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 professional...you 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)