Saturday, February 27, 2010

Your Career and You: Building Your "Street Creds" as a Volunteer

I've noticed over the years that there are two types of job seekers: those who are focused and intent on finding the best possible opportunity, and those who, for whatever reason, think that the job will come to them on the ol' silver platter.

Got some news for those of you in the latter group...not going to happen.

If you want me, your potential employer, to be interested in you, you have to show me that you're committed...that you want to succeed and have been building your credibility in that area.

Logical question: "How do I do that?" Simple answer: "Go above and beyond. Do more than asked. Push yourself. Take chances and find out what it is that you really like to do."

For students, or for anyone, for that matter, it's relatively easy. Nonprofit organizations are perpetually in need of volunteer support. Maybe they need help with writing and producing a newsletter. Or perhaps some assistance with a fundraising campaign. Or they are looking for younger members for their board of directors to bring in a fresh point of view.

If you're in college, there are any number of student-run organizations where you could get involved. At Curry College, for example, there are more than two dozen such groups including the Curry College Public Relations Student Association.

To get the most out of your membership, though, start out as a general member and get a feel for the organization. Then step forward and volunteer for committee work or, if possible, run for an elected board position. However you do it, you're adding one more level of credibility to your profile. And, once you're involved, show you've got what it takes... volunteer for projects that interest you, and step up to the plate as the leader who can make things happen!

Out of college? If you have warm feelings for your alma mater,  get involved on the alumni council. Look around in your neighborhood for nonprofits that focus on causes you believe in and reach out to them as a volunteer. I once got involved with a start-up organization in Boston known as "Boston Harborfest." I was intrigued with their mission and felt that I, and my employer at the time (US Army Boston District Recruiting Command), might be able to help.

Long story short and more than 25 years later, I am Clerk of the Board of Directors and a "drank the Koolaid" believer in the ability of visionary organizations to make a difference. More important, I am able to point to my long-term commitment and the amazing amount of experience that I have gained through my involvement when I am talking with potential addition to having a whole raft of "lessons learned" that I can share with my Communication students at Curry.

So, build your street creds...get out there, on campus or off, and get involved. Not only will you gain some invaluable experience in the process; you will add an extra level of professionalism to your portfolio... and have a heck of a good time in the process!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Your Job Search: The Chance of a Lifetime

I attended a meeting earlier this week of the Curry College Public Relations Student Association, a pre-professional association for students who have an interest in public relations. The guest speaker was Steve Binder, Vice President, Publishing Director and Sales, ESPN Publishing Division, a Curry College graduate (COM '84 cum laude).

Steve spent the bulk of the afternoon with us, talking with a Sales & Marketing class and then, in the evening, talking to an audience of nearly 75 students and faculty members. In both instances, he talked about his rise in the publishing industry.

But, more important, he talked about what, from his perspective as a leading communication industry executive, young people should think about as they prepare to venture into the "real world."

Much of what Steve said, I'm delighted to report, I have covered in previous posts. But one thing in particular that he emphasized was "take chances."

How incredibly true! Stepping outside your comfort zone and taking a chance on a new job opportunity, a new job location, a new set of job skills can pay big dividends. At the very least, you will say, "I tried it. It didn't work out...but I tried it." But you just might surprise yourself and find yourself doing something totally cool, unexpected, exciting, and exactly what you wanted to be doing!

I did this once myself. I had been laid off from a PR/Advertising firm in Boston back in the early 90s and, as luck would have it, my wife's company declared bankruptcy shortly after. After conducting a very serious job search and coming up empty-handed, I (or I should say we) decided that, if we were going to starve to death, better to do it in a warmer climate than offered in Boston. So we moved to Hawaii.

I didn't know a living soul in the state. But I reached out to a group of folks who were members of the Public Relations Society of America and asked for their advice. Note I didn't ask for a job...I asked for advice, something that didn't cost anyone a cent.

Long story short, after an intensive round of informational interviews and attendance at every communication-related meeting I could find, I was referred by a newly-minted friend to the Blood Bank of Hawaii where I was offered the position of Director of Marketing and was later promoted to Director of Communication Services. It was hands-down the best professional job I've had in my 40-plus years' experience.

But I never would have gotten this amazing opportunity had I stuck with the safe...the tried and proven...the same-old/same-old. I packed up and moved 10,000 miles away to start all over again. And it worked.

The one thing I really emphasize as I work with Communication students to sort out their future after Curry College is the value that can lie in venturing outside their familiar (and comfortable) nest.

Especially in today's world where mergers are reducing available job opportunities, and colleges are cranking out more and more young people armed with a diploma, internship experience, and mind-blowing college loans to be paid off, you have to be willing to take a chance.

Or is it really a "chance"??

