News | METRANS Spring 2021 Student Professional Development Series

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by Zhaoyang (Zoey) Li, USC, Masters of Transportation Engineering 2021

In Spring 2021, METRANS organized and hosted a series of three professional development designed for students and young professionals to enhance soft skills and to network with their peers. Topics included the informational interview, approaches to dealing with criticism, and strategies of leadership and team building.  

Using the Information Interview: A Powerful Tool in Job Search and in Life


What is the information interview and how do we maximize its value? On Tuesday, March 30th, PR Professional Bob Gold guided a dynamic conversation on the topic and shared his tips on connecting and building relationships through informational interviews. Instead of focusing on a particular job position, an informational interview is designed to gather information and make meaningful connections, Gold shared. The goal of an informational interview is to find commonality with the person and to explore topics of interest such as potential career paths and skills needed.


Bob noted three important things to keep in mind for your informational interview. First, request and promise a manageable duration for the interview (ideally 15-20 minutes) to respect others’ time. Second, share a meaningful connection in the request – for example, the person who referred you and/or the reason you are asking this particular person for the interview. Finally, keep the relationship by expressing gratitude, sharing relevant next steps, and following up.


Gold noted the importance of the elevator pitch – a short and impactful introduction – and during the event attendees had the opportunity to actively participate in the conversation by sharing their own elevator pitch speaks and offering peer reviews of others’. Students also had the opportunity to share their own networking experiences and asked specific questions about them.



The Discomfort of Criticism - Transforming Pain to Gain


How do we grow from criticism and perhaps even learn to welcome it? On Tuesday, April 6, Katherine Greenwood, JD, Ph.D., University Ombuds for the USC University Park Campus, addressed just that, leading a discussion on handling criticism in study and work and offered helpful tools to change what is often viewed as a negative experience into something useful and valuable.


Drawing from years of experience as a lawyer, a certified organizational ombudsman practitioner, and a mediator, Katherine shared the many types of criticism and, for each, how we can recognize and react to criticism positively and effectively, and turn the pain of criticism into the gain of the information provided. Instead of feeling the victim of criticism, Greenwood advises we make the choice for ourselves to separate negative emotional reactions to criticism from the ability to actually integrate the information and perhaps even improve. She stressed the importance of considering the context of the sharp sting of criticism given and react to it as a tire (which is often temporarily deflated but can be repaired) as opposed to a balloon (which bursts). Greenwood concluded with approaches to changing the perception of our work from both ourselves and others and offered some ways to deal with personal emotions for more professional performance in work life. The full presentation slides are available here.



Team Excellence and Overcoming Obstacles - A Leader's Perspective


On Thursday, April 15, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Fazande, active duty Air Force Officer, METRANS Student Chief of Staff, and doctoral student in Organizational Change and Leadership at USC shared his knowledge and experience on creating an effective team and the benefits of group effectiveness and team excellence.


An effective team, he shared, enables the higher quality performance of both the team and its members and limits distractions and frustration. There are several important paths to reach optimal group effectiveness and team excellence: a clear goal for the team, a results-driven structure, competent team members, a unified commitment, a collaborative climate, standards of excellence, external support, and recognition, and principled leadership are all important components. Fazande also shared five common dysfunctions of a team that thwarts success: the absence of trust, a fear of conflict, a lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. Fazande also shared ways to avoid and address these dysfunctions, noting that effective and consistent communication is one of the most important ways and arguably one of the most accessible to avoid inefficiency and frustration. He also stressed the importance of an end review of the process and outcomes and feedback for both the team and its members on the positive outcomes and future possibilities for improvement.


As students and young professionals, we are constantly working on teams, sometimes leading, sometimes following. This presentation gave participants a clearer identification of the roles we fulfill in a team and how we can better perform within the structure of the team and according to the goals and objectives of the team and our own position. The information provided also benefits students and professionals as they consider taking leading roles to develop leadership skills and strategies. The full presentation slides are available here.



About the author:

Zhaoyang (Zoey) Li is a second-year student of the Masters of Science in Civil Engineering Program with an emphasis on transportation engineering at USC Viterbi School of Engineering. She is a METRANS staff member and has been working with several student teams for METRANS.