Diversity, career, HR

#WomenColorTech at Microsoft

Agenda and list of speakers for the evening. 

Agenda and list of speakers for the evening. 

Before: Pleasantly surprised at both the turnout and the makeup of the audience. This is the first diversity event dominated by a diverse group of attendees. Also the first diversity related event in which there seem to be more corporate than startup. 


- "diversity is super profitable."
- No pomp and circumstance, getting right into the speakers and the meat of the event.
- First all black panel I've seen. Badass.
- Barabino: personal, professional, and STEM identity
- "You're going to be a great CTO. And you're going to be a great mom" - Minerva Tantoco (twitter

Overall: Very strong event around diversity and women of color in tech. Microsoft partnered with Startup52 brought together insightful and bold panelists and speakers who weren't afraid to give some real talk about problems, solutions, and how they've been affected as women in STEM industries. 

HR, career, jobs

Salary is more than just your Paycheck

There’s more to a salary than just a paycheck. Often perks and benefits are better than cash (and are generally tax-free).   Yes, the idea of another zero on the end of your salary is great, but company perks add great value to day-to-day life and ultimately lead to a huge difference in employee retention, productivity, and satisfaction.

One simple example everyone can relate to is lunch.  My estimated savings, because of employer provided catered lunch three days a week, really adds up in more ways than you’d think.

            $15 (daily lunch cost, not including meal & tax)
x              3 (days of the week)
            $45 (a week)

            $45 (a week)
x            48 (weeks of work)
            $2,160 (annual lunch cost)

            $2,160 (annual lunch cost)
+          $324 (15% tip for delivery)
            $2,484 estimated lunch cost

That’s a $2,484 (at minimum) tax-free addition to my salary!

The financial savings is great, but I also don’t have to buy as many groceries and deal with uneaten leftovers.  I no longer have to worry about planning lunches the night before or preparing something that morning; sleep is VERY important to me, so not having the “what do I make for lunch that’s tasty and healthy” on my mind all night is big relief.

Previous and current work in tech and human resources industries provides insights into the evolution of benefits companies offer.   Often perks are initially overlooked and don’t become part of the conversation until salary negotiations.  Talking about the full package—not just the salary—is something that both businesses and potential employees should discuss as part of the company culture earlier in the interview process.

Every company has their own take on what makes employees happy.  To retain the best talent in a changing and growing workforce means a continual and ongoing development of benefits.  I encourage both sides of the table to begin talking about the whole compensation package—salary, benefits, and perks—sooner can shed a lot of light on how a company treats its employees and how the culture is shaped.

Before and during your job search, think realistically about which perks and benefits would make a significant impact on your day-to-day (or year-to-year) work life!


Think about the bigger picture about how perks and benefits a company offers could impact your life rather than considering a new role based on salary alone.

Some fantastic perks and benefits might include:

  • in office kegs and other free alcohol
  • pet friendly offices
  • remote work
  • ergonomic furniture
  • couches and other non-desk work areas
  • sabbaticals
  • educational reimbursement
  • free food and snacks
  • and more!
  • Paid vacation time
  • flexible work schedule
  • pre-tax transit benefits
  • healthcare, dental, and vision, benefits
  • company swag
  • company events
  • gym memberships & discounts
  • cell phone reimbursement
  • paid paternity and maternity leave


jobs, career, internships

An Unexpectedly Empowering Conversation with an Intern.

Today I had an unexpectedly empowering conversation with an intern.

She, lets call her Jane, contacted me a week earlier over Eko messenger and said, “I don't feel like I’m a good fit here.”  When asked about specific concerns that could be addressed in that moment, she deferred, asking to wait to talk in person.  I made an active choice not to read anything into Jane’s comments and to wait (albeit anxiously) for our in-person meeting the following week.

Seated in a small private conference room, I inquired what was on her mind, asking Jane to be as forthright as possible.  She brought up issues of compensation, not feeling comfortable with the possibility of other interns being compensated differently, and the lack of communication between the interns themselves about the topic of compensation.

The discussion of these topics did not catch me off guard.  What was surprising is the fact that of all my interns Jane was the one to address the subject directly. Jane is very productive and an active member of our intern community but her interactions with our full time staff members and me had been minimal and timid.


Pride and openness were my initial reaction to her comments.


