Friday, April 22, 2011

Your Career and You: "I Appericate It"

Nope...not my typo. Belongs to a student (graduating senior, I might add) who asked me if I would be so kind as to provide a reference on LinkedIn.

And for those of you who wonder why I take great pleasure in banging my head against cement walls...

It seems like I've been on this rant definitely (or defiantly according, apparently, to some students' versions of SpellCheck) feels that way to me!

And I've now taught at five Boston-area colleges, finally landing at Curry College where I head up the public relations concentration and teach most of the undergrad PR courses. I also teach, though, graduate communication courses at Regis College...similar problems lurk there as well.

But I can't let go. Not when I get something like this: I was wondering if you could write me a recommendation for Lindkin? If you can that would be great I appericate it alot!

Not all requests made of me are of this caliber. Most are actually professional-looking; a few not so much.

I keep telling my young disciples, "Attention to detail is a defining characteristic of a professional communicator."

I've seen water slide off a duck's back slower than this advice is ignored.

Then I had the pleasure of reviewing a student's resume this afternoon. He had already had it vetted by two different faculty members, neither of whom caught the error in his 15-word-total address block at the top.

I don't know where their minds were during the resume review process...don't want to go down that alleyway!

But the question remains: "When are you ("student") going to learn how to write properly? What do I need to do to get your attention as you're preparing to enter the professional world and your cover letter and resume are going to be your initial introduction?"

I'm tired of hearing the banalities like "Well, you need to understand that they grew up texting and Facebooking... grammar, punctuation, and spelling haven't been a part of their formative years."

To use a quote from 4077 M*A*S*H (one of my all-time favorite TV programs) Commander Colonel Sherman T. Potter: "Bull-hockey."

As the communication profession continues to evolve, certain factors remain unchanged, among them "accuracy of information."

Ivy Lee, arguably one of the "Fathers of Public Relations," had this to say in his Declaration of Principles: "In brief, our plan is...frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply...accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about." (This was 1906, folks.)

Telling me you "appericate" my help doesn't cut it.

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon, I put it back again." - Oscar Wilde [1854-1900]

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Your Career and You: "Minorities, Masses and Internships"

Yep, it's that time of the year again when the soft breezes waft gently, squirrels play "chicken" with oncoming cars, and students get all googley-eyed at the thought of summer... as well as, for some, their future.

The inspiration for this week's ruminations was a chat I had with a student in my "Principles of Public Relations" class at Curry College where I oversee the COM Department's public relations concentration and teach most of the PR courses.

This particular student...a sports-enthusiast (no surprise there)...had learned of possible job openings at ComCast SportsNet in the communications area (BIG surprise there).


He's a senior. I've known him for about a year. Never a peep about interest in communications as an actual career field.

How can this be, you ask?

Easy. Not everyone who pursues a Communication major actually plans to work in communication. That's the beauty of this particular major...the knowledge and skills that you acquire in the process prepare you for an amazing variety of work environments.

You pick up, of course, writing and speaking skills. You learn the intricacies of interpersonal communication. You fine-tune your presentation skills. You learn how to communicate both in a business and a social environment.

Take all this and combine it with that particular area of professional life in which you truly have an, education, criminal justice, you name it...and you have a leg up on your entry-level competitors who specialized in just one of these areas with no communication exposure.

But, back to my student. He indirectly was asking if I would grease the skids on his application for a marketing position reporting to a friend of mine. I didn't have a chance to grill him on his motivation, but I fully intend to do so.

Why? Because he will have zero qualifications other than a diploma and a love of sports and hasn't done anything to differentiate himself from the herd of other applicants who will be vying for this very same position.

It's a smidge late in the game to turn the clock back and start all over again. Other folks have been racking up internship after internship, homing in on their strengths, preferred work environments, areas of interest, etc.

And it's not like I haven't been yammering on and on about the importance of internships in all my classes.

That's how I got my start in public a Public Affairs Intern working for the US Army Training and Doctrine Command at Ft. Monroe, VA. Learned virtually everything there was to know about the career field. Took to it like a duck to water.

I was late to the game myself, having entered the world with an English degree and an unnerving interest in 18th century British literature.

Eight years in the Air Force had given me a chance to (accidentally, I hasten to emphasize) develop basic PR skills including writing, public speaking, event planning and management, crisis communication, and a myriad others. Thus to the Army as a civilian public affairs guy.

So, back to the student. I have to get clear in my own mind what it is he hopes to accomplish here. Does he think he is going to waltz into an interview armed with a shiny-new sheepskin and a smile and nail a coveted entry-level job?

I obviously don't have the answer to this puzzle yet, but I will have before I offer to intervene on his behalf with ComCast SportsNet.

But this episode lends even more credence to my ongoing mantra of "internship, internship, internship." Why?
> The economy is still faltering along...optimism is dawning but not fully in place.
> Competition even for entry-level jobs...especially for entry-level brutal.
> You have to differentiate yourself from the rest of the flock.
> Successful internships make a difference...a big difference.

