The Wisdom of Crowds

Last Tuesday the Undergraduate Leadership Fellows and the Humanities Alliance Scholars met up again to discuss professional development and career planning including, but not limited to resume writing, cover letters, interviewing practices, knowing your industry of interest and troubleshooting hypothetical situations at the workplace. As these are student-centered programs, Kaysi, Lauren and I were not going to just be talking heads. We provided scaffolding for the leaders and scholars to share what they know about the aforementioned topics and we supplemented them with our knowledge.

Covering the basics
Before we even stepped into the room, we circulated pre-workshop activities on identifying an ideal career and building a resume or CV. That way, students could come prepared to work towards their chosen career and bring a draft of their resume or CV for a peer review session.

For the first activity, the leaders and the scholars wrote on sticky notes what they knew about cover-letters and interviews and posted it on the board. The notes covered structure, grammar, proofreading (and different ways to proofread), having knowledge of the position and company, punctuality, unique ways of standing out and more.

Kaysi, Lauren and I went over the notes and we all occasionally chimed in adding and clarifying what was on the board. There was not much for us to add except for our insider tips (e.g. a cover letter and attire to a company on Wall Street versus a tech company).

A Good Fit
We also covered being a good fit for the position in that particular company. To paraphrase Kaysi, the interview is a two-way street, they are interviewing you and you are interviewing the company to see if you are a good fit. The position may be great, but the corporate culture of the company may not be one that is right for you to be productive. Researching and bringing questions allows you to interview the company as well. This also shows interest.

The leaders and scholars also brought up attire. Once again, depending on the industry,  we suggested wearing things that makes someone stand out without being ruled out such as shoes, bags and some ties. That is what we call flare. We also cautioned that depending on the industry, cirque du soleil-ish makeup and colorful palettes are usually a no-no and to stick to the neutrals. As we discussed this part you could see some of the participants having “ah-ha” moments as some of them were trying to figure out how to have memorable interviews that showed their personalities, but didn’t hinder the possibility of getting the position.

The Resume
For resumes, the leaders and scholars conducted a peer-reviewed exercise where they looked over each other’s resume in 30 seconds. Then they were supposed to guess what job kind of job the other person is applying for. That was followed with what they thought may be missing on the resume. Then they were asked if they would hire the person for the position they were interested in.

Troubleshooting at work
Finally, they broke off into groups to answer hypothetical workplace scenarios such as the ones below:

  • You aren’t getting responses that you need from someone.
  • Customer or volunteer is upset about a company policy that you have no control over, but have to explain.
  • You receive critical feedback that you are shocked by or disagree with.
  • What do you do when you don’t have the backing of your manager?
  • Someone you have to work with but have no authority over (and is not managed by your manager) continually disrespects you in minor ways.
  • You are scared to have a difficult conversation with your manager because you think they will be angry, yell or do something worse.
  • What to do when you want to quit, but need your job?

For many of them, these were not hypothetical situations. For some, the scenarios presented and occurred within the last week. Within the groups, they shared their thoughts on the scenario and then the whole group providing their personal narrative and reflections. One scholar shared his experience and asked the group if he handled it well.

The theme that ran through all of these jobs, which they picked up on, is weighing the cost of the job. Is your safety or wellness worth the pay? Can you afford to leave? They already knew how to navigate these environments and shared the different ways in which they did it.

As they spoke, the book Wisdoms of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations kept coming to mind. For me, the main takeaway of the book, is that you will get the answer to a problem through the wisdom of crowd that has variation. The diversity of intelligence of a varied crowd allows for the wisdom to surpass “the smartest person” in the group. One thing about the Undergraduate Leadership Fellows and The Humanities Alliance scholars, which also reflects CUNY as whole, is variation.

Finding Your Ideal Career and Work Environment: []

Resume or CV Building: []


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
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