Saturday, January 29, 2011

Your Career and You: "Brand Who? Brand YOU!!"

I attended an event yesterday for seniors at Curry College...resume review, interview advice, job search tips...designed to help them get a leg up on the competition that faces them as graduation inches closer and closer.

An audience of nearly 100 sat in rapt attention, nodding in agreement and jotting down thoughts, as keynote speaker and Curry alum Matt Winkler shared his insights on the critical issue of personal branding as it relates to looking for a job.

Matt's comments got me thinking about the job search challenge and how you can best prepare yourself to dive headlong into the rushing waters of "life."

Finely crafted resumes and cover letters are crucial. Networking and subsequent interviews, both informational and job-specific, are vital. But how you present yourself...who you are...what impression you leave on those with whom you the "make-or-break" factor.

Branding is a lot of stuff that goes into making you who you are in the eyes of others.

What do others think about the way you dress? How do you present yourself both in writing, in your speech, and in your appearance?

As I like to describe it...and say often in my Communication classes at Curry...especially my Public Relations classes...what's the "take-away"? Once you've walked out my door, and I'm left with your resume and the aroma of your perfume or aftershave...what do I remember?

I helped a client a few years ago conduct a job search to fill a senior publications position in her organization...a very conservative healthcare trade association. This individual would interact with other high-level staff members as well as members of the association who were highly educated, serious professionals.

We winnowed the applicants down to a half dozen and set about conducting interviews. The first few were good but not spectacular, but we were encouraged because we had one scheduled whose experience was exactly what we were looking for.

But there were some problems with this one already. First...remember this was a senior publications position...the ink on the resume and cover letter and resume smudged when you touched the paper. And, the printing cracked in areas that were folded. Hmmm.

We decided we had to see this fellow if only to confirm our suspicions.

And in he walked. Dressed reasonably nicely. Clean and neat. But his ears gave us a problem.

We concluded the interview and escorted him out thanking him for his time. Then we practically dashed back to the interview room to compare notes.

She: "How many holes did you count on your side?"

Me: "Three. And you?"

She: "Two."

Observation: The fellow had taken the five rings that he normally wore in his earlobes out for the interview.

Conclusion: Not a match for the brand that is our association.

"Dear Mr. XXX, Thank you very much for meeting with us today. While we were impressed with your background and experience, I'm sorry to inform you that we have identified another candidate whose qualifications are more closely aligned with the mission of our association...Sincerely, XXX"

It's a small detail, but an important one. The problem was that, while he had the talents that we really wanted for this position, we were concerned that his appearance would be a distraction both to our own staff and to association members with whom he would inevitably have to meet.

Not saying he was wrong. Just saying that his brand was wrong for us.

So take a close and serious look at yourself. Who are you? How do you present yourself? How do you express yourself? How do you impress others?

My late Father once made an irritated, negative comment about the way I laughed. I had never noticed. I did then...I don't laugh like that any more! (Note: Still laugh, and laugh a lot...just not the way that annoyed my Father!)

A tip or two...start making either mental or literal notes.

What impresses you most about those people you really admire? Your peers, your family members, others with whom you come in contact?

What about them makes you say to yourself, "I wish I were like that."

Or conversely, what really turns you off about someone? Now...ask yourself and ask others: "Am I like that?"

Your personal brand is your identifies you as who you are, who you represent, who you wish to be remembered as. It gives a hint as to what you're capable of accomplishing. And it indicates what you're not.

Inventory time.

Stand in front of a mirror and look at what's looking back at you (assuming you're not a vampire and have no image at all!).

Round up your best friend and ask him or her to critique you. (Note: Friends will lie to you to remain your friend; best friends will tell you if your breath smells like day-old sardines.)

Then go to work on fine-tuning and polishing your appearance, your way of speaking, all the aspects of you that leave an impression on others. When you feel that you've made any changes that are needed... and you're comfortable with those have the start of your "brand."

"It's this simple: You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today. Or else."
Tom Peters, "The Brand Called You" [Fast Company, August 31, 1997]

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Your Career and You: "The Power of One"

Being snowed in for a couple of days gave me a chance to think about career moves and job searches...basically, I was bored out of my gourd, had solved every available crossword and Sudoku puzzle in the house, and was thinking about writing my "memoirs."

THAT was the proverbial "straw"! First, I don't feel I've accomplished very much thus far. And, second, I feel like there's so much more I need to do!

Started feeling a bit overwhelmed. THEN I recalled conversations I've had with friends/students both at Curry College, where I oversee the undergrad public relations concentration, and at Regis College, where I teach graduate-level communications courses.

Some of these folks were feeling a bit overwhelmed as well. And, as we chatted about everything that they were doing both academically and elsewhere, I understood their feeling of being swamped.

