(Christmas Special): Wharton School of Business Director of Career Management Dr. Dawn Graham


Dr. Dawn Graham holds a PhD in counseling psychology and is currently the Director of Career Management at the Wharton School of Business, the world's #1 business school in the world.

She authored the book "Switchers" - How smart professionals change careers and seize success.

If you are currently frustrated with the current methods of job-searching and looking for a new approach, visit our website at www.executalks.com and get in touch with us!

Podcast Transcript

Note:  There may be errors to this transcript (some funny, some confusing - we used an automated transcription software!)

Ash Faraj  00:02

Hey guys, it's Ash, happy holidays, we're so grateful for you giving us a chance to bring you fun and educational content. And we wanted to show our appreciation by releasing an episode today with Dr. Dawn Graham. Dr. Dawn Graham is the Director of Career Management at the Wharton School of Business, the number one business school in the world. She's a career switch expert, LinkedIn learning instructor and the author of the book switchers, a book designed for people who are looking to make the switch in their career, you want to be sure to stick around for the whole episode today to listen to all of Dr. Dawn's advice, parts of her own career journey and you realize what you finally need to do to take full control over your career. So I guess To start off, when you look back on your career, right, you've done a lot academically and you've done a lot in the corporate world, what were the bases of your career decisions, like when you made a career move, right? Like you decided to move from one company to the next or you decide to do one thing than the other? in general? What were the bases of those decisions? Can you just take us through your process?

Dawn Graham  01:11

I think like most people, there's a concept in career management called happenstance. And I think a lot of people, their career emerges in that respect, they're recruited to a different firm, or they get laid off, and they have to make a pivot or the market changes. And I think we all do a great job at the end of the day, putting together a resume and a LinkedIn that looks like it's completely linear, and everything was decided and planned. But in reality, it's a series of career detours that maybe we didn't expect. So yeah, so I think everybody has a series of detours. And my first one was, obviously when I got laid off, I didn't expect that I thought I'd be with the company for a long time, I was doing well, I was in the middle of moving into a new role that I had wanted. And, you know, then you had to step back and reevaluate. And that's when I got on the trajectory to where I am today. So it was turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me at the time. Of course, it didn't feel like it. But you know, then I got into outplacement because that was a really popular field at the time, from there, went back to school, and decided I was going to get my doctorate to become a licensed psychologist and I explored a lot of different things. I thought, should I do organizational psychology? Should I do research. And, you know, I picked this path because I recognize the value of human interaction in every business process, and especially the hiring process. So I did that. And there series of experiences that are somewhat built into that, and obviously moving to a new place, meeting new people. And, you know, I decided very quickly into the program, what I wanted to do with that degree, I wanted to work at an assessment firm, it's kind of a niche industry. So I made a list of all those companies and started networking about a year before I was done. talking to people, I found a job at the place I wanted to be. And I was there for a number of years. And again, the company shifts and changes, they were purchased by a bigger company creates more opportunities. And the reason I moved back to Philadelphia and joined the Wharton School is because my father was very ill. And I was living in Minnesota at the time. So I decided to move back to the east coast, which again, created another opportunity for change. So I think when most people reflect on their careers, there's a number of things happening behind the scenes, whether it's family or economy or you know, personal shifts, or illness or things like that, having a family that really dictate a lot of that path. And then we do a good job of weaving it together into a resume and tell me about yourself answer. So it sounds a lot more linear and plan than it might have been.

Ash Faraj  03:50

When you were in your mid 20s. Was there a common negative feeling? You know, like, for example, a certain insecurity you had, or a common like roadblock you would always face? And then what did you do to overcome that?

Dawn Graham  04:03

I think one of the common themes I've recognized about myself goes back to that comment that I'm not good enough. And there's a lot of things that kind of build into that, you know, perhaps getting laid off early in my career contributed to that, that it's not enough, like I need to do more, I need to be more prepared for these types of things. And so I think that was a big part of the drive that pushed me to get my master's degree get a PhD. I think there's obviously a lot of curiosity in me as well. So I love to learn I love to try new things and I think that was a driver to you. But I also felt like getting laid off early in your career creates a perhaps need, to some ways overcompensate to do more to have more on your resume even though I know that networking, branding and other things are equally as important. That was something that you can control. Right, it feels a little bit harder to control. Under network because they feel a little bit more ambiguous, but you can control getting a degree or certification or doing a certain task. Now, I've done a lot of really cool things because of that, which is awesome. But I also wouldn't say to anybody, that you also sacrifice a lot of things, to make time for achieving those things. So you need to understand what's important to you, you need to understand why you're doing it. And at the end of the day, you need to feel good about those decisions that you're doing it for you and not for some external validation, or for someone else, I think when the challenge is to, and this, again, is newer, and I didn't grow up with this, but I think a lot of people now are growing up with social media and comparing yourself to others is so much easier now than it used to be. And obviously, we know it's on social media is only maybe a portion of the truth. And everything's through filters. And obviously, you pick and choose what you want to show people. So I really feel like that comparison is one of the things that is really detrimental to all of our mental health, because you're always going to find somebody who's done more, or who is making more money or whatever achievement here. And, you know, back when I was growing up, that wasn't as accessible that information. And I think that was a blessing in a lot of ways, because you had your immediate, you know, circles around you. So you can maybe do some comparing, but it was not at all like it is today, you know, how many likes did you get? Or you have 10,000 followers, and you only have 5000? You know, it's a little bit overwhelming. I imagine

