Thank faculty mentors while you can

A few years ago, I ran across a graduation card with a handwritten note from David Fortney, one of my journalism professors — a man I knew as a mentor, a very talented writer, and a friend.

David was a Vietnam veteran. Prior to his years teaching journalism at Truman State University, he’d worked as a journalist for The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Stars and Stripes, and Radio Free Europe.

He was a robust man. An unkempt white beard framed his face. He had big, sometimes flaring, nostrils. He wore buttoned down shirts with his sleeves rolled up. David wasn’t the best classroom teacher. In fact, he was a very “last minute” kind of guy — often asking us students to run copies of that day’s assignments just before class began. I rarely received any of my graded assignments, so I never really knew what my grade was until I received my report card.

All this aside…the man could write! His fingers danced across a keyboard and the resulting words were poetry.

In addition to being a professor, David was the director of student publications — overseeing the student staffs of the yearbook, the weekly newspaper and a regional travel magazine called Detours. I served on all of those staffs — including time as sports editor of the newspaper and editor-in-chief of the magazine — so David was a constant presence in my life during my four years of undergraduate work.

In 1998-99, David helped me during a trying academic year. He mentored and encouraged me through a time of indecision, a time when I had little confidence in myself or my abilities to be the editor-in-chief of Detours.

After several months at the helm of the magazine, I wasn’t having much fun. Any fun, really. I didn’t feel like much of a leader. I didn’t feel that the staff respected me. (In fact, I know they didn’t.)  I thought, “This is no way to enjoy my final year of college!”

I wanted to quit.  Continue reading “Thank faculty mentors while you can”

Are you a new graduate looking for that first job? These tips might help.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this blog in 2012 when the United States was still stumbling a bit from the downturn of 2008. While that dates it a little, much of this still rings true today. 

I’ve been working for universities since 2004. Each spring, I watch thousands of new graduates leave the comforts of college life to launch the careers for which they’ve been planning and preparing. I’ve learned a few things since I entered the post-college, professional workforce in 1999. If you are a new graduate, here are a few things that might help you land that first job.

Proper writing is key.

For those of you who slept through English class and didn’t care about learning proper grammar, you’re already at a disadvantage. You are competing for jobs in a bad economy. Open positions that once brought in 30 resumes and cover letters are now bringing in hundreds. You need your application to rise to the top. If your application packet is littered with grammatical mistakes and improper spelling, the prospective employer only “sees” someone who doesn’t take pride in his or her work. I have a friend who applied to be an auditor. The employer asked him to submit a writing sample. He won the job partly based on his writing sample. The employer told him that the applications he had received from recent college grads were terribly written. (Watch out for “your” and “you’re,” as well as “their,” “there,” and “they’re.”)

Do your homework.

Know everything you can know about the job and the company. Read the website. Learn what you can about the supervisor. Read her online profile or his LinkedIn page. Know the structure of the company. Know how your job will fit in with the rest of the employees. During the interview, be able to say things like: “I see that you encourage your employees to be involved in community service projects” or “I read where you are taking a lead role in the mayor’s new initiative” or “Congratulations on the promotion!” I once worked in an office where we were hiring someone to improve and maintain our website. In every interview, we asked: “What did you like about the website?” or “What improvements would you make to the website?” Half of the people we interviewed hadn’t taken the time to even look at the site before the interview.

Show. Don’t just tell.

If, in your cover letter or during an interview, you tell the employer that you are creative, then you must back it up. Give specifics about a project you completed. Show examples from your portfolio. Show the employer how you have met deadlines. If you have led a staff or a group, give some specific examples of your leadership. You might even mention a small failure or two to let the employer know you’re human. Then come back and show her how you learned from the mistake and made adjustments to keep from making the same mistake twice.

If this is your first job, you are not an expert.

When I was in college, I worked for the school newspaper and the magazine. I was a reporter, a sports editor and an editor-in-chief in college. The stories I wrote, the layouts I designed, all helped me land my first job as a copy editor at a small daily newspaper in Iowa. But once I was in the “real world,” that meant very little. I was the newbie, the rookie. All thoughts of grandeur were quickly stifled. I was the fourth person on a four-person copy desk (aka, the first to go when there’s a budget cut). When you go into an interview, you need to be confident, but you also need to be humble. Be willing to learn. Unless you are being called to lead the team, you must let the employer know that you will be a good member of the overall team. When the hiring party tells you something about the job, don’t say, “I know…” You don’t.

Continue reading “Are you a new graduate looking for that first job? These tips might help.”

Ignoring God: How’s that working for you?

When we look back on our lives, we can often see God’s hand at work.

In hindsight, I can see him at every crossroad. Especially those life-changing moments when (while it was happening) I was just so sure he was nowhere to be found.

But he was there, and he helped.

When you look back, how has God provided for you?

Maybe the help came in the form of a family situation. Maybe he guided you through a rocky relationship, kept you from getting in a car with a drunk driver, helped you choose the right school. Maybe it’s an answered prayer to sell a house, make a move, get a job. Maybe it came in the form of much-needed advice from a mentor.

