Today we live in an era where the pressure to get into college is so extreme some students start planning their A.P. course load and extracurricular agenda in middle school. But what about the crucial moment when college is over and students are left feeling aimless with a degree they worked so hard for? This is where Debra Olshan Cooper steps in. Mrs. Cooper has an extraordinary talent: she helps young college graduates craft their past 4 years of college internships, extra-curricular activities, jobs and course work and craft them into a curated story that is uniquely yours. She touts herself as a GPS for students. Some students know where they are going, but for others, a little GPS assistance helps them to navigate the career road a little better. Debra helps to take the wheel and guide grads step by step to insure they arrive at their final destination – their dream career. Her unique career coaching is called Your Career Design Lab (www.yourcareerdesignlab.com) Nectar News had the privilege of sitting down with Debra (over skype) to learn more:
Nectar News: Let’s jump right in! What is Your Career Design Lab and what was your journey towards its creation?
Debra Cooper: I’m so glad you asked. My journey really started from 30 years of being in public relations and marketing. I owned a mid-sized boutique firm in New York for 20 years and then moved it here to Miami, where I was able to work with every conceivable kind of business, company, and person. My public relations and marketing firm Real Life Communications and Marketing lead the way for designer fashion to enter the US marketplace with companies like Kenzo, Escada, Bally of Switzerland, Emilo Pucci and entertainment, beauty, fashion and luxury goods was my speciality. Then when I moved to Miami I had the opportunity to work with a multitude of businesses, law firms, retail stores, hotels, hospitality, psychologists, doctors, etc. This background has provided me with numerous contacts and connections I can now offer my college grads as they seek out their careers.
Your Career Design Lab took off after some friends asked me to speak with their young adults about how to find internships etc. I decided to create YourCareerDesignLab to help architect, design and curate kids careers by preparing them for their career outside of college. I was seeing first hand how this generation had difficulty speaking up and asking for what they wanted or how to make those connections. For example, a friend would ask: “Debra, Abby is working at a company as an intern, and she hates it. She doesn’t want to talk to her boss. Can you speak to her?” I’d go, “Abby, here’s what you need to do. You need to go speak with your boss” and she’d say “Well, I can’t look at that person. I can’t talk to this person.” I’d have to let her know “Yes, you can” and I would take her step by step on how to approach her boss. Needless to say, she was able to move desks and got more involved in the company and had an overall better experience because of it.
My approach is to take a recent grad or soon to be college grad and as I mentioned, I architect, design and curate kids’ careers upon graduation or nearing graduation. What I mean by that, I look at their foundation. What have their last 4 years of college made of them? What have they done? What have they not done? From there, we start to build their house. What I mean by that is: Who are they? What do they want to become? What areas are you passionate about? I have a proprietary assessment that really does a deep dive into who they are and where they want to go. From there we begin to craft their unique story, put that story into a branded resume and cover letter, role-play to insure the story is embedded in their minds and heart so that when the time comes to interview they know themselves and the value they can bring into a company.
Then I arrange for them to connect with the “powers that be” in a field they are interested in pursuing. I offer step to step directions until they arrive at their career destination. It’s person-to-person networking, this is how it’s done in the real world. What I’ve been seeing is that there really is a separation still between how the real world works, in terms of getting jobs and careers there is a huge world apart, so I try to bridge that gap and help them to land their dream career.
NN: Wow. That’s amazing.
DC: From there, I have had 100% success rate placing my clients in their desired careers or helping them to excavate a passion to pursue. It’s not so much about the end job, it’s more about finding out through the journey of working with Your Career Design Lab, who you are. Clients will say, “I want to get a job in finance. I want to get a job in this.” Then, I’ll ask the proverbial question, which every company asks, “What are your strengths?” Then you just hear, “Right.” Then, you just hear crickets.
If you don’t know what your strengths are and if you don’t know who you are, how am I going to put you in front of someone, and have you be successful? So, we look up how to become successful in our own sense of self. That’s something that’s missed among kids today because you go to high school and you’re pretty much told by your parents and teachers what classes to take, what you have to do.
Then, you’re a senior in high school. It’s like, “Did you take enough AP classes? Did you take honors classes? Did you do this or did you do community? Are you an athlete? Are you what?” You’re like, “What am I?” You don’t have time to really think about it because you’re being forced into this vacuum.
Then, you get into the school either all your friends are going to, what you think you should be doing, what your parents told you to do, cruising along. Now, you go through four years of that, unless in your first year you just completely wig out and decide to take a gap year, which is totally acceptable today. But now, you go through your four years of college and you come out going, “Okay, I don’t know who I am or what I want to do, but I have majored in…”
So when I first work with a client we sit down and we start to look at maybe their resume, what they’ve done, what they haven’t done. I have found such nuggets from kids that maybe traveled, or maybe have done things that they didn’t even realize could become their story.
The great part of this work is hearing a client say, “I didn’t know that when I was teaching kids English in Guatemala that was a thing that could be a great career path for helping kids in a non-profit.” You know what I mean?
It’s so fascinating to uncover and discover their trajectory, their inner sense of self. Through this proprietary kind of assessment I have, they start to find out who they are, and what their story is. Then, as we develop the story, we bring that story back into the resume.
I read so many resumes that I have to always ask the who, what, where, why and how. I can’t tell from the resume who they are, what they did. We use the story to develop, and then put it on the resume to have it come alive. As a result, and you know who you’re reading about, what this person is. That gets followed up with the cover letter, and this all becomes branded, too. It’s no longer the black and white resume. It shouldn’t be two pages. It should be one page. Skills are very important. You’ve got to know who you’re sending the resume to and have some background of the company you are applying to.
Many of my clients have tried the LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, or Handshake route. With the exception of Linkedin you can be sure the rest go in the trash. But when Your Career Design lab arranges for you to meet with a “boss lady” from NBC or the Financial Advisor from Merrill Lynch you can be sure you have now just risen to the top of the pile and in the hands of the decision-makers. It’s the adage, “It’s who you know, not what you know. They both go hand in hand but are not exclusive.
NN: This is such exciting work you are doing and I feel uplifted and motivated by this conversation. Thank you so much.
DC: My Pleasure.
To learn more about Debra Olshan Cooper & Your Career Design LabVisit: https://www.yourcareerdesignlab.com/