Figure out what you want to learn.
NYU Wagner and NYU offer numerous opportunities for students to come together around common themes or shared interests. Participation in student group activities can help you demonstrate existing skills, practice new competencies, develop content knowledge, and deepen your pool of professional contacts. You may or may not have been active in student affairs in college. We encourage you to consider the benefits of joining or taking a leadership role in a student group during graduate school from a professional development perspective. Know that prospective employers often consider student leadership roles as indicators of leadership potential.
- What existing groups speak to some aspect of my identity or interests?
- Are there existing formal or informal student groups that could provide the beginning of a network for me?
- What skills do I need to develop further? (E.g. public speaking, financial management)
- What leadership roles might I take on? (E.g. president, treasurer, ombudsman)
- What “stretch” assignments might I volunteer for? A stretch assignment gives you the opportunity to develop a new competency or skill (e.g. outreach, event planning, fundraising).
Identify those groups with which you have an affinity or ones that you want to learn more about. Decide how much of a role you want these groups to play in CYC. As a starting point, you might attend a meeting of a group in which you’re interested and talk with current student leadership about ways to get involved with activities.
New York City and NYU are full of events related to public service. Events can provide an easy way to explore new ideas or interests, learn about new developments in a field, challenge your assumptions, expand your content knowledge, and meet people.
- How can attendance at events contribute to CYC?
- Is attendance all that is required or do I need to work on my networking skills or my ability to formulate concise and informed questions?
- How might offering to speak at certain events further my career development strategy?
- If I can’t get to an event in person, is there a way to learn about what happened? (E.g. videos, podcasts, blog posts, press coverage, a colleague)
Reserve time in your calendar each month to attend events. Sit next to someone new each time you go to an event. Listen to who asks interesting questions or has a unique twist on an answer that intrigues you. See if you can get the attendance list and identify which people you might want to connect with.
Professional associations offer a network almost by definition. Some are membership based, with dues and considerable structure, including regular conferences, journals, or other membership services. Others are less formal. Whatever your field or your area of interest, professional associations offer a way to keep in touch with the developments in the field and other professionals.
- What professional associations am I involved with now? What purposes do they or could they serve?
- What professional associations exist in my field or area of expertise? Do they have a student chapter? (APA, ACHE, ASPA)
- What do I have to offer? Would getting better known in a professional association help position me? How can I make that happen? Can I serve on a committee or present at a conference?
Identify the relevant professional associations in your field.
We know that being exposed to professors, classmates, experiences, and perspectives on the world can shift our thinking of what we want to do. Opportunities that we never knew existed may arise. We may get totally new ways of looking at the world. Or we may find that what we thought we wanted to do isn’t really a good fit.
Developing successful careers in public service is a uniquely individual pursuit, and the process can take many directions. For some of us, the course may be straightforward. For others, it may be a long and winding road.
It can be the case that the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of our tenure at NYU Wagner still have meaning for us a year later. It is also not unusual to discover that being exposed to different classes, work experiences, and people will alter our goals and perceptions about the work we want to do.
- Am I still committed to my earlier goals?
- Am I on the right path?
- How can I take my career to the next level?
Periodically check in with yourself. Some people like to do this every semester, and others do it once a year, say on their birthday or at the start of a new year. Reflect on the experiences you’ve had over the last few months. Consider what still resonates with you, and adjust your strategies accordingly.