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How to: Cultivate Creativity

March 23rd, 2016 by

Creativity and creative expressions are as unique as each of us. And like many of our personality traits it can be developed over time. Being creative is a highly adaptable skill in all aspects of life—from writing and design to problem solving and engineering. Our world becomes increasingly creative day-by-day. With thanks to the Internet, we can share these wonderful creations and learn from each other.

So, how can you improve your own creative skills? pen-idea-bulb-paper

Stop Hesitating: “Creativity takes courage”, said French painter, Henri Matisse. Let your guard down and put aside negative thoughts and fears. Often, we let our minds get clouded by the “what-if’s”: “what if no one likes it” or “what if it doesn’t turn out the way I want?” These types of anxieties can be paralyzing. Be brave. Let go of these thoughts and you’ll feel free to begin creating.

Explore: Step outside your comfort zone. We’re all different and are inspired by different environments, so it may take time to find what awakens your creativity. Exploring new places and seeking out new experiences can be a great way to find new ways to be creative. Whether it be hiking a trail, trying a new sport, or learning a language; there are a thousand different paths to take, so take as many as you can.

Ask Questions: There’s a saying that goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. So, when you find yourself out in the world and encounter something unfamiliar, ask about it. Access your inner child and indulge that curiosity. Creativity can be sparked by the most unlikely of sources. Plus, the more you learn, the more experiences you have to draw from and the more references to build from. You’ll begin to appreciate all forms of creativity and develop your own unique style.                                                                             

female-865110_1920Write: Even if you don’t fancy yourself a ‘writer’, writing is an awesome tool for developing creativity. For non-writers, there are many ways to make writing work for you: idea books, mind maps, “100” lists, morning pages, and writing prompts are just some of the popular exercises. Many of these do not require proper grammar, spelling, or even full sentences. Think of these as streams of consciousness, as the words come to you, write them down, don’t second guess yourself—just write.

Challenge Yourself: Set goals for yourself. Find unusual ways to accomplish your everyday activities. Branching out to try other creative outlets can also be a challenge, especially if it’s an activity you haven’t tried before. Setting themes can help to focus your creative challenges, for instance, if you’re working with writing prompts, pick a theme for the day or week and write about related topics. If you’re focusing on visual creations, apply the same method by drawing, building or photographing objects within your theme.

At the end of the day, your own curiosity will help cultivate your creative side. Make a conscious effort each day to do, write, think or create something out-of-the-box, then share your creativity with us! We’d love to see what you’re capable of, so share your creations with us in the comments below or on any of our social media pages using #NSACreates! 

Creative resources to get you started:

Writing Exercises:                                  Creative Resources:

Writers Digest                                         Creative Thinking

Poets & Writers                                       Creative Commons

Practical Creative Writing                        Creative Bloq

 

 

 

 

 

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How To: Mentally Prepare For An Interview

March 8th, 2016 by

junge frau im bewerbungsgesprchIf you’ve never been on an interview before, you might not know what to expect and that can be nerve racking. Then again, people who have been on several interviews may still find themselves jittery before hand. While it’s natural, and perhaps even good, to be a little nervous for your interview, you’ll still want to mentally prepare yourself and build your confidence before heading in.

Take a Drive                                                                                                                                            A day or two before your interview, drive there.

It might sound like a weird thing to do, but trust me, it will reduce your anxiety. There’s nothing worse than being stricken with panic on your way to an interview when you suddenly realize you have no idea where you’re going. By mapping your route before hand, you’ll be more familiar with traffic patterns, the parking situation and the amount of time it actually takes to get there. On the day of your interview, it will be one less stressor to deal with.

Mock Interview                                                                                                                                     Recruit a parent, sibling, school counselor or someone else you know has been on interviews.

Provide them with a list of questions to ask you, but also invite them to ask you additional questions off the cuff. Why? Well, an interview is a balancing act. You’ll have some answers prepared for the more traditional questions, but you’ll also need to be ready to answer curve ball questions. The interviewer will look for you’re ability to think on your feet and how you perform under pressure.

Go through this process a few times and with different people if you can. The more you practice, the better and more eloquently you’ll find your responses, even on the really tough questions. Practicing your interview skills will build your confidence and in turn, you’ll be much more composed for the real deal.

Practice Tranquility                                                                                                                                An up-coming interview can create a lot of stress—schedule down time for yourself.