And that led to the thought for this post..."The Power of One."

It's so easy to sit down and draw up ginormous lists of things we have to do in "X" amount of time. The problem with this exercise, though, is that we often wind up feeling discouraged...that we can't possibly accomplish all this and maintain some semblance of sanity.

So here's a thought.

Start off easy. Decide on ONE thing that you are going to accomplish in the coming week as part of your job search.

Maybe it's to schedule an informational interview. Or to revise your resume. Or to attend a networking event.

Whatever you decide...settle on that one thing...and DO it!

Some critics will no doubt say, "You're setting the bar too low, Kirk."

And I will counter with, "A job search is like exercising. You have to limber up first, or you'll wind up hurting yourself and not wanting to continue."

So "warm up" with one job search activity. Then, when that starts feeling comfortable, increase the "reps"...slowly and carefully.

Soon you'll find yourself in a regular pattern of activity...networking, interviews...that will greatly increase your chances of landing that way cool job that you've always wanted.

There you have it. Now put on your mental workout clothes and hit the job search gym with "one" day devoted to finetuning your networking event with business cards in informational interview with resume AND business cards.

You can do's the "Power of One!"

"You cannot conceive the many without the one."
Plato, "Dialogues, Parmenides" [129]

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Your Career and You: "Three-Two-One...Job Hunt!"

For several of my PR superstars at Curry College, we're now in the countdown phase of their education.

Courses required for the Public Relations concentration are out of the way as well as most other courses. We've managed their studies so that they can devote as much time as possible this semester to a final internship and the serious beginnings of their job search.

A few are farther along than others...back-to-back internships at a leading PR firm in the hopes of that developing into a full-time job offer...more frequent attendance at PR-related events in the area as part of their nascent networking initiatives...frantic and frequent meetings with me (and others) to fine-tune resumes and cover letters.

So here's a little "countdown" advice as you either get started (a smidge late, if you are) or are revving up the activity.

Number Three...Resume and Cover Letter. It's now or want people to actually look at your stuff, don't you? Well, you gotta' get their attention first! And you do that by presenting a professionally crafted and professional looking set of introductory materials.

Get others' opinions. Show the pieces to your parents, to a professor whose opinion you value, to your Career Services professionals. Get more than one person's opinion.

If two or more people agree that everything looks good...and there are no grammatical or other're close to ready.

If you get different feedback from everyone you talk to, there's probably something wrong with the way you're presenting yourself. You need to (a) figure out what it is and (b) fix it.

Number Two...Networking. As I said in a recent blog for SMartPR, nearly three-quarters of all job openings are never posted. They're filled through referrals..."someone who knows someone."

And before you go stomping off muttering "That is SO not fair!", get over it. In your eyes, it's unfair; in the eyes of the person filling the position, it's a time-saver and assurance of finding the right "fit" for the job.

Referrals come with built-in initial reference checks...when I refer someone for a particular position, I do so because I know that person and have confidence in his or her ability to succeed. I'm putting my professional reputation on the line with the referral, so I'm not going to play games in the process. And that takes a little of the burden off the hiring manager.

Number One...Informational Interviews. The more you know...the more you know.

Although I had worked for a gazillion years in industries ranging from federal government to high tech to service sector, I really had no clue what it was going to be like working in Hawaii. So I scheduled and went on more than 100 informational interviews immediately after moving to Honolulu.

Picked up some valuable tips on "Hawaiian-style" worklife, social life, professional relations, and everything else that goes into creating a society.

Conversely, when I moved back to Boston and jumped into the jobsearch stream using those skills that I had perfected in Hawaii...hit a wall and had to start all over. I had to re-learn how to act in the Boston business world...very different!! And it took a while to find the right opportunity.

It's been said time and time again..."Looking for a job is a job in itself."

It is.

But if you are serious about wanting to find a great entry-level (or other) position where you can make the most of your education, your interests, your skills, and your desire to succeed, you have no choice. The Tooth Fairy isn't going to leave a job under your pillow. You're going to have to find it yourself.

So start your countdown now...pull out your resume and your cover letter and get to work! Then move on and out!

"The beginning is the most important part of the work."
Plato, "The Republic," bk. I, 377-B

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Your Career and You: "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over"

I realized something this morning as I was cranking out a letter of recommendation for a former student who wants to go on to grad school (a good thing, by the way!)...

Somehow I was doing all the work...not she!

First off...she sent me an email last night at 11:30 p.m. asking if I would do her a "special favor"...that had to be done no later than the next day!

Oooh-kaaay. I'm a chronically last-minute guy a LOT on adrenalin rushes, so this sort of fit my own M.O.

Then, when I jumped up this morning and got started on what I had promised, I discovered TWO "tiny" problems.