"There's no such thing as chance;
And what to us seems merest accident
Springs from the deepest source of destiny."
(The Death of Wallenstein, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Your Job Search: The Proof is in the Presentation

In my varying roles as long-time public relations professional, nonprofit board member and, now, public relations professor, I have had countless opportunities to read cover letters and resumes of folks who are looking to make a transition to another job, another industry sector, another area of the country.

One thing has become disturbingly clear..."communicators" are not necessarily good communicators.

Many of the cover letters were the longest, wordiest things I've ever run across, and very few of them spoke to the requirements of the position the writer was hoping to secure.

Yes, your cover letter should give me, as your potential employer, an overview of you. But, more important, your cover letter should tell me how you are going to help me remedy my situation.

Which means you have to actually read my job description and tailor your cover letter (and your resume, to some extent) to speak to the issues I specify.
1. What are your strengths as they relate to me?
2. What successes can you highlight (Reader's Digest version, please!) that relate to me?
3. Why are you interested in me?

This last was the one where many people dropped the ball. Very few said anything about why he or she wanted to come to the frozen tundras of New England from garden spots like Iowa, West Virginia, and other places I usually fly over/past, but don't actually visit.

Perhaps more disturbing, though, was that there was no passion. You have to remember that my introduction to you is a faceless piece of paper...make it sing! Let me see the gleam in your eye as you describe a really cool project that you led that is very similar to, if not exactly like, a project that I want you to do for me! your homework as I've said in several previous posts. Learn as much as you can about the organization to which you are applying. And then spend twice as much time as you think you should writing, editing, and rewriting your cover letter.

Because here's the deal...if you don't catch my attention and pique my interest in the first paragraph or so, it's highly unlikely I'm going to go much deeper.

There are a number of professionally-run writing workshops offered in the Boston area, including some excellent programs by the Publicity Club of New England. Your local high school probably has some in its community education program. Take advantage of any and all help you can get. It's worth the investment!

Oh...and by the way...please don't rely solely on spellcheck! If you're not absolutely sure, get someone else to read your materials (including your resume)... someone you trust and who you know will do due diligence in the process. (My students at Curry College get this from me daily, and some of them are actually heeding the advice now!)

The adage goes: "You only get one chance to make a first impression." There are no do-overs!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Your Job Search: Closing the Sale

I participated as moderator earlier this week for the Publicity Club of New England's "Career Program." A stellar panel of experts representing executive search, in-house recruiting, and search consultation/advice kept the audience of nearly 50 spellbound for more than an hour.

I came away having learned way more than I expected but one comment by Priscilla Claman, president of Career Strategies, Inc., really stuck with me.

At the end of an information-packed give-and-take session covering everything from the current state of the business for public relations professionals to tips on networking to "I'm a college student and don't have job-specific writing samples; what should I send when requested?", Priscilla asked...and I have to paraphrase here as I was standing at a podium with no writing material at hand..."When you've finished your interview and provided all the pertinent information, have you 'closed the sale'?"

An excellent question/strong hint that I see more in the omission than the act. I can't say how many of my Communication students at Curry College (and professionals, for that matter) say something to the effect of "I sent my information in and had an interview, but I haven't heard anything since."

Well, maybe you did...and maybe they'll call back. But how serious are you about this job possibility? If I've interviewed 20-plus candidates for a job and am in the "who's the best?" phase of the weeding out process, I need a cue from you on your interest level.

A follow-up phone call...we've met, so you're no longer a good start. An email follow-up expressing your interest and asking what's the next step in the process works.

Give me a sign that you're as interested in me as I should be in you! Close the sale!!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Networking - Part 2: Going Public

I'm probably going to be accused of going on a rant this morning, but I read a very disturbing article in The Boston Globe about some parents who are encouraging/allowing their children to become immersed in online games and other Internet-based activity.

As a public relations professor in Curry College's Communication Department faced with the daily challenges of introducing young people to the many wonderful ways in which they can use their own skills, I have a serious problem with this.

Why? Because I, myself, am by nature an introvert. I am incredibly uncomfortable in group interactions. I would rather sit in my room with my teddy bear and a good book than go out into the "world" and be with "people."

But I do go out...and I do this because I have learned that human, face-to-face interaction is vital for successful communication. Nothing can replace the insights that you derive from looking someone in the eyes while discussing, negotiating, debating...communicating.

I am constantly urging my students to join campus organizations and get involved, to attend on-campus as well as off-campus meetings to meet and mingle with others, to start developing their social interaction skills.

At Curry, we have the Curry College Public Relations Student Association (CCPRSA) with monthly chapter meetings bringing in communication professionals from the area to talk about their own careers and offer tips and advice for making that move into the "real world." More importantly, it is an on-campus opportunity for students to meet and mingle with others and further refine their one-on-one communication skills.

The Boston Chapter, Public Relations Society of America and the Publicity Club of New England also both offer excellent programming. Both also welcome student attendees and offer special pricing to encourage students to attend.

So, for my own students and for others who can identify with a veteran PR professional's own fear of as I did oh-so-many-years-ago..."go public."