Thursday, March 22, 2012

Your Career and You: "I Know I Didn't Come to Work...What Can I Do for 'Extra Credit'?"

I just sent out a batch of “academic warnings” to students who, for various and sundry reasons, somehow haven’t found time to come to class after spring break.

For those of you who I haven’t “met” yet, I teach full-time at Curry College where I oversee the Communication Department’s undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses.

I also teach part-time in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area at Regis College.

The neat thing about this “warning” system at Curry is that the message goes both to the student and to his or her faculty advisor…“You can run, but you can’t hide!”

Awesome responses to my “warnings”!

“I didn’t feel well…and couldn’t email you.”

“I was on vacation and didn’t get back until today." (Three days after classes resumed)

“I had two sports games that I was playing in and couldn’t come to class.”

“I know I’ve been slacking off…can I do an extra credit assignment to make it up?”

Wow…I’m having this mental image of a few years in the future!

“Mr./Ms. X, you’ve missed three days’ work this week and I didn’t hear anything from you during that period.

I’m so sorry, Mr./Ms. Y. There was an away Red Sox game that I really wanted to see, so I went. I know we had that deadline to meet…What can I do to make it up?”

There seems to be a major disconnect in some folks’ mind about the definition of “responsibility.”

The professional world doesn’t do “extra credit.”

Either the job gets done, or it doesn’t.

Either you meet expectations...

...Or you don’t.

College should be a training ground where you learn to multi-task, where you learn to think and behave like an adult, and where you develop a sense of responsibility…”It’s on my shoulders to make sure this gets done.”

Why? Because employers have an expectation...unreasonable in the eyes of some with whom I've chatted...that you will actually do what you have been hired...and have do.

And most of the troops with whom I interact get it.

But there are a few who, for reasons known only to them and those who brought them into this world, don’t.

I don’t have a magic answer for this. But I do have a bit of advice.

Grow up.

Because, if you don’t, there will come a time when you will be faced with a “what do I do?” situation. We all encounter those dilemmas.

And you will have to make a decision.

What will it be?

"The identity crisis...occurs in that period of the life cycle when each youth must forge for himself some central perspective and direction, some working unity, out of the effective remnants of his childhood and the hopes of his anticipated adulthood."
Erik Homburger Erikson, "Young Man Luther" [1958], ch. 3

Monday, March 12, 2012

Your Career and You: "The Future...It's Here...Now"

This is that glorious time of the year when birds are chirping outside my window and students are doing meltdowns in my office at Curry College, where I tinker with the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses.

It’s that wonderful time when the first flower buds peek tentatively toward the sunny sky,...

...and a look of total panic gleams in the eyes of seniors facing the grim reality that, in spite of their best efforts, they are facing the end of life as they’ve known it for four-ish years and graduation is upon them.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the first or only person to say this, but that’s the thing about the future. Sooner or later…it turns into today.

(Cue bloodcurdling wails.)

It’s not just you students who hit this unavoidable wall. I accidentally read my driver’s license the other day, did the math, and concluded that I’m officially and inescapably a “senior citizen.”

Totally unfair. I’m too young to be old. Don’t have time for it. But it’s here…now.

The problem is, I don’t really know what I want to do when I grow up. I had a ball for some 40 years working in public relations for various organizations in various and sundry mundane and exotic locations.

And I’ve been as happy as a pig in mud (little Southernism there!) for the past 10-ish years teaching both undergraduate and graduate public relations courses to up-and-coming generations of practitioners.

But…like many of my students (not all, mind you…some of them are frighteningly organized and prepared)...I’m still trying to figure out what’s next. “What will the next phase of my life bring?”

This is where it gets tricky. I’d like to just continue doing what I’m doing. But my professional self says I should get out of the way and let someone else….someone earlier in his or her career…take the reins. Bring fresher ideas and fresher experience into the classroom.

But, to quote my ever-despairing students, “I don’t want to graduate yet. I’m not ready!”

All the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of life aren’t in place yet. Or so you might think.

