College Admissions Experience, 2013-2017

I started my higher education career in enrollment management as a college admissions counselor, traveling the country visiting high schools and attending college fairs to recruit best-fit students from around the globe. From 2013-2017 I attended 578 visits/fairs in 23 states and Canada representing the University of Connecticut (2013-2015) and the University of California, Riverside (2015-2017). Click the link to view a comprehensive map of my travels in Google Earth.

I have long felt that describing this experience only through percentages, numbers and resume bullet points did not convey the full extent of what I learned in admissions. This led me to map my experience in Google Earth. When I look at these pins, I am not reminded of places in time. What I am reminded of are the diverse perspectives and insights gathered from conversations with key stakeholders and professionals on one topic, higher education. Collectively, these pins best demonstrate the experience and higher education industry knowledge I gained in admissions, experience and knowledge I strive to bring with me as I continue to define my role in the higher education ecosystem to maximize my contribution to solving problems in education.

Total High School Visits = 472

Total College Fairs = 64

Total NACAC Fairs = 42

Total Events = 578

Estimated Total Conversations: 11,500

South (not including Texas)

Compound Self-Improvement Yearly with the 5% Rule

“Go to bed smarter than when you woke up.”

— Charlie Munger

Our most fundamental motive is to evolve. For me, this motivation was accelerated by the pandemic in an effort to intentionally emerge on the other side a better, more knowledgeable version of myself- armed with the skills to best compete in an unprecedented new normal. In uncertain times, improvement is key. Uncertainty brings competition and improvement is necessary to maintain an advantage. However, I will be the first to admit that I don’t always follow through on the habits I know will make me better. Amidst all the uncertainty and elements out of my control as a result of the pandemic, I wanted to take accountability for what I could control- my time and how I chose to spend it. Specifically, I wanted to spend my time in a way where I went to bed better than when I woke up.

Reading is one of the best ways I know to accomplish this as reading allows you to master the best of what other people have already figured out (reading is also a high ROI activity in that it improves not just your reading ability but also writing and speaking abilities among other benefits). My problem was, I never followed through. In one of my first pandemic reads I was struck by the following quote from Carol Dweck, a pioneer of the “growth mindset” and author of the book Mindset. “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”

I have wrote to you several times over the years regarding New Years resolutions, self-improvement and identifying habits/tasks that bring you a personal sense of accomplishment. Since then I have experimented with various rules and frameworks to find a repeatable process for systemizing resolutions/goals into continued self-improvement. This quote in the context of the pandemic was the motivation I needed to re-energize my experimentation. Like many of us, I am someone who needs to track my results in order to hold myself accountable and encourage continued progress. My first challenge was determining how to best track my broad pandemic goal of “going to bed better than when I woke up”. After some thought, I translated this goal into a theme of mental health/knowledge. Underneath this theme, I identified corresponding tasks/habits that I could quantify to track my progress towards this goal: 30 page reading sessions (in sessions), podcasts listened to (in hours) and LinkedIn Learning courses (in hours). I then reviewed my existing goals/resolutions to identify additional themes. Three themes became apparent from this review- mental health/knowledge, physical health and financial health. Underneath each theme, I brainstormed and listed quantifiable tasks/habits that would lead me toward my goals. I organized this information on a Google Sheet, tracked progress each day and input my results at the end of each month.

The 5% Rule

As 2021 rolled around, I had 9 months of data but remained unsure how to translate this data into continued improvement. It was then that a trusted friend introduced me to the Farnam Street blog where I found my answer- compounding self-improvement using the 5% rule. Through various articles I learned that compounding works in areas besides money and that those who understand compounding can make it work for them. Specifically, “when we want to improve ourselves, we often pursue dramatic changes with little success. A better idea is to go for small, incremental improvements that add up over time. Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent. If you can get 5% wiser every year then you will be about twice as wise as you are now in less than 15 years. In less than 30 years, your return will be 4x.”

This was my lightbulb moment. Armed with a new understanding of compounding, the 5% rule and baseline data I collected, I now had actionable next steps to systemize my self-improvement for 2021 and beyond. Importantly, I no longer needed to start from scratch each year, choosing goals and target results based on subjective data (my opinion). Instead, what I needed to do was group goals/resolutions into themes, identify quantifiable tasks/habits related to each theme, track objective data and use this data to inform future target results. Below, you will find a link to a template of the system I have created and use personally. To be clear, I am not here to tell you what your goals should be. Rather, I want to help you systemize progress towards the goals you have already determined for yourself in 2021 and beyond! If you are interested in learning more about the template and how I recommend you interact with it, please click the link below, select the Use Template button in the upper right hand corner and keep reading!

2021 Goals Template 1.0

Template Explanation/Instructions

2020 Tab (Baseline): The 2020 tab represents data I collected during the pandemic (using example data). Column A shows the various themes (color coded) and corresponding tasks/habits that I tracked throughout the year. As I had never collected this type of data before, nothing is populated for 2019 Results (Column P) or 2020 Goal (Column O). The 2020 tab served as my baseline. As I entered monthly data throughout the year, totals populated the 2020 Total column (Column N). Your first year collecting data will look similar as you establish your baseline.

2021 Tab: This is where the 5% rule comes into play. I populated my 2020 results in Column P from Column N on the 2020 tab. Then, to set my 2021 goals, I increased my 2020 Results by 5% and listed this value in Column O, the 2021 Goal column (using a formula included in the template). As I am more of a visual person, I used conditional formatting to represent progress towards my goal on a scale of red to yellow to green, with green indicating the goal has been met (this is optional). I populated example data into Column B (January) so you can see what that looks like in action!

2022 Tab (and beyond): Populate Column P with results from Column N on the 2021 tab. Then, to set 2022 Goals, add 5% to the value in Column P (formula included) and you are on your way to another year of compounding self-improvement.

In closing, I have always struggled with the goal of “reading more”. 2020 was different. This difference was not notable at the end of each 30 page reading session until the end of the year, when my stack of books read was larger than the previous 3 years combined. You see, enormous outcomes are largely the result of a series of small actions that culminate into something visible, like the stack of finished books pictured above. What started small as 30 page reading sessions compounded into something more over the course of a year. Now, imagine what starting small can compound into over 15 years? Over 30 years?