Ash Faraj  06:41

obviously, you've studied networking on a very deep level. And it's sort of like the gym like, okay, we know it's effective, but we just have to go do it. How do you define networking? Like what does networking even mean to you? How do you define it?

Dawn Graham  06:53

Yeah, I think I define it as kind of having two components. The first one is building relationships. And what I mean about relationships is that someone who trusts you enough to spend their social capital on you and someone you trust enough to spend yours on them. And I think the other piece is them knowing what your value to the market is, and you knowing their value to the market. So it's more than just a glance at somebody's LinkedIn profile, or sending a message I'd like to connect, it's definitely about would this person be willing to introduce me to somebody in their network? And do they know how to introduce me with the value I bring to the market. So that third person knows what I'm all about. So I do think it's a little bit deeper than most people realize, in terms of what is the true network. But obviously, there are stages of that. And you can have a great network, where that's still evolving. If you look at it as transactional, that I'm in a job search today, or I need a new client today, and this person can help me get there that certainly is, is interacting, but I don't know that it's the networking that I talk about when I speak about networking. But if you see it as something that evolves into a longer term relationship, and that doesn't mean you have to talk every day, that doesn't mean that you have to, you know, see one another all the time, it could be that you have dormant connections to people you knew earlier in life, who if you pick up the phone, it's going to be like you never had any time in between, you know, it's certainly a trust and a mutually beneficial situation. So if you're going into it with an I need something, and so I'm going to reach out to people, which is what a lot of people do they tie it to a particular need, like finding a job, then you're going to tend to be less successful than if you look at it like exercise or managing your health, where you're continuously building that network up. So when you do need it, it's there for you or when they need it, you're there for them.

Ash Faraj  08:58

That makes a lot of sense. So let's say that you're new in your career, so you're in your mid 20s, you have this person who you kind of look up to kind of see him as a mentor, but they might be kind of hard to get ahold of right? How would you go about approaching them? And how would you go about, like, wooing them, if you will?

Dawn Graham  09:16

Yeah, I mean, obviously, it depends how accessible this person is to Is it an executive in your current company? Or is it an influencer on Instagram, right. But essentially, I think one of the things that is universal is if you want to connect with somebody, and you want them to give you time, whether it's a 15 minute phone call or recommendation or whatever that is, you have to invest in them first. And social media internet makes it really easy to invest in people. You can follow them, you can comment on their work, you can share their work, you can buy their book, you can take their course, you can help advertise their events that are coming up, you can show up to their events. So I think there's a lot that people can do and if If there's somebody who's particularly high up that you're trying to build a relationship with, I think it's important to spend several months investing in them first read an article they were quoted in, have a length of time where you've committed to learning from them, from what they put out there in the world, versus just showing up and not having done that work. Because quite frankly, a lot of people who are in executive positions and thought leaders put a lot of free stuff out there or spend a lot of time putting together courses or books or articles, to share their knowledge with people. And they value when people respect that that's there for them to review and to read. So I would be much more willing to connect with somebody who says, Hey, Dawn, I bought your book and I, you know, was reading through it, it's been really helpful. I had some questions on chapter eight, you know, would you be open to a 15 minute phone call? So I can ask, you know, those questions, because it shows you respect my time it shows you respect the knowledge that I put out there, and you've invested in me. And so I think that's how you start and then you build it up, you know, so maybe after that, you repost some of my Forbes articles, or you share my TEDx Talk with your class. And so when you do these things, I'm not saying in rapid succession like Monday, you do one thing Tuesday, but you know, over time, I think, one, you'll get noticed, but two a lot of people aren't doing that. So you'll stand out from others who are asking for that person's time. And, you know, three, I think there's a real potential for a relationship to be built in that way. Because you know, people recognize your name, they recognize you're investing in them. And they respect that and they want to be mutually beneficial.