When you share those stories and those testimonies with others, do you give God the credit he deserves? Or do you ignore him?

Let me explain.

In Psalm 40:9-10, King David writes:

I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, as you know, O LORD.  I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.

David was not afraid to share his faith. God had saved him and spared him too many times for David to ignore God.

David’s faithfulness is admirable. And it’s convicting.

I’ll admit that I’ve struggled with giving God the credit. Here’s an example.

For nearly two years, my wife and I prayed that God would provide the perfect home for our family. It took many months. And God was faithful. He led us to the perfect home.

I know God’s hand was in it. Yet, when people ask me about our home, I’ve noticed that I sometimes say: “We found a great home. Corinn just happened by it one day, saw it for sale, and that was that!”


The response I give often depends on the person to whom I’m talking. In church, I’m very safe to say that God provided. But when talking to someone who doesn’t know Christ as his Savior, I tend to lean toward the less “churchy” answer — leaving God out.


Possibly out of fear of rejection. Or maybe I just get comfortable in the fiction that we can do it all in our own strength.

Here’s a challenge for you and me.

This week, when we have the opportunity to share a story about a success — and God’s hand is clearly visible in the outcome — let’s not be scared to let people know who provided for us.

Jesus said that he will defend us before God. It’s only right that we speak up for him when we share with our friends.

How do you make it a point to share the stories of Christ’s faithfulness and provision with others?

Don’t reduce God to a mix tape

Do you remember mix tapes?

Today, we call them playlists.

When I was in high school in the 1990s, I was pretty good at making the perfect mix tape for any occasion. I probably made at least a hundred of those things. I’d make one for every road trip, every friend, every girlfriend, every summer weekend.

I always had dozens of blank tapes on hand — 60 minutes and 90 minutes, depending on the occasion. I’d sit for hours, scouring through hundreds of CDs that my stepdad had collected via the Columbia House catalogs. I’d pluck the best songs from the CDs and transfer them to the cassette tapes, crafting, through song, the perfect message.

My friend Jim and I would get together and compare mix tapes. His were always a little better quality because he had some secret way to blend the tracks. My transitions between songs were never as smooth.


I once met a man who would engage me in deep theological discussions. At the time, I had a pretty good idea of where I was coming from. I was still a fairly new Christian and explained my beliefs as best I could. He, on the other hand, seemed to be all over the place with his beliefs. On the face of it, it sounded somewhat like Christianity, but it had a pinch of some “new age” things, a dash of Buddhism (reincarnation), something I can only describe as a “happy hunting ground” scenario, and some other things I’d never heard of before.

I was confused. And I finally admitted my ignorance and confusion and asked him: What exactly do you believe?

The answer was surprising. Continue reading “Don’t reduce God to a mix tape”

Put it in Writing

Written words are powerful.

Think about it.

When we put something in writing, there’s a sense of permanency.

If we want to make something official, we’re told to “put it in writing.”

When we make an agreement, we write a contract. Life insurance, wills, housing contracts, bills of sale. All written. All legally binding.

Think of the founding of this country. People could stand up and talk and yell and argue their opinions about independence, but once the Declaration of Independence was written and signed, a world-transforming movement began.

Writing also implies accountability and stewardship.

If you have a written set of rules and someone breaks one of them, you have a point of reference.

If my wife gives me a written grocery list and I come home without one of the items, I can’t say I didn’t know.

If you write your “bucket list,” you have a written record that allows for measurement. If you go skydiving, you have something to check off the list. If you never read War and Peace, that unchecked item will dog you until you do.

Organizations need written goals, plans, vision and mission statements.

Having these plans in writing provides clarity of vision with a roadmap.

A written plan provides a gauge. If someone comes to you with a new idea, you can check it against the plan. Does it fit? Yes. Then do it. If not, maybe it’s something to consider for next year. Or use that wonderful, freeing word: “No.”

Yes, adjustments can be made. And flexibility should be budgeted for and built into a plan. But, once a plan is agreed upon, each new adjustment should be carefully considered. You don’t want to pull resources from a planned item to accomplish a new thing and then leave yourself short.

Some people will argue against a written plan. And it’s probably due to a fear of accountability, or the fear of commitment.

Do you have written plans or do you just ‘wing it?’ How’s it working?

Recipe for a smile

Take the first 10 minutes of your morning and write a thank you note to someone.


Someone you’ve been meaning to thank. That person who’s been on your mind that you can’t find the time to reach out to.

Maybe it’s a person in your office who helped you out of a jam.

Maybe it’s your spouse. It’s been months since you’ve done something spontaneous and nice for her.

Maybe it’s your child’s teacher. You’re seeing your kid advancing in reading or math and you want to let the teacher know you see improvement.

Maybe it’s the person working the front desk. Every morning she welcomes you with a smile.

A friend.

Your pastor.

Your mother.

A waiter.

The bus driver.

If you don’t have a stamp, hand deliver it. The person you’re writing to needs to see that someone notices. Your kindness will be an answer to prayer or a welcome surprise. Either way, it’s a smile in the making.

So, who are you writing to today?