Why Graduates Who Want a Career Full of Travel and Adventure Should Consider the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service

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Vella Mbenna

Amelia Island, FL—Now that graduation is finally here, you may be dreaming of finding a job that encompasses everything you want in a career: adventure, travel, challenge, growth, risk, and reward. The problem is, most jobs come up short in these areas. But if you’re determined to do meaningful work that’s full of excitement, the Foreign Service may be the right place for you.

For those who may not know, the Foreign Service is the corps of employees dedicated to representing America abroad and responding to the needs of American citizens living and traveling around the world. While not everyone is cut out for this line of work, says Vella Mbenna—who worked in the Foreign Service for 26 years—it is a great job opportunity for ambitious new graduates.

“Being a diplomat with the US Department of State demands intellect, courage, and a sense of adventure—not to mention an unshakable work ethic,” says Mbenna, author of Muddy Roads Blue Skies: My Journey to the Foreign Service, from the Rural South to Tanzania and Beyond (Muddy Roads Press, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-7327918-0-0, $16.99). “If this describes you, you may have what it takes to join the ranks of hardworking citizens making a difference in our global society.”

But make no mistake: Jobs in the Foreign Service are not easy to come by.

“In my opinion, they are one of the hardest government positions to obtain,” says Mbenna. “And once you’re doing the work, you’ll be challenged daily to push yourself and find out what you’re truly made of. You must have the right mindset and the right skill set—and acquiring them is absolutely worth it.”

Early in her life, Mbenna never suspected that she would someday work as a US diplomat with the Foreign Service. After getting her college degree, she wound up back in her hometown in rural Georgia with a young child and few career prospects. But staying put was not an option. Her wanderlust prompted her to apply for a position with the US Department of State, where she eventually became an information management officer (IMO) in charge of information technology (IT) and communications, working in places like Beirut, Uganda, and Tunisia.

There, among her primarily “male, white, Yale” colleagues, Mbenna (a minority three times over: black, Southern, and female) started the long journey to the top. Despite facing instances of insubordination, racism, sexism, and culture shaming, Mbenna worked her way up to level “01,” the highest-grade level you can earn in the Foreign Service—provided there is no desire to hang around for some years to see if you will be selected to join the cadre of senior, policy-level foreign affairs professionals.

For a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, the challenges, victories, and even the near misses Mbenna experienced were the very definition of a fulfilling career. Part memoir and part how-to success guide, Muddy Roads Blue Skies tells the remarkable story of Mbenna’s journey from the backwoods of Georgia to the far reaches of the globe.

If you’re ready to graduate and may be interested in a career in the Foreign Service, here are the skills and behaviors Mbenna says you should turn into habits right now:

Do the work—and more. Dutifully do your work every day, and do it well. And when your work is done, see if you can help someone else with theirs. Mbenna routinely went above and beyond throughout her career, including her courageous efforts in the aftermath of the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam. Her contributions during this dangerous time even earned her a Heroism Award from the Department of State.

“My mother’s ‘hard work from dawn to dusk’ mandate, which I was raised with, shaped my professional work ethic,” says Mbenna. “The good news is, anyone can learn this skill with enough perseverance. Challenge yourself daily to not just show up for your work—whatever it may be—but come with a contagiously positive attitude that shows your gratefulness for the type of work you do. Rise to the occasion consistently, and soon it will become second nature, and people will take notice.”

Find a role model/mentor. Develop trusting relationships with colleagues—in the field or not—who can help guide and develop you in your career. Think of someone you admire whom you could learn from and ask them if they will offer you career guidance. The Department of State also has an excellent formal mentor program, which Mbenna highly recommends newer diplomats take full advantage of.

Don’t be afraid to share ideas. “Never sit around the table during meetings thinking you are too low in rank or too ignorant of the subject matter to contribute,” says Mbenna. “You would not be there if you did not have something to contribute. Meetings are the ideal time for discussing ideas; come prepared with at least one or two ideas or questions, and then communicate them. Around mid-career, I became tired of sitting in meetings and rarely contributing. So, my motto became: ‘If you think it, share it.’ It paid off for me, and it will for you too.”

Respect the chain of command. “I do not believe any leader wants to be second-guessed or challenged by a subordinate, especially not in public,” says Mbenna. “The leader is the leader for a reason. Respect the chain of command and insist on it regardless of whether you are the leader, the second-in-command, or the follower.

“Overstepping boundaries without being invited to, especially if it is not your project or post, makes for a rough ride and stressful work environment for the entire team,” she continues. “As someone who has served as a leader and follower in my career, I can confirm that the chain of command works when everyone follows it.”

Be strategic. Don’t leave your career up to chance, advises Mbenna. Think carefully about the path you would like to take, then plan your career trajectory accordingly. Keep in mind that every position and grade level you attain are stepping stones to the next one, so be on the lookout for opportunities to learn and develop while whole-heartedly contributing to the mission. Finally, remember that new skills can qualify you for more advanced positions, so seize every chance to acquire them.