Ultimately, whether you find this system helpful or not, the most important takeaways from this post are an understanding of the benefits of compounding and experimenting until you find a system to make it work for you! Good luck!


Identifying Themes

Themes can be identified from reviewing your New Years resolutions or existing goals and consolidating trends into themes. A good place to start is with things that compound: knowledge, fitness and finances.

Identifying Tasks/Habits by Theme

In addition to those provided on the template, below you will find more examples of tasks/habits to consider tracking:

Mental Health/Knowledge: Pages journaled (in pages), blogs published and informational videos/webinars viewed (in hours).

Physical Health: Total workout days (in days), Yoga (in hours), biking (in both miles and hours), etc. This category can be used for any physical activity you would like to track! I have found the best way to track this data is via FitBit/Apple Watch. If you don’t have one you could always track this manually on a whiteboard or through the notes app on your phone! If you do have one you can also track your monthly steps, calories burnt and distance traveled as these statistics are easily isolated by month or year.

Financial Health: Money invested, retirement contributions, income, expenses (all in dollars) and days with less than $X amount spent (in days).

Lifestyle Goals: Days eating vegan, days eating vegetarian, days following X diet and days without alcohol (all in days).

Tracking Data

I track progress in various applications (Strava, Spotify, etc.), iPhone notes and on a whiteboard in my office depending on what makes the most sense. I enjoy using the whiteboard as I am able to see my progress every day which encourages me to keep going. Then, on the last day of the month, I enter data into the template. However, you can also use the Google Sheets app on your phone to enter data in real time. The most important thing is to continually experiment to find what works for you!

The template shared is my first version and will likely change over the months/years as I learn more about what works and what doesn’t. If anyone has any immediate feedback, it would be much appreciated! Also, if anyone is interested in using this system but needs help applying it, please feel free to reach out as I would be happy to offer my suggestions or provide clarifying information!

Blogs referenced in this post:

Life Hack: Tips for a Better Work-Life Balance


I have good days and I have bad days. The questions for me were simple. What decides the difference and how can I make every day, a good day?

Why do we end some days feeling balanced and accomplished while other days conclude with stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction (imbalance)? How can we end every day with a balanced sense of accomplishment? It is my belief that at the root of these questions lies the increasingly popular- yet ever elusive- concept of “work-life balance”.

When I look at each component of work-life balance, it is much easier to feel a sense of accomplishment in the “work” component as this is defined and prioritized by the employer through job responsibilities, tasks and performance goals. The “life” component is where things get tricky as this unique sense of accomplishment is defined on an individual basis and must be prioritized by the individual. Through my experience, I believe that the “life” component of work-life balance creates the imbalance and subsequent feelings of stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction. This component cannot be defined or provided by an employer but must be identified and pursued on an individual basis. This blog will focus on tips to define and prioritize the “life” component of work-life balance based on my personal experience.

When I prioritize the “work” component of the work-life balance, this imbalance diminishes my sense of “life” or personal accomplishment which negatively impacts my work. Through trial and error I have recognized there are certain personal tasks/activities I must complete each day to strike the appropriate balance and end each day with a sense of accomplishment. I discovered this balance through defining what the  “life” component meant to me and prioritizing “life” in my schedule. By prioritizing “life”, I have found my work productivity to be more sustainable in the long run while creating/maintaining a sense of personal accomplishment. When I strike the appropriate balance I can perform more consistently in work and life. 

I have identified two steps that served as a framework for me in my quest to achieve an appropriate work-life balance which I believe anyone can apply.

1). Define “Life”: What are the activities/tasks I need to complete daily to achieve a personal sense of accomplishment.

2). Prioritize “Life”: Where do I fit each activity/task in my daily schedule. 

First, each individual must define the minimum tasks/activities to complete each day to feel a personal sense of accomplishment. This is where the trial and error comes into play. To identify the minimum tasks/activities you must experiment with different combinations and gauge your sense of accomplishment. In other words, define the minimum requirements. Personally, I have identified these tasks/activities through the lens of the personal goals most important to me. For example, in 2019 I want to live a healthier lifestyle and learn more about financial planning. Based on these goals, I have identified three daily tasks/activities that will best help me to reach these goals- go to the gym, complete meal prep and read a financial planning book for 30 minutes. When I complete these three tasks, I end each day with a sense of accomplishment. What are the personal goals most important to you? Next, identify tasks you can complete each day that will help you to reach these goals. If completing these tasks creates a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, you have defined what the “life” component of work-life balance means for you.

Second, now that you have defined the tasks/activities that bring you a sense of accomplishment, you will need to find time in your daily schedule to complete each task. Personally, I have found the best time to complete these tasks is in the morning before work begins. When I complete my three tasks in the morning, I start my day with a sense of accomplishment. Then, any extra physical activity or reading I am able to complete throughout the day feels like “extra” progress towards my goals and only increases my sense of accomplishment. Also, if my workday runs late, I am at ease knowing I have already satisfied my “life” component and struck a balance. We cannot always control how late we will stay at work. However, we can control how early we get up. Perhaps, in some cases, finding the appropriate work-life balance requires sacrificing sleep. Though this can be a touchy subject, from my experience, the sense of accomplishment and balance leads to more productive and sustainable work than an extra two hours of sleep ever could! Our employer schedules the time we must spend prioritizing the “work” component but it is our responsibility to schedule and therefore prioritize “life”.

To create/sustain an appropriate work-life balance, each individual must define and prioritize the “life” component. If you feel guilty, just remember- there will always be more work. Instead, by prioritizing “life”, we are able to produce better work for a more sustainable period of time. Though I will not claim to have struck the perfect work-life balance I will say that I have increased the number of days I feel accomplished both personally and professionally which has led to a more balanced existence.

Work-life balance is not a perk to be provided by an employer, rather, it is the responsibility of the individual to define and prioritize “life”. If we sit back and wait for a work-life balance to be provided to us, we will be met with stress, anxiety, dissatisfaction and ultimately, imbalance. But, if we take accountability for our work-life balance by prioritizing “life”, we can end each day with a sense of accomplishment that will lead to a more sustainable, productive and balanced existence.

Translate Criticism into Improvement

This is a story you do not know that taught me to crave criticism in a way I never expected.