Ash Faraj  11:52

Are there any other tips or strategies that you suggest for yourself, and even other influencers or executives that are kind of hard to reach specifically on the method in the approach of actually getting some of their time, like 10, 15 minutes,

Dawn Graham  12:03

I think, first off, you have to assess who it is and what's going on in their life right now. So if you're trying to speak to the CFO, and it's like year end, and you know, they're swamped, or you're trying to connect with somebody who just took on a new role at a company, think about where their headspace is, right now, they are just trying to keep their head above water. So I think you have to, like really think about what's going on, potentially, in their world. And a lot of people don't stop to do that they, you know, assume whatever's happening in their world is what's going on in the other person's world. So I think that's first Secondly, the shorter your email, and the more direct your email, the higher your chances of getting a response. So I've seen people reach out to me with, here's my resume, here are the, you know, 10 questions I have. And you might want to watch this video I did. And you know, you've already created a lot of work for me just to get back to you. So chances are, if I'm even going to get back to you, it's going to take a long time, because now I have to set aside 15, 20 minutes to review what you've sent, which again, probably won't happen. So do not include all this stuff, when you send it out. But a brief email, targeted email, also put something in the subject line that makes them pay attention to your email. So for example, if you have a referral, maybe you say, you know, friend of Dawn Graham, because if I see that, and I know that person, I'm going to be more likely to open it at least because I'm like, okay, you said, you know, somebody I know. So I think that's important. Otherwise, it might get filtered in the spam. Otherwise, it might, you know, get overlooked as just a generic email, I get outreach from a lot of media people asking, Can we have this person on your show? Or do you want to read an article about them? And, you know, sometimes I miss emails for the sheer fact that I just assume it's a generic email. So I would also say, definitely try more than once, because it's quite possible that your email did get filtered out or accidentally deleted, or maybe the person had every intention of responding but forgot now it's at the bottom of their inbox. So I'd say if you don't get a response in about two weeks, definitely try again. Be polite about it. You know, say I recognize you're incredibly busy. I just wanted to try one more time. And you know, certainly don't try to sell them anything. I can't tell you how many people are doing this on LinkedIn. Now. Their first outreach is trying to get me to buy something or in I'm like, Okay. No.

Ash Faraj  14:40

Oh my gosh, that's funny. Like whenever I see an email that's like super long and a subject line is are you interested in this product or something? I'm just like, goodness gracious. Please make it shorter. At least I can read it.

Dawn Graham  14:53

Yeah, I think about it like this. Most people are opening mail on their phone. So if they have to scroll to read Your home message is too long.

Ash Faraj  15:02

What's the best way to connect with somebody make a connection in a short amount of time.

Dawn Graham  15:07

So I think the very best way would be to get a referral, because then you have a shared contact in common if it's somebody who's trusted, you know, if it's a good friend of mine introduces me to somebody, then I consider them a potential good friend of mine. So that's first and foremost, if you can't get that, I think another way is to find a shared commonality. So just to give an example, if you've ever traveled overseas, and you meet somebody from your hometown, or your home state, it's like instant connection when you meet them, you know, on the tour bus, oh, I'm from I'm from New Jersey to and then you know, you started talking about the places you know. And so if you can kind of recreate that feeling with the person that you've met, maybe you both, you know, went to the same school, or maybe you both at one point worked at the same company, or you have a shared interest in a topic. But if you can find something like that, I think that commonality can create, you know, maybe you're both parents of young kids. I mean, there's so many things it could be if you find that that will help to build trust as well.

Ash Faraj  16:16

What do you feel like the best way to make somebody remember you? I'm thinking about in the context of like a physical networking event?

Dawn Graham  16:22

Yeah, I would say that in those situations, usually what I advise people to do, because the keynote speaker or the panelists are getting so many people coming up to them and saying, Wow, that was great. I loved your point. And I would say that it's best to introduce yourself and say, I'd love to connect with you on LinkedIn, because this gives you a second chance to connect with them, and show them that you follow through on what you say you're going to do. So that adds a little bit to that trust factor.

Ash Faraj  16:54

Because hiring managers make their final decisions on trust, can I trust this person? What's the best way to build trust with the hiring manager? Even if you don't know them? How can you make them trust you?

Dawn Graham  17:06

If you're asking me about the best way, the best way is always through a trusted referral. I mean, I've had situations when I've been hiring where I saw a resume, and I overlooked it. But then somebody, either who I knew or on my team said, Hey, I think you should really take a look at this. And I did, and I went back and I interviewed the person because I'm like, okay, maybe I missed something here. This is why it's important to build your network. Because even if you're applying online, if you can find somebody inside that organization who can forward your resume to the hiring manager, if the person knows the hiring manager, all the better. But even if they don't just somebody who is a established person in that organization, who says this is somebody you should look at will probably open the door for you. So I think that's huge. And in terms of building trust, during the interview process, I think a lot of people need to recognize that the job search is not about you. Yes, you're speaking about you. Yes, you are the product, but the job search is about solving the hiring manager's core problems. And so a lot of people go in, and they tend to spout out all kinds of achievements and accomplishments. And yeah, that's very impressive, but they missed the step of closing the loop on how that's going to help the hiring manager solve their problems. So so they kind of leave that messy work to the hiring manager to do later. But if you say, you know, I've achieved these things, I've done these things, and how that relates to the mission you have, or the project that I would be working on here is I can help do X, Y, and Z. Now you're closing the loop for the hiring manager, and they recognize, Okay, wow, this person understands my biggest challenges, which is a huge one. And two, they are tying their skills into how they would actually go ahead and solve this problem. And so that's really reassuring for a hiring manager to have somebody one understand them, and then to recognize that there's a way to solve their problem.

