Friday, November 26, 2010

Your Career and You: "The ROI of a Handshake"

I've been reading Charlene Li's excellent book "Open Leadership" this weekend, and one line sticks in my mind: "What's the ROI ["return on investment" for those folks who haven't delved into business-speak] of a handshake?"

She leads into this with another spot-on observation: "Inevitably, we base many of our decisions on just the thinnest sliver of information and evidence or, even more likely, our gut feeling."

Wow! Such simple statements that say so much about ways in which business decisions are made.

How does this apply to your situation as you either prepare to enter the workforce after college or embark on a search for a new position that offers greater opportunities than the one you currently hold?

Simple. The decisions that you make are "investments" in your future. You conduct your market research, and you devise a plan of action. That plan includes such things as networking, job analysis, and the plain ol' gruntwork of meetings and follow-up.

The key in all this is to undertake those activities that you feel will deliver the best results...your "return on investment."

As I tell my students and advisees (probably more times than they really want) at Curry College, where I oversee the Public Relations concentration within our Communication major, sometimes it just boils down to a "gut feeling."

And sometimes you just take chances...something I've talked about numerous times.

The bottom line for you as the job-seeker is to take actions that, in your opinion, will result in something positive happening...a referral to a job possibility...a job offer...a new busines contact.

I took a chance like this years ago (seems like yesterday to me, but the calendar now says 20 years ago!) with a move from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Didn't know a single soul in the entire Aloha State. Had no clue what lay in store. But the feedback and encouragement I got from folks with whom I had been in contact gave me the feeling that something good would come of this.

Reader's Digest version of the outcome? Best job I've ever had as a public relations professional.

Landing this job, though, required my reaching way beyond the limits of my comfort zone. As odd as this may sound, I'm a card-carrying introvert, and I don't do well in crowds where I don't know at least 90% of the people.

But I also knew that my "gut" was telling me this was a worthwhile effort...that something good would come of my reaching out to total strangers and asking for help. So I put myself out there, met a bazillion people, made a gazillion new friends, shook a boatload of hands, and succeeded...big time.

As you start gathering your information and preparing for your own journey, do so with this in mind: "What is the possible outcome of this effort? What might I expect?"

If you answer these questions up front, you will be better prepared to act on unplanned opportunities. You will have a better idea of where the conversation might lead you.

You will know the potential ROI of that handshake.

"Know the other, know yourself,
And the victory will not be at risk;
Know the ground, know the natural conditions,
And the victory can be total."
Sun-Tzu, "The Art of Warfare: The Terrain" [6th Century B.C.]

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Your Career and You: "Thinking Critically is Critical"

I just wrapped up the penultimate (always wanted to use that sounds so cool!) class for this semester's "Conflict Management and Resolution" graduate course at Regis College, and I came home jazzed. has been an insane week...but today left me enthusiastic and re-energized!


Because we (the members of the class and I) spent a good portion of the time firing ideas and concepts around as we dealt with various conflict situations and were brainstorming ways in which to address them.

Same happened yesterday, I should add, in my undergraduate public relations classes at Curry we discussed consumer relations.

And what does all this blithering have to do with "critical thinking," you ask?

"Elementary, my dear Watson," quoth Sherlock Holmes.

According to Robert H. Ennis, author of The Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, "Critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe and do."

How did it apply in the situations above?

We took information at hand, analyzed it, compared it with our own experiences, beliefs and prejudices, and made a decision.

Why does that get me all excited, you ask?

Because critical thinking is life. Critical thinking is business. Critical thinking is, or should be, part and parcel of everything that we do as human beings.

How does that apply to your current or future career?

Because rarely are you going to be brought the solution to a problem, challenge, or opportunity on the proverbial silver platter. You're going to have to take a boatload of raw data, sift through it, find the key benefits (or risks), and draw a conclusion...

...without the benefit of a textbook's clearly laying out the steps in the procedure.

The training wheels are off the bike, and you're heading for the tree. What do you do?

The one thing I do that drives many of my Communication students nuts at Curry is ask a ton of open-ended "what do you think?" questions. I see them feverishly leafing through their textbooks trying to find the answer.

Then the inevitable question comes from the anguished crowd..."What page is the answer on?"

To which I respond, "It's not. You have to take the information I gave you and draw your own conclusion...find your own solution."

Comes the muttered response: "That's so not fair."

Yep! :-)

Welcome to grownup-hood where the roads are unmarked, and the streets have no names. You make your way, lantern in hand, searching for the elusive answer.

But, my friends, if you do this often enough, and you accept the fact that you are a living, breathing creature with a marvelous thing called a "brain," you will develop critical thinking skills.

You will learn how...maybe not easily or quickly...but you will learn how to gather the data about you, sift through it and categorize the various facts, and draw a conclusion based on your own experience, your own knowledge, and your own human instincts.

You will add critical thinking as a necessary weapon in your arsenal of skills, and you will be ready to take your own place in the world as a professional.

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Sign of Four" [1890]

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Your Career and You: "You ARE the Future...Are You Ready?"

