Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Your Career and You: "Jobs Don't Wait for YOU"

As we hobble toward the end of the fall semester at Curry College, where I ride herd over the Public Relations concentration and teach most of the PR courses, I seem to be having more frequent conversations with students who are desperately trying to secure an internship for the spring.

It’s not like this is a new thing…I’ve been bugging them since September to get their stuff together and start planning for the future.

“Go online and look at what’s listed in Career Services”… “What are you interested in?” … “Stop by my office for a chat.”

Wishful thinking, Kirk. For the most part, this advice fell on stone-deaf ears…

…until spring course selection time rolled around.

Suddenly the air was filled with the panic-tinged wails of would-be interns who had nada.

Nothing. Zero. Zipperoonie.

Yet, when asked if they had looked online at possibilities, the response was “Oh, no. I haven’t gotten around to that yet.”

When asked if they had given any thought to areas of interest, the response was “Oh, I really don’t know…anything, I guess.”

Comes the killer question: “How’s your resume? Do you have that ready to go?”

And the response, “We’ve been working on that in our [internship prep] class.”

In other words, we’re sitting here now talking about something that should have been done yesterday, and you’re saying you’ll probably get it done tomorrow!

Here we go again…Where’s the disconnect?

I’ve been doing a lot of online commentary about the immediacy of communication today. Things are moving at warp speed, especially in the public relations area.

(Sidebar: I actually had a student last week who was planning to mail her resume and cover letter to potential internship sites! How quaintly Emily Dickinson-ish!)

So back to the “triggering event.”

One of my troops…with whom, by the way, I’ve been having pretty regular chats about applying for internships…informed me that the internship that she really wanted (or so she said nearly a month ago) was “already filled.”

When did she send in her application??

Two days before this revelation!

Not a month ago, when we first chatted. Not two weeks ago, when we chatted yet again.

Nope…two days ago!!

So now she’s scrambling once again since she has set up her spring course schedule to leave room for this crucial step in her preparation for a future career in public relations.

Don’t know what else I can do. Nagging doesn’t seem to have much effect. I’m not into out-and-out yelling, although I probably should start training.

We’ll sort this quandary somehow. But we shouldn’t be in this position to begin with.

The solution is a two-sided remedy.

First, I’m going to morph from the nice guy who gently urges you to take those actions that I know from personal experience will benefit your search to the fire-breathing pain in the tuchus who will haunt your every waking moment.

Second, you’re going to start reporting weekly (at a minimum) on your outreach activities starting the second week of the new semester.

Comes the plaintive whimper, “Why?”

Because life…and good opportunities…don’t sit around waiting for you to act.

Tomorrow isn’t 24 hours away anymore.

The future, whether you want it to be or not, is now.

“Often do the spirits
Of great events stride on before the events,
And in today already walks tomorrow.”
Schiller, “Wallenstein” [1799-1800], pt. II, act V, sc. 1

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Your Career and You: "Write Right. Right?"

Had a heart-stopping email chat with a student earlier this week. I won’t throw this individual totally under the bus, but…

…An “honors student” at a local college. (I teach at a couple…Curry College and Regis College; have taught at several others; stay in touch with former and current students from all.)

…A self-identified “scholar,” implying a high level of already-demonstrated excellence in academic studies and desire to do even better.

This particular student wanted to start applying for public relations intern-ships and figured I would be a good person to turn to for advice…and editing assistance.

I’m okay about helping you find the occasional errant comma or misplaced verb phrase. We all miss things from time to time.

But GIANT typos…that’s a whole ’nother issue.

Especially when you’re looking for something in the communication field…my turf.

What set me off on this?

In my first quick glance at the student’s resume, I found four major errors.


What really set me off?!?

The student’s response when I pointed them out.

And I quote…

“Oh, haha. Thanks. I’ve always had trouble with spelling.”

Nothing in there about “OMG, I am so sorry. I should have caught those mistakes and fixed them before sending my resume to you. It won’t happen again.”


“Oh, haha. Thanks. I’ve always had trouble with spelling.”

As I ask so often in my posts, “Where’s the disconnect? What is it that you don’t understand about the need for attention to detail and a sincere desire to do your best?”

Would-be bus drivers are expected to exhibit a certain level of proficiency if they wish to secure permanent employment.

Carpenters have to be able to hammer a nail into a piece of wood without (a) missing the nail and damaging the wood or (b) bending the nail.

Communication professionals are expected…at the very minimum…to be able to write coherent sentences and spell words correctly.

This obsession with accurate and error-free writing should live deep inside your soul. To get all CSI-y on you, it should be in your DNA.

It should torment you every time you put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. Check. Double-check. And then…as a back-up…run spellcheck…just in case!

As much as I inherently distrust spellcheck programs, regardless of the creator, they do offer some “red-flag” services to draw attention to potential problems. Among these is the seemingly ever-present red underlining that indicates either a misspelled word or a nonexistent word. Another is the green underlining that indicates a possible incomplete or grammatically incorrect sentence. I tend to get a lot of both because of the way I write.

In either case, when you see one of these warning signs, check it out!! You might be correct in your intended use of a word or structure of a sentence, but at least check it out to be sure you wrote what you intended to write.

And that, my ever-attentive friends, is my diatribe for today. I invite you, when you think you see a boo-boo in my own writing, to call me out on it. Lord knows, I’m not perfect (except in my own fuzzy mind!)…and I will know you actually read my post!

Sneaky, no?!? J

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." - Gene Fowler, Attributed
[Also attributed, in a variant form, to sports columnist Red (Walter Wellesley) Smith]

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Your Career and You: "Holiday List-Making"

Okay…I know you’re still munching on leftover Halloween candy. But now’s the time to start on this important part of your career development or job search…holiday networking.

I’m constantly on my students both at Curry College, where I head the undergraduate Public Relations concentration and teach most of the PR courses, and at Regis College, where I teach part-time in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area, to do this one thing and do it well…network.

If you’ve kind of been letting your outreach to folks you’ve met at professional and/or social functions lie fallow, now’s the perfect time to ramp up activities.

It’s not rocket-science, friends. It’s a simple direct message on Twitter or Facebook or whatever social media platform(s) you’re on…please tell me you’re on several!! It’s a (legibly) handwritten holiday card or simple note. It’s an invitation to get together for coffee. It’s networking at its simplest and finest!

Now…today…this weekend…is the ideal time to comb your contacts and identify those individuals on whose radar screen you really, really, really should be seen. (Even as I write this, I realize there are two people with whom I haven’t communicated in eons and with whom I must reconnect…
so this post has already been of value to me!)

Then plan your outreach. Who via Twitter? Facebook? Snail mail?? Sort it out…the task won’t seem so daunting.

When? Make it an organized operation…not hit-or-miss. Set aside an hour two or three days a week (early morning/evening…whenever you can without throwing your regular work or school routine into a tailspin).

Finally, keep track of your efforts. Sounds simplistic, but if you’re reaching out to a boatload of people, you want to make sure that (a) you do and (b) you don’t duplicate…kinda makes you look disorganized if you contact me through Facebook and snail mail at the same time. I tend to think “okay, mass mailing…not personal.”

Of course face-to-face is the best way to do your networking, but that’s obviously not always feasible. The energy that I always gain, though, from having sat and chatted with a friend or professional colleague over a cup of coffee is sooo worth the extra effort.

And that’s your assignment for the short-term. The holiday season, when everyone is all about friendships and giving and camaraderie, is an ideal time to re-kindle relationships.

Granted, you should be doing this all year long. But, just in case…start now making your lists!

“There are many ways to increase your knowledge of people through personal contact…Talk to people beyond the confines of your own business, social, professional, or even community group. Get new points of view.”
Edward L. Bernays, “A Definitive Study of Your Future in Public Relations” [1961], p. 122

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Your Career and You: "Be Proud of What You Do"

I had the honor recently of emceeing PRSA Capital Region Chapter’s 4th annual “Empire Awards” program. Flew to Albany, NY, in rain, arrived in snow, and had a ball.

The attendees represented all facets of the communication as well as the education world...from senior PR practitioner to senior PR student. The energy pervading the event was enough to light up the western hemisphere.

I had a chance to chat with some of the folks both before and after the program, and one common thread bound us all together...a firm belief in the power of PR to influence opinion and more audiences to action.

What I found particularly interesting was in chatting with the more seasoned practitioners whose entries had made it into the finalist category. They were the epitome' of "cool." Been there; done that...for years.

But looking into their eyes, I saw excitement. They wanted to pretend this was just “business as usual.” But the eyes gave it away…they were excited to be there, and they were proud of their entries…of the accomplishments realized through the program’s success.

In my introductory remarks that evening, I cited this quotation from Edward L. Bernays, who many of us regard as the “Father of Public Relations”...

“Public relations does not mean selling a product, an idea, or a personality. Instead, it depends fundamentally on doing – action and deeds that are geared to public understanding and acceptance. Words are only incidental to the process.”

And this was the reason for the pride that I saw glimmering in these folks’ eyes…the pride of having done something on behalf of an employer or a client that truly made a difference…that changed opinions or motivated people to take action.

Public relations is a wonderful science. It takes into account individual perceptions and behaviors in the development and implementation of programs that result in groups acting in a desired manner.

PR practitioners recognize that, while no two people are exactly alike, when presented with rational and persuasive reasons to act in a certain way, groups of people will, in fact, do just that.

This is something I try to pass on to my undergraduate Communication students at Curry College, where I both oversee the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses.

Public relations is a powerful tool that can be used to inform, inspire, and motivate individuals, societies, and nations to consider and, if appropriate in their minds, adopt a particular course of action.

In my various previous lives as public relations representative for organizations ranging from the US Army to Honeywell Electro-Optics Division to the Blood Bank of Hawaii, I have developed and managed communication programs that got attention and helped accomplish our mission.

I would never claim that everything I dreamed up was a screaming success. Some things actually went up in spectacular flames. But, at the end of the day, what I did (we…sometimes I actually had accomplices in my schemes!) made a difference…to the organization…to the people served by the organization.

And that’s the point here…to make a difference by doing the best you can do for your employer or client…and to take pride in what you do.

“He [Columbus] enjoyed long stretches of pure delight as only a seaman can know, and moments of high, proud exultation that only a discoverer can experience.” - Samuel Eliot Morrison, “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” [1942], ch. 49