The night before and the morning of, spend five to ten minutes sitting quietly or with soft music if you prefer, but no phone, tablet, or other distractions. Close your eyes and take deep breaths. Let your worries melt away, maybe even use a mantra— try a phrase to raise your self-esteem and confidence like, “I am who they want to hire.”

Get Organized                                                                                                                                    Get your materials together.

Getting organized will help your mind slow down. Have a crisp folder with at least three resumes and three copies of references inside. You may also want to bring a professional portfolio with relevant samples of work or writing examples. Just by walking in with a folder or binder,  you’ll walk taller and  feel a whole lot more confident.

These tips will help get you started to a successful interview. For additional interview information take Next Step Academy’s Interviewing Skills course which you can find right here!

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How To: Find A Great Internship

February 23rd, 2016 by

Today, internships are an integral part of most college undergrad programs. It’s more than likely you’ll need to complete at least one internship in order to graduate. Need some guidance on finding a great internship? You’ve come to the right place.

eye-15699_1920Where To Start:                                                                                    Part of the problem is knowing where to look. Start by speaking to your internship director, they usually know which employers offer internships. Your internship director will also need to approve your internship before you begin, so requesting information from them could save you a bit of time. If, for whatever reason, you’re internship director is  unable to provide you with information, make an appointment with the student career-center. Not only can they help you find an internship, they’ll help you put together a resume that aligns with the internship you’re looking for.

If you feel confident and want to search independently, there are  fantastic online resources. Websites like indeed.com, monster.com and CareerBuilder.com are not just for job hunters or job recruiters, they’re for anyone looking for professional experience. You can even search specifically for internships in your local area. If you’re looking for internships in the non-profit market check out idealist.org. Maybe you’re feeling adventurous? GlobalExperience.com can help you find internships all around the globe!

Do Your Research:                                                                                                                                   So, you’ve found a handful of internship positions you’re interested in. You’ve submitted your resume and applications, and now you’re waiting to hear back. This is the time to do some research. You don’t need to launch a CSI: Cyber investigation for this; keep it simple. Visit each companies’ website and their social media.

Here’s what to look for: What’s their mission statement? What’s their work-place culture like? What type of clients do they work with? This information helps you develop a better sense of the employer and if it’s a place you’d like to be a part of.

Ask Questions:                                                                                                                                   Because you’re awesome, you’ve landed interviews for all the internships you applied to. You’re prepared for the questions they’ll ask you, but what questions are you prepared to ask them? An interview is an excellent opportunity to find out more about the employer. Here are some questions you may want to ask: What kind of projects have your interns been part of? Have you hired any of your interns? How many different departments do interns get to work with?  Answers to these kinds of questions will help you ultimately decide which internship is the best fit for you. Be prepared to ask the questions that matter to you.

Your fellow classmates and school alumni are also great resources. If you know anyone who interned with an employer you’re considering, talk to them about their experience. Your internship director may also be able to share other insightful experiences with you.

It’s never too early to start thinking about the types of internships that interest you. You may even want to do more than one! If you have any other questions about internships or related topics, don’t hesitate to ask! Send an email to info@nextstepacademy.com or contact me directly at jackie@nextstepacademy.com.

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How To Set Short Term Goals

January 26th, 2016 by

What’s the difference between a person who reaches their goals and a person who only dreams about reaching them? Three things: action, accountability and having a plan.

Setting short terms goals is a productive practice. They are the small steps that get you to your bigger dream. Accomplishing your short term goals can exhilarating and will make you want to set even bigger goals for yourself.

Here’s what you need to know to be successful in your short-term goal setting:

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What’s A Reasonable Timeframe For A Short Term Goal? 

Short-term goals are typically ones that can be accomplished in one year or less. Try
breaking them down to three to six months, or even seasonally, depending on the goal.

Keep in mind: you don’t need to fully accomplish the set goal to be successful. The important part is creating an established pattern of progress or momentum towards the ultimate goal.

Limit The Number Of Goals.

If you’re like many people, then there’s about 1,000 different goals you want to accomplish, and you wanted to have accomplished them last week. Well — that’s never worked out so great. Know why? When you try to do everything, you can’t focus on anything. Pick one or two that are real priorities. Focus on developing in those areas by creating a new habits or routines. When those become second nature, then introduce a new goal.

Write It Down!

It’s common knowledge that writing tasks down ensures it will be better saved in your memory. Mark down your goals in your calendar. Write it on a post-it note on your bathroom mirror. Make a sign, put it on your refrigerator. Wherever you’ll routinely see it — put it there. This will help remind you everyday to make your goal a priority.

