From student to professional

Berklee College of Music opens professional development coaching programme to more Masters students

Earlier this year we reported on a new 15-week ‘prepare yourself for employment’ professional development coaching programme at Berklee College of Music. The pilot has since been described by the 10 Global Entertainment and Music Business Masters students who took part as “the perfect bridge for the transition ‘from student to professional’. As a result, the Valencia campus will open up the course in 2017 to more students in this discipline and to other departments. 

Course designers and coaches Jodie Rogers and Nevena Vujosevic share the story so far…

The way you’re measured as a student in University is vastly different as soon you step outside of it. It’s well documented that employers need graduates to be self-aware, emotionally intelligent self-starters, problem-solvers and collaborators who can hit the ground running.  But employers continue to claim that these qualities are lacking and sometimes completely absent in many graduates.  Too many students are emerging quite unprepared for professional life. 

To recap on our March preview, Berklee has piloted an innovative approach. The aim of its coaching programme (Jan – April 2016) in Valencia was to empower Masters students to develop ownership for their futures and take responsibility for their career path.  We hope that on reading this, other Universities will explore or extend similar programmes, namely ones that that deepen students’ understanding of what working life entails and firmly embed the concept of preparing for professional development. 

Self-organisation is vital to carving a professional path, but according to many of today’s students, academic life offers little opportunity for the significant levels of self-reflection needed to get organised in the first place.  It’s our view that Universities who create time and space for this will define top quality higher education in the future.

In weekly classes that began in mid-January, plus three personal coaching sessions each throughout the term, the students we worked with –hailing from Europe, Asia, the US and Canada – learned how to set clearer professional goals, tell their unique story, use their often vast (often neglected) networks more effectively and crucially, articulate their individual competitive advantage to the employers they hoped would take them on. For some, the ‘digging deep’ that this experience involved radically shifted their views on what type of employment might suit them. 

For others, it was a welcome kick-start to a vital preparation process they had barely begun, despite being just months from graduating.   This particular group seemed to feature two extremes in their approaches to job-hunting: either so generic that no workable plan was evident despite best intentions to work in niche areas of the music industry (resulting in CVs being emailed into a giant black hole), or so specific (“I want to be a creative director by the time I’m 26”) that a grounding in the realistic stages of career progression / how professional environments operate was called for. 

For us as coaches, one notable observation was that unlike 30/40/50-something ‘coachees’ suffering career crisis, stagnation or indecision, today’s young ‘digital nomad’ students do not lack confidence or optimism or suffer from self-limiting beliefs; almost the opposite, in fact. Where many young people require the most help is in understanding the need for authenticity when marketing themselves. In an era where they have multiple touchpoints to the outside world and where constant ‘finessing’ of their social media profiles takes up hours each week, it’s noticeable that this attention to detail is often absent when it comes to professional presentation. Crafting and regurgitating a carefully constructed ‘strong’ default image is one thing, understanding the ‘employment world’ consequences of not presenting the real version of yourself is quite another.   

Students in the Berklee pilot quickly learned that the ’front’ they might create for social media won’t stand up when employers scratch beneath the surface.  Authenticity is vital. Without it, you’re simply building a house on quicksand. Their values, priorities and starting point for seeking the type of employment that suits their personality and skills all need to shine through. Only a few weeks into the course, all-star LinkedIn profiles had been created and posted, longstanding personal networks had been mined for contact opportunities and more authentic job-searching strategies began to emerge. 

This class is important because the music industry weeds out people who lack authenticity or the ability to present their personality and skill set. It should be compulsory for the whole Masters intake 

Twenty-somethings are less used to face-to-face contact with professional strangers than their parents’ generation and as a result, developing stronger interpersonal skills became a priority on this course. By their own admission, most relationships they conduct are online and there is an innocent lack of appreciation of the manners, discipline, work ethic and quality of candidate that their eventual employers will expect from them. One student admitted: “I realise I don’t know how to talk to strangers in an employment situation. I’m not used to having to meet influential people and make an impression.” 

The results so far?

The outlook is promising. All 10 students are clearly more active in carving their professional paths than the majority of others at their ‘stage’. Their target careers and dream positions range from music marketing and artist management to running music education events, establishing an NGO spin-off in India, becoming a publishing agent for Country & Western music in Nashville and creating a ‘music for fashion’ company. 

A least two students have eventual job offers on the table. Several others are now significantly more aware of how to follow up with employers and keep the dialogue open when specific job-applications don’t yield immediate results.  Some even refined their thesis topic to enable them to target their dream company. 

Associate professor Alexandre Perrin at Berklee sums up: ‘The music industry is more accessible yet more complex than ever. Finding a career path can be a stressful process. Besides the year-round workshops organised by Berklee (for all students) through its International Career Center, Jodie and Nev helped our Masters students take a valuable introspective journey in this unique programme. The bottom line is clear: you can only define what you want to achieve if you know yourself first.” 

Programme director Emilien Moyon, agrees: ‘This experience allowed students to step back and reflect on essential questions about the career they are about to pursue. In a hands-on journey, they were able to identify their values and strengths, and define a strategy that would allow them to work for a firm or an environment consistent with these. Next year, we will make this class available to more Global Entertainment and Music Business students AND to other programmes outside the music business.’ 

This was a fantastic opportunity to reflect, set goals and narrow down how to start my career. I learned how my skills and experience can help me get my foot into the music industry. It helped me focus on my values and how they directly affect my career direction

Jodie Rogers ( is a self-empowerment coach, mentor and speaker across six continents, and visiting professor of professional development coaching at Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia. For 10 years, she worked at one of the world’s biggest marketing companies and continues to advise firms on teambuilding and employee engagement as well as individuals facing career crisis.

Nevena Vujosevic is an international executive coach, strategic consultant and speaker.  She and is President of the Spanish Executive Coaching Association (AECOP) for the Valencia and surrounding regions (Levante). She is also a professor at EDEM business school (Escuela de Empresarios) and Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia.

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