Know when to lead and when to follow. The higher you climb in the Foreign Service (and in most other fields), the more leadership responsibilities you will have. Still, different positions require you to serve in different capacities. Sometimes you will be asked to lead, and other times you will be asked to follow. Learn to do both with ease—and be aware of when either is appropriate—and you will be more valuable to your team and organization.

“After having been a leader in previous roles, I accepted a position on a ‘hardship’ tour in Kabul, Afghanistan,” says Mbenna. “I went in knowing and accepting that this time I would be a follower, and I became a good one because of that mindset. I did what I was supposed to do, and I did it as specified with a smile. Keep in mind that whether you’re a follower or a leader, your work counts. Whatever role you find yourself in, it matters, so be sure to make it work for you.”

Be dedicated/be useful, even in bad conditions. Learn to stay on task even during chaotic times (whether the chaos is work-related or personal). Mbenna’s last Foreign Service assignment was in Tunis, Tunisia, several years after the uprisings of the Arab Spring. Even though the turmoil had resulted in staff reduction and a revolving door of temporary staff at the embassy, Mbenna never stopped working and striving to uphold her responsibilities—not even when a broken leg forced her to work from a hotel and home for several weeks while she recovered.

“Don’t hesitate to do more than your specific duties in calm and chaotic periods,” says Mbenna. “Pitch in and help others, even if they do not ask. If they do not need your help, they will tell you. You’ll never regret going the extra mile, because eventually it will pay off for you, even if it only brings a smile to your face or a good memory years later when telling your Foreign Service story.”

Know when to leave. “When it’s time to leave the Foreign Service, you will know it,” says Mbenna. “This comes at a different time for everyone. It could be a few years into your career, or you may stay until you reach the mandatory retirement age of 65. You might start feeling restless, unsatisfied, or unhappy at work; or missing your family and friends so much that it distracts you from your duties; or simply realizing that you’re ready for your next adventure. Regardless of what it is, pack your bags and leave before you are burned-out or forced to leave. I reached my desired rank and left on my own terms, and what a happy feeling that was!”

“If you want to succeed in a high-stakes work environment like the Foreign Service, you’d better be ready to put your heart and soul into it,” concludes Mbenna. “Be ready to work hard and go all in, and from there the experience acquired and skills you are sharpening each day will help you truly excel. Yes, there are easier careers out there, but few are as rewarding or exhilarating. So if you want it, dig deep into who you are, find your greatness, and let it shine every day.”

About the Author:
Vella Mbenna is the author of Muddy Roads Blue Skies: My Journey to the Foreign Service, from the Rural South to Tanzania and Beyond. She was born in the Holmestown community of Midway, Georgia, where she grew up with eight siblings and parents who instilled in her the important values that would set her on the path to success. Throughout her youth, Vella dreamed of escaping small-town USA and traveling the world. In 1989, that dream came true when she was offered a position with the US Department of State Foreign Service. During her highly successful 26-year career as a diplomat, Vella served with honor in 13 foreign countries as well as two tours in Washington, DC.

Is a Lack of Soft Skills Keeping You from Opportunity?

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man in a suit and tie shaking hands with a hiring manager

You may have heard that employers are interested in hiring people with good “soft skills.” But what exactly are good soft skills?

Soft skills are sometimes called people skills, or work-readiness skills. They are your personality, attitudes and manners. They can also include how you present yourself. So, the way you talk, the way you listen, the way you make eye contact and even the way you dress are part of your soft skills.

Employers look for soft skills to decide how someone may do at a job. This is important to employers when they hire. Soft skills are often the reason employers decide whether to keep or promote workers.

In fact, one of the best ways to demonstrate your soft skills occurs before you even have the job. During the interview process, employers are not only looking for your technical and educational background, but at the way you communicate. Conversation engagement, active listening and the ability to answer questions carefully and quickly are all traits that carryover no matter what line of work you are applying for.

Typical Soft Skills

Some soft skills can be taught in school. But most you learn in everyday life and can improve at any time. Here are some examples:

  • The ability to adapt to new situations or changes in plans swiftly and with ease
  • Friendliness and respectfulness, regardless of the situation
  • Follows instructions and asks questions, in order to get the job done correctly
  • The ability to work with varying personalities to accomplish a task
  • Responsibility, even when you make mistakes
  • Quick learning
  • Team Work
  • Accepting to criticism
  • Patience
  • Self-Motivation
  • Punctuality
  • Determination
  • Calmness
  • Practicing Your Soft Skills

As mentioned previously, soft skills are often learned from the daily interactions we have with others, whether it’s in a work setting or not. You might have these skills and not even realize they can help an employer or you might struggle with them. If so, it’s always a good idea to practice soft skills.

Here are some ways you can practice your soft skills today:

  • Role play with a friend or family member. Pretending you are in a certain situation with an employer or a customer can help prepare you for the proper response when the time comes.
  • Practice eye contact and active listening. Whether you are buying lunch, going to the grocery store or catching up with your neighbor, there are many opportunities to engage with other people every day. Concentrate on staying engaged in these short conversations as practice; it will make these skills stronger for the workforce.
  • Ask for feedback on your soft skills. Talking to trusted individuals such as family, friends or a counselor to give your insight to your communication can help you to gauge what you need to work on and what you excel at.