The summer before Kemba Walker was to lead UConn basketball to the Maui, Big East and NCAA Tournament Championship on his way to becoming a first round pick in the NBA draft, he was the new leader of a young team that entered the season unranked. Although he had demonstrated flashes of brilliance in the past, Kemba’s speed was out of control leading to poor possessions in transition. As a program that thrived off transition basketball- with Kemba the primary ball handler and decision maker- the coaching staff had to eliminate poor possessions, costly turnovers and unnecessary fouls that out of control play can bring. At the time, I was working as a video assistant with the men’s basketball program, tasked with compiling game clips of Kemba, coded by play result.

If you are unfamiliar with New York City point guards, a New York City point guard is defined by grit, tenacity and a desire to get to the rim under any circumstance. Not only was the criticism Kemba received from the coaching staff critical, it was critical of the style of play he was built on. Fast forward one year and if you follow me, you are now well aware of how this story goes. UConn won three tournament championship’s and Kemba produced one of the best seasons of any college athlete, ranking among the nation’s best in many statistical categories. When you analyze the stat line in the context of the criticism received, Kemba’s FG% improved while taking more shots, his Free Throws Attempted increased, and, his Turnovers and Personal Fouls decreased while playing more minutes. This is a stat line reflective of better possessions and decision making, or, the intended improvements in the criticism from the coaching staff.

I saw that even when faced with critical feedback of a career-changing nature, Kemba received the criticism, identified the lesson and made the intended improvements. Criticism led to improvements which transformed an unranked team into Champions.

This experience caused me to reflect on my own response to criticism. I immediately knew my reaction would have been much more defensive and I assume many others out there can relate- critical feedback of any variety can be devastating. But, after witnessing firsthand the success that originated from criticism, two questions kept popping into my head.

What criticism was I not receiving and what type of success was that keeping me from?

This story taught me to crave criticism as you cannot lose by receiving criticism. It is actually the only way to win…

Translate Criticism into Improvement

“The best way to prove yourself is show you are willing to improve yourself.”

We often find ourselves in disbelief when a quarterback throws an interception on consecutive possessions or, in the case of my mom, when a basketball player consistently misses free throws. It outrages us to the point where we question their ability and suggest a benching or even release. Are we open to the same criticism we give out? Are we as emotional about our own performance when we receive the same score in the same categories on a yearly evaluation or continue to commit the same weekly errors on the same weekly reports? Most importantly, are we improving?

If it hasn’t already the current digital transformation will soon create disruptive changes to industries that will have a significant impact on the future employment landscape, critical job functions and skills in demand. According to the World Economic Forum, in many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations did not exist 10 or even 5 years ago. The same report estimates that 65% of children entering grade school today will work in a job that is yet to exist. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly which industries these nonexistent jobs will infiltrate, but it is impossible to ignore the possibility.

In times of change, improvement is key. Change brings competition and improvement is necessary to stay ahead. The ability to receive feedback- whether that be from a manager, colleague, market or industry trend- and make the intended improvements will help decide who wins. Here are three common roadblocks to translating criticism into improvement and how to start addressing them.

We can’t receive criticism… 

Criticism, or critical feedback, can help us develop the humility, awareness and reflection necessary to become professionals in our field and reach our goals. Unfortunately, far too often it is absolutely devastating to receive criticism. Your face gets red, you start to sweat and your mind races. According to one study, our ego can become so defensive in these situations that it controls the flow of information to our brains. Let that sink in, our ego can actually censor what we hear. I am sure we can all painfully recall our reactions to these moments, it is our inclination after all! But if we never hear criticism, we never improve. Although this inclination may not be your fault, you can counter it. You can change your response to criticism from defensive to open or take the “critical” out of critical feedback if you will. To start, let’s redefine our definition of criticism to manage the negative emotional reaction.

If you have ever played sports (or hopefully read the introduction) you can understand the value of reviewing film with coaches and teammates- it keeps us honest about our performance. In 2014 Microsoft reached an agreement to add Surface Pro tablets to NFL sidelines providing instant video feedback/analysis to coaches and players (among other uses). At the time I was working with the Pittsburgh Steelers, on the sidelines for the debut of the tablet, responsible for distributing the tablet to players and coaches for review after each possession. No, I did not interact with Ben Roethlisberger aside from one particularly intimate moment when he overthrew a trash can and hit me with a piece of tape (I actually got a picture of this encounter, it’s at the end).

Think back to the last NFL game you watched. How many times did the camera pan to players huddled over a Surface Pro, watching clips from the last drive? It is a familiar scene but it’s important to acknowledge why they are glued to the screen. Critical feedback. Athletes at the highest level have trained themselves to receive feedback to the extent that it’s instinctual once they return to the sideline. Professional athletes are constantly seeking critical feedback, evaluating their performance and making improvements- this is how they continue to perform at a professional level. They accept criticism as the only means to improvement and more than just crave it, they seek it out. When you witness this scene in future NFL broadcasts it will hopefully serve as a reminder of the new definition of criticism.

If we recognize the importance of reviewing game tape, why don’t we do the same at work? If our objective is to be the professionals of our industry, why do we automatically become defensive and passive when presented with criticism? Work to redefine criticism as necessary to improving yourself to stay ahead of the competition, becoming the best version of yourself or reaching your potential. If you are competitive, view it as a challenge to improve. For those who are particularly bad at receiving it, expose yourself to more of it. The more feedback you are exposed to, the better you will become at managing the negative emotional reaction and translating that criticism into a lesson and improvement. Once you train yourself to accept that negative feedback leads to positive outcomes, you will begin to enjoy it and eventually crave it. You just need to be open to receiving it.

We need criticism. If we never hear criticism, we will never improve- it can be as simple as that. Athletes at the highest level have trained themselves to receive criticism due to the nature of their profession. We bear witness to their constant adaptation of critical job functions to win the next play or beat the next opponent. If they fail to receive criticism and make the intended improvements, they are replaced. Our industry could experience a similar need to adapt critical job functions to compete in the not-so-distant future. Would we survive in that competition, or, would we be replaced? Improvement starts with receiving criticism. Redefine it to manage the negative emotional reaction and expose yourself to more of it.