I told her that whether or not this conversatio­n ends with achieving her desired outcomes, it is extraordinarily important that she advocated on her own behalf.  I told her how proud I was of her candor and ability to approach me directly.  She nodded and verbalized understanding while I underscored the importance of this skill, especially as a female, a millennial, and a woman working in the tech industry, and that a conversation is a great place to start.


“I shouldn’t be guilty for asking for more money, should I?” she asked.


I responded with a resounding no, also acknowledging that when asking for a raise or promotion, it is important to support the “why” with reasoning (the Human Resources side of me went into coaching mode).  After reviewing her current compensation and her ideal compensation, we left the conversation as ‘to be continued’ pending a conversation with my managers.

After the meeting, I walked back to my desk feeling proud and excited on Jane’s behalf.  She was comfortable enough with me as her manager to ask for a conversation and to speak candidly.  Jane asked questions seeking information, not just answers.  Most importantly, she took her life and career into her own hands for the better.

I am part of Jane’s career path and have cultivated an environment where her success is possible.  This conversation is part of both Jane and my accomplishments, present and future.

Through one conversation, Jane inspired me to do more and to be better.  Through one conversation she empowered herself and her future.

career, jobs

5 Questions to Cultivate Excellent Interns: Part 1

This is the first installment in a five part series of how to cultivate excellent interns

 Why Interns?

“Why do we want an intern program?” is the most important question to ask before developing one.  Defining how interns will help bring company success while simultaneously engaging them in new learning experiences will lead the way to an accomplished and successful program.


Company Benefits

Employees get a new challenge with the opportunity to directly mentor and have an important impact on growing minds.  Happy interns are advocates for your company and its mission.


Fresh Perspectives


Interns bring new ideas, modern and updated perspectives on old and outdated routines.  This benefits employees by improving skills and awareness of new technologies and practices. Interns are often students or fresh out of college, they are filled with knowledge and ideas waiting to be put to use.


“Real World” Education

Giving back by providing a “real world” education is rewarding in a number of ways.  Allowing an intern a glimpse into the boardroom, cubical, or tech startup allows them to make better choices for themselves in the future.  Helping them to figure out an area of interest to pursue powerfully affects interns’ future and those in it.  Lessons about deadlines, networking, and hard work are invaluable for any direction they may choose.


New Hires

New Hires

Often overlooked but a very important aspect of internships is a chance to test-drive a new hire.  While this could seem selfish, the intern should also be trying out your company.  Interns are a great way to network with new groups of people, organizations, and colleges and universities.


Employee Training

Higher-level employees have a chance to manage and engage a new generation, which improves management skills.  Human Resources gets a chance to interview more, learning about the best ways to present the positions available, talk about culture, and gather more information about how the hire a new generation of employees.


Why interns?  In short, interns benefit employers of all sizes.  They help to bolster and augment skills of current employees.  With high expectations, internships create win-win situations for all parties involved.  If this all makes sense, the real question is, Why not interns?

arts, career, jobs

How A Broadway Musical Can Get You a Job!

Indulge my inner theater geek for a moment and (using headphones) listen to this show-opener song from the Tony award winning musical Avenue Q.  The themes in this song—and the musical in its entirety—express the thoughts and emotions of those graduating from High School, or college, or any other time they’ve felt lost or at an end of an era in their life.  The show and song begins with:

What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.

I can't pay the bills yet,
'Cause I have no skills yet,
The world is a big scary place.

But somehow I can't shake,
The feeling I might make,
A difference,
To the human race.


The show Avenue Q, both in music and script, is light, bouncy, and humorous creating a conversation about important life challenges.  Like most literary works they can need translation to fully understand the “story behind the story.” The ideas and conversations, when “translated” apply to all areas of education.  So for this moment, this musical theater song is Shakespearian text interpreted from a HR perspective.


“What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?”

“What is my life going to be?” Who will I be when I grow up?” Questions kids, high school students, and especially college graduates ask and continue to be asked throughout life.  Traditional educational standards ask you to define a major at 20 years old to determine a career path for a lifetime.  Graduates have the impression they’re already experts in their field and should continue down that path.

