Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Job Search: Putting On Your Best Face

I've been talking the past few weeks about the steps that any successful job seeker should be taking including internships, networking, and mentors. It occurred to me yesterday as I was talking with one of my advisees at Curry College that there is at least one other step in the process...getting your materials prepared for the outreach.

Resumes and cover letters usually are your first formal introduction to a prospective employer, and how you present yourself can make or break the deal. I remember helping a client conduct a search for a senior print production director a few years ago. One application packet still stands out in my mind, sent in by a fellow who actually was a senior print production director and was looking for a more challenging job.

We opened the envelope and took out the cover letter and resume. The first thing we noticed was that the ink was somewhat smudged...oops! Then we noticed that, on the lines where the paper had been folded, the ink had actually cracked! Wow!

We decided we had to call him in for an interview if only to find out what he was...or was not...thinking!

His response when we pointed out the two things we had noticed: "Oh yes, I saw those things, but I wanted to get my materials to you quickly and didn't want to take more time to reprint them."

"So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!" (Thank you, Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music!)

College students in particular have a wealth of resources to draw on including their Career Services offices and...yes...their professors, many of whom are or were working professionals who (a) conducted their own job searches in the course of their careers or (b) oversaw job searches to fill positions in their own organizations.

Working professionals who are looking to make a career move also have resources on which they can call, including career placement professionals, executive recruiters, and others. This is also where networks and mentors can come in handy...let someone else look at and criticize your work.

Better to be told right away that your resume has a word misspelled than to spend the next six months sending out resumes and wondering why you're not getting any interviews. I received a resume from someone a few weeks ago who was getting a little frustrated with her job search. I glanced it over and noticed that, in a previous job, she had held the position of Public Relations Manger. Now, unless she's looking for a job as a "Nativity Director," it's going to be tough to convince a potential employer that she has the professional communication skills he or she needs!

Bottom line...get your materials together (resume, cover letter, support documents) and let someone else take a look. A job search isn't something you do between bites of your ham sandwich. It's a job in and of itself and, just like in a job, if you want to move ahead, you have to show that you have the skills and abilities required.

Or, as my students so often like to say in their papers... "You defiantly [aka: definitely] have to show your attention to detail"! Good hunting!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Your Career and You...Are You Prepared to Make a Move?

It seems that the turn of the decade is bringing me new opportunities to talk about one of my favorite progression. In the past week, I have talked with two different public relations professionals, one of whom is now in her first job search in years, the other on the cusp...what's next for me?

The past couple of years have been humdingers, and a lot of my friends have been "transitioned." Having been a victim of the last decade's meltdown (early-1990s), I sympathize and empathize. And I would love to be able to reach into my handy bag of tricks and pull out a couple of hot prospects. But I can't.

What I do is say, "Never forget it wasn't about you as a professional. It was a corporate decision to cut costs, and the public relations function usually is one of the first to get whacked."

What I do next is ask, "What are you doing in your search? Where are you looking? What search venues are you using? How are you using your network?"

One of the people I spoke with is a very recent college master's degree graduate. She has been in touch with my friend Ted Chaloner at Chaloner Associates. She has been using some of the online job sites including the Public Relations Society of America's members-only resource. She has been talking with some of her professional contacts. All very good steps.

But she has not talked with her college's career services office...a typically overlooked resource for college graduates. I never cease to be amazed, when I visit the career services offices at either Curry College, where I am a full-time communication faculty member, or Regis College, where I am an adjunct professor, at the wealth of information available for the respective college's current students...and alums!

I have been invited to serve as moderator for a Publicity Club of New England program on career opportunities in the new decade. Ted, as well as representatives from public relations firms, consumer products companies, and career advisory agencies, will be on hand to offer advice for anyone either in a job search or anticipating the need to start conducting a job search.

Hopefully one or more of the panelists will address the value of using career service offices. But, if they don't, no problem. I will!

Both the Pub Club and the Boston Chapter, PRSA, offer excellent programming. More importantly, they offer a wealth of networking opportunities. This was how I found an amazing job when my wife and I moved from Boston to Hawaii back in the early 90s. (Remember I said I got caught in the meltdown? A quick Aloha to my friends in the PRSA Hawaii chapter!)

Take advantage of these and other resources. You just might be surprised!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Getting the Most from Your Public Relations Education

I spent most of yesterday in a Faculty Retreat planning not for the upcoming semester but for how Curry College's Communication Department would look in two-to-three years and beyond.

While some of the conversation was about "rubrics" and other academic-sounding things, we devoted a significant amount of time to end results of our education efforts...what do we want our students to come away with at the end of their four years of study?

This led me to thinking about what I want my public relations students to learn while they're with us. And it all led back to the age-old "get a solid liberal arts education."

While the future value of mathematics, fine arts, philosophy, and all the other wondrous courses available for study may not be readily apparent, think about it like this. Public relations is about understanding human behavior, about being able to analyze a situation and offer viable recommendations...about actually seeing both the individual trees and  the forest while you're in the midst of all of it.

Take fine arts, for example. My wife is an accomplished amateur painter. We once went to a Monet exhibit at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. While all the rest of us were standing back at a "dignified" distance "admiring" the overall beauty of a particular painting, Margaret practically had her nose in the painting, closely examining and appreciating how each individual brushstroke contributed to the finished work.

Liberal arts courses teach you to examine the individual brushstrokes that comprise effective communication. From mathematics and critical thinking ("How do I derive that sum?") to fine arts and appreciation of how a combination of efforts led to a pleasing end product ("How did the artist achieve that realistic depiction?") to philosophy, history, and the many other courses, each adds an extra level of understanding.