We aren’t getting criticism…

There are studies showing that when co-workers criticize us, we tend to avoid them. It is much easier to go straight to those who agree with us to receive reassurance. This is known as our support network. Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant has worked with organizations such as Google, the NBA and the U.S. Army on improving success at work. He suggests we take advantage of a different network, a challenge network. This network is the group of people who push us to get better by giving the feedback we don’t want to hear, but need to hear. This process of self-discovery leads to what is actually true, not what we believe to be true. The hard truths. When we become aware of how bad is the bad and how good is the good, we now have information we can work with.

Self-discovery starts with the challenge network. Try to find the smartest people in your life who disagree with you to understand their perspectives, the self-discovery of what is actually true. Begin to build your challenge network in the office, odds are you probably know the exact individuals. Leverage that challenge network into self-discovery. Make today the day you no longer avoid them but start to hear them. It is important to note that a challenge network is only beneficial if you are ready to listen and receive criticism.

We don’t know what to do with criticism…

A habit we can all develop is what psychologists call the second score. In this context, I like to think of it as your reaction score. When someone gives you feedback, they have already evaluated you- it’s out of your control. Instead, every time you receive feedback, rate yourself on how well you took the feedback- your second score or reaction score. Remind yourself that regardless of the content of the feedback, the major element to grade is whether you are open or defensive.

For example, you cannot control the C you just received on your performance review, however, you do control the current grade you receive for how well you took that C. When your second score proves you are open to criticism, you can then act on the intended lesson and improve. Practice the habit of hearing criticism and immediately asking yourself “what’s the lesson?” The answer leads down the path to improvement.

The Future

The dynamic, evolving world we live in is marked by the digital transformation. In fact, the Surface Pro example discussed earlier represents a digital transformation in the sports industry. This transformation is constantly reshaping how we live, learn and work while creating disruptive changes to business models that will have a profound impact on the future employment landscape, critical job functions and skills in demand. The ability to receive feedback -from a manager, colleague, market or industry trend- and make the intended improvements will help decide who wins.

It is difficult to pinpoint the impact of the digital transformation on job functions and anticipated skill needs. However, with the pace of change accelerating, we must recognize this trend to stay on top of it. In times of change, improvement is key. The most effective way to improve is by opening yourself to receiving criticism, identifying the lesson to be learned and translating that feedback into improvement.

As we learned, criticism led to the improvements which transformed an unranked team into Champions. But the story doesn’t end here, continued criticism and improvements have transformed an ex-college champion into a present NBA franchise scoring leader and future perennial All-Star.

You cannot lose by receiving criticism. It is not just the only way to win, it’s the only way to continue to win.

See you in the future.

Problem: We can’t receive criticism… 

  1. Redefine it to manage the negative emotional reaction and transform it to a focus on positive outcomes.

  2. Expose yourself to more of it.

Problem: We aren’t getting criticism…

  1. Identify and form a challenge network.

  2. Leverage challenge network for self-discovery.

Problem: We don’t know what to do with criticism…

  1. Focus on your second score.

  2. Develop habit of asking “what’s the lesson?” when criticized.


Big Ben

As promised, my moment with Big Ben.



Hacking Success

Think of someone you look up to as a model of success. What if I told you that level of success is not as far off as it may appear…

NCAA Men's Championship Game - Butler v UConn

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

I have carefully observed many successful people over the years from professional athletes to Hall of Fame coaches to surgeons, educators and business men/women at the top of their respective fields. During these observations I pride myself on remaining as unbiased as possible. To clarify, I am not trying to confirm that what I think is right. Rather, I want to know what successful people around me have already decided to be right (the answers are out there, you just have to pay attention). Through these observations, I have found there are two things needed to be successful:

1). Know the best decisions to make.

2). Make them every day.

Success is not as elusive as it can sometimes appear. Billionaire Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s most successful hedge funds, references this:

“Behavior modification typically takes about 18 months of constant reinforcement.”

Define what success looks like to you. Identify the behaviors you need to change to be successful. Practice those behaviors every day for 18 months. If you are impatient or anxious and 18 months is too long of a commitment, focus on winning each day. Win each day until a day becomes a week. Win each week until a week becomes a month. Win each month until a month becomes a year. At some point, you will begin to notice improvement. This improvement will energize you and re-motivate you to continue making progress. All of a sudden, 18 months will pass and you will have reached the next level.

The more you practice a behavior (reinforce), the easier it becomes until it is a habit. By identifying and practicing behaviors that will make you successful, success (as you defined it) will become a habit. This is the ultimate goal. Success is now as routine as making coffee in the morning or brushing your teeth.

If you are 25 you can establish successful habits by 27. If you are 45 you can establish successful habits by 47. If you are 65 you can establish successful habits by 67- the process is irrespective of age, gender and all other identities. After the first 18 months, re-evaluate the decisions you need to make to reach a higher level. Make them. Repeat the process until you are where you want to be.

If you don’t know where to start, here is an example for success at work. Practice the behavior of completing every assignment to the point where it could never be returned to you for revision. If you are entry or mid-level- submitting documents to managers- treat every assignment as an opportunity to make an impression on the person who evaluates your performance and ultimately decides your fate. Yes, it will take more time/attention and yes, you may have to stay later initially, but with each document you submit you are reinforcing the behavior until it becomes a habit.

Anyone, no matter where they fall on the totem pole can ask the right questions, obtain necessary information and put in 100% effort. You don’t start magically completing better work once you are promoted. You reinforce the behavior of completing better work to establish a successful habit which over time can result in success (promotion).

Everyone looks up to someone as a model of success. There is only one thing that separates you from the people you look up to…

They started.


How to Gain a Competitive Advantage in your Job Search

Land your Dream Job from your Smart Phone

Let’s face it, whether you are fresh out of college or a young professional, the job search is not something we look forward to. After recently switching industries, I wanted to develop an efficient, measurable process to guide my job search. The following strategy was compiled through feedback I gathered from career planning experts. This strategy can be used for those seeking an entry-level position as well as anyone looking to change jobs or industries. I hope this information can serve as a roadmap to help you reach the next step in your career- whatever that may be- while developing strong networking habits and learning to advocate for yourself in a professional manner.

Employee referrals have become the most valuable tool in hiring. An employee referral is an internal recruitment method where organizations identify potential candidates through existing employees’ social networks. HR professionals rate employee referrals as the No. 1 source for quality hires. It makes sense, with so many similarly qualified applicants competing for the same position, submitting your application through an already established current employee (as opposed to a traditional online application) gives you immediate credibility that provides a competitive advantage over the rest of the applicant pool. Therefore, the goal of this post is to help you win an employee referral at the company you desire. Below is an outline of the steps.

