Saturday, February 25, 2012

Your Career and You: "Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave..."

No, I’m not going to get all Sir Walter Scott-y on you. It’s just that this particular phrase from “Marmion” provides a cool intro to my thoughts on networking and why you must do it.

Last night, we hosted the second annual PRSA Boston/PRSSA “Your Career in Public Relations” event at Curry College, where I lead the Communication Department’s undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the undergrad PR courses. (I also teach in Regis College’s Organizational and Professional Communications graduate program, but Curry is where I hang out most of the time.)

The program featured a panel of PR professionals who briefly talked about their respective careers, and then we broke off into what I refer to as “speed dating” sessions where attendees had a chance to meet one-on-one or in small groups with professionals from areas in which they had an interest.

Every single speaker…ranging from fresh-out-of-college (she actually graduates in May) to senior practitioner (two of whom, like me, have made several significant job switches in the course of their career)…stressed time and again the vital importance of networking as part of your job search.

As one speaker put it so well, “Networking is not a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing investment in your future.”

Couldn’t say it better myself. I’ve said time and again in previous posts that networking…making and nurturing contacts…is one of the most important aspects of the job search/job refinement process. Some people do it very well; others not so much.

And it’s not easy, especially for those of us who, again, as I have said a bazillion times about myself, are “card-carrying introverts.”

The thing is, you don’t know what you don’t know…and networking is one way to fill in some of the gaps.

Fewer and fewer jobs, especially in the public relations profession, are being filled through time-worn traditional media advertising.

Word-of-mouth is becoming more and more the norm. “I’m looking for a (fill in the blank). Who do you know who might be a good candidate?”

So what does this mean for you, the job seeker?

It means, simply, that you have to put yourself “out there.” You have to “see and be seen.”

It also means that you have to do your homework and become aware of the opportunities for you to be “out there.”

What are the professional PR-related organizations in your area? Bookmark their websites and check regularly for upcoming events. Subscribe to their newsletters if they have one so that you receive notifications and can keep up with other activities that they might have going on.

Here in the Boston area, for example, we have a plethora of organizations from which to choose: Boston Chapter, PRSA; Publicity Club of New  England; Yankee Chapter, IABC; Social Media Club of Boston; Boston Women Communicators, and probably a couple that I’ve missed.

I regularly attend PRSA, Pub Club, and Social Media Club events, and I’m never at a loss for new contacts and new job or internship opportunities for my students.

I take a pocketful of business cards and make my way around the room, either chatting with folks who I already know and catching up on their activities since we last crossed paths or…not easy for the king of introverts!… walking up to strangers, introducing myself, and starting a conversation from scratch.

Sometimes I come home with a pile of business cards; sometimes just two or three. But, in both cases, they are either new contacts or I have updated information for current contacts.

Again, I’m not the best example of this craft given my own personality issues. But my contact database is continually expanding, and I always have new possibilities for my students’ internships or job searches.

So take a cue from Sir Walter…build yourself a “tangled web”…not “to deceive” but to benefit from...with a network of contacts that you can draw on now and forever.

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." - Jane Howard

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Your Career and You: "Someone else will fix my mistakes"

I just had a flashback to one of the first undergrad PR classes I taught and a bizarre conversation I had with a student. (No, I won’t say where…I’ve taught as an undergrad adjunct professor at three colleges and as graduate adjunct at two.)

I’m currently full-time at Curry College, where I oversee the undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, and part-time at Regis College, where I teach in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communications area.

Anywho…we had had a news release writing exercise (take-home, by the way) and I was handing back the graded papers.

One young lady got an “”F” and was mightily miffed. How dare I give her a failing grade? She did the assignment and turned it in on time!

I commended her (sort of) on actually doing the assignment and suggested that perhaps, the next time, she might want to proofread her work before handing it in…to at least proof the headline of the release in which, for this assignment, there were two (out of six) words misspelled!

I asked her what she thought the reaction would have been if she were working in a public relations firm and produced this particular item.

Her response sticks with me even today, some eight years later.

“If I were working in a PR firm, someone else would have caught those mistakes for me and fixed them.”

Congratulations, my friend. You have just cemented your place in my “What the Hell Were You Thinking?” Hall of Fame!

There seems to be a mindset today among the up-and-coming generation that it’s not their responsibility when it comes to things like accuracy…attention to detail…fact-checking.

But, to bring it back to up-close-and-personal, it is your responsibility.

No, you don’t know everything, and you’re not expected to know everything. I certainly don’t, but I use a ton of reference materials…as well as the Internet…to help me verify things that I say…and spell.

The thing is…when you finally do wander out into the “real” world and start your career in whatever field you’re interested in…you will be expected to pull your own weight…to produce materials that accurately and professionally represent your client or your employer…or yourself.

I say this last aiming specifically at resumes and cover letters.

A friend sent me her resume last week…she’s a senior and has already survived my “Publicity Techniques” class where I go through a case of red pens marking up in-class and take-home PR writing assignments and driving home the absolute importance of proofreading one’s work.

I immediately fired back a response… “We need to talk…soon.”

I quit reading halfway through the resume…typos, verb-tense inconsistency, sloppy sentence structure…the list flows on…

She thinks I’m going to sit and patiently show her every single mistake and tell her what the correct form should be.

Unh-unh. Not going to happen.

I’ll point out the general categories of errors and, perhaps, since I think she actually cares, show her a couple of corrections to give her the general idea of what’s wrong.

But it’s on her shoulders to ferret out the rest of the problems and fix them. Then she can, if she wishes, send the repaired materials back to me for a final review. The responsibility lies squarely with her…or you.

It’s your life…it’s your future. No one else is going to do it for you.

Are you ready??

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, “Unkempt Thoughts” [1968]

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Your Career and You: "The Sun [Always] Rises"

Once in a while I find myself in a remarkably black funk and retreat to my special place…the “cellar of gloom.”

Don’t go there too often, but I make sure there’s always coffee and cookies on hand just in case…

What got me going on this was a friend the other day asking me why I was always so blastedly upbeat. I immediately wandered off on a streak about the fact (known to me but apparently not to others) that I have this little critter sitting on my left shoulder constantly reminding me of my shortcomings.

I’m able to shoo it away by focusing on the indisputable fact that, as Papa Hemingway said for the title of his awesome book, “The Sun Also Rises.” To which I add… “always.”

I’m sure there are folks out there in this ginormous world for whom everything has always been bright and cheerful. Can’t say that I’ve ever run into anyone like that, though. Everyone over the years with whom I’ve had contact has had something go kerfluey.

It’s called “life,” and life is all about encountering and coping with challenges, opportunities, promises made, and promises broken.

I keep in touch with a lot of students, both past and current, from my days at various colleges where I’ve taught…Emerson, Bridgewater State, Stonehill…and now Curry College, where I oversee the undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, and Regis College, where I teach in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area.

They tell me the good things…the positive things…that are happening in their lives; and they share the not-so-good. Sometimes they’re looking for advice and guidance; sometimes they just need reassurance that the world as they’ve come to know it isn’t coming to a cataclysmic end.

I force myself when talking with them to focus my own thoughts on the positives…with just a dash of solid reality. Doesn’t do any good to dwell on the negatives. They’re there, and you have to face them and do your best to get around, through, or over them. But don’t let them become the 2,000-pound elephant in the bathtub with you.

Life truly is filled with wonderful possibilities, and you have to believe in the depths of your heart that you are destined to share in those possibilities.

So take stock of all that you have done and bask in the remembrance of having done something really, really cool. You did it…enjoy the glow!

“‘Twixt the optimist and pessimist
The difference is droll:
The optimist sees the doughnut
But the pessimist sees the hole.”
McLandburgh Wilson, “Optimist and Pessimist”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Your Career and You: "On Being 'Virtually' Real"

I spent this past weekend in New York participating in a PRSA Board of Directors meeting. As I commented in one tweet, the room was filled “with a lot of very smart people…and me”!

We covered, as usual, a boatload of material, and one thing that I noticed (not the first time, but somehow just stuck with me this time) was how many times social media was referenced in our conversations.

Terms that I heard again and again were “authenticity” and “value.” And that got me thinking about my…and your…presence in the virtual worlds of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the myriad other platforms available to facilitate getting your name, face, and other information “out there.”

As usual, I came away with some thoughts that I will share with my undergraduate Public Relations classes at Curry College as well as with my graduate Communication classes at Regis College.

For starters, if I were to visit your Facebook page, what would be my first impression based on the information that would be available to me? For example…your picture.

Yeah, I know…it’s none of my business what you choose for your picture.

But try this on for size.

It is my business if I’m looking for someone to fill an open position in my company or to join a volunteer organization that I’m involved in. I care very much about the impression that you will make on current and potential customers, donors, supporters…the list goes on.

Appearance does matter. The old saying “you only get one chance to make a first impression” is true in the virtual world just as it is in the “real” world.

Then, what might I read about you? I’m thinking here, in particular, about Twitter, where you have the option of saying something about yourself. This applies to LinkedIn and other platforms as well.

I get a half-dozen or so new Twitter followers each week (not a huge number, but enough that I can compare how people represent themselves).

Some are clearly or cleverly…or both…descriptive and encourage me to follow them in return. Others…not so much. They ricochet from silly to suggestive to stupid.

Others are bad enough that I report them as spam in the hopes that others will do the same and the offending individual will be blocked by the site.

Finally, I look at what other information you provide about yourself. Do I get a reasonably good idea of who you are and what you have done or are doing?

We also had a discussion in the PRSA board meeting about “information” versus “content.”

Information is facts…data. “The sun is shining.”

Content is the value added…the “color.” “The intense sun beat down mercilessly on the tired travelers.”

Do you give “just the facts”? Or do you paint a picture of yourself that helps me get a sense of who you really are?

Especially in my world of public relations, the ability to create messages that give as full a picture of a product or service as possible is critical. We are competing with hundreds of other, similar products or services. And our target audiences are being bombarded with an equal number of similar messages.

How do you get the attention of a target audience (a hiring manager, for example) and get your name on the “follow-up” list?

With information that quickly and professionally paints a mini-picture that encourages him or her to give you a second look…and an interview.

As you start preparing for life after college or if you’re already working and are looking for another opportunity, take a minute…or more…to look at your online presence(s).

The old saying goes, “perception is reality,” and your virtual presence…your online presence…is reality for anyone who sees it.

“Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow”
T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men [1925], V.