Sunday, December 26, 2010

Your Career and You: "Five End-of-Year To-Dos for Your Future"

We're in the final countdown now to the tottering end of 2010 and the teetering start of a brand-new year.

But before you send this first decade of the new millennium packing, though, here are five things you should do to ensure that 2011 truly is a winner.

1. Cover Letter and Resume

By now, the eggnog-induced euphoria of the Yuletide season should be drifting gently away. Pull these two puppies up on your computer screen and give them the icy glare of Father Time being booted into the closet.

Is what you see what you want to say and would like to be remembered as? Not only from the content aspect but from the appearance as well?

Format organized and professional? Font readable (minimum 11-point; maximum 12-point)? Your name/address/contact info the same for both pieces? Margins even (1 inch for the sides)?

2. Network

It's the start of a new year, and you're actually allowed to reach out to folks who you may not have been in contact with in a while as well as to recent contacts to wish them good fortune in the coming year (and remind them you're still around...hint...hint).

Short email is best. ("Dear X - As we prepare to enter the new decade, I wanted to send you my best wishes for a success-filled 2011. My own resolution for the coming year is to find a/an new opportunity/entry-level position that will allow me to fully use my communication skills (etc., etc.). Wishing you a Happy New Year! - (you)")

3. Schmooze

'Tis the party season. Take advantage of the many opportunities to gather with friends, family, casual acquaintances.

You never know. Uncle Fred, who you haven't seen in dog years, may know "someone you can talk to." As I noted in a recent guest-post I did for Sidney Maxwell Public Relations, talk to "family, friends of family, family of friends." You never know where the connection might lie.

4. Navel-Gaze

As I sit watching what has been billed by eager-voiced weather-prognosticators as "THE BLIZZARD OF 2010!!!", I'm finding myself thinking about my own skills and abilities and mentally making note of places that could use a little touch-up. You should do the same!

Do some prioritizing. Looking back on the past year, what have you done that you're really, really proud of?

Make a list. It might be one or two accomplishments; it might have been a remarkable year, and you have four or five! Whatever the number, take note of what you've done...they're "previews of coming attractions"!

5. Be Proud of Who You Are

As a college freshman, I had a summer job working in a woolen mill in my hometown. I remember meeting and becoming friendly with a fellow whose job it was to operate a cloth-folding machine. He pushed a button to start the machine. When the container into which the cloth was being folded was full, he pushed a button to stop the machine and get another container. Then he pushed the button again...

What has stuck with me in the ensuing 46 years was the visible pride that this fellow took in his work. He was the maestro of this machine and had a mission of producing containers filled with immaculately-folded cloth.

Where I saw "mundane," he saw a masterpiece. Where I saw blinding boredom, he saw beautiful bundles. He was...rightfully so...proud of who he was...a professional in his field.

The year's coming to an end, and a new beginning is right around the corner. If you follow these five simple pieces of advice, you'll be prepared to dive in and make a yourself, and to the lucky organization that recognizes your enthusiasm and potential.

"'Twixt the optimist and pessimist
The difference is droll:
The optimist sees the doughnut
But the pessimist sees the hole."
McLandburgh Wilson, "Optimist and Pessimist"

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Your Career and You: "Your Internship...Putting It in Perspective"

We're wrapping up internships at Curry College, where I oversee the Public Relations concentration and teach most of the PR courses offered in our Communication major.

A couple of students whose internships I supervised from the faculty side absolutely outdid themselves, garnering rave reviews from their site supervisors and indicating in their post-internship "Reflection Papers" just how excited they are about ultimately working in my chosen career field.

Other students...not so much...and a couple stand out.

One thinks she wants to work in events planning, and she chose to get her "experience" in one of the major restaurants that specializes in weddings, corporate functions, and other big-crowd mob scenes.

On the "plus" side, she definitely experienced the behind-the-scenes insanity that goes into staging a large event, including how to properly arrange a place setting and what kind of shoes are appropriate if one is going to be working an event. (Hint: Your Manolo Blahnik high heels won't cut it!)

But she didn't learn a thing about promoting events...about planning events as a means of accomplishing corporate objectives...about getting corporate buy-in to even stage an event.

Was this internship a waste of time?

No. There were some lessons learned in the course of the semester.

But I would argue that the time could have been better spent working with a public relations firm learning all the ins and outs of dealing with clients, media, bosses, underlings, would-be dictators...

Another student was talking with me about an internship that he wants to take on in the spring. He's having difficulty finding the "right" one.

It's not that there are no internships...I've given him easily a half-dozen possibilities along with the names and contact info of friends who head those organizations.

But nothing has happened...he informed me that "none of those are 'good enough' for me."


Let's want to learn about a particular segment of the business world because you kind of know what you want to do post-graduation... but none of these organizations "are good enough."


This one has all the makings of a genuinely rude awakening, and I'm going to be standing on the sidelines watching.

Which brings me back to "perspective." Real life is made up of two pieces: aspiration and reality. The "trick," if that's what you choose to call it, is to line those two puppies up as closely as possible...know what you want to do with your life...and know, at least in starting out, what you can do.

My wife Margaret once drove a salesman to the point of exasperation in the course of buying two matching table lamps...a two-hour exercise, I might add. She kept finding and pointing out microscopic flaws in one or the other of the lamps until finally the guy gently chided her with a "Nothing's perfect, little girl." (We bought the lamps and enjoyed them for nearly 20 years!)

The same holds true in professional life as well. Counting my current relationship with Curry College, I have had two nearly-perfect jobs in 40-plus years...the other (check with any of my students; they can tell you about it in a heartbeat!) was the Blood Bank of Hawaii.

Did I "settle" with either of those opportunities? Absolutely not. Would I take on either of those challenges again knowing what I know today? You better believe it.