College graduates shouldn’t restrict themselves this way by letting ‘traditional education’ define a life or career path.  Straying from a defined plan can be daunting but use fear of the unknown to propel exploration of other interests and passions. What other areas were interesting in or after school?  Were you involved in the school newspaper? Maybe you created sets for the theater department.  Perhaps working in the local community made life more enjoyable?  Life’s potential is what you make it; look to interests and passions for clues to next steps for post-college life and career choices.

Start or continue figuring out “what your life is going to be” through your interests and passions; confront the fear that changing paths may bring.

“Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.”

Don’t despair! A Bachelors degree appears to have become the equivalent of what a high school diploma used to represent.  Still, new graduates always seem under qualified for all the interesting work opportunities.  Any degree or certification has elements that can be expanded upon once in the workforce.  Be proud of your educational accomplishments, wear them with pride, and find the best means to practice and hone your abilities.

Make your degree work for you!  Extract skills, conceptual ideas, research methods, and problem solving abilities that can be applied in a multidisciplinary context.

“I can't pay the bills yet,
'Cause I have no skills yet,”

There’s plenty one can do with a B.A. in English, or any other degree; the biggest challenge recent graduates face is how to identify, articulate, and practice transferrable skills gained while getting a degree in a specialized field.  How did working as a group leader for a final class assignment develop project management skills?  Where can one apply the lessons about the value of time, deadlines, and effective communication learned from writing for the school paper?  How can color theory skills best apply to websites, app design, and aid the user experience?  In what ways does a background in psychology lead to a better understanding of human interaction in a workplace?

From previous school and “real life” work, identify transferable skills and abilities you can apply to a variety of environments.


“The world is a big scary place.”

Yes, the world can be a big scary place.  In the workforce-job market-business world having the ability to network and process information is key.

There is potential for networking everywhere and in everyone.  Don’t know where to start?  Join meetups or groups with specific interests.  Meeting and connecting with new people becomes a simple social event; don’t worry if they aren’t in your current industry—everyone knows someone else who can help or is in your field of business.

The ability to process, rapidly digest, and understand information is important in any job.  In the Information Age we’re bombarded daily with data, commercials, people, webpages—information is seemingly constant and endless.


“The information age has brought the noise of the infinite to us in ways that seem deceptively manageable, but often add to the confusion of our daily lives.  Memory has both evolved and devolved simultaneously. Our ability to receive and assimilate a myriad of information on a constant basis has been enhanced through the Internet, smart phones, and other Wi-Fi connected devices.”

- Steven Pearson, Artist


Sorting, digesting, and understanding information is a skill often learned through research and writing papers and should be practiced in everyday personal and professional settings.  This skill allows one to better keep up with trends, current events, and be more knowledgeable in areas of expertise.

It’s important to take time to network for more opportunities and to sort and process an immense amount of information to take away key pieces that enhance skills and performance.


“But somehow I can't shake,
The feeling I might make,
A difference,
To the human race.”

Excellent.  Take passion, drive, energy, and channel it into tangible productivity. Maybe a decision didn't go your way or you didn't get that job offer; trace your steps back to what you originally wanted, regroup, and reassess to create a new game plan.

Be passionate, keep fueling the fire, and use that to pave your way.


This song and musical resonate with me as I work with the millennial generation.  Armed with a BA degree—a background in fine arts, theater management and Spanish language—I am uniquely prepared.   Figuring out how skills are transferrable to new settings is and continues to be the most difficult yet rewarding process.  As it turns out, a BA degree is a potential ticket to success and equipped with a willingness and excitement to follow your passions, to discover and put transferrable skills to great use in any field!

5 Simple Steps to go from a Chatty to Effective Communicator

1.     Write a List or Outline of Topics to Discuss

Before an interview, meeting, chat with mentor or mentee, HR talks, or any type of business-related conversation it’s helpful to list or outline key topics to be discussed.  This helps build time management skills and keeps tangential ideas in your head.  For interviews this is an excellent means for both parties to make sure all topics are addressed.  Lists and outlines are great positive reminders of skills, stories, or practiced responses--like a response to important questions like: “What is your biggest weakness.  I always make a positive note about applicants who bring prepared notes and questions to an interview.  It shows that they’re serious about the position, organized, and have thought about the role and company beforehand.

2.     Cut Out the First Person Pronouns

In professional writing, cutting out first person pronouns can be difficult.  When writing application materials, such as cover letters, removing the majority of I’s and me’s helps sharpen sentences and diminish superfluous thoughts.  A story, accomplishment, or a topic with personal examples written with minimal first person language can still be discussed; generally first person pronouns aren’t needed to communicate thoughts.