No matter where your career journey takes you or what obstacles you will encounter on the way, strengthening your soft skills will always increase your chances of landing your dream job.

Source: CareerOneStop

11 Great Jobs That Offer Student Loan Forgiveness

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smiling black woman nurse with arms folded with stethoscope draped around neck area

By Kat Castagnoli

Did you know that 7 in 10 college students take out loans to pay for school? While it can take a long time to pay back student loan debt, there is a way to get your balance wiped out: by qualifying for a student loan forgiveness job.

If you work for a certain amount of time in a job with this option, you could get your student loan debt completely cancelled. While these types of jobs aren’t always the most high-paying, there’s often plenty of opportunity due to a shortage of workers to fill them. And what you might sacrifice in income, you could potentially make back with loan forgiveness after a few years.

Below is a list of 11 jobs that offer student loan forgiveness so you can decide if any would be a great fit for you:

  1. Federal agency employee

Here’s a little-known fact that applies to federal agencies: If they are having a hard time finding new employees to fill open slots, they are allowed to offer student loan repayment assistance. To qualify, the new employee must sign a contract to work for the federal agency for a minimum of three years. The agency is allowed to pay up to $10,000 per year per employee for federally insured loans, but the total assistance given cannot exceed $60,000 per person.

  1. Public service worker

If you work in a qualifying organization, such as a government agency or nonprofit, you could qualify for loan forgiveness. Full-time public service employees with Perkins loans can get full cancellation of their loans, as long as they haven’t consolidated them. Potentially eligible workers include family and child services employees, law enforcement and correctional officers and public defenders. Public servants with Direct loans (also known as Stafford loans) could pursue loan forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. PSLF is available to any worker in a government organization at any level, as well as tax-exempt organizations or for-profit organizations with a qualifying service.

  1. Doctor/physician

There are several options for doctors in need of student loan repayment help. The Association of American Medical Colleges maintains a list of loan assistance programs for doctors by state. Additionally, medical professionals who serve in the military have access to forgiveness programs as well. For example, through the Navy Financial Assistance Program (FAP), medical residents receive an annual grant of $45,000 on top of residency income, which can be put toward medical school debt.

  1. Lawyer

In addition to public service forgiveness options targeted specifically at graduates working in law, there are some other sources of loan repayment help for lawyers. For instance, every spring, the Department of Justice opens up its Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (ASLRP) to help recruit and retain new talent. Justice Department employees must have at least $10,000 in federal student loans to qualify. For those who want to work as public defenders, the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program provides loan assistance of varying amounts, depending on where you live. In addition, there are dozens of programs for borrowers with law school debt.

  1. Automotive professionals

Any automotive aftermarket industry manufacturer who is an employee of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) can apply for the SEMA Loan Forgiveness Program. The SEMA program awarded $272,000 to 97 winners in 2019 in scholarships and loan forgiveness. To be eligible, you must have been a SEMA employee for at least a year, hold a degree or certificate of completion from a college or technical school and have graduated with at least a 2.5 GPA.

  1. Nurse

If you are a registered nurse, an “advanced practice registered nurse” (such as a nurse practitioner) or a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) facility nurse, you may be eligible for student loan repayment assistance through the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. The nurses chosen to receive assistance through this program will get 60 percent of their qualifying student loan balance forgiven, in exchange for a minimum two-year service commitment. Also, qualifying participants may receive an additional 25 percent off their original loan balance if they complete a third year of service. Please note that in this program, the full loan award amount is taxable.

  1. Teacher

If you’re a special education teacher, teach in a low-income school district or work in an underemployed subject area or a teacher shortage area, you may qualify for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. If you qualify, you could receive up to $5,000 or $17,500 in loan forgiveness, depending upon what subject matter you teach and your number of years of service. Note that to qualify, your student loan debt must be from federal direct loans or Stafford loans.

However, if you have Perkins student loans, you could be eligible for the Perkins Loan Teacher Cancellation program, where you could potentially receive cancellation of up to 100 percent of your loans.

  1. AmeriCorps, Peace Corps and other qualifying volunteer organizations

Did you know that certain volunteer organizations offer student loan forgiveness opportunities? Don’t let high student loan debt deter you from taking the opportunity to help others. Certain volunteer organizations like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) all have student loan awards or repayment options. You can apply for these after you have completed your term of service with the organization.

  1. Dentist

Although dentists tend to make a high income — a median of $156,240, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — they also accrue a huge amount of debt before they start working. The American Dental Education Association found that the average dentist with student loans in the Class of 2019 left school owing a whopping $292,169. Luckily, there are some loan repayment assistance programs, or LRAPs, for dentists, such as the Ohio Dentist Loan Repayment Program and Maryland Dent-Care Loan Assistance Repayment Program. Programs such as these offer significant loan assistance to dentists who work in qualifying areas or workplaces.