As the semester winds its way to the end at Curry College, I seem to be having more and more conversations with bleary-eyed seniors looking for the "answer."

"Will I find a job when I graduate?"

"What should I do when I graduate?"

Both very good questions that merit some serious thought and equally serious response.

Will you find a job? Yes. Probably not as quickly as you would like, and maybe not exactly what you were hoping for right out of the gate, but you will find a job.

I've talked at length in previous posts about planning for the future. But here's another thought: "You are the future...Are you ready?"

This is, in itself, a worrisome thing. In some cases, my own response is, "Yes, you're ready. Go forth and make us all proud!"

But, in other cases, I'm not so sure...there are still some rough spots that a few folks have to take care of...things like being able to write coherent sentences in a professional manner...being able to identify potential employment opportunities without someone else having to do the upfront research...the basics.

Am I discouraged? Far from it.

Am I bubbling over with exuberant enthusiasm? Ditto.

What I have to professor, mentor, friend, continue to make it crystal clear in my classroom discussions as well as one-on-one counseling with my public relations concentration students that finding a job is hard work. And the competition is fierce. But I deeply and sincerely believe in your ability to succeed.

Those of you who get it...who understand the deeper meaning of the term "public relations professional"...will rise to the top of the pile.

And you will do this by excelling in your studies; by undertaking one, two, or three internships; by regularly participating in on- and off-campus professional activities; and by networking like crazy.

Employers are looking for that "extra something" that differentiates the "ok" applicant from the "must-have" applicant. That "something" is intangible but it's definitely there.

It's that attitude of quiet self-confidence...that eager but not fawning interest in the opportunity at hand...that passion that I so often talk about and so seldom witness.

The world truly is just around the corner waiting for your arrival. And you truly are the future of my lifetime profession of public relations.

The question that you have to answer...and believe with all your heart once you find that, "Are you ready?"

"Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man."
Francis Bacon, "Essays...Of Studies" [1625]

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Your Career and You: "Why Are You Here?"

I came up to Massachusetts in the late 70s as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Public Affairs intern slated to step in as Public Affairs Officer for the US Army Intelligence School, Devens.

I was at the tail end of an 18-month internship and had been through the gamut of training including the Defense Information School and a three-month assignment at Ft. Lewis, Washington. This was on top of my previous eight years in the Air Force with varying assignments and duties around the US as well as Asia.

Knew what I was doing and going to do...or so I thought!

Then I walked into the School Commander's office for my introductory interview.

The way this was going to play out (in my mind) was that he was going to welcome me, ask about my background, commend me on a decent stint in the Air Force, and send me along to do my job.

Not exactly the way it went.

I walked in, introduced myself and, after being invited to do so, sat down. He looked at me over the top of his glasses and along the length of his mile-long cigar, and asked one question: "Why are you here?"


Fortunately, I had arrived a couple of days before with my wife to check out the area and figure out where we were going to live. I also had some time to visit Ayer, the town adjacent to Ft. Devens, and chat with a few business owners along the main street. Got some interesting insights.

Back to the question at hand.

I looked the colonel in the eye and said, "Sir, I have had a chance to talk to some of the folks in downtown Ayer...our neighbors...and they don't seem to know who we are or what we're doing here. You have an image problem that I believe I can help fix."

Cut to the dramatic sunset and romantic music in the background...I spent the next three and a half years rebuilding our public relations program basically from the ground up.

Left with the School actively involved in post-wide activities, holding open houses that allowed our neighboring communities a glimpse at what we were doing behind the barbed wire and frosted windows, and getting regular, positive coverage in local, regional, national and international publications.

But it all started with my doing my homework. My rationale was, if I didn't know what this organization was all about and I was going to be the chief PR guy, what did our publics know?

Any time you have a reason to meet with someone, whether it be for an informational interview, an internship interview, or a job interview... do your homework.

Find out as much as you can about the organization itself and the key players within the organization. Find out what the public thinks about the organization. Find out who the competition is. And prepare your questions...write them out and refer to them during your meeting.


Because, even if the question isn't asked openly, it's sitting there beside you during your meeting, eating grapes and spitting the seeds on the floor.

"Why are you here?"

Show that you're curious...that you like having  control of the facts in a situation. Even if it's an informational interview and you're really not interested in working at this particular organization, show your research skills.

Be able to at least ask a question about a recent news item mentioning the organization or about a product that catches your attention during your research.

Why? Because you will make an impression. You will leave your interviewer with the perception that you have the makings of a know how to do your homework.

Why is that important? Because this individual just might either have an idea of a job you could apply for or might, at some point, have a conversation with a colleague who is looking for someone with your general qualifications.

Which would you rather have said?

To you: "Gee, I really don't know of anyone who's looking for someone like you."

Or to a colleague: "You know. I met a young person the other day who had really done his(her) homework before our meeting and was asking some very insightful questions. Might be worth your talking to him(her). I know I was impressed."

Do your homework. Be ready to answer the unasked question: "Why are you here?"

"Every why hath a wherefore."
William Shakespeare, "The Comedy of Errors" (act II, sc. ii, l. 45)