Sunday, March 27, 2011

Your Career and You: "Lord, What's a Cubit?"

It seems like at least once a week that I have a conversation with a student about a problem he or she is facing either at Curry College, where I head up the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR-related courses, or at Regis College, where I teach graduate Communications courses, in which I wind up asking a student, “Did you ask?”

To which the response usually is, “Well, no, not yet.”

I’m reminded of a very old Bill Cosby skit about the conversation between the Lord and Noah about building an ark.

The segment that always sticks in my mind is toward the end, after the Lord has told Noah how many cubits in length, width and height to make the ark, where Noah pauses and asks... “Lord…what’s a cubit?”

Simple question, but absolutely critical if anything is going to be accomplished according to the Lord’s instructions.

Now unless I’m seriously mistaken, most of us don’t have one-on-one conversations with the Supreme Being. But we do, or will, have occasion to talk with teachers, advisors, supervisors, and the like.

The idea, if this is to be a successful interchange, is for a dialogue to take place, not a monologue as is so often the case.

You need to ask questions. You need to offer opinions. You need to show that you are capable of holding your own in interactions with other human beings.

This seems particularly important in light of a recent series of pieces in the Kalamazoo (MI) Gazette written by three high school students entitled “Has social networking led to a decline in social skills?

The bottom line, according to these three young people, is that too much of a good thing can be bad for you; self-control is the key.

We’re comfortable chatting with our friends on Facebook and elsewhere, but when it comes to a real in-person dialogue with someone who we don’t know well, I’ve seen clams being more vocal.

I’m by nature a card-carrying introvert, and I’ve known myself long enough to know what I would prefer to do…hole up in my den at home or my office at school with a book, shunning any and all human contact.

I’ve also worked in the public relations profession long enough to know that that is totally unacceptable. Gotta show your face, Kirk. See and be seen. Talk and be talked to.

It’s a struggle, but I’ve kind of gotten used to the butterflies (this has been going on so long some of them have gotten married and have children!) in my stomach when I step into a room filled with people, many of whom I don’t know or just barely know.

You can and should do the same. If you’re living on campus, don’t eat in your dorm room every day; go to the cafeteria and mingle. Or drop in on one of your professors for a chat. If you’ve graduated and are more-or-less on your own, get out to the local coffee shop or diner. Be with people.

As you do this more and more, you’ll find that you’re more comfortable interacting with people who you don’t know. And you’ll find that you’re more at ease in conversations that don’t relate either to (a) tomorrow morning’s homework assignment or (b) the project that’s due on the client’s desk two days from now.

In time, you will find yourself, without hesitation, asking questions about things that you don’t understand or would like to know more about.

And you’ll be comfortable in the knowledge that you’re not asking because you’re not smart enough…you’re asking because you want to learn…you want to understand…you want to do the very best that you can and, to do that, you have to ask the question… “Lord, what’s a cubit?”

“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” - James Thurber

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Your Career and You: "It's a Bumpy Road"

My ride to New York City from Boston on our version of “high speed rail” (aka: Acela) got me thinking about career moves and job searches…especially the moment when we hit some sort of bump and my laptop did a mini-bounce.

Here’s the deal…Job searches are not smooth, fast-moving processes. There are bumps in the road; there are delays along the way.

I’ve had a couple of conversations recently with students at Curry College, where I teach undergraduate communication…primarily public relations…courses, and at Regis College, where I teach graduate communications courses, about their job searches.

In all instances, students questioned the perceived length of their searches and the process, wondering if this was “normal.”

My response in all cases was, “Sadly, yes.”

This isn’t to say that all job searches are going to take two-and-a-half lifetimes. But the fact of the matter is, they’re going to take time.

Why? A number of reasons, starting with the increasing caution that hiring managers are taking when reviewing candidates’ resumes and support materials.

Unless you’ve been living under a giant mushroom for the past couple of years, you’re well aware that the economy is just now slowly creeping up out of the sewer. Many companies’ budgets have been trimmed…not down to the bone…down to the marrow inside the bone!

As a result, they’re being extra diligent about vetting applicants before getting into the review/interview process. Which includes checking out your activities on the various social media platforms like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

What this does for hiring managers is allow them to speed up the process on their end by either identifying or eliminating applicants and bringing in just those who pass the “smell test.”  (This, by the way, means “Does what you say in your resume/cover letter match up with what you ‘say’ online, etc.? Does my ‘gut’ tell me you might be right for the position I’m trying to fill?”)