Ash Faraj  19:13

That's very powerful advice. A friend of mine was like, Hey, I'm interviewing for this company. And I was like, oh, okay, what are they doing? I don't know. I think that I'm just like, okay, that that's not to say you do not know what you're interviewing for. So that's very good advice.

Dawn Graham  19:26

I think a question along those lines, too, that comes up a lot. And people treat it as a softball question, but it's really not is why do you want to work here? Why do you want this job? or Why do you enjoy the team? It's asked in a variety of ways, but it doesn't really matter how it's asked. But a lot of people say something really generic, like, I'm really passionate about the work you do, but they don't go into why or they say, well, your company is so innovative, and these are very much throwaway answers because everybody says it's not unique. But if you go in and you say, well, I've spent the last six months studying x, y, z. And when I was looking at your company, I realized this would be really applicable because not only does it incorporate my strengths in these areas, but it's something I've really been working to move forward. So you're demonstrating you're ready committed to it, you already are interested in it, you've been looking at it like you're in the company already. And I think that's a really good way to approach an interview is imagine you're already working there. What types of questions would you ask what types of things would you suggest? Because many people again, like you said, Go in and just like, here's my resume, I did this, I did that I have this certification, but they don't really get into how does this solve someone's problem?

Ash Faraj  20:40

appreciate you sharing that. I have these last six questions kind of reflective. So if you might need to take a second to think about them. But so the first one is, if you were to meet a 25 year old, Dr. Dawn Graham, what advice would you give to her?

Dawn Graham  20:54

I probably tell her to network, because I think at that point in time, that was not my, my forte, I was an introvert. And I thought back then that stellar performance was enough. So I think I would say you need to network beyond your internal colleagues, because at some point, in the very near future, all of you are going to be laid off and all of your me looking for a job.

Ash Faraj  21:16

Wow, that's such a surprising answer. I would have never guessed that. What in your life, do you feel like has given you the greatest sense of fulfillment?

Dawn Graham  21:24

There's so many things. I mean, I've been very fortunate to have met so many great people to have experienced the goodness in people, I've traveled a lot. And I think that has really given me a perspective about my own kind of childhood and my own experiences and my own privilege. And I think learning and meeting people from all around the world who have had vastly different experiences from me, some would say way better, and some would say, way worse, has really given me a perspective around the fact that it makes me thankful for what I have in grateful for what I have, and humbled about my role in the world around being given these gifts that I can help other people.

Ash Faraj  22:17

Obviously, you still got a long ways to go in your career in your life. But foreseeing the future, if you could be remembered for one thing, what would you want that to be?

Dawn Graham  22:27

Yeah, I would say that I helped people to find and land fulfilling careers and that through my advice, and the things that I've put my heart and soul into, that I've given people, maybe a catalyst to take the next step forward that changed their career trajectory, or the confidence to try something out that they've always wanted to do that would that would make me so happy.

Ash Faraj  22:54

In your opinion, what's the most important life skill?

Dawn Graham  22:57

Yeah, networking. But you know, if you want to kind of boil it down, I mean, you have to take initiative, right? You have to know it's going to force you whether it's networking, or writing your book, or whatever it is, I mean, that taking initiative, you've got to be willing to try.

Ash Faraj  23:12

Yeah. And the last one is, which is my personal favorite. We were stranded on an island and you have access to one meal. What would that meal before you?

Dawn Graham  23:20

Pizza! Of course.

Ash Faraj  23:23

New York or Chicago?

Dawn Graham  23:24

Oh my god. That's not even a question. How could you even asked me that? First off Chicago pizza is called quiche is not pizza. So 100% New York pizza.

Ash Faraj  23:37

Man, you got me excited there for a second because I like Chicago. deep dish pizza. Yeah,

Dawn Graham  23:41

Like when you order a chicago pizza You're like, we can get it to you in two hours. Because that's how long it's gonna take us to bake this thing.

Ash Faraj  23:49

Thank you so, so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please please do leave us a rating and review on Apple podcasts. It only takes a few seconds but it's worth so much to us. We're helping new professionals in a very unique way and we need people to hear about it review to help us reach more people by leaving us a rating review have happy holidays and Happy New Year.

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