Sunday, February 27, 2011

Your Career and You: Job Search Bungee-Jumping

I was struck the other day by the conservative (aka: safe) approach that some of my students (both Curry College, where I teach undergrad communication courses, and Regis College, where I teach graduate communication courses) take in their job and internship efforts.

This post is sort of a continuation of last week's "goldfish bowl" musing, but I've had two different conversations in the past few days that tell me to talk more.

Not only do you have to think outside your familiar and safe boundaries, both geographical and professional; you have to be willing to dive headlong into unfamiliar territory, exploring new industries, and considering different entry points into your career.

One of my grad students was talking with me about her search for a field experience opportunity. Apparently she had gotten some email addresses from another professor, but nothing more for contact information.

My sense was that she had done nothing more than simply fire off a "To Whom It May Concern" email and was now sitting and waiting for a response.

One of her classmates, as we were chatting, offered some very viable suggestions on other places to look. The first student basically blew off the recommendations as they weren't exactly what and where she wanted.

I then offered to do some address-book-diving to see if I knew someone at any of the institutions she was interested in. I told her that my contacts would be the public relations people, but they certainly would be able to provide her with names, etc., for the areas in which she was interested.


As I was driving home after that class, I thought about the sequence of events and realized that this particular student, anxious as she was to find something, was not going to take the risk of following a circuitous route to her goal.

So be it. We're not all cut out for the often nerve-wracking ordeal of diving into unclear career waters...and I'm certainly not suggesting that you must. have to be open to taking some risks.

It's terrifying, and it's exhilarating. And you learn something about yourself...your capacity for risk-taking...your openness to new ideas...your willingness to adapt.

The goal is for you to get a toehold on your future, and if the standard avenues aren't working, you might have to try something different...some job search bungee-jumping.

"It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true." William James, "The Will to Believe [1897]. Is Life Worth Living?"

Monday, February 21, 2011

Your Career and You: "Changing Fishbowls"

Conversations with a variety of current and former students over the past couple of weeks gave me cause to think about just how we tend to stick within the real or imagined walls of our "universe."

I was reminded of the time we bought a new aquarium for our goldfish...the equivalent for the fish of moving from a studio apartment to a three-bedroom penthouse with roofdeck.

The guys totally freaked.

For the first week, they wouldn't venture beyond what they remembered as the boundaries of their old "apartment." They would be chasing each other (playing, I hope) and, when they reached what used to be the side...screech!!! A dead stop.

Took nearly two weeks for them to figure out that they actually could explore "outside the walls." (One of them...not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree...knocked himself senseless once, apparently figuring that, since the original wall was no longer there, no walls were there! He only did this once, but it was a lesson painfully learned!)

Which brings me back to the students' plights...all job-search related.

It's not that they haven't been looking. It's just that they've been looking right around their familiar stomping grounds. Those who live south of Boston are looking south of Boston. Ditto for north and west.

I understand the natural urge to stay close to home, and some of them have real reasons for doing so. But...

Common sense (and a quick conversation with their former professor) should help them realize that the odds are stacked against them... after all, I'm the guy who has lived and worked in five states and two foreign countries...and that's not counting internships and training in three other states.

If you've been looking for a job for a year or so and nothing has come up for which you had a shot, maybe it's time to change your fishbowl...broaden your search horizons.

Just because you move away for a few years doesn't mean that you've forsaken family and friends. It should be...and they should realize this...a sign that you've grown up and are making grown-up decisions!!

This isn't to say that searching elsewhere is the magic potion...that it's going to be the solution to your dilemma. But at least, at the end of the day, you can say to yourself and to others, "I took full advantage of the opportunities that were available to me in my job search."

And you don't have to be alone as you venture into those uncharted waters. Think back on the things I've mentioned/ urged you to do/preached about over the years...

1. Expand your network...Use LinkedIn, Facebook, Happo, Brazen Careerist, and the dozens of other social networking sites to make connections, establish new relationships, and ferret out job opportunities.

For my Public Relations students, I remind them constantly of the value of professional organizations like the Public Relations Society of America, the International Association of Business Communicators, the American Marketing Association, and others.

2. Call on others for advice...Even at Curry College, a small private college just south of Boston, faculty are from all over the place...and have contacts all over the place. Talk to them; find out who they know where and what they know about various cities around the country (or world, for that matter).

This is a start, and you will build on your resource base as you move forward. But first, you have to take that one step that moves you out of your "same ol'-same ol'" routine. You have to change your fishbowl!

"Nature--that is, biological evolution--has not fitted man to any specific environment...His imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment, but to change it." Jacob Bronowski, "The Ascent of Man" [1973]

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Your Career and You: "Read Between the Lines...and TALK"

As usual, I was having an interesting conversation with a couple of my Communication students at Curry College last week.

One of them is a Public Relations concentration disciple; the other is Theatre. Both are bright, driven, and full of optimism when it comes to their respective futures.

We were talking about internships, and the subject of "internship scams" came up. Seems both of them were singed...they caught on before getting less-than-forthright "internship" ads.