Use Personal & Positive Affirmations.

It’s one thing to see your goal written down, it’s another to be reminded of the importance and meaning it has to you. Write a paragraph of what this accomplishment will mean on an index card and carry it with you all the time. This way, when you’re feeling frustrated, you can remind yourself why the effort is worth it.

Make Your Goal Exciting!

Goals can come across as tedious. We start off with the best intentions, but when they become more of a chore, they’re hard to stick with. This is especially true when we feel like we’re missing out, like not eating bacon or not going out with friends on the weekends.

Frame your goal from another angle — what are the advantages? What benefits will you be adding to your life?

Set The Right Goals For The Right Reasons. 

Goals can sometimes come from a place of negativity. It could be changing what we don’t like about ourselves or what we think needs to change in order to fit in. You are a unique individual. Your goals should reflect that.

Do some soul searching to make sure your goals come from a place of sincerity. Committing to a goal is easier when it truly resonates with you.

Tell Someone.

When we don’t tell anyone our goals it’s close to self-sabotage. By telling someone, you are making a declaration. You will hold yourself accountable. And  when someone asks how you’re doing on your goal, you can answer proudly.

Take Daily Action.

How can you get started tonight? Make a list of actions that will get you to your goal. This way you’ll be able to make continuous progress. Looking to improve your life skills? Sign up for Next Step Academy. Take a course, earn a badge and, more importantly, earn knowledge.

What have you been wanting to improve? Set some short-term goals for yourself this week. You’ll be surprised at how much accomplishing even one small goal will improve your life!

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Facing Rejection

January 12th, 2016 by

success-846055_1920First of all, Happy New Year to all our followers! To kick off 2016, I wanted to start with an uplifting topic—handling rejection. Now, I agree, it might not sound uplifting off-the-bat, but trust me, after reading you’ll be seeing rejection in a completely new and refreshing light.

Rejection can be difficult and it can be part of any aspect of life. School, career, relationships, finances—rejection can happen everywhere. So, what should you do when you’ve been faced with rejection?


Don’t take it personally.

This, in my humble opinion, is the most difficult. When you’re facing rejection it feels like you’re being told that you’re simply not good enough, and that alone can stop you in your tracks.

Try thinking about it this way: it’s not all about you! The other person (hiring manager, college admissions officer, etc.) is, like you, trying to do their best. They are faced with their own daily personal and professional challenges. You’ll often never know the fully story behind your rejection, so don’t assume it’s all about you.

Talk to a trusted and honest person. 

Handling rejection, especially when it comes to a relationship, can be tricky.
If you find yourself in a scenario where you have direct information about the rejection, find someone you can trust. Calmly talk through your feelings with that person. Listen to what they have to say, even if it’s upsetting. Remember to breathe and not to take it personally. Every rejection is a learning opportunity.

Do something about it.
Just because you’ve been faced with rejection does not mean you should count yourself down or out!

In light of rejection, we sometimes have to acknowledge our shortcomings. Was it a school you didn’t get accepted to, a great job opportunity you didn’t get called back for, a loan you didn’t qualify for? Regardless, there is always room for improvement— and that should excite you!

Don’t give up without a fight. 

Figure out your options. Make a plan. Follow through, and try again!

Shake it off and repeat. Successful people are only successful because they didn’t give up when they faced rejection. There is no reason why you can’t be one of them.

Maintain your flexibility. 

This is your reality check. We don’t always get what we think we want, and many times, it’s for the best. Be open to changing your plan. Rejection has a way of nudging us toward new endeavors we may never consider otherwise.

So, next time you find yourself facing rejection, remember these helpful tips. Now, take some time and look through Next Step Academy’s Life Skills courses and continue on your path to success!

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Dos and Don’ts of Personal Branding

December 29th, 2015 by

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Let’s face it—whether you happily engage in social media or feel it is a “weapon of mass distraction,” it’s not going away any time soon. And chances are you either currently (or will in the future) participate in some form of social media.

With that being said, taking time to think about your personal brand is crucial. So, regardless if you’re on one platform or all one-hundred billion and five social medial platforms that are out there, (ok, that might not be an accurate number, but you get the idea) personal branding comes with its own set of rules.

Let’s look at the biggest social media Dos and Don’ts to maximize your personal branding efforts:

Do: 

  • Be Consistent

Do not confuse ‘consistent’ with boring. It’s about being recognizable to your followers, potential clients or employers.

