Monday, August 30, 2010

Your Career and You..."Be All You Can Be...and More!"

...with a nod to the US Army Recruiting Command for whom I worked for a few years.

Once again, young up-and-coming professionals with whom I have had the honor and pleasure of studying are amazing me with their ambition, their abilities, and their determination to succeed. Here are a couple of examples.

I heard recently from a former student now working at a university in Texas. We chat occasionally on Facebook, and she updated me on her plans for the future, which include graduate school. She wants to remain in higher education and...get this...her goal is to eventually become Dean of Students at a college or university!

How cool is that? She has found her place...working with college students. She knows what she ultimately wants to be...Dean. And she knows how to get there...continued studies and hard work.

I have absolutely no doubt that Catie will reach this target, and I plan to be around to celebrate the occasion!!

Yet another friend, starting her senior year now at Curry College, never ceases to amaze me with her abilities as a communicator. When I first met her, I wasn't sure which way she wanted to go as a Communication major. But she ultimately focused on Public Relations, and she has surpassed my wildest dreams as a budding professional.

Three internships under her belt as of this fall, stellar grades from the beginning, active involvement in the Curry College Public Relations Student name it, she either has done it or will do it as part of her professional development.

Where will she go from here? Who knows? But I can guarantee you that wherever Donna goes she will blow them away. How can I say this? Here's an excerpt from a speech she gave today to the incoming freshman class at Curry College about her evolution: "I am a stronger and more motivated person than I thought I was during my first few weeks in college."

I could go on forever, but the lesson here is that you can do just about anything you set your mind to. Your own inherent abilities, skills, interests, desires and passion will guide you along the way.

And, at the right the right place, you will find that you are capable of exceeding your expectations...that you truly can "be all you can be"...and more.

"I want, by understanding myself, to understand others. I want to be all that I am capable of becoming...This all sounds very strenuous and serious. But now that I have wrestled with it, it's no longer. I feel happy -- deep down. All is well."
Katherine Mansfield, "Journal" [1922], last entry

Monday, August 23, 2010

Your Career and You..."Always Have a Plan"

I had lunch today with one of my PR superstars from my adjunct teaching days. I've tracked her progress from the day she graduated and never cease to be amazed at what can be accomplished with a little determination and a lot of planning.

Amanda has been been working at a Boston-area PR firm since graduation and, from my observations over lunches and occasional conversations, is doing very well. Maybe not rising through the ranks as quickly as she would like, but she has racked up a pretty impressive track record there.

What I particularly like about our conversations is my awareness that she's always thinking ahead...not wondering so much "what's next?"; more like "will this path that I'm considering get me where I want to go and does it make sense?"

I don't think it can be said frequently or loudly enough: "Have a plan!"

I am constantly prodding my students at Curry College, particularly those who are concentrating in Public Relations, to do some self-analysis and figure out, at least in general, where they would like to be in 10 or 15 years.

I know that seems like a lifetime for most of these young people. But Amanda has now been out for five years, and the days/weeks/months have flown by like (to use an old southernism) "greased lightning."

Amanda has a plan. Right now, it's pretty general and very long-range. But she has a sense of where she wants to be years from now. And she has an equal sense of what she needs to know, do, and learn to stay on track for that goal. And she is very good about testing ideas on others, to get feedback and guidance.

She's very carefully assembling all the blocks to build that future, and I am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to watch from the sidelines as she progresses.

The nice thing about this sort of "pre-planning" is that you are able to set standards that you know you have to meet to move on to the next know what you need to do or where you need to be next to keep moving.

I just wish I had been that organized and focused when I was her age! Engineering to English to Business Management to Public Relations. Oh yeah, great planning!

These young, future professionals are graduating into a world of intense competition where their peers, armed with college degrees with stratospheric grade-point levels and multiple internships, are vying ferociously for a scarce resource at this particular point in entry-level job.

But that's only a starting point. While it's nice to have an actual salary that allows you to start trimming your college loan burden and eat something besides mac-'n-cheese, you need also to be looking over the the future.

Amanda's in the healthcare space where tangible credentials are valued, so she's now focused on a doctorate in some area of healthcare... already has her master's, so she's two steps ahead of a lot of her competition. But she has identified this higher degree as the differentiator.

She also thinks that she would like to teach at some point in the future, so this doctorate will kill the proverbial two birds with one stone... credibility and eligibility.

Is she the only bright star in the sky? Happily, no. But she certainly sets an example for others.

She does this by a wholehearted commitment to her current professional requirements, all the while weighing experiences and opportunities to make sure that what she's doing fits into the plan.