  1. Prepare by identifying a best-fit company, conducting research and practicing your story.
  2. Network in your industry of choice and maintain a list of connections.
  3. Leverage your connections into an informational interview.
  4. Win an employee referral through the informational interview.

First, before you begin, it is important to get yourself in the right state of mind. The job search can be a daunting and discouraging process. It can be helpful to change your mindset and dig into whatever motivates and inspires you. I am a competitive person who is motivated by competition, so I have reframed my mindset accordingly. I approach every step in the process with the effort necessary to be more prepared than the rest of the applicant pool with the final goal to “win” the referral. This works for me and I would encourage you to discover what motivates you and employ whatever strategies tap into that motivation.

 1). Prepare

This is the most important stage as it sets the tone for the rest of the process. Prepare your story of why the company/industry is a good fit at this point in your career and practice speaking that story out loud. Similar to how you are looking for a best-fit company based on what you value, companies are looking for a best-fit candidate based on what they value. The more research you conduct and more thought you put into your search, the more clearly you can communicate why this particular company is the most appropriate next step for you in your career. This reflects well as your search strategy will come off as targeted instead of random.

Always keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date. Make sure it accurately reflects your achievements, awards and work experience as it relates to the position you are looking to obtain. Write a summary that allows others to gain a sense of where you have been, what you have done and how that relates to what you are looking for at a quick glance. You should treat your LinkedIn with as much precision and planning as you treat your Instagram or Snapchat.

Tip: Practice your answer to the interview question “tell me about yourself”. This answer should be a concise summary of your experiences/achievements as they relate to the position/industry you are seeking. The answer to this question is “your story” and you should be able to give this answer at a moment’s notice. An inability to answer this question raises immediate red flags as it shows a lack of thought/research. You can consider this answer your personal elevator pitch.

 2). Network

Network, network, network. Attend job fairs, join a professional organization, utilize your college career center- talk to any and everyone who may have connections to the industry/company you are interested in including family, friends, mentors, college alums and professors. Always conduct yourself in a professional manner as with practice, it becomes habit. Exchange contact information with people of interest that you meet. Connect on LinkedIn with those you have networked with directly after meeting them. Include a note such as “It was great to meet you at x            event, I look forward to staying in touch in the future.

To stay organized, make an Excel list of everyone you know who works in the industry or has connections to the company where you seek employment. Search the company you are interested in on LinkedIn. Browse through current employees and compile a list of 1st degree (friends) and 2nd degree connections (friends of friends) you have at that company. Add these names to the top of your list.

 3). Leverage your connections into an informational interview.

Informational interviews are conversations designed for a prospective employee (applicant) to learn more about the company/position from a current employee. Browse over your list and identify the most relevant connections you have to the company/position of interest. For example, if you are interested in marketing at Amazon, your marketing contact would be a more relevant connection than an engineer. You should explore the more relevant contact first.

Next, you will need to reach out via email (if available) or LinkedIn -whichever is more appropriate- depending on your relationship with the connection to ask for an informational interview. If the individual is local, it is appropriate to ask for an in-person informational interview where you would treat them to coffee or lunch. More commonly, a 20-30 minute phone conversation is also appropriate. Remember, though the goal is to win a referral, use the informational interview to determine if this the right company/position for you. After speaking with a current employee you may realize you do not jive with company culture!

It is not professional to directly ask for a referral, rather, you must “win” the referral through your research and thoughtful responses. The informational interview must be treated as advertised so the individual you are speaking with does not feel misled. Here are broad examples of how to ask for the informational interview with both direct connections and friends of friends.

Direct: “I am interested in working in marketing. Through my research I have identified your company as somewhere I could see myself working. Do you have any time in the coming week for a brief phone call where I can learn more about what it is like to work at your company?”

More frequently, you will be connected to your company of interest through 2nd degree connections (friends of friends). In this situation, though you are not directly connected to an employee at the company, you have a friend who is. In this case, depending on your relationship with that friend, it would be appropriate to reach out for an introduction to the employee at the company of interest.

“I noticed you are connected on LinkedIn to John Doe at Amazon. I have identified Amazon as a company I would like to work for and I am interested in learning more about John’s experiences. I was wondering if you would be willing to introduce me to John so that I could have a brief phone call to learn more about what it is like to work at Amazon.”

 4). Win an employee referral through the informational interview.

Although the purpose of the informational interview is to learn more about the company, the true value is to build a professional contact. The conversation should end in one of two ways, either a referral or an introduction for a conversation with another employee. Depending on the quality/flow of the conversation, it is up to you to determine which ask is most appropriate.

During the informational interview, ask broad questions to encourage dialogue that flows as a conversation. Some examples of good questions to get the conversation started are, “can you speak to your experience at the company”, “what do you like most about working at the company” and “what is the day-to-day work like in your position?” Make sure your questions reflect the research you have conducted. If asked, you will want to concisely state your story for context, however, it is important to listen as much as possible out of respect for the time this individual has given. If they do ask you to expand on your story, use the opportunity to impress them by preparing and practicing thoughtful answers beforehand.

At the end of the interview will be the ask. If a referral seems likely, approach the topic in this way, “after hearing your experiences, I am very interested in your company- do you have any advice on how to apply?” Hopefully, if the conversation went well, that individual will offer to refer you to a position. Another way to approach the referral would be, “do you think I would be a good fit for this position? If so, would you be willing to refer me to this position?” Most importantly, you want to maintain this individual as a professional connection. If you do not feel it is appropriate to ask for a referral, continue to build out your network by asking, “is there anyone else you think would be beneficial for me to speak with?” If they were impressed by your preparation during the conversation, they should be willing to connect you to another employee, giving you another chance to win the referral. Ultimately, it is up to you to gauge the quality of the conversation and insert a natural ask accordingly.

As uncomfortable as this process may seem, it is essential for your career to learn to advocate for yourself relentlessly. No one else will, it is your responsibility to take control. We are fortunate to live in a digital age where networking tools such as LinkedIn are right at our fingertips. This allows anyone who is willing to put in the work to gain a competitive advantage with only a smartphone. There are plenty of qualified applicants in the job market, however, few are willing to commit to the process to gain a competitive advantage. As always, those who are willing to put in the work will reap the rewards.