Both had conducted their own searches for internships, just as we encourage them to do. The idea is to promote self-sufficiency, with the knowledge that you can always come back to us...Career Services... faculty advisors...professors with industry connections...for more guidance.

Both had come across what sounded like the most amazing internship on earth! Not only would they "gain valuable marketing experience"; they would "earn while learning!"

I'm salivating myself as I read these words!! my version of the old adage goes: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't!"

To both these young future professionals' credit, they decided to do a quick online "background check" on their respective companies. And, in both cases, the first ten or so hits were warnings to beware the scammer.

Now I would love to get on my white horse and crusade throughout the land chastising those companies that prey on unsuspecting young college students and others.

Since that isn't going to happen, though, I take the alternate route of making sure that our Career Services folks are fully aware of the scammer and that each and every one of my own advisees (academic AND internship) is aware of the potential risks.

So what to do, you ask? Simple...TALK!

> Tell your advisor/professor/Career Services rep what company you're looking at.
> Ask what he or she knows about the company or if he or she has heard anything about it.
> Look online to see what others may have said, positively OR negatively, about the company and their own experience.
Keep a record of your search results and share them so that others won't be scammed.

Internships, as well as entry-level jobs, are opportunities for you to learn or to perfect the skills that you need to succeed in your chosen career field. Unfortunately, there are those who see you as "cheap labor" and will take advantage of your perceived innocence.

The good news is that you have a network of resources (mentioned above) that you can turn to. Use them...use them all.

The goal is for you to learn...both in the classroom and the workplace... and not be taken advantage of in either. You already check out your professors pretty the same with your potential intern-ships or jobs!

It's all a learning experience. And the more you experience, the more you will learn.

To repeat one of my favorite lines from Charles Lutwidge Dodgson's (aka Lewis Carroll) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

"That's the reason they're called lessons," the Gryphon remarked: "because they lessen from day to day." [Turtle's Story, p. 145]

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Your Career and You: Have a Reason to Connect

I just "inherited" another follower on Twitter...checked her feeds and didn't find anything obscene (I won't get into the gazillion typos I found in her tweets), so didn't block her.

The occurrence sparked the idea for this week's post, though...along with a chat that I've been following on LinkedIn about "introductions."

When I get notice of a new follower on Twitter, or a friend request on Facebook, or an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, I always ask a simple question: "Why me?"

I'd like to pamper myself with the notion that perhaps my thoughts are regarded as interesting or worthwhile by these folks. But I'm not fact, kinda doubt it most of the time.

I'm nowhere near as erudite as my colleague Todd Defren at SHIFT, who writes a great blog on topics near and dear to my PR-prone heart. Nor do my topics have as great a significance for senior management as those addressed by Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross at Weber Shandwick.

So why do you want to follow/friend/connect with me? The answer to that little question seems to be where the real connection isn't being made.

At first I was grateful that someone wanted to share a common social media link with me...until I checked up on a few and found some "interesting" photos or comments...blocked and reported those puppies immediately!

Now I'm more cautious. If I don't recognize your name, I'm going to do some quick sleuthing. Who are you? And what common connection do we have in our backgrounds?

So, to speed up the process and increase your chances of my complying with your request, tell me why you're reaching out!

What mutual friend recommended that you connect with me?

What  organization do we both belong to?

What job are you applying for that I have some connection with?

Tell me!!

This applies in all aspects of your job search. Don't assume that I'm going to do your homework and find out who you are.

And this applies equally to your resume and cover letter. When I've been part of search committees over the years tasked with slogging through piles of resumes from everyone from highly-qualified communication professionals to laid-off cab drivers, the most annoying part of the process has been reading the cover letter and resume of someone who assumed that I was going to know what he or she wanted to do.

We always had three piles: (1) definitely talk to this person ASAP; (2) hmmm, let's think about this one, and (3) naah.

Want to guess where the ones that I was just talking about wound up? Without being read fully and discussed??

Especially in my world of public relations, the ability to communicate is paramount. And if you can't make your case right up front in your initial introduction, your chances have gotten way smaller.

So back to reasons. Here are a few that I used in my job search in Hawaii:

1. Before moving from Massachusetts to Hawaii..."I'm writing as a fellow member of the Public Relations Society of America..."

2. After relocating..."We met at a recent meeting of the PRSA/Hawaii Chapter..."

3. "I'm writing at the suggestion of XXXX at the Bank of Hawaii who, after chatting with me about job opportunities, thought that my background and experience might be just what you're looking for to fill your open XXXX position..."

Three short but clear reasons/connections, all of which resulted in informational or job-specific interviews. No guesswork involved.

I'm constantly reminding my Communication students at Curry College, especially my Public Relations concentration disciples, as well as my graduate Communications students at Regis College, of the importance of results-oriented communication with target audiences.

Your target audience in this case is someone who either can point you in the direction of a job opportunity or might consider you for a specific job. Give him or her a reason to connect!

"A man always has two reasons for what he does - a good one, and the real one."
John Pierpont Morgan, "From OWEN WISTER, Roosevelt: The Story of Friendship" [1930]