  1. Pharmacist

Like dentists, pharmacists take on a lot of education debt to earn their degrees. According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, pharmacists in the Class of 2019 who borrowed student loans took on an average of $172,329 to finance their education. Here, too, assistance is available: Several national LRAPs provide financial help to health care providers, including pharmacists. Plus, some state programs, such as the California State Loan Repayment Program, will pay back all or a portion of your loans if you establish residency and practice in a qualifying area.

  1. Veterinarian

Not only could working with animals be a fulfilling career, but it could also help you get forgiveness for your student loans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers $25,000 per year for three years in student loan repayment assistance to vets who work in underserved areas. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 44 percent of veterinarians in the Class of 2018 left school owing more than $200,000 in student loans, while the average debt for all graduates was $143,111.

Should you pursue jobs that offer student loan forgiveness?

Most student loan forgiveness jobs have strict requirements, contracts and a minimum term of employment to qualify for loan cancellation. Also, you have to be current on your student loan payments — your loans can’t be in default. But once you meet the requirements, you will receive debt repayment, cancellation or forgiveness. Giving just two or three years of your professional life to a qualifying job may be the answer to your student loan problems and the key to your financial freedom.

How African Americans Can Start Their Career in Tech in 2021

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Black young businessman wearing glasses and casual shirt, holding hands like touching futuristic digital tablet with his fingers

African Americans make up only three percent in many big tech companies from Silicon Valley, and even less in leadership positions. Even though the numbers are improving in comparison from 10 years ago, the black community is still underrepresented in the tech industry.

One of the reasons for the absence of black tech professionals is the lack of access to opportunities. There are fewer benefits provided in black communities. Many African Americans get to adulthood without real contact with how technology works, so a career path in the tech industry is rarely considered.

Then, when black students graduate from an educational institution, some find it hard to acquire a career in the field. Some tech companies aren’t doing a good job in providing diversity in teams. The industry is mainly composed of white male professionals – it is missing the benefits having a diverse workforce provide. After all, app users and customers come from different races and backgrounds.

These are some steps the black community can follow to start their careers in tech.

Coding Bootcamps

Coding bootcamps are a quick and affordable way to learn programming or software developer skills. These courses can be in person or online, people not only learn about coding, they also learn skills that will help them in the professional world.

There are coding bootcamps in cities like Houston, San Francisco, and New York, where potential students can find the right program. You can also research about the experiences of others in the African American community to find out if a coding bootcamp is the right option for you.

Find the Right Company

Finding work is already a difficult task for Americans, but more so for African Americans. One step every person looking for a job has to take is to research the companies in their sector and identify the ones to apply to. A smart move is to target companies you know have diverse workforces and support the black community. Research companies who have black founders or CEO, or at least a black representation in the leadership roles.

Find Opportunities

An important thing to do is to make sure you seize opportunities. Many programs support US minorities. If you are Latino, a woman, or African American specializing in tech, there are organizations dedicated to opening opportunities for you. For example, there is a company called the Black Founders that created an ecosystem for black tech entrepreneurs to interact and share ideas. Another one is Code2024, which is a nonprofit that helps black tech professionals get jobs and internships with the biggest tech firms in the country. Make sure you do your research and make relationships with those that have the same struggles that you do.

Networking

Networking is key in building any career, but when you are part of a minority, this is even more important. Having connections in the industry can be difficult, but go to meetups, events, and conferences where you may find other professionals with the same interest. Make yourself seen by talking to people and getting to know them. Don’t forget to mention you are looking for a job, some of them could be your future coworkers.

4 Tips to Nail a Virtual Job Interview

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recruiter holding cv having online virtual job interview meeting with black male candidate on video call

by Ben Laker, Will Godley, Selin Kudret and Rita Trehan

If you’re job hunting right now, chances are you’re also interviewing remotely. There are some serious upsides to this. You can avoid tardiness (no traffic snarls), reference notes without being too obvious and if you’re located in a rural area, you now have access to the same opportunities as city dwellers, saving you money.

There are also downsides. Combined with technical problems — like forgetting you’re unmuted or having a cat filter stuck on your face — virtual interviews can go horribly wrong.

Through our latest research on remote hiring, we wanted to know, given these pros and cons, how can job candidates really stand out during the virtual interview process?

Here are four practices you can use to turn your next virtual interview into a job offer.

1) Set up your space.

  • Have a clean, uncluttered background: Our advice here is not for you to start rearranging your entire room. Just find a spot that is simple and free of distractions. You can even choose a simple virtual background instead of propping yourself in front of a messy bookshelf. Contrary to previous research, we found that unconscious biases were less likely to creep into the decision-making process when candidates had a clean backdrop. 97 percent of the recruiters we spoke to preferred virtual backgrounds of office settings over beaches, mountains or outer space.

2) Prepare for the unexpected.

  • Keep notes handy, but don’t refer to them too often: During job interviews, it’s standard for recruiters to ask candidates for examples of their most impactful work. Don’t let this unnerve you in the moment. Create a printout or Word document of notes with crisp bullet points highlighting a few projects you want to share. Sort your projects under two or three headers: accomplishments, research and volunteer work.