If you have specific questions about this strategy as it relates to your unique search, please feel free to contact me using the information below. I would be happy to help however I can.



Instagram: @mattwemet




Inspiration 3


Reach your goals in 2017

Colorful 2017 New Year date in sparklers

If you are like me, you probably have a lot you want to accomplish in 2017. The problem is, with so many resolutions and so little time, where do we start? Last year, I wrote to you about the importance of making New Year’s resolutions, now, I want you to reach them.

What is the purpose of taking the time to set thoughtful resolutions if we do not strategize a plan to reach them? When the goals we set are work-related, they can be measured by quantifiable performance indicators unique to each industry. Thus, our strategy can be evaluated based on these indicators- if performance improves, we know our strategy worked.

But what about personal goals? After all, these are typically the goals that dictate our sense of purpose/happiness. So, how do we strategize to achieve personal goals that are more difficult to quantify?

Analyzing the habits of successful people, both in my life and in the news, I have identified two major themes, focus and time management.

First, you will need to develop a sense of clarity. Picture the version of yourself you want to see at the end of the year. Now, which resolutions will help you to achieve that vision? Here is an exercise I use to help myself identify goals that are most essential to my progress:

  1. List your 25 most important goals.
  2. Circle the 5 most crucial to your progress.
  3. Items that are not circled become your “DO NOT TOUCH” list. These items receive no attention until you have accomplished one of your top 5 goals.

For the particularly ambitious, identifying your top 5 goals can be difficult. If you are stuck, use the 5 AM rule to discover which goals are most important. The rule is simple- ask yourself, “would I wake up at 5 AM to work towards this goal?” As sleep is typically the most difficult sacrifice to make, the 5 AM rule will undoubtedly identify the goals that truly motivate you.

Now that you have developed a sense of clarity, time becomes your next challenge. In my opinion, the saying “there is not enough time in the day” is nothing more than a widely accepted excuse. There IS enough time in the day IF you use it efficiently. So how do we use time more efficiently?

 It all comes down to one word…


Time becomes more and more important as it becomes less and less available. There is a common misconception that saying “no” makes us selfish. We hesitate to decline social invitations from friends or colleagues to pursue our own interests out of fear we are causing irreparable harm to our reputation. This is a dangerous practice that clutters our calendars and reduces the amount of free time available to work toward our goals. You would not reach in your wallet and throw money away, but why do we fail to exercise the same discretion with our time?

If you are committed to reaching your goals in 2017, you will need to take advantage of every free hour, every day of the year.

Successful people use the word “no” as a tactic to both guard and manage their precious time. This is not easy. I will be the first to admit that it does make you feel guilty and your circle of friends could change. Ultimately, as I have to continually remind myself, the people who think you are selfish for wanting to improve yourself, are not the people you want in your life. This process will help identify those people, but also, the people who understand your drive and will support you even if you don’t go out for drinks every Friday night.

I cannot claim to have made this discovery myself, rather, it was learned through experience. Two years ago, my good friend Ryan returned home to study for his Step 1 Medical Licensing Exam. After 8 years of medical studies, the score he received on this exam would dictate his acceptance to a plastic surgery residency program. For 8 consecutive weeks, Ryan studied 14 hours a day. I saw him for an hour each morning at the gym- time he used to give himself a mental break- but that was the extent of our interaction during his stay. To every invitation that did not help him to become a plastic surgeon, he replied “no”. The approach was simple but it paid dividends.

Months later, after sitting for the exam, Ryan received a score that placed him in the top 2% in the country. He is now a plastic surgeon in Houston.

This experience inspired me to view time as a resource that I need to manage and protect as I would my bank account. If you do not begin to practice saying “no” now, it will become less likely you adopt the practice, which can lead to regrets later in life. If you know this will be a struggle for you, check out these tips from Wharton School professor Adam Grant.

The process is not always fun, and it won’t make you the most popular, but it will work.

Good luck…

Randy Edsall is back and why you should hope it’s to stay.


I wish the UConn football program success because I love this school and understand the role football plays in progress for the University as a whole. However, UConn is not just a college to me, it is my home. So, in today’s press conference, when I hear Coach Edsall claim UConn is the only school he would return to as head coach, after calling Maryland a “dream job” just 5 years ago, it does not help me move on from the past as he suggested I do.

Please don’t get me wrong, I do think Coach Edsall is the right choice to restore our football program. But, if his intention is to parlay success in Storrs to another “dream job”, we will be right back in this situation 10 years from now. As a University, we cannot afford that. We NEED a stable football program. Without it, we will remain on the Power Five’s waiting list.

You don’t think Jim Calhoun received lucrative offers after the 1999 championship season, or Geno after 95? I can guarantee you they did. They stayed because they wanted to build a program and they wanted to do it in Storrs, Connecticut. A type of program that Randy Edsall was on his way to building before he left on a jet to Maryland just five years ago.

I will always support UConn but I left that press conference unconvinced this isn’t just another stop on the Randy Edsall revival tour. This isn’t just about football, this is about continuing the progress of the University, a University that for some of us is not just a step along the way to the “dream job”, it is the dream job.

That being said, I will be rooting for Coach Edsall and the UConn football program. As all you loyal fans out there know, it’s the only position we take.

My Travel Paradigm: A Prelude

It all began in May of 2011 when I was studying abroad in Florence under a man whose name rings familiar to college students across the world- Pierluca Birindelli. Pierluca approached education with much more freedom than the typical college professor. There was rarely a defined topic on a paper, no page minimum or maximum (or suggestion for that matter) and most astounding of all- papers could be handwritten. In a class of American students accustomed to a strict adherence to the syllabus and detailed study guides, there was a glaring disconnect. Perusing through Pierluca’s blog, I stumbled upon this anxious email from a former student that outlined our collective concerns.

Pierluca Email Zoomed

The course I enrolled in with Professor Birindelli was titled Identity and Culture in Italy: A Comparative Approach. The course centered on identity and awareness, specifically during the passage from youth to adulthood. Identity to find purpose in life and awareness to understand how that purpose fit into a global environment. I cannot claim to have understood the entirety of these concepts at just 21 years old, but I never stopped trying. 

I had caught the travel bug.

