When Reality Hits

what/ book signing
when/ Saturday, May 12, 4-6 p.m.
where/ Highlands Café, 9661 Audelia
for information/ nancybarry.com

A few years ago, Nancy Barry held a secret dinner with several 20-somethings.

For Barry, the dinner was research. Before they began the meal, she made the women pinky swear they wouldn’t tell anyone what they talked about that night. Then she asked two questions:

What did your college do to prepare you for the real world?

What do you wish you knew?

“It was eye-opening,” Barry says.

And it confirmed what Barry knew. Many people leave college not knowing how to navigate the working world. Prior to the dinner, several friends had asked her to meet with their children, who were recent college graduates. She helped them with several different work challenges — how to start a career, how to handle bosses, how to figure out what you want to do.

“You earn an amazing degree, and you think you’re ready,” says Barry, who lives in our neighborhood and graduated from Lake Highlands High School in 1976. “Then you enter this world, and it’s not what you expect.”

After the dinner, Barry eventually decided to leave her job at the Dallas Morning News, where she had worked for 16 years, and begin a career as a motivational speaker. Her talks address several topics, but she developed a niche for 20-somethings, speaking to colleges, universities and businesses and giving her audiences guidance on how to succeed in business. She also wrote a book released this month — “When Reality Hits: What Employers Want Recent College Graduates to Know.”

“This book is a manager’s dream book,” Barry says.

In it, she covers topics such as email etiquette, how to shake hands, manners at a business dinner and how to show appreciation to your co-workers. Barry calls the topics “soft skills” — things you need to know to get ahead, but you don’t learn in a classroom and managers don’t have time to teach.

“We hire for aptitude, we fire for attitude,” Barry says. “There’s nothing in here that’s rocket science. It’s all common sense, but it needs to be said.”

Millicent Boykin, director of student programs for the Volunteer Center of North Texas, recently hired Barry as the keynote speaker for the kick-off of the ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program. Boykin says Barry shares her experiences in an entertaining way. And students listen to her. Barry suggested handwritten thank you notes in her speech, and Boykin says for the rest of the summer, she received several handwritten notes from the students, as did other speakers in the program.

“This is not the first time they’ve been told this information,” Boykin says. “These students go to major universities, and they have career centers … but they haven’t learned how to connect it to a work situation.”

Barry says she loves doing this kind of work.

“I’ve decided this is how I’ll stay young,” Barry says. “I’ll always be surrounded by 20-somethings.”