First, the email address that she had provided for sending the letter was wrong, so I had to go online to track down the correct one.

Then, since I'm a notoriously nosey type (and, because of the above, a little suspicious), I decided to double-check the name of the graduate program she was applying for. Turns out she had that wrong as well!

I corrected all the errors and sent off the recommendation...mostly because I believe this young woman really wants to get this degree, and I also believe that she will be fabulous in the career field for which she is studying (not public relations, by the way!).


I sent her a message telling her about the errors and what I had done to correct them. Took nearly six hours to get a response!

Apparently she figured her part was done and it was up to me to make sure everything else was taken care of!

And this inspired the thought for today. As the eternally-famous Lawrence Peter ("Yogi") Berra is credited with having said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

This observation holds true as much in life, career progression, and continued educational aspirations as it does in baseball.

You don't just haphazardly throw stuff together and wait for someone else to clean it up for take responsibility for your actions and do your utmost to make sure that what you are producing is as close to perfect as possible.

I'm constantly reminding my undergrad PR students at Curry College and my grad Communications students at Regis College of this simple but vital step. Some day...

There you have it...short and simple. "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Keep your trigger finger away from the "send" button until you have revisited your work at least two or three times with a critical eye.

Then you share it with the world.

Make yourself...and me...proud!

"The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Essays, Second Series [1844], Nominalist and Realist"

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Your Career and You: "The 'Experience of Being Served'"

My wife and I met for our New Year's Eve lunch at a rather posh hotel restaurant in Boston. Won't mention names, but the hotel's headquarters is in Hong Kong!

Bottom line...worst dining experience in ages. We left, after having a long conversation with the manager on duty, vowing never to return.

A learning point came out of this, though, that I want to share.

My public relations undergrad students at Curry College, as well as my graduate communications students at Regis College, hear this from me constantly by the way.

That point is about "service"...what your client or boss or customer experiences as a result of your activities on his or her behalf.

After noticing that no one was paying any attention to our table... we hadn't eaten yet, so I couldn't possibly have had a piece of spinach stuck in my teeth!...I decided to time how long it would take for someone to notice that my water glass was empty.

Thirty minutes later, our waitperson wandered by and, as kind of an afterthought, asked if we needed anything. I had to point out the fact that spiderwebs were forming in my glass! (Prior to her arrival, by the way, various hosts and hostesses had passed by our table a total of 15 times...not one single person even acknowledging that we existed!)

"So what," you ask? "They probably were busy doing their jobs."

Sadly, you are absolutely correct. They were busy just doing their jobs!

And that's the whole point here. Service, as I define it, is doing what it takes to ensure that your client, boss, guest, friend...whoever...feels that he or she is the most important person in your life at a particular moment.

Note that I haven't said one word about your "job description.

Job descriptions tell you what is expected of you as an average who gets his or her job done in the required number of hours with a minimum of mistakes.

"Service" is what you add to the equation.

Now I'm not talking about sticking your hand in a meat grinder or throwing yourself in front of an oncoming car. I'm talking, purely and simply, about anticipating what it takes to create "the experience of being served."

What am I talking about? A "Kirk story," of course.

Part of the "routine" each year when we're on vacation in Taipei is that I get one of my (noticeably, according to some) infrequent haircuts.

I've been going to one particular stylist for five or six years, mostly because I've gotten used to the place, and she, for whatever reason, remembers how I like my hair cut even though she only sees me once a year!

This year, we got settled in earlier than usual, and I decided to go that afternoon for the ritual.

Settled into the chair; looked like hell (14-hour flight, maybe?!?). She took one look and asked, "When did you arrive?"

"This morning," I mumbled.

What followed was the most amazing half-hour neck and shoulder massage I have ever had. Hurt so bad and felt so good I wanted to cry!

Then on to the regular spruce-up.

The point of this story?

She didn't have to provide that extra bit of service. I would have been satisfied with the usual great job she does with my rapidly-vanishing hair. But she recognized how bone-tired I was and knew there was one thing she could do that would help a little.

In return, she has now converted me from a satisfied customer to a raving, deliriously loyal client who tells anyone he runs into about the experience.

Another point? It doesn't matter what your job is. What matters is the pride you take in the performance of your job. And customer service is part and parcel of every job that exists on this earth.

But this is the difference between doing your job and providing quality customer service. You take yourself out of your job description box and put yourself in the shoes of the person you are working with or for.

Don't get wrapped up so tightly in your job description that you forget the people with whom you interact.

Success, in my book, comes from delivering, as often as you possibly can, "the experience of being served."

"Small service is true service while it lasts;
Of humblest friends, bright creature! scorn not one:
The daisy, by the shadow that it casts,
Protects the lingering dewdrop from the sun."
William Wordsworth, "To a Child, Written in Her Album" [1835]