While you want to sell your qualifications, don't forget to explain how you would add value to the company. If your cover letter is dominated with “I,” chances are you need to focus more of your content on the prospective employer.” 

- Career Builder

3.     Deep Breaths

A weakness of mine is the speed of my speech, which leads even the closest of peers to say, “Slow down!” Take the period at the end of a sentence more seriously, try to punctuate every sentence with a breath.  This is an excellent technique (even if you don’t speak at the speed of light) to help de-stress, maintain composure, and allows thoughts to catch up with what you are saying.  Before anything nerve-wracking take a couple deep breaths to increase a sense of calm.  When you’re steady and poised, it allows for personality, connection, and humor to come through. Having your brain and speech on the same page is vital to keep from rambling or saying too much. 

4.     Practice Beforehand

Practice key talking points in the mirror, to a friend, to your pet goldfish. Rehearsing is reassuring.  Having a checklist of topics, key words, and personal stories written out ahead of time will better embed them in your brain. This doesn’t mean memorize; memorizing will hinder rather than help.  When strictly trying to repeat answers word for word you’ll block any personality and sense of self that should come through.


5.     Record Yourself

With smartphones it’s easy to record video or audio; use this technology to your advantage and listen to how you speak.  Do you know how often you use “umm,” “like,” “well” or long pauses?  Are you guilty of saying “literally” or “essentially” without realizing it?  Once errors in speech patterns are recognized, you’ll begin to notice and be more cognizant of them.  As awareness of these oral slip-ups increases you’ll be able to better change speech patterns to remove them from your vocabulary.  Another great self-evaluation technique is to take a video recording of yourself while speaking or presenting.  It also helps to analyze personal body language an important topic that is not often discussed.

Lists, Bullet Points & the Rule of Three: Resume Tip of the Day

I see a lot of resumes every day.

Working in Human Resources, recruiting, and intern programs I receive an average of 15 resumes a day for various roles. Generally I enjoy reviewing resumes; the potential wealth of information about a person that one can can get from a resume is exciting! Maybe it's the HR bug, but the prospect of a new hire or intern creates a positive energy buzz for me (and hopefully my fellow Eko Communications coworkers)!

There I am, all jazzed up to review resumes when simple, basic errors elicit a groan in disbelief. Many resumes that come my way are in need of attention and some quick TLC, so today's topic is "Lists, Bullet Points, & the Rule of Three."


According to our trusty friend Wikipedia:

The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form of text is also more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes.

I've always been a believer in odd numbers, but for resumes a minimum of three; it might be three bullet points, three skills, three programs used, etc. If you didn't do three things at a job or internship listed on your resume, then it probably shouldn't be on there in the first place.


An example of a resume with bullet point issues.
Bullet point issues can be easily resolved.


Since we're on this topic, bullet points should start with verbs. Strong verbs. Powerful verbs. Call-to-action verbs! No verb should be repeated in any bullet point on your resume. Stuck? Lists like "185 Powerful Verbs That Will Make Your Resume Awesome" is a great resource. Still stuck? Click to or grab a thesaurus and branch out your vocabulary.

While wandering through verb-land make sure your tenses are correct. Simply, are you still at the position? Yes? Then all verbs should be in present tense. No? Then all verbs should be in the past tense.


All bullet points should be aligned at the same indent, be the same size, and be the same font. Simple black bullets, while possibly more on the boring side, fit the bill just fine. Having more than two types or stages of bullet points is excessive, visually unappealing, and often difficult to process. Need more space? In Microsoft Word it is simple to move all of your indents back--it is not necessary to have them indented a half inch or more.


(A bit of humor never hurt...)
Leaving one or two bullet points to fend for themselves is never a good idea!

Part of formatting is also making the bullet points consistent in structure and punctuation. If you use a period on one, use a period on all of them. If one starts with a capital letter, they all do. Consistency in formatting shows a level of detail that most employers request in their job ads.

This rule of three is a personal preference stemming from a freshmen english class at McDaniel College and my art background where odd numbers were the right choice and three is the best.

I would love to hear from the LinkedIn community about any bullet point preferences or pet peeves!