This is where we get serious.

You are ready. You just don’t realize it yet.

The pieces are there. You just haven’t figured out how each piece fits with its counterparts to complete the picture.

This is where I, and my other professional colleagues, come in.

Talk to us, for heaven’s sake! Ask us how we got where we are today. Ask us what we wish we had known when we started out. Ask us…!

I’ve been invited to talk to the First-Year Honors Students at Curry after spring break. My plan is to tell them just what I suggested above. How I got where I am today. What I wish I had known or had access to earlier in my career as well as while I was in college. What I would do differently knowing what I know today.

And I will share my boundless optimism for their future.

The resources available to students are mind-boggling:
· Career Services offices are ready and eager to provide advice, suggestions, recommendations…job opportunities.
· Faculty advisors can share personal experiences and professional connections.
· Local and national associations (the Public Relations Society of America, for example, as well as the Boston Chapter, PRSA) have professional and job-search resources.

Take advantage of all these options. I did.

The future is a world limited by ourselves; in it we discover only what concerns us and, sometimes, by chance, what interests those whom we love the most." - Maurice Maeterlinck, Joyzelle, Act i

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Your Career and You: "I Heard You Were Coming... Don't Make Waves"

I attended a PRSSA Regional Conference recently with a couple of Curry College Public Relations Concentration students and was listening to the keynote address by Boston University’s Dean of Students when memories came flooding in.

This year’s event, entitled “PR Advanced: Unleash Our Generation,” attracted public relations students from colleges and universities throughout New England.

The overarching message in Dean Kenneth Elmore’s remarks was “Be Yourself,” and I found myself saying “Yes!” after nearly every sentence!!

The take-away for students was that it’s not enough to just follow the status quo and do everything that everyone else does.

Stand out. Don’t be afraid to be different. “Be yourself!”

Which brings me back to my title…“I heard you were coming…”

Years ago, I was in the Air Force and, among other adventures, spent about three years at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. My primary duty was managing an audiovisual library with some 2,000 training and informational films (You do remember films, don’t you?!? If you don’t, I’m sure our friend Wikipedia can help fill in the blanks.)

In my usual “not busy enough; what else can I do?” fashion, I managed to get involved in all kinds of community relations, internal relations, and public relations activities both on and off base…none of which were in my job description, but all of which were a TON of fun!

This was just before I figured out what “public relations” was all about, so I chalked everything up to normal Southern neighborliness. Found out a couple of years later when I accidentally (don’t ask!) took a course called “Introduction to Public Relations” what I really was doing and have continued the practice!

Anyway, I got involved organizing educational programs for the American Red Cross in Manila, informational programs for the Philippine Military Academy, and a boatload of training programs for both US military personnel and Philippine civil service employees at Clark.

…in addition to my “day” job.

The end result was an unplanned (for my squadron) major increase in business for the film library, increase in requests for support with on- and off-base meetings and programs, and increased attention by our “higher-ups.”

In other words…increased productivity and return-on-investment for taxpayer dollars that paid our salaries and other expenses as federal government “employees.”

And…at that time…not “business as usual.” I was accused of, among other things, “rocking the boat.”

But it was “me.” It was the way I always had done things…get involved…identify opportunities and pursue them as well as respond to external and internal requests for support and assistance.

Not the “military way” back then, but damned effective and successful in fostering a new level of appreciation for what we…the US Air Force…brought to our presence in the Philippines.

Anyway...when my tour was finished, I returned to the United States and an assignment at another air base. I dutifully checked in with the fellow who was to be my supervisor and was greeted, not with a "Good to have you with us; how was Clark?" but with a glower and these words..."I heard you were coming; don't make waves."

Cool! Apparently "being yourself" and doing things outside your specific job description wasn't the way things were done at this particular base. (Of course, I ignored his warning and continued doing my own thing. There's another story here involving Playboy magazine, but we'll save that for another time!)

Dean Elmore’s remarks brought this memory back because he reinforced something I always try to impress on students and others who I talk to about job searches and “standing