We suggest no more than one page of notes. The goal is to refer to your notes minimally.

3) Rehearse.

  • Use hand gestures: In our study, 89 percent of successful candidates used wide hand gestures for big and exciting points, while moving their hands closer to their heart when sharing personal reflections. Your body language can impact what you’re saying and how you come across. Our research also found that you can connect to your interviewer just by keeping an open posture and remembering not to cross your arms. Look into your webcam, not at your reflection. We recommend framing yourself in a way where you’re not too far from the camera (we suggest no more than two feet). Make sure your head and top of your shoulders dominate the screen, and as you’ve heard before, look into the camera when you speak.

4) Don’t perform a monologue; spark conversations.

  • Ask questions: There’s always an opportunity to ask questions about the office and the culture in an interview, but when you interview remotely, you’re going to be left with more questions than usual. Whatever you want to know, ask. Don’t worry about looking silly. The recruiter will appreciate your curiosity.

We suggest asking questions about the kind of technology you’ll have access to when working remotely, if you’d be working in a hybrid team or how success is measured at the organization. 85 percent of successful candidates asked these kinds of questions to demonstrate their values and priorities, while revealing vital bits of information about their personality. For example, you could ask, “Do you have a flexible work policy?” Then bookend your question with, “I’ve been volunteering as an English teacher for marginalized communities twice a week, and it would be great to be able to continue doing that.”

For better or worse, remote hiring is here to stay. While there are many unrivaled benefits to this, you need to do your bit to ace this relatively new process. Remember, trousers are optional, outstanding delivery is not.

Source: Harvard Business Review

How to Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

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Young woman using laptop computer at office. Student girl working at home. Work or study from home

Let’s be honest — if you’re applying for a job, you’re probably not the only person qualified for the position. How can you stand out among the competition before an employer even gets to meet you?

One technique you can use to your advantage is to write an attention-grabbing cover letter. Today’s blog post offers some advice and a few tips to get you started.

What is a cover letter? 

A cover letter is a one-page document that introduces you to a potential employer. Your resume describes the facts of your work experience (either paid or volunteer work), while your cover letter gives the hiring manager some insight into your personality. While your resume tells what you did, the cover letter gives you the opportunity to describe how you did it.

Tip: For example, rather than stating that you have strong communication skills, provide the details of a particular problem you were key in solving and how exactly you used your communication skills to solve it.

Do I need to send a cover letter? 

Yes, you should include a cover letter with your job application whether the company requires it or not. It can help you catch the hiring manager’s attention!

What should be in my cover letter? There are 3 basic elements you need to be sure to include: 1) how your experience meets the job requirements; 2) how your skills match the job requirements; and 3) why you want to work for this specific employer.

Tip: Every cover letter needs to be unique to the particular job. There are templates online that can guide you, but there is no one size fits all. You have to do the work to research the company and understand the job requirements. Remember, your cover letter should be customized for each job application. Be sure to adapt it for each particular company and include keywords from each job description.

Should I disclose my disability in a cover letter? 

Disclosing your disability in a cover letter is up to you. If you decide to do so, employers may ask you to fill out a job application that includes a formal opportunity to discuss your disability and accommodations you may need on the job. Whether or not you disclose your disability, focus your cover letter on the skills you have that make you a great fit for the job.

How do I organize my cover letter? 

Below is a simple structure you can follow:

Heading — includes your full name, phone number, email and the date

Tip: Add your social media profile (e.g., LinkedIn) if relevant to the job.

Addressee — the name of the hiring manager, company and business address

Tip: Researching online (e.g., Google, LinkedIn, company website) to find the name of the hiring manager shows you’ve done your homework.

Greeting — specific to the person you determined was the hiring manager

Opening paragraph — briefly talk about 2 or 3 of your accomplishments that are specifically relevant to the job. Tell your story.

Tip: If you have results that can be quantified, e.g., I increased production by 10 percent, this is the place for those.

Second paragraph — identify the key elements of the job requirements and explain why you’re the best person for the job. Where do your skills and the job requirements overlap?

Third paragraph — explain why you want to work for this particular company. What is it about this one company that you admire? Their product? Their inclusive culture? Be specific about why this is meaningful to you.

Conclusion — thank them for reading your letter and put the ball in their court. For example, you could end by saying you’d love to discuss your experience with them.

Closing — use a formal sign off such as Best Regards, Kind Regards, Sincerely or Thank you.

Now what? 

You’re almost done! Just a few final tips:

Edit your letter to be sure that it is only one page.

Proofread your letter. Make sure there are no typos or errors in spelling or grammar. Better yet, ask someone else to read it over for you.

If you’re sending your resume and cover letter by email, consider including the cover letter in the body of the email message itself. That way, you save the reader an extra step and your letter is more likely to be read.

Source: Choosework.ssa.gov

The number of Black women mayors leading major cities to reach historic high. Here is why they are winning

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Kim Janey and Tishaura Jones giving speeches while looking off camera

By Nicquel Terry Ellis, CNN

A new wave of Black women are breaking barriers as they ascend to mayoral seats in cities with deeply rooted histories of racism and inequality.