All this takes time for both of us…but it saves time in the long run for me, the hiring manager.

So what should you do to monitor the process?

You wait…impatiently…for a week or so (this really depends on the method by which you applied, the size of the company, the bureaucracy of the company, and a number of other factors) and then follow up via phone or email.

“Wait! Whoa, Kirk!!” you shout frantically. “Who do I follow up with??”

Here comes another “depends.”

If, in your Sherlock Holmes-ian sleuthing into the company's information, you came up with the actual name of the hiring manager (the individual directly responsible for filling the position you’ve applied for), that’s who you follow up with. Otherwise, you go with the Human Resources or whichever department you sent your stuff to.

I, for one, am impressed when a would-be candidate goes online or elsewhere and figures out that I’m the dude he or she needs to know. I’m a PR guy, though, and a big part of effective public relations centers on conducting research to learn as much about the situation as possible. Other people may have different views on this, but you can’t know this upfront, so be proactive but not creepy-stalky.

Having gone through all this exercise (and a job search is a mental and spiritual workout), be prepared for the bumps in the road.

I once conducted my own search for a job in a similarly bleaah economy only to be told, after having gone through the first round of interviews for a job that I really wanted, that the position for which I was applying had been “put on hold” and wasn’t going to be filled in the foreseeable future. (More like hitting a brick wall than a bump in the road!)

So there you have it. You’ve read all this and are now filled with immeasurable hope and confidence as you prepare for or continue your job search.

Here’s the takeaway.

Your cover letter and resume are pristine. You’ve made an irrefutable case for why you should be one of the chosen few called in for an interview. You’ve followed up to show that you truly are interested in this opportunity and aren’t just “dialing for dollars.”

It’s out of your hands, now. If everything matches up (your qualifications vs. their needs), you probably will be called for an interview. But there is no guarantee, and anyone who says otherwise needs to do a serious reality check.

You have to have confidence in yourself and your abilities, and you have to believe that there is the “right” opportunity waiting for you. It’s a bumpy road, but others have traveled it successfully, and so will you!

“But in front of excellence the immortal gods have put sweat, and long and steep is the way to it, and rough at first. But when you come to the top, then it is easy, even though it is hard.” Hesiod, “Work and Days”

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Your Career and You: "You Can't Know Everything"

I have come to the realization, having been battling all day with Windows 7 on my new computer, that I, alas, am human. Kinda didn’t want to face up to that fact at this point in my life/career, but Windows 7 has won.

Which, not surprisingly, got me thinking about the young men and women who come to me, both at Curry College where I head up the public relations concentration and teach most of the public relations courses, and at Regis College where I teach graduate communications courses, for advice and guidance as they nervously set out on their initial (or, sometimes, continuing) search for the "right" job.

We all have the time-tested gems like "Do all the research you can on the companies you're interested in." and "Be able to describe your strengths in a couple of short sentences." But I've found over the years of my own ventures into "alternative employment" that I've rarely been able to anticipate everything that's going to be asked of me.

And that, I've also discovered, is ok.

As much as we all would like to have total control over the events that shape our lives, there's a limit, and "knowledge" falls into that pile.

Is this to suggest that you shouldn't make an attempt to learn as much as you can about a potential employer before going in for an interview? Absolutely not. What I am suggesting is that you not make yourself crazy in the process!

Gather your facts. Prepare your "self-disclosure" pitch. Make sure your buttons and zippers are buttoned and zipped. And dive into the pool.

One thing that I, as a former hiring manager and, in another life, as a member of an executive recruitment firm always looked for in addition to basic knowledge of my organization's or my client's business, was poise and confidence...a sort of "I may not know that answer right now, but I guarantee you that once I am a member of your team I will become the walking expert on that subject" aura.

So gather ye rosebuds...and pertinent information...while ye may. Learn as much as you can about each and every organization you're invited to interview with. And be comfortable with the knowledge that, inevitably, you're going to be asked a question to which you absolutely have no response.

Then, for future interviews, add that question to the preparation pile and charge ahead. You will gain in confidence with each session. And, ultimately, you will land a position where you will be comfortable in your abilities as a communicator.

“No one can draw more out of things, books included, than he already knows. A man has no ears for that to which experience has given him no access.” Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, “Ecce Homo” [1888]