Monday, June 28, 2010

Your Career and You..."Take a Deep Breath...THEN Talk!"

Just when I thought life couldn't get any funner (yes, I know that's not a word...but it fits here for some reason!), Gen. McChrystal comes along with his "Rolling Stone" interview.

My mantra, both as a public relations professional and, now, as a public relations professor, has always been "If you don't want your Mother to read about it in the paper the next day, don't SAY it!"

My Communication students at Curry College, especially those with a Public Relations concentration...most especially those who are taking my Crisis Communication Management course...hear this, if not daily, definitely weekly somewhere in our classroom discussions.

The cool (or sad) thing is almost always having a copy of that day's newspaper for "show 'n tell" to prove my point.

We all like to be perceived as "bright" or "witty" or "quick-with-a-quote." And that's all well and good. But a piece of advice...


How will what you say be received or perceived!

As you are preparing for a meeting...or an interview...what points do you want to get across, and how do you want others to react to what you say?

I had a great conversation last week with a colleague who's both engaging in the tenure torture process at her university and organizing her thoughts to apply for the Public Relations Society of America's "College of Fellows." (Kind of like having a root canal and an appendectomy at the same time!)

We actually were talking about something I am preparing to do that she has already been through, and she made one comment...not an earth-shaking revelation...just a common- sense observation about her own experience with this endeavor: "I sent everyone out of the house and sat down with my list of bullet-points of things that I wanted to make sure I covered in my interview."

My immediate thought was, like Homer Simpson, "D-Oh!!" Better do that, Kirk.

So, to wrap this rambling up...sometime, somewhere in your professional life...either as you're starting out or later on when you think you know will be called on to express your thoughts: "What do you see yourself contributing to this position at XYZ PR?"..."What do you think of your boss?"

If this is the ideal situation and you've had time to prepare, refer to your bullet-point list. If this is an "out-of-the-blue" encounter, take a deep breath...THEN talk.

The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, "How can I know what I think till I see what I say?"
Graham Wallas, "The Art of Thought" [1926]

Monday, June 21, 2010

Your Career and You: "Stuff Happens"...Learn from It!

After watching my neighbor set fire to his balcony yesterday and cutting my lip while shaving this morning, I have become acutely aware that "stuff happens."

Just ask BP's Tony Hayward. All he wanted was "his life back," so he decided to go play with his sailboat while the oil continued to gush into the Gulf. Kind of like Nero sitting on the hill with his fiddle basking in the warmth of the fire's glow.

There are lessons to be learned from this (Yeah, I'm a's all about "lessons."). Unfortunately, though, we're all humans, and we make mistakes. What distinguishes us from some...not all...other species is our ability to learn from those mistakes.

Part of that learning comes through our elders as well as our peers, to those with more professional experience, to those who have "been there."

One of the fun things about teaching at both Curry College (undergrad Communication... Public Relations) and Regis College (graduate Communications) is the opportunity to share my own experiences and to hear about and learn from the experiences of others.

Not a semester goes by that I don't come away with something new to add to my knowledge base. And it doesn't matter the academic level...entering Freshman or Master's candidate...someone always has experienced something that I have never encountered. I listen to his or her story, and I learn.

This doesn't guarantee that I won't royally mess up the works somewhere down the road; but it does ensure that stored away in my memory banks will be the "lesson" I learned from someone else on how to straighten out the mess I made.

The leadership of BP appear to have chosen to ignore the advice of those who know (or "sense") better how to behave in a crisis, and the result is non-stop negative coverage.

But this isn't the only recent, or relatively recent, example...can we all chant: "Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, Madoff...Exxon-Valdez"? And a gazillion others whose leaders chose to ignore advice and counsel?

Sadly, these "leaders" will always be with us. So what do you do as you prepare to set out on your journey upwards in your chosen career field?

Quoth the Teacher: "Do your homework. Stay current on industry activities...and know the history of your industry. And be willing to speak up if you see an action being taken that, based on your knowledge, has led in the past to a crisis or calamity that might have been avoided."

"Stuff happens," and there's absolutely no guarantee that your caution will be heeded. But, at the very least, you can say to yourself, "I spoke up. I gave my best advice and counsel."

And from this, you will learn.

"The chess board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But we also know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance." - Thomas Henry Huxley, "A Liberal Education" [1868]

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Your Career and You...It's All About Visibility

I just wrapped up a great online chat session (#PRStudChat) a few minutes ago with a group comprising senior PR professionals, former practitioners-turned-educator such as yours truly, and a whole host of current students and recent grads.

While the conversation was about social media's role in the corporate communication mix, that wasn't what caught my attention.

What I came away with was the realization that a lot of young people get it. They are "out there," engaged in online as well as face-to-face conversations with other young people as well as with veteran communicators for whom they might eventually work.

Are these activities paying off in immediate a job? Not necessarily, but they most assuredly are boosting the young man's or woman's "credibility rating" as a communicator by the simple act of being "seen."

Job searching...actually even job maintenance (keeping your current job)...requires that you do two things:

1. Deliver more than is asked or expected. And volunteer (within reason, of course) to take on things you weren't asked or expected to do.
2. Be your workplace or in the community in which you hope to work.

Why? Because, most likely, if you're working, everyone is doing his or her job. But some of them are doing only what's required to get the job done. They're not looking for "more."

The result? Over time, they become invisible. Nothing special. Nothing notable. Nothing.

So, when (note, I didn't say "if") the time comes for a workforce reduction, guess who goes?

The same, in a way, holds true for job seekers. Regardless of how professional your resume looks, what makes you stand out from the herd? What are you doing to get and keep your name "out there"?

I got an email from an HR executive at a major PR firm in the Boston area yesterday letting me know that she was going to be away for a while. She's excited about one of my superstars at Curry College...a Communication major with a concentration in Public Relations...who will be doing an internship this fall with this exec's firm.

But she's also looking for other interns, and she asked me for recommendations. Immediately, a couple of faces floated up in my thoughts...a couple of students who have kept in touch since school ended and who are looking for a fall internship.

I will send their names along to her. Why? Because these future professionals have remained visible after the semester ended. I want to send nothing but the best to represent my college, and, as communicators, these young people have shown that they get it...they understand the importance and value of visibility.

My advice if you're reading this as a job seeker...or if you're employed, for that matter? Step outside your cocoon, and get your face/name/ reputation into the public. Get involved. Be seen. Network.

"As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish he'd stay away."
--Hughes Mearns