Why? Because I knew what I wanted to accomplish in my own life, and I knew from experience that only special environments would make that possible.

And I have been right in both cases.

So my advice, for what it's worth, is this. Figure out what it is that you want to do with your life...what makes you proud?...what do you enjoy doing?...for whom?

Then set off on a march through life toward that goal. Accept that you will hit some potholes along the way. But keep a clear focus on what, at some point in the future when you're sitting on your verandah in Key West watching the sun set, you want to look back on with pride.

As was sung so eloquently by the Rolling Stones:
"You can't always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, you just might find,
You get what you need."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Your Career and You: "Count Your Blessings"

Every once in a while, I get whacked up side the head (a "southernism") with the realization that I wouldn't be where I am today had it not been for the belief that a legion of friends and colleagues had and/or still have in my abilities as a public relations professional and now as a public relations professor.

The foundation of this support is Margaret, my amazing wife of more years than she will allow me to publicly herald, who seems to be convinced that my casually strolling across Lake Superior is not only imminently do-able, but probably is going to happen some day soon.

Other believers include professional colleagues, many of whom I have known for better than a quarter of a century, family members scattered from here to Georgia and the Far East, and students whose paths have crossed mine and who have become inextricably tangled in my web.

And I'm not alone in this happy situation. I would offer that you are in exactly the same place, whether it be through family or friends or both.

We all have a tendency to beat ourselves up psychologically from time to's part (or so I believe) of taking responsibility for our own actions...of "growing up."

But it's not really necessary. If you find yourself slip-sliding into that dark abyss called "self-pity," put on the brakes and take a minute to reflect...on the encouragement that you got from a colleague for a job well done...on the thank-you note that you got from someone who you spent some time chatting with about careers in public relations...on the good feeling you got when you slipped a dollar into the Salvation Army kettle when you were leaving the grocery store.

I've heard from a couple of Curry College and Regis College students over the past week thanking me for making this past semester a fun learning experience. My response to them was "thank you for giving me a reason to get up in the morning."

That is my "blessing" at this stage in my professional be able to get up every day and go into the classroom where I can share my own knowledge and experience with young future professionals eager to learn and willing to work hard in the process.

If you take a minute to reflect, you have these moments as well. Learn how to appreciate them. Take the time to bask in the warmth of a laugh shared with a friend or the comfort of a quietly-spoken "I understand."

Linus has his blanket. These moments can be yours. Enjoy them. Revel in them. Count your blessings!

"For this I bless you most:
You give much and know not that you give at all.
Verily the kindness that gazes upon itself in a mirror turns to stone,
And a good deed that calls itself by tender names becomes the parent to a curse."
Kahlil Gibran, "The Prophet" [1923]

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Your Career and You: "Take Pride in What You've Accomplished"

I participated in a PRSSA program on careers last week with a group of interested, engaged, and ambitious young men and women in the audience eager to learn from PR pros what it takes to get started.

Advice ranged from "internships are crucial" to "make your resume stand out." The panelists represented both corporate and agency, with representation from high tech, consumer, technology, and academia... a good mix that covered most of the bases.

Two of the panelists were young, fairly recent grads, one working in consumer PR for a company, the other in tech for a PR firm. Another is a corporate communications director for a technology company, and the fourth is a human resources VP for a major PR firm. And yours truly, representing a previous life in all sorts of PR environments... now teaching PR full-time at Curry College (undergrad) and part-time at Regis College (grad).

Most of the questions from the students were the standard "what should I put on my resume?" types, but one student asked that particular question in a way that really got my attention and started me thinking.

To paraphrase: "Should I put my summer job on my resume? All I do is go home during the summer and wait tables in a restaurant in my hometown."

Question from a panelist: "How long have you been doing this?"

Answer: "For the past four years."

And we're off! The HR VP and I exchanged glances to see who was going to dive into this one first...she won!

"First, you need to describe your job in terms of your interactions with customers...look at the things you do as part of your job and put them in a client service perspective."

"Second," she continued, "Wow! Four years! You have held that job for four years while also going to school...that is something to be proud of!"

This is something a lot of us ( miss. Even though you don't recognize it, and probably no one has ever taken the time to point it out to you, you probably have some type of accomplishment on your life record that is significant...something you should be proud of.

A number of my undergrad students at Curry have part-time jobs as nannies, and they tend to look at that job as "just a job to pay bills." I try to emphasize, each time I meet with one of these folks, just how the requirements of the "nanny job" are so similar to those of an account executive at a PR firm or communications specialist in a company.

You're managing expectations. You're dealing with clients with varied temperaments. You're practicing time management by balancing your school responsibilities with those of your job. You're being held accountable for your actions. You're practicing interpersonal communication.

Hmmm. When I look at my job descriptions from previous PR jobs that I've held...pretty much the same!

We...your "elders" (having trouble accepting that title)...need to be proactive in pointing out the accomplishments that you have racked up in your young (or not-so-young) lifespan. Some awesome stuff there!

You, by the same token, need to be more proactive in pointing out the things that you have and hobbies. I can't read your tea leaves, so I don't know all the things that you've done.

So point them out and let me respond, either positively or negatively. Hey...I managed a poolroom during my sophomore year in addition to staying on the Dean's list for the year. My parents weren't particularly pleased, but I learned a TON from dealing with the varied clientele...and keeping abreast of my studies.

So, again, take pride in the many things that you've done...and keep on doing those things that make you proud. In the end, those are the life experiences that you will be able to call on in your professional life.

An angry diner in your restaurant is exactly the same as an angry client or boss. Neither likes the fact that there's a fly in the soup!

"Your true pilot cares nothing about anything on earth but the river, and his pride in his occupation surpasses the pride of kings."
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens), "Life on the Mississippi" [1883]