I hope I will be able to report in a future post the successful resolution of this situation. I'm not filled with great hope, but I'm also not always right. Fingers crossed on this one.

"Minorities are individuals or groups of individuals especially qualified. The masses are the collection of people not especially qualified."
Jose' Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses [1930], prologue

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Your Career and You: "It's OK to Say 'No'"

This past week, I had conversations with a couple of my students, one in the graduate communications program at Regis College, the other in the undergrad communication program at Curry College, about “volunteer overload.”

Both have hit that “eyes rolling back in the sockets” stage where they’re wondering if their heads are going to explode from all that they’re handling.

And, in both instances, I was able to assure them that they will survive but that they need to learn how to pronounce a very powerful two-letter word.


Now you can utter this little jewel all Louisa May Alcott-y sweetly and gently. Or you can roar like King Kong when he figured out that his Empire State Building escapade was going to end really badly.

Either way, you have to learn how to say it.

I also would love to say that I’m speaking as one who has mastered this fine art. Can’t.

I, like my students, am at pretty close to maximum overload. Between graduate thesis reading, book reading/review writing, exam grading, and new course development, in addition to the ever-evolving responsibilities that came with my election to the Public Relations Society of America’s Board of Directorsmy head is going to explode.

Not looking for sympathy (unless you just happen to feel so inclined…hint, hint!). Just stating the situation.

We do this to ourselves for all kinds of reasons. A feeling of obligation. A desire to belong in some way. A worry that “if I don’t do it, it won’t get done.” A fear of being ostracized for not being “a team player.”

The list can go on for pages. The bottom line is…we do it because we don’t know how to say “no.”

The obvious and very real danger…in addition to our own mental/physical self-destruction…is that, inevitably, something either doesn’t get done, or it gets done poorly.

Either way, we let someone in addition to ourselves down. We disappoint someone we care about. We embarrass ourselves. Or worse, we embarrass others.

There’s not a secret solution to this conundrum (I’ve used this word twice in the past week; has a cool sound to it, yes?). There’s only your (or my) facing up to reality and realizing that you can’t possibly take on another project. You’ve hit your upper limit on effective, efficient productivity, and it just isn’t going to turn out well.

You then have to look the requestor squarely in the eye and say, “Thank you so much for thinking of me for this project, but I really can’t take it on at this time and deliver what both you and I would feel is a product we both know I’m capable of.”

Note that I haven’t said “boo” about helping find someone else to fill the void.

Unless you truly have just had a conversation with a friend or colleague who expressed a desire to do exactly what you have been asked to do, don’t offer to help. Because if you do, you will have done just what we’ve been saying not to do…you’ve said…albeit indirectly… “yes.”

So take stock of where you are in projects, both mandatory and voluntary. Do a realistic calculation of how much of your time is going to be consumed in total.

Then form your lips into a circle and say… “No.”

“‘Yes,’ I answered you last night;
‘No,’ this morning, sir, I say:
Colors seen by candlelight
Will not look the same by day.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Lady’s “Yes,” [1844], st. 1

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Your Career and You: "Ask Questions and Be Accountable"

Two separate incidents within the last couple of weeks have given me cause to reflect on what seems to be a growing trend in "responsibility avoidance."

The most recent was an article in the April 3 Boston Sunday Globe about the state's Transportation Secretary who apparently was...or chose to be..."out of the loop" on matters relating to falling light fixtures (yes..."falling," not "failing") in a heavily-traveled Boston tunnel.

The other cause for reflection was a meeting with an internship advisee who is having problems with his internship; he puts the blame squarely on the person in charge of the organization he's interning with.

The similarity between the two events was what caught my attention. Basically, neither individual is admitting that the problem might really be his fault.

While I'll give the student a little leeway on this matter based on his youth and relative inexperience, I have a little problem with the guy at Transportation.

He's not a "newbie." He was a successful attorney for quite a few years ( secretary...I won't wander down that path!), so he theoretically has some business management smarts.

This fellow admits he didn't consider the public's "need to know." To which I ask, "What is it about 'public servant' and 'public's need to know' that isn't connecting?"

For the student...what is it about communicating with your supervisor that you're not getting? Why aren't you sitting down for a serious conversation about your needs as a student-intern and the organization's needs?

In both cases, I would offer that the root cause in both cases is fear of being held accountable. "If I don't ask, I can't be blamed."

That works maybe once in a blue moon, but rarely more often than that. As we see more and more, in the media and in daily life, people are being held to their responsibilities. They are being evaluated on what they are supposed to do.

So, to use a phrase from my favorite television program, South Park, "what we have learned here" is you have to ask have to make sure you have the answers... and you have to hold yourself accountable for your actions and your responsibilities.

It's called "being grown up."

"When a member of my family complains to me of having bitten his tongue, pinched a finger, or the like, he does not get the sympathy he hopes for but instead the question:
'Why did you do that?'"
Sigmund Freud, "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life" [1910], ch. 8