To satisfy my need for adventure, I sought out a career in college admissions. If you haven’t seen the Tina Fey movie, admissions counselors are assigned a territory to recruit prospective students based on a region of states such as the Mid-Atlantic or New England. Fortunately, I was able to land a position with a territory spanning Chicago to Miami, allowing for unlimited travel within my jurisdiction. Nearly five years after my abroad experience I have logged close to 50,000 miles and met people from all over the world, witnessing firsthand how travel can shape both identity and awareness. There are numerous surface reasons why travel is beneficial, however, I have identified three underlying reasons that inspire my wanderlust.  

  1. I want to know.
  2. I want to perpetually push the limits of my comfort zone.
  3. I want to be a Global Citizen.

I want to know.

To know, you have to go. Traveling alone, as is commonly the case in admissions, can get lonely. But, there is one HUGE benefit to solo travel. I see every place I go with my own eyes, independent from the influence of social perceptions and stereotypes. There is nothing like experiencing a new city for the first time and forming my own opinions without any outside interference. A basic principle of the law states ignorance is no excuse. It is my belief we should extend this principle to how we view the world. Don’t rely on the opinions of others to shape your perspective- go out and see for yourself! In 2014 I spent four months in New Jersey, a state otherwise known as the “Armpit of America.” I had never cared much for the Garden State but then again, I had never truly been. Once I got off the highway and explored further, I saw a much different New Jersey than the agonizing corridor of I-95 presents. As a matter of fact, New Jersey can look a lot like New England…

To December 2014 079

Ramapo Reservation, New Jersey, @mattwemet

Travel not only opens your eyes to new places, it opens your mind to new perspectives allowing for enhanced awareness. This fall I was at a painfully slow college fair in Toronto, agitated by the poor attendance and exhausted from the time change. Just as the night was finally ending, I was approached by the lone student left in attendance. Though I was tempted to give him my card so he could email questions, I’m glad I didn’t. This particular student was interested in learning more about our international admissions process which was ordinary as California attracts a large international population. However, as I spoke more at length with the student, I came to realize he was anything but ordinary.

The student was a Syrian refugee who had fled in the middle of the night with 6 family members when his hometown was raided. From there, he made his way to a camp in Jordan awaiting official refugee status from the United Nations which is required to enter Canada. After finally arriving in Toronto months after fleeing Syria, he lived with his entire family in a one bedroom apartment while they applied for work permits. As he told me his story I could sense no anger or resentment, only hope and appreciation. Our conversation- albeit brief- was a humbling reminder that certain things we take for granted in America, such as safety and shelter, are not always guaranteed elsewhere. Needless to say, I felt ashamed of my prior agitation. Yes, life as a young professional can be difficult but it will never be dangerous. Struggling to make ends meet is frightening but not nearly as frightening as struggling for freedom. I had read numerous articles on the crisis in Syria but never felt more aware of the implications than I did that night. Travel helps to raise our awareness through exposure to circumstances far different from our own, allowing us to view our current situations through a more enlightened perspective.  

I want to get out of my comfort zone.

What if I told you our true identity may not rest not in comfort, but just past it…

In 2013 I altered my career path in an effort to push my limits of comfort and contBlog Listinue my search for identity. However, a few months in I realized a career change alone was not enough. If I followed the same routine I always had, I would get the same results I always did. I knew I needed to force myself out of my comfort zone- but how? During my first recruitment trip to California I created a game. In this game I challenged myself to do something I had never done before each and every day of my trip. Then, at the end of the day, I logged every new experience to hold myself accountable and track progression. As a general rule, the first idea/suggestion/invitation I immediately thought “no” to, I did. The purpose? To fight habit and discover what I was truly made of, not what I thought I was made of.

On September 28th, I was invited to a fun run by a Nike store employee who sold me new cross trainers. While I have always been an extrovert, meeting up with complete strangers in a foreign setting was by no means appealing. Upon returning to my hotel, I had a sudden change of heart. This was exactly the type of activity that would put me out of my comfort zone. I went. To my surprise, I discovered I am much more outgoing than I initially thought. Additionally, local runners went out of their way to make me feel at home. One fellow NBA fan even went as far as offering a free ticket to that nights Golden State Warriors game! In the end, the reward FAR exceeded my initial angst. For this type of positive response to occur so early in my trip both validated my efforts and encouraged me to push further. 

Today, I have no problem venturing off by myself because I am confident I will be able to make friends anywhere I go. In fact, I now seek out these types of potentially awkward encounters just to prove I can do it, opening the door to new opportunities and friendships along the way. This is one aspect of my true identity I would never have discovered had I not made the initial push.It is far too easy to fall into habits and routines based on comfort and comfort alone. Rest assured there is a reward waiting on the other side of comfort for those willing to seek it…


Oracle Arena, Oakland, @mattwemet

I want to be a global citizen.

Whether you accept the idea or ignore it, we are all global citizens. According to census reports, “the United States is expected to experience significant increases in racial and ethnic diversity over the next four decades.” Among these increases, the Hispanic population is projected to more than double between 2000 and 2050 while the size of the Asian population is projected to increase by nearly 80%. The United States is trending towards unprecedented diversity, but also, unprecedented integration. In my professional experience, a major indicator of success relies on how well we are able to work with teams of diverse individuals and opinions. This is easier when people are like you, but, as the census predicts, the majority of people may not always be like you. Travel. When you travel you no longer see borders, you see humans. You are able to see people with your heart and not your mind which allows for a more personal connection.

My previous employer, the University of Connecticut, was filled with people who were just like me in a state where everyone was just like me. My current employer, the University of California Riverside, is one of the most diverse public institutions in the country. People are not like me. In my unit alone colleagues hail from Mexico, Portugal, Turkey and Singapore. When I started back in August I had no clue how to eat a tamale. Do I eat the wrap? Do I unwrap it? Seven months later I not only know how to properly eat a tamale (unwrap it), I can identify if a tamale came from Central America (banana leaf) or Mexico (corn husk) based on said wrap. Though tamales may not be common among the 15 million residents of New England, they are wildly popular among the 560 million residents spanning Mexico to South America. To see yourself as a global citizen does not mean you have to abandon your country, ethnicity, religion or beliefs. It doesn’t even mean you have to travel the world. It simply means your eyes are open and your awareness raised.