Which leads me back to my original thought...what will the Communication Department look like? I believe the content will continue to evolve to meet current communication capabilities and demands. But I don't think the context will change significantly; communication majors will still have to be able to communicate effectively.

A solid understanding of all that goes into that communication...the history, the psychology, the mathematics, the art...will remain a constant. And I will continue to expect my public relations students to gain that understanding.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Networking - It IS Who You Know

I couldn't help but notice this morning as I was doing my usual "what's happening on Facebook" cruise how regularly and religiously folks communicate with their online friends...high school, college, family. Not a surprise but it sparked yet another thought.

How regularly do these same people...many of whom are either recent, relatively-recent,  or soon-to-be college graduates...communicate with their internship site supervisor or someone else at the internship, or with their professors (many of whom continue to have strong professional connections)?

It's all about networking, that mysterious (and apparently onerous) necessity in today's job hunting reality. This holds especially true for someone hoping to break into public relations. Many entry-level jobs are never publicized; they're filled through referrals, personal contacts...networking.

As I preach over and over to my undergraduate students at Curry College as well as to my graduate students at Regis College, public relations is very much about relationships. It starts before graduation...and never ends.

So a word of advice to anyone who cares to listen. Get in touch with your supervisors or friends that you made at your internship(s). Remind them that you're a future public relations professional, you learned a boatload of valuable information from them, and that you would appreciate their keeping you in mind if they have an entry-level position available or have heard of an opportunity.

Because guess what?!? If you don't tell them, they're not going to know!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mentoring..."I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends"

I've had conversations with two different public relations professionals this week, both of whom had questions about their careers.
Although this isn't unusual (either the questioning or the conversation), it did get me to thinking about my commitment to helping others.

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I was blessed with an amazing mentor in the early days of my own career. Clinton Parks was my internship supervisor at the US Army Training and Doctrine Command's Public Affairs Office, and he went out of his way to make sure that I learned every aspect of managing a PR department's operations, including proper filing of paperwork and other seemingly mundane tasks.

When I completed my formal training, I was given several choices for a permanent assignment, from which I chose the US Army Intelligence School, Ft. Devens, Mass., where I would serve as the School's Public Affairs Officer. What a totally ego-enhancing experience that was and, for three years, I ran the entire PR operation for a major military educational institution.

More importantly, Clint kept in touch...unobtrusively...but he kept in touch. Somewhere in the phone conversation would come: "How's it going?" "What have you been learning?" "What didn't we teach you that you wish you had known?"

As he noticed that I was starting to establish my own network at the School and on the post, Clint eased up on the frequency of his contact, but he didn't stop. And I always knew that, if I had a question that I was sure no one else would have the answer for, Clint was always there in spirit... and a telephone call away.

He didn't have to do this. In fact, it was several years before I actually realized what he was doing. But he did. And I was the beneficiary of a true public relations professional's caring, concern, and commitment.

Today, some 30 years later, I understand what Clint was doing. He cared deeply about the public relations profession, and he wanted to make sure that the interns he sent out into the "real world" both knew what they were doing and, more importantly, knew that there was someone just a phone call away who could advise, suggest, or...sometimes...just listen.

At both Curry College, where I oversee the public relations concentration and teach most of the PR courses, and Regis College, where I teach graduate-level communication courses, my students know I am always just an email or phone call away...and they take advantage of the opportunity to learn from my experiences, my mistakes successes.

Whether you're in an academic setting as I am now, or in a practicing professional setting, I hope you will take Clint's example to heart. When someone approaches you for advice, take the time to listen. Reflect on your own experiences as you were moving up in the field. And give that individual your best advice and counsel.

When you do reflect on your own experiences, remember...we all get by with a little help from our friends...or mentors!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On the Value of Internships

I just (finally) posted grades for two public relations-focused internships I supervised this past semester and was re-reading both students' final reflection papers in which they looked back and identified the good...and not-so-good...aspects of their experience. In both cases, the students have recognized the value that an internship brings through exposure to different work environments, varying organizational "personalities," and opportunities to identify areas of personal and professional interest. Both are eager to take on at least one more internship in a different environment so that they can compare and contrast and get a better idea of where to concentrate their job search efforts as graduation nears.

This morning, I received an email from another student (also PR concentration/one internship) who graduated in May '09 and, after several months of searching, found a sales position with a local company. She is miserable and has been looking for other opportunities. She thought this current position was exciting and would be challenging, etc., etc. She has now come to realize that it's just that...a sales job...not what she spent four years studying to do.

My students, advisees, and practically anyone else who purposefully or accidentally asks me all know my opinion on internships. An Army public affairs internship after an eight-year stint in the Air Force gave me my start as a public relations professional. An amazing mentor during my internship gave me a role model after whom I try to pattern my own interactions with students. I absolutely believe in internships and demand that my advisees (mostly PR concentration) complete at least two internships so that they can identify their respective strengths, weaknesses, interests, and passions.

As I gear up for the start of the spring semester, I look forward to counseling young future public relations professionals on their career choices. Internships will play a giant role in those choices.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Getting Started in the New Year

As I tentatively dip my toe into the uncharted waters of the new year, I have decided the time has come to put my thoughts down on the closest thing to paper offered by my computer.

Hence this blog, in which I will periodically share my thoughts on my experiences in the classroom teaching future practitioners what I have learned over the past 35-plus years as a public relations professional.

I am operating under no misconception that I know everything. But I have opinions, and I am more than willing to share them with you. Whether you agree or disagree, I welcome your input and suggestions.

Wishing you the best of everything in this new decade,