Saturday, March 27, 2010

Your Career and You: Professional or Practitioner?

I just watched a video generously shared by Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications, in which public relations pro Fraser Seitel discusses the attributes that are the mark of a true public relations professional.

The attributes that Fraser highlights are exactly what I emphasize to each and every one of my public relations students at Curry College each and every day of the week... ethical and honest actions, understanding of management's needs and expectations, and a broad knowledge of current events...don't all come naturally or easily.

If you are a Communication major at Curry College, you certainly will get an introduction to the public relations profession, especially if you choose to concentrate in that area (I get a good mix of other majors and concentrations in my courses as well!), but you need to take it one step further by continuing to learn as you move out into professional life.

All this came full circle this past week as I found myself involved up to my eyebrows in three back-to-back public relations programs, two on the Curry campus, and one in Boston for the PRSA Boston chapter.

The first program was the monthly meeting of the Curry College PR Student Association, a wonderful group of young future professionals who take advantage of every possible opportunity to learn from the experts. This week's program featured P.J. Foster, senior account executive at Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, who discussed her work in crisis communications at Rasky...and the path she took to get where she is today. For the students, this was a mind-boggling glimpse into the future.

Then, the next night, I served as moderator for a PRSA Boston/PRSSA regional event, "Your Career in Public Relations: An Insider's Guide to Preparing for...and Finding...Your First Job." Nearly 50 public relations students from five Boston-area colleges and universities came to Curry for a panel discussion featuring five highly-respected PR pros followed by break-out sessions in which the students could meet one-on-one with someone from their area of interest for more questioning...and learning.

Finally, on the third night, I was moderator for a PRSA Boston chapter program entitled "PR+CSR=Respect: An Insider's Guide to Effective CSR Campaigns." The speakers represented some of Boston's most highly-respected companies and consulting firms involved in the Corporate Social Responsibility space. Attendees represented healthcare, consulting, publishing, technology, investor relations, financial services...a wide range of industry areas.

The point of all this is, simply, as Fraser says so eloquently in the video, if you want to win a seat at the management table, you must build a solid knowledge base through college studies, by taking courses to increase your expertise in a particular area, by interacting with and learning from subject-matter experts in your organization's participating regularly and diligently in opportunities that will increase your understanding of and ability to represent your client's or employer's business.

So what is the difference between a "professional" and a "practitioner," you ask? Well, I would argue simply that the professional can be found participating in all or many of the activities I describe above...enhancing his or her knowledge base.

The professional is that individual on whom senior management relies to guide the company through difficult times and to maintain ongoing, supportive relationships with key stakeholders.

The practitioner writes the newsletters, crafts the media releases, and organizes the events.

Which are you???

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Your Career and You: A Passion for Learning

I've just gotten back from my annual trek to New York City to participate as a judge for the Public Relations Society of America's "Silver Anvil" awards competition. I spent an invigorating and educational day with a team of dedicated fellow judges reading through and evaluating entries in the "Internal Communications" program category.

Why? I just spent a full day with 150-plus public relations professionals each of whom donated a day of his or her life to evaluate excellent programs created by other dedicated public relations professionals. Some of these folks (the judges) have been doing this for years...I'm a relative "newbie" with about five years under my belt as of this writing. And they do this voluntarily... because they want to, not because someone forced them to.

So what does this have to do with careers and job searches? At least a couple of my PRSA colleague-judges are "between jobs," having been caught in one of the many corporate restructuring exercises that took place in 2009.

But they are still actively involved in their professional organization. They are still excited about their chosen profession. And they are still eager to question and to learn.

How do I know this? When I spoke with them, or observed them chatting with someone else, I saw the fire in their eyes and heard it in their voices. It's "business as usual" as a public relations professional, just with a slightly different mission for the moment.

So...again...what does this have to do with careers and job searches? Some young people today have unrealistic expectations of life post-college...some of them have unrealistic expectations of life in college! They expect everything to be presented on a platinum platter, problems neatly solved, dilemmas tidily resolved.

I was grading some case study assignments this afternoon and came across this mind-boggling response to a question: "I don't understand the question."

Was there an email to the professor asking for clarification, or an attempt to ask for guidance? Nope..."I don't understand the question."

Life doesn't work that way, especially in public relations. You are expected to be the problem solver...the dilemma resolver. Which means asking for clarification when you're not sure and taking the extra step to find the solution. It means being eager to question and to learn.