Italian Sociology 2011

 2011 Section,

During my abroad experience Professor Birindelli challenged us to challenge ourselves by questioning all we previously held as fact. To understand the dynamics between ourselves and our interactions through a global lens with far more scope than the town we were raised or our country of citizenship. And if we didn’t understand, to start asking questions. At the conclusion of the semester there was much concern similar to the aforementioned email regarding the content of our final paper. I honestly had no clue what he was looking for but I think that was precisely the point. You won’t always know. As we continue to grow and shape our identity in a dynamic global environment, the answer constantly evolves. Therefore, the focus should not be on the answer, but the questions raised during our individual journey. As I am reminded time and time again, the answer is not in the end result but locked away in the process.

Travel holds the key.

It is now 2016. I am nearing five years removed from Florence and my future only brings more adventure. I voyaged over 25,000 miles in 2015 and am expecting to far surpass that total in 2016. As I continue to travel I want to challenge myself to share the places I go, the people I meet and the stories I hear. You cannot force people to think the way you do, but, you can inspire them by living an example of everything you defend. I hope you enjoy.

Oh and as for that final paper…

I got an A.

I frequently questioned this grade to myself, I didn’t think I deserved it.

Until now.

Ask your own questions and find your own answers.

Please follow my adventure on Instagram and Snapchat @mattwemet.

Why New Year’s resolutions are more important than you think

I have been keeping a journal since my dad gave me one for Christmas in 2009. I write down pretty much everything- places I go, people I meet, random thoughts, jokes and even New Year’s resolutions. Growing up, I never took resolutions seriously. Most years I would simply jot down a few hurried thoughts minutes before the clock struck midnight like I’m sure many out there can relate to. Let’s face it, there’s just not enough time in our busy schedules- especially around the holidays- to write thoughtful New Year’s resolutions.

A few years ago when I was desperate for a change, I tried something different. I made time. I began a tradition of finding a quiet place on New Year’s Eve to write my resolutions. I wanted these resolutions to be different, I wanted these resolutions to accurately portray my ambitions for the close of the following year. So, before I even lift a pen I sit and read through everything I have experienced since I was a sophomore in college. I find it helpful to refresh myself on where I have been before deciding where I want to go next.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

I noted this quote on five separate occasions over the last six years. Coincidentally, I have been thinking a lot lately about this quote and how it pertains to not only my life but life in general. Recently I have come to conclude that there may not be a destination after all- that maybe the joy of life is found in the continuous journey with no end required. I know personally that much of my joy in life comes from adventure. The people I meet, places I visit and lessons I learn from travel have taught me much more about myself than any textbook ever could. I am a big believer in the necessity of the process. However, as I reviewed prior years resolutions, I couldn’t help but notice the top recurring item was a destination.

  1. Move to California
  2. Go to the gym daily
  3. Write More

This recognition forced me to ponder the relationship between journey and destination. I have reached my destination, I am in California- I live here. But, as I began to write my 2016 resolutions I realized there were many more destinations I wanted to reach. I have been on the journey for so long- 39 months to be exact– I seem to have forgotten the importance of the destination. If life is a journey and not a destination, what purpose does the destination serve? I have reached the destination through a testing journey so what can explain my desire for more? I took a look back at my own journey to find the answers.

Two additional resolutions I emphasized over the years were going to the gym daily and writing every night- two of my stress relievers. In order to live the life I was striving for, I needed to incorporate these activities into my daily routine without sacrificing my drive to reach California. It was a pretty easy start, everything I had done up to that point hadn’t worked so I already accepted change was necessary. Unbeknownst to me, my biggest hindrance was learning to manage time effectively. In other words, how can I balance my goals into a full-time work schedule and typically active weekends. We are always battling time and I’ll be the first to admit, there is never enough of it, but as I learned, there are ways to maximize it.

My moment of clarity occurred when I committed to shifting my priorities. This included making sacrifices in areas I previously never thought possible- sleep and the weekend. As painful as it was to leave the house at 5:30 AM into negative temperatures, I went to the gym before work. A week later I found that I was much more focused and less stressed in the office knowing one goal was already completed. In turn, this allowed for a much more productive work day. Returning home from work, I found I had more energy to write and work on job applications. Another unanticipated result of my early mornings was I went to bed earlier. This eliminated those countless late night hours spent perusing social media. I also cut out many of my weekend antics which granted two more days of the week previously spent melted into the couch. Once this new lifestyle became habitual and I started seeing results, I couldn’t stop. I had finally learned how to maximize my time.

Months later, when positions weren’t opening, I became proactive for the first time in my life. I arranged informational interviews at 8 schools spanning California. I knew I was ready. I knew it was time. Almost immediately, like a reward for my efforts, I received a call for an interview with my current employer. It just so happened to be during the 3 days I was in LA, during the random week I chose to visit and the rest is history. My journey was not a physical trip to some foreign land where everything finally made sense, but an internal journey. A journey to change my lifestyle, my habits and the status quo.

As I look back on my process and the changes made I realize they were all to reach a clear destination: California. Then, it hit me. Setting a clear destination is imperative to the progress of the journey. If you don’t know where you want to be, how will you know what changes you need to make? Though admittedly frustrating at times, my journey was defined by the goal of getting a job in California. Once I understood this as my purpose, everything else fell into place. Although I may not stay in California my whole life, I not only made it, I gained the knowledge to make it even further.


Now that I have reached my destination, how can I explain my desire for more?

The relationship between journey and destination is not mutually exclusive, but progressive. One is not more important than the other, they are both equally essential for personal growth. You don’t reach the destination and stop, rather, the skills learned on your initial journey enable you to reach even further destinations. Through my journey I learned how to manage my time, make sacrifices and most importantly, commit to a long term plan and execute. California is not my end destination but instead a stop along the way to a whole new realm of destinations I never thought possible. In that sense, as I sit on my couch on New Year’s Day, I am content in knowing I am not melted but continuing to live my changes.

At this time last year I was as firmly rooted in Connecticut as I’ve ever been. Today I sit 3,000 miles away from all I know, as free as I ever will be.

Next year, when you are inevitably rushing around on New Year’s Eve, I encourage you to take a few moments out of your day and write thoughtful resolutions. As long as you are headed where you want to be, you will never fail on your journey.

Cheers to 2016 and cheers to the journey, may it never end.