  • Be Cautious

If you don’t have anything nice to say… you know the rest. Find a way to politely disagree without antagonizing or perpetuating social negativity.

  • Be Selective

By nature, people are curious. We have many interests. A good practice is to pick one hobby, one professional skill and one cause or lifestyle topic.

  • Be Creative

What is unique about you, your voice and your personality? Work those attributes into your content.

Don’t: 

  • Be Critical

Remember, no matter what your privacy settings are, social media is still essentially public record. Being critical comes across as combative. It is not a trait that employers (or anyone else) will be impressed with.

  • Be “That Person”

Know the difference between personal branding and shameless self-promotion. Personal branding should be an authentic expression of your personality. Self-promotion is “spammy”, unfocused and does not productively contribute to any conversation.

  • Be Negative

We all have this friend: they only post about is how awful everything is; their love life is the worst, their job is the worst, their life is the worst. Repeat after me, “My social media is not my personal diary.”

As a sidebar here: If you do have reason to be concerned about a friend who is seemingly distressed, take the conversation offline—call them, contact someone close to them or contact professionals if there is a real problem. The sooner the person receives support, the better.

  • Be Fake

The glory of social media is that you can make it as unique as you are. It’s an opportunity for others to learn more about you and you about them. Be authentic. Be bold! And always, always be you!

Don’t panic if you find yourself guilty of some of these social media “Don’ts.” You can start creating—or turning around—your personal brand today. Next Step Academy also has a perfect Social Media Etiquette course. Need a refresher? Take a few minutes and check it out: http://www.nextstepacademy.com/course-detail/life-skills/social-media-etiquette

Now, go forth and brand!

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Let’s Get Started

December 22nd, 2015 by

young-game-match-kidsHi, I’m Jackie. And I have recently taken on the role of content and marketing specialist at Next Step Academy. In my own history, I’ve experienced a great deal of starting, stopping, re-starting and life changing-trajectories, especially when it came to my education, careers and lifestyles.

I’d like to share some personal insights with you about my journey, in hopes that it will help you with yours. And if you’re up for it, we’d love to hear from you, too.

The first step with any new endeavor is getting informed. Gather as much  information as you can. What do you already know? What do you need to know? Who are reliable sources? Even if you can’t find the exact information you need, by doing a bit of research, you’ll find that any questions you have will make you sound more knowledgeable. Asking smart questions is better than having no questions at all.

Secondly, get organized. If organization isn’t your strong suit, at least have a basic list of tasks to accomplish. The more organized you are, the more efficient you’ll be at meeting your goals. For those of you who are more organizationally inclined, I don’t need to tell you this can take some time. A word of advice here—be careful not to be so intricately detailed that there’s no room for change. There is an art to finding the balance between organization and flexibility.

Lastly, confidence is key. Being informed and having a plan will help with finding your confidence, but it doesn’t mean that it will just appear. Everyone’s confidence varies, and that’s ok. That’s what makes us all unique. You’ll find that people who are confident in their work, interests, or other areas of life, are generally happy to share their expertise and talk about their passion.

So, as you continue on your own journey, keep these three words in mind:

Information. Organization. Confidence.

They’ll serve you well.

If you have other suggestions for getting started and would like to share your story with us, we would love to hear from you! Send an email to info@nextstepacademy.com or contact me directly at jackie@nextstepacademy.com.

Here’s to getting started!

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How To: Increase Your Productivity (Right Now)

October 20th, 2015 by

Still trying to get that report done, six hours later? If your productivity levels are quickly and steadily plummeting to the floor, it may be time for a change or two. Sure, getting 8 hours of sleep every night will probably help, and changing your diet may benefit you eventually…but you need to get the led out ASAP. Here’s how you can increase your productivity right now…

 

Put your phone away.

Turn on silent mode, and put your phone in your purse, desk drawer, or under your chair—wherever it will be out of sight. Also, close the tabs on your browser that have Twitter and Facebook open on them. (If your job requires you to be on social media, then turn off the notifications for your personal accounts.) The internet is the ultimate distraction. Combine that with your nagging desire to beat level 181 on Candy Crush, and messages from your mom about family dinner on Sunday, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a seriously unproductive and distracted day. So do yourself a favor, and disconnect from your smart phone. The world won’t end while you’re away from Twitter, your mom won’t be mad, and you’ll be exponentially more productive.

Stop trying to multitask.