More than anything, it means having the fire. It's all about passion and doing what you really, truly love doing. And seeking the answers when you're unsure.

To close with a line from The Prophet by one of my favorite authors, Kahlil Gibran, "No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge." Show me the fire...ask me the questions!
Now that I'm back and mentally preparing for the "normalcy" of teaching public relations courses at Curry College, I find myself musing cynically about the future of our younger generation.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Your Job Search: Looking For A Job Is Just That...A "Job"

It occurred to me this afternoon, when I received an email from a student I met last week following my talk to the Northeastern University PRSSA chapter, that one major part of the job search conversation doesn't get enough emphasis..."Looking for a job is hard work."

I've talked in previous posts about the importance of follow-up when you send out your resume. But it's more than that.

Your job search requires discipline, time management, organizational skills, people's a job!

I quit counting a long time ago the number of times I've heard someone say, "I didn't have time to send out any resumes this week; I was so busy!"

I'm not saying you don't have other things on your plate. Guess what?!? We all do. But, if you want to be taken seriously, and if you want to stay at least a couple of steps ahead of the competition, you'll find time by rearranging your daily schedule and setting aside a dedicated block of time for your search.

Lay out your week's schedule on a calendar. My Communication students at Curry College have discovered that I don't go anywhere without my PDA. Want to meet? Wait a sec. Let me check my calendar for an available time.

And the time is there because I plan weeks/months in advance as much as possible so that I know where there is free time for other my job search.

Maybe you can't carve out huge blocks of time, but I'll bet you can find a half-hour slot each day that you could devote to your search activities. Even with that minimal amount of time, you've now set aside two-and-a-half hours each week for nothing but your search!'ve taken care of the first three items on my list up in paragraph three. The last one, "people skills," comes into play when your roommate sticks his or her head in the door and says, "Hey, let's go out on the quad and hang out for a while."

"Sorry, I'm at work right now. Maybe in a half hour when I'm finished?"

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Your Job Search: Your Resume...Your Life

Resumes are a very personal thing, and everyone has an opinion on how they should look, read, sound, feel...take your pick.

My take on this is that your resume should reflect your life and times. It's about you.

What have you accomplished? Notice I didn't ask what you've done. To me, those are two very different concepts.

I've done a ton of stuff in my lifetime, most of which was irrelevant when it came to my job search. Fortunately, I've accomplished a boatload of stuff as well, things that made a difference for my employer...and things that a future employer can look at and say, "Hmm, I wonder if he can do that for me as well?"

I counsel my Communication students at Curry College as they prepare for "life after Curry" to put serious thought into their resumes...what they've accomplished during their time in college, what they've done that is relevant to the job that they are applying for, what skills they've picked up along the way.

Notice I haven't said anything about "format," though. Formatting, in my opinion, is a highly personal choice. There are a bazillion formats, and I firmly believe you should examine as many as possible and select one that you like...not just the first one that a well-meaning advisor shoves at you.

One thing that I am firm about, though, is that you need to state your objective at the top of your resume...underneath your name and contact information...why have you sent your resume to me? What are you looking for?

You may counter with "Well, I'm a communication major. Isn't it obvious what I'm looking for?" Do no assuming.

Next, unless you haven't done one blasted thing in the course of your college education... work/internships, volunteer activities, club or organization memberships...the next thing that should appear is your relevant work/internship/volunteer experience...the stuff that speaks to the job that you are applying for.

After this, "other experience." Summer jobs? Part-time non-communication related job(s) while in college? Put 'em here so that I can see the whole you.

Follow this up with your education information. A list of all the communication courses that you've taken is not necessary...these are things you've done. The fact that you made Dean's List or the Honors Society is...this is something you've accomplished.

Finally, close out with specific and relevant skills including specialized software that you're familiar with. I don't need to know that you can use Outlook or Microsoft Word. But I do want to know if you're familiar with Quark, InDesign, or some other graphic arts  or desktop publishing software. Most likely I use the same software in my place of business, and the fact that you know how to use it is a plus.

One final thought. Whatever format (look) that you select for your resume should be mirrored in your cover letter, especially the way you place your name and contact info. The two pieces should be a matched set.

And now for the final final thought...proofread and/or have someone else proofread your resume for you. I can guarantee there's a typo hanging out in there somewhere. Find it!

If you've more-or-less followed the sequence of steps outlined above, your resume should be all set for its maiden voyage. And you are prepared to set out on the next stage of your life as a communication professional.