On Tuesday, Tishaura Jones will be sworn in as the first Black female mayor of St. Louis after winning the election earlier this month.

Her victory came just two weeks after Kim Janey was appointed Boston’s first Black female mayor following the resignation of Marty Walsh, who is now the US Labor Secretary. Janey recently announced she would run for a full term in this year’s mayoral election.

With the ascension of Jones and Janey, there will be a historic high of nine Black women serving as mayors of the nation’s 100 largest cities. Other major cities led by Black women include Atlanta, San Francisco; Chicago; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; New Orleans; Washington, DC; and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Political observers say the growing number of Black female mayors signals they are gaining electoral strength and appealing to voters in races that have been historically won by White men. They say Black women have proven they are relatable with an ability to lead, organize and engage new voters. Black women are also speaking out against the racial disparities in their communities at a time when the nation is having to reckon with systemic racism and police violence against Black people.
Kimberly Peeler-Allen, a visiting practitioner at the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, said as more Black women rise to political power, the electorate is seeing the importance of having diverse voices making decisions.

“Black and brown women are running with a message that is a totality of their life experiences, which transcends race or gender,” Peeler-Allen said. “And there are people who are saying ‘she may not look like me but I know we share the same experience, because she is wrestling with credit card debt, or she has a family member with addiction or she’s a small business owner, she’s a veteran.'”
Peeler-Allen said she believes the advancement of Black women in all levels of government could also be inspiring more to run for office.
In the last few years, Kamala Harris became the first Black female vice president, Ayanna Pressley became Massachusetts’ first Black woman elected to Congress, and Tish James was elected New York’s first Black female attorney general.

Stacey Abrams narrowly lost her bid to become the nation’s first Black woman governor in 2018, but is now a powerful advocate for voting rights for people of color. Some political analysts view Abrams as a viable candidate for Georgia’s gubernatorial election in 2022.

Creating equity in St. Louis

Both Jones and Janey have vowed to make racial equity a priority while reflecting on their own lived experiences as Black women.

Jones said during her victory speech that she would not stay silent or ignore the racism that has held St. Louis back.
She told CNN she wants to address the exodus of Black residents in recent years and why they don’t feel welcome in St. Louis. The city’s Black population dropped from 51% to 45% in the last 10 years.

Jones said she wants to revitalize the northern part of the city where she grew up because the neighborhoods have been neglected.

“I am ready for St. Louis to thrive instead of just survive,” Jones said on CNN “New Day” earlier this month. “We need to provide opportunities for everyone to succeed, no matter their zip code, the color of their skin, who they love or how they worship.”

Kayla Reed, executive director of the grassroots racial justice group St. Louis Action, said she believes Jones can relate to the plight of Black people in St. Louis because of her lived experience as a single mother from a marginalized neighborhood.
The city, Reed said, struggles with segregation, disparities in education, employment and housing, overpolicing and violence in the Black community.

Reed said Jones has embraced the demands of a racial justice movement that started in 2014 when unrest broke out in nearby Ferguson following the police killing of Michael Brown. Ferguson elected its first Black woman mayor Ella Jones last year.

Jones is listening to the concerns of organizers and giving them a seat at the table, Reed said.
“She understands the unique inequality that our communities face,” said Reed, who campaigned for Jones and sits on her transition team. “And it gives her an advantage to think through creative, innovative solutions to shift outcomes and conditions.”

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Two Black women will be head coaches in the same NCAA women’s Final Four for the first time

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South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley celebrates after cutting the last piece of the net during the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

By Matias Grez and Jill Martin

This year’s March Madness might have exposed gaps in gender equity in college sports, but for two Black women, the 2021 NCAA women’s tournament will always represent a moment when history was made.

For the first time in NCAA women’s tournament history, two Black women will be head coaches in the same Final Four.
South Carolina’s Dawn Staley will be appearing in her third Final Four, winning the title back in 2017, while Adia Barnes and her Arizona team will make their debut appearance.
March Madness is the pinnacle of college basketball, where 64 teams — full of the next generation of WNBA and NBA players — duke it out in a single-elimination tournament over two weeks to crown the best team. The event is known for big moments, upsets and great action.
Photo: CNN
Speaking to reporters about the historic feat following South Carolina’s win over Texas, Staley said she was “super proud of Adia” and was “cheering for her to get it done.”
“It was not for any other reason besides us being represented at the biggest stage of women’s college basketball,” she said.
“And that’s because there are so many Black coaches out there that don’t get opportunity because when ADs [Athletics Directors] don’t see it, they don’t see it — and they’re going to see it on the biggest stage of a Friday night, that two Black women are representing two programs in the Final Four, something that has never been done before.
“You know, our history here in women’s basketball is so filled with so many Black bodies that for this to be happening in 2021, to me, is long overdue, but we’re proud. We’re happy.
“I know my phone is probably full of text messages of Black coaches all across the country, just congratulating us on doing that, on being present, being in the moment, being able to take our programs to this place.”
Both Staley and Barnes are former WNBA players — the latter winning a title with the Seattle Storm in 2004 — and Barnes revealed she has been inundated with messages from former teammates.
On Friday, South Carolina will face Stanford, while Arizona will meet UConn.
The two women have guided their respective teams to the Final Four in impressive fashion, with Staley’s South Carolina comfortably swatting Texas aside in a 62-34 win, while Barnes’ Arizona powered past Indiana in a bruising 66-53 victory.
It also means Staley and Barnes are the only former WNBA players to have led teams to the Final Four as head coaches.
“I know Adia utilizes all of her basketball knowledge as a player and she’s been a coach long enough that she’s not just a suit,” Staley said.
“It’s always going to be part player in us and that’s why our players … we are so relatable to them. They understand it because it’s coming from a place of ‘we’ve done that. We’re trying to help you get to that place where we can have longevity in our league.’
“Representation matters. It’s nothing against anybody else that lost to us, but when you see two Black women representing in this way, I hope the decision makers who — because there are a lot of jobs out there that you give Black women an opportunity — not just give them the job.
Read the full article at CNN. 