"We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise
And then, if we are true to plan
Our statures touch the skies."
Emily Dickinson [c. 1870]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Your Career and You..."Passion" Is Key

Earlier this year
, I wrote about one of my favorite topics, "Passion."

Not the steamy Victorian heaving bosoms and sweaty brows type of passion.

This was the "I love what I do for a living and can't think of anything else in the world I would rather be doing" kind.

The kind that, sadly, seems to be vanishing from the workplace with all sorts of not-so-good results. The kind that I shout about daily from the podium to my Communication major students at Curry College.

There are, of course, two sides to the "Where's passion?" story. One is that of the manager who seems to have forgotten what the most crucial piece of a successful business really is...the employee.

The other is that of the employee who more and more is looking at his or her place of employment as a "job."

I was delighted to read a Harvard Business Review post by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown entitled "Six Fundamental Shifts in the Way We Work" this morning that speaks to just this issue (among others).

Hagel and Brown list as their sixth change that of "Passion is everything." Here are two excerpted statements that, for me, sum up the whole thing: "Passion is when people discover the work that motivates them to achieve their potential by seeking extreme performance improvement...If you can help make your employees more passionate, you can create value in today's economy."

So what does this mean for you as the job seeker? It means two things.

First, identify and zero in on the type of business that really gets you excited. You do this through various types of experience...internships, summer jobs, informational interviews, networking.

The second step is a little trickier...when you go on actual job interviews, try to assess the passion that your potential boss and others in the organization have for what they're doing. Look for the fire that tells you they wouldn't want to be any other place than where they are.

I once had an informational interview with the CEO of a major PR firm in Boston. She was so excited about what she and her employees were doing that she had to show me everything. And when I talked with various staffers, I saw the same enthusiasm. When I left the hour later than intended...I was hooked! Even though I wasn't looking for a job, I wanted to work there!

Is this a fool-proof plan, though? Nope. I often regale my PR concentration students with the story of an actual job interview that I went on.

Met with the guy to whom I would be reporting and was impressed with his seeming enthusiasm for what he was doing and his vision of how we would work as a team.

Didn't meet any other members of the organization. Hmmm.

Long and short stories? Potentially great opportunity. And the working relationship from Hell.

As I've also said in a previous post, "Stuff happens." You learn from it.

To circle back and close out this conversation, though, it's all about passion...yours and theirs.

Learn as much about yourself as possible...likes, dislikes, wants, needs, dreams, and nightmares.

Then learn as much about the area that holds the greatest amount of interest for you...the people, the expectations, the rewards, and the punishments.

Finally, look for the passion.

"We may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion."
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, "Philosophy of History" [1832]

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Your Career and You..."Great Expectations and Real Realities"

I had lunch yesterday with one of my Curry College PR concentration superstars who made a remark as we were chatting about her job search post-graduation that really resonated.

"Maybe I'm expecting too much."

What an interesting observation, and what a comment on the preparation on both sides of the professor/advisor's desk for the "real world."

What are we (the teachers) doing to help these young men and women be realistically prepared to begin their careers? And what are they (the students) doing to prepare themselves to begin their careers?

I've probably said at least once in every previous post that you should have the utmost confidence in your abilities and be willing to stretch for that first opportunity to prove yourself.

But how do you balance "expectation" with "reality"? And, in today's supercharged world, where babies are on Facebook from birth, what is the baseline for a beginner? What are you expected to know and be able to do right out of college?

I suppose the simple answer might be, "That depends on what you want to do."

But that doesn't address the issue. You're not least I don't expect know exactly what you want to do and where you want to start on your life's voyage.

But you should have an idea of what your key interest areas are and do some research into entry-level and beyond opportunities in those areas. Which means that you have to get out of your dorm room and off campus and start networking...meeting with people who might be able to either share some insights or point you toward someone else who can do that.

On the other hand, I, as your advisor and (dare I hope?) role model, should have a reasonably realistic idea of what makes sense for you and where you might be looking to find that elusive starting point. Which means that I have to get out of my office and off campus and maintain and refresh those networks of people who might be able to either share some insights or point you toward someone else who can do that.

If we both do our jobs, you will arrive at graduation day with (a) a panicky feeling about what you've got facing you and (b) a pretty good idea of how to get started on your search.

More important, because you've done your homework, you'll know what employers are looking for. You'll know what skills and abilities you have that meet those needs. And you'll have the confidence to step out into the light and begin the quest.

"In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind."
Louis Pasteur, "Inaugural Lecture, University of Lille" [December 7, 1854]

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Your Career and You..."Yes, You Can...Believe in Yourself!"

I've had conversations in the past couple of days with current as well as past students from both Curry College and Regis College about a new challenge or opportunity that had come their way.

Although the question wasn't asked directly, they wanted reassurance that they were capable of meeting the challenge and succeeding.

Putting on my fatherly "been there, done that" hat, I responded to all, "Of course you's what you need to do."

I think the wonderful thing is that these young people are finding themselves faced with decision-requiring situations. It is very cool to be starting out in post-college life and find yourself having to call on those (ugh) "critical thinking" skills that we academics claim to impart to our charges.

It's not "critical thinking"; it's making life tomorrow.

It's having the self-confidence to head off into uncharted waters and try things that weren't in your textbook.

What gets me excited in these conversations is hearing that self-confidence rise to the surface and take charge. And then seeing that young professional come to a conclusion and act on it.

Not everything in life is going to present itself in a neat, orderly manner, patiently waiting for you to make a decision...someday. Most of the time it's going to be "Ok, here's the deal. What do you think? Tell me NOW!"

This is not to suggest that you should immediately sell all your belongings and book passage on a tramp steamer to Vladivostok.

It is to suggest that you should take stock of your talents, your capabilities, and your desires, and be willing to test your limits.

In my career, this attitude has taken me to Vietnam, the Philippines, Hawaii, and back and forth to Massachusetts as well as a bazillion other places. Opportunities came up; I wanted to take a chance and start something new. Sold my furniture, found someone to adopt my goldfish, and got on a somewhere to start something new.

Something good...sometimes something unexpectedly wonderful... always has come of these actions.

Yes, I often had to start all over again. Yes, I had to learn new customs, new cultures, new languages. But it has all been good. And it happened because I believed in myself.

So be willing to move out of your comfort zone. Be eager to try things you've never done before (note: this does not include leaping off cliffs or alligator wrestling!) but think sound interesting.

And, finally, talk to people you know and who know you. Life decisions are not..or should not be...made in a vacuum. Someone in your sphere of influence is going to be affected by your decision. Make sure he or she is part of the equation.

Once you've done that, act...on your belief in yourself, on others' belief in you. You just might be pleasantly surprised and rewarded.

"He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne'er believe, do what you please.
If the sun and moon should doubt
They'd immediately go out."
(William Blake, Auguries of Innocence)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Your Career and You..."Spring Cleaning for the Present...and Future"

I spent this weekend reviewing resumes from a couple of friends and checking out some LinkedIn updates for others. Once again, the great epiphany fell from the sky and I realized that it was time for me to haul out my own resume and make sure it was current.

No, I'm not planning on going anywhere. I am incredibly happy at Curry College working with some amazingly experienced and supportive colleagues. But somewhere in my cyber-pile of stuff, I like to know that my professional life and accomplishments are documented...just in case.

Why? Because you never know when you might have a need for the information. And the years sneak up on you...along with the kudos for a job well done, volunteer activities that you're involved in...promotions.

I recently threw my name into the pile for a volunteer opportunity with the Public Relations Society of America. As part of the application process, I had to pretty much regurgitate the past 40 years of my professional life, including some recent honors and awards and some other volunteer activities.

I had let my resume lie fallow for about six months, and it was out of date, which meant my having to reconstruct the past roughly one year. Had to do some rapid scrambling to pull together all the current pieces.

The beauty of doing this "spring cleaning" exercise now...when you don't need that you can approach the task from an objective point of view..."How does the format look?"..."Are the paragraphs and bullets lined up?"..."Where are the typos?"

When you're actively applying for a job, you have a tendency to look at your resume subjectively..."Do I address the needs of the future employer?"..."Do I have all the places I've worked and/or all my internships?"

You miss the other typos, as I mentioned in an earlier post...that can come back to haunt you.

To be clear, you need to look at your resume both ways, but job search life is a lot less stressful when you've kept your stuff pretty much up to date.

Also, your perspective changes over time. Things that you thought sounded cool or important six months ago may not seem the same today. A resume is a living, breathing organism, and it grows and changes daily.

Finally, as I also have said a gazillion times, let someone else take a look at your stuff...preferably someone with more experience than you. If you're working, a trusted colleague or friend. If you're in college... undergraduate or graduate...let your advisor or your professor take a look. He or she most likely has been through this exercise enough to be able to offer some constructive guidance.

And, if you're in college...go see your Career Services folks...that's what they're there for!!

Bottom your "spring cleaning" now, and you'll be prepared when the time is right for action.

"He who knows the enemy and himself
Will never in a hundred battles be at risk;
He who does not know the enemy but knows himself
Will sometimes win and sometimes lose;
He who knows neither the enemy nor himself
Will be at risk in every battle."
Sun-Tzu, The Art of Warfare, Chapter 13, "Planning the Attack"