Seriously, stop it. We all love to think we are fantastic multitaskers, and we like to think that we are better at it than everyone else. Sorry, but you are not a special and unique butterfly (in this situation, anyways). The fact of the matter is that it takes us (yes, everyone) more time to complete each task if we’re trying to complete more than one at the same time, and the quality of our work suffers. It takes us time to refocus as we switch from task to task—about 1/10 of a second each time, and that adds up quickly. No wonder productivity is an issue! Instead of trying to get everything done at the same time, focus on one task at a time. You’ll get things done much faster, and you’ll produce a better end product. This will also benefit you long term.

Make a list.                                                                               

Physically write out (or type) a list of the tasks you need to get done for the day or week. Start with the fastest, simplest tasks. Or, you can start with the task you’re really dreading and get it over with (that way it’s not looming over your head and distracting you from your other responsibilities). Having a tangible list will keep you focused on the task at hand, and keep you on track for a productive day. As you go along and complete each goal, cross it off your list. The feeling of accomplishment after you cross off each task will keep you motivated, and thus, productive!

Reward yourself for each completed task.

Awesome, you finished that report! Reward yourself with a short break—about 2 minutes. Go walk around, eat a bag of Skittles, or listen to a song that makes you happy. But resist the temptation to get on social media. A “two minute” break on Twitter will turn into 20 minutes. We all know it’s true. Giving yourself a breather in between each task will keep you energized, prevent boredom from setting in, and motivate you to complete tasks, all of which leads to increased productivity!

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Steps to Improve Your Writing Skills

October 16th, 2015 by

BGW

Learning how to write well is a continuous process. Sure, we learned how to spell our names in kindergarten, and we’ve all been fluent in our native language for some time now, but writing well is not the same thing as simply being able to write. Written communication is a skill that needs to be constantly fostered, and can always be improved upon. Whether you’re a Pulitzer prize-winning author or a college student with 5 term papers ahead of you, we have some great steps for you to improve your writing skills…

1.Review the basics

Reviewing basic grammar rules will help you avoid common mistakes in writing that many of us make on a regular basis. While these mistakes are common, they hurt your credibility and muddle your message. These common mistakes can be easily avoided by simply reviewing the basics we all take for granted. Refresh your memory on sentence fragments, the proper use of semicolons, and subject-verb agreement. Of course, these are  just part of the basics. Take our Basic Grammar/Writing Toolkit course to cover all your bases!

2. Change your writing process

Many of us stick to writing one draft of whatever document we are producing. Rather than producing several versions of the document, this first draft is often our final draft. Maybe we feel rushed, or maybe we are just plain old lazy about writing. Whatever the reason, this habit results in a sub-par end product that is unclear and/or filled with errors. This can easily be avoided by changing how you write. Rather than trying to spill all your ideas out at once into a cohesive document (which rarely actually works), go through the steps of writing one at a time—prewrite (brainstorm, outline, etc.), write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite

You can also change how you revise and edit (or maybe you need start revising and editing…). Don’t just rely on spellcheck! Instead, read your writing aloud and listen to find out if it actually makes sense, ask someone else to read it or listen to you read, or print it out and make notes with a pen. The more you review, revise, and edit your writing, the better the end product will be.

3. Write more often.

No one is a perfect writer, but practice does make pretty-close-to-perfect. The more you write, the more you can hone your skills and develop your own unique voice. Make a habit of writing every day for at least 10 minutes. If you can, try to read every day, too. A great exercise to improve your writing skills is to read a newspaper/online article or blog post and rewrite it in your own words. This will boost your critical thinking and reading skills, your writing skills, and give your inspiration for what you want your own writing to be like.

For more tips on how to improve your writing, take the Next Step Academy Basic Grammar/Writing Toolkit course. 

 

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Passion leads to purpose

September 10th, 2015 by

passion-purpose

For those of you who found Next Step Academy because you are looking online for that one career choice that fulfills your purpose, this graphic explains it all. Sometimes finding that thing that will fulfill you each day while also delivering you a paycheck can seem fleeting. How does anyone ever align their work life with the things they are passionate about? It must be rare, right?

Not for those who do the legwork! If you spend some time exploring career options and take time to investigate the jobs available in those career fields, then you are sure to find both passion and purpose in your day-to-day life.

Don’t ignore your gut. Follow your heart — the dollars will come.

Source: Pinterest

Exploring careers and majors? Take a few Next Step Academy online courses to get you started!

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