‘We Don’t Have The Luxury To Fall Apart’: Black Businesses Get Creative To Survive

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Keitra Bates stands outside of the original location of Marddy's in Atlanta. It's a shared kitchen where home cooks can prepare their goods, and collectively market them.

By Debbie Elliott

Entrepreneur Keitra Bates stands in a gleaming glass-front retail shop in a new development on the south side of Atlanta.

“We’re looking at almost 2,000-sq-ft. of raw space,” she says, pointing out the floor-to-ceiling windows that face onto Atlanta’s popular Beltline, railways converted to trails and parks encircling the city.

Photo Lynsey Weatherspoon for NPR

This will soon be the second location for a business she started called Marddy’s — short for Market Buddies, a shared kitchen where home cooks can prepare their goods, and collectively market them.

Her dream began at a far less glamorous spot in a long-neglected neighborhood west of downtown.

“When I was first standing outside with no keys on Fair Street and a boarded-up door, I would not have guessed this,” Bates says.

“This place is proof that you can save yourself,” she says.

Like many Black-owned businesses, the pandemic had the Atlanta food entrepreneur wondering if her fledgling shared commercial kitchen would survive. Looking back a year later, she says it meant getting creative and doubling-down on her mission of connecting with other Black entrepreneurs in order to thrive, and grow her business.

Creating affordable environment for Black businesses

She acknowledges it’s a big step opening this second location at the new Pittsburgh Yards development.

“There’s no hiding,” she says. “Everything that we say that we are, people can kind of peek in and see, like, are they really making those pies? Yeah, we’re really making the pies.”

Black-owned small businesses have long faced difficult odds whether it’s access to financial capital, or discrimination in contracting. Now, the pandemic has hit them the hardest, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found that Black businesses closed at more than twice the rate of white-owned businesses in early 2020.

Pittsburgh Yards is specifically designed to address the obstacles facing Black entrepreneurs. The public-private project converted an old transportation hub into shared working space.

The idea is to create an affordable environment for African American businesses to nurture one another, says Erika Smith with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, (which also sponsors NPR). Smith says Atlanta’s Beltline is an economic generator, but has also fueled gentrification.

“We are realizing in communities where the Beltline is developed, it’s increased the cost of rents for residents and commercial businesses,” Smith says. “So part of the strategy is how can we leverage a physical space like Pittsburgh Yards to also satisfy that business displacement issue.”

“They have a right to survive”

That’s Keitra Bates story. She ran a pizzeria in west Atlanta until revitalization attracted a new landlord who raised her rent. She couldn’t afford to stay open. And she saw other Black-owned businesses priced out as well, closing what had been venues where local home cooks could sell their breads, sauces and pies. She calls them hidden entrepreneurs in danger of being ghosted, along with the traditional flavors of the neighborhood.

Bates is one of the Americans NPR has been following as part of our Kitchen Table Conversations, which started four years ago.

“These people have created a business with their talent and they have a right to survive,” Bates told NPR in 2019 after she got Marddy’s up and running. “Just because there’s new money coming in doesn’t mean that their business should get snuffed out.”

Bates, who is 47, has worked to grow a catering business, aggregating the products her vendors make. About a dozen now use Marddy’s shared kitchen, making products including spices, flavored nuts, and vegan cheese sauce.

Read the full article at NPR.

Precious Lee Is The First Plus-Sized Model To Walk The Versace Runway

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Precious Lee plus-sized model at a marver premier wearing a black bodycon dress

Precious Lee, a Black fashion icon from Atlanta, Georgia, sat down with Good Morning America to reflect on her historic achievement as one of the first plus-sized models on the Versace runway. The trailblazer, who was one of three plus-sized models to make history at the runway show in Italy last year, said she was overcome with emotion before her interview last week.

“I’ve always imagined myself on that runway,” Lee said. “I’ve always adored Versace. I grew up in a Versace home. We always loved Versace as a family.”

When she took the stage in Milan, Italy, the 31-year-old said she was thinking of her sister, who was also a model, according to Allure.

“The show was the day before her birthday,” Lee said. “Anytime I have a really big moment or just when I’m feeling the need for the energy of my sister — I felt her right before I was about to go out.”

As she relied on the energy of her sister while waiting for her turn to walk, Lee heard another comforting voice.

“I’m so focused and all of a sudden I was about to cry and then someone backstage was like ‘you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. Go!'” the Georgia native said. “I turned the corner and I zoned out and I started to float.”

In the midst of the momentous occasion, Lee became more grateful for all the support she received during her journey.

“It was an acknowledgment of how supported I’ve been,” she said. “It was such a proud moment of arriving at an actual dream.”

Lee has also made history as the first Black curvy model to appear on the cover of Vogue, according to her biography. Additionally, she’s appeared at New York Fashion Week for designers Christian Siriano, Tommy Hilfiger and Matthew Adams Nolan. Lee has also been featured in other magazines such as Glamour, Paper Magazine, V Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and M Le Monde. 

Read the full article at Blavity.

Top CEOs vow to hire 1 million Black Americans

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confident young black man

A group including some of the biggest U.S. companies is launching a nationwide campaign to hire 1 million Black Americans over the next decade, with a goal of economically uplifting communities of color.

The OneTen coalition — which has 37 members and which includes corporate giants such as AT&T, Bank of America, Comcast, Delta, General Motors, IBM, Nike, Merck, Verizon, and Walmart — said they’re specifically interested in Black workers who don’t have a college degree.

“Many times companies require four-year degrees for the kinds of jobs that really do not require a four-year degree,” Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier told CBS This Morning. “We’re trying to urge companies to take a skills-first approach rather than a credentials approach.”

Ginni Rometty, IBM’s executive chairwoman and one of the founders of the group, said companies involved in OneTen are banding together because “we all need talent, and there’s a large talent pool in America we’re not tapping into.”

Continue to the full article at CBS News.

LeBron James, Naomi Osaka and Patrick Mahomes among 5 “activist athletes” honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year

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Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, U.S. Open tennis champ Naomi Osaka, Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart and Kansas City Chiefs teammates Patrick Mahomes and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff are being honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year for their athletic achievements and activism.

The five athlete-activists were honored in a year defined by the coronavirus pandemic, racial tensions, and presidential election. In a Sports Illustrated video narrated by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he described the athletes as “champions in their sport and of causes that seek to level society’s playing field.”

“In a year seemingly designed to divide physically, emotionally, politically, they found ways to unite, to inspire, to rebuild the shared experience sports usually provides, even in the most unusual circumstances,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “They are athletes, they are activists.”

Following the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, James led a group of Black athletes and entertainers to form More Than A Vote, a nonprofit focusing on fighting voter suppression. The organization helped recruit more than 42,000 poll workers for the presidential election and helped nearly 300,000 people vote at arenas. The group is (Image Credit: CBS NEWS)                                                            currently involved with the Georgia Senate runoffs.

On Monday, James also won the 2020 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award in honor of his social activism, which in addition to More Than a Vote also includes opening up a school in his hometown. “It’s an honor that I will never ever forget to be linked with such a great human being in Muhammad,” James told SI. “Hopefully he’s looking down on me and saying that I’m continuing his legacy,” he added.

Read the full article at NBC NEWS.

These Are The Most At-Risk Jobs Post-Pandemic

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Career fair attendees walking to event

While many jobs were put on hold during the pandemic, there are a few that may not come back—ever.

Glassdoor’s Workplace Trends 2021 report finds that job postings for discretionary health services—or those that are elective and can be postponed during a pandemic—are down dramatically. The most at-risk job is that of audiologist, for which job listings on Glassdoor declined 70% during the pandemic.

Angela Shoup, president of the American Academy of Audiology, says she’s heard reports of audiologists being placed on long furloughs, as well as some who’ve closed their private practices and retired early this year. Many recent graduates looking for jobs in audiology have been told that larger practices are not hiring, she says.

Job postings for opticians and physical therapists saw a similar fate, down 61% and 40%, respectively. There’s also been a shortage of administrative and lower-skilled office roles. Jobs for event coordinators are down 69%, making it the second most at-risk job post-pandemic. Similarly, openings for executive assistants are down 55%, human resources generalists are down 37% and receptionists are down 35%, as most offices have been closed.

Unsurprisingly, positions for personal services workers have also plummeted. Beauty consultants took the hardest hit, with jobs down 53%. Jobs for valets were down 51%.

“[These are jobs] where Covid-19 is in the driver’s seat,” says Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor’s chief economist. “People are not going to return to their nail salons or get discretionary LASIK eye surgeries or go to in-person events until the virus is under control.”

Discretionary healthcare, event and personal-service jobs won’t disappear altogether after the pandemic, but they will certainly be slow to come back, he says. However, he thinks it’s possible some jobs may be lost forever.

Continue on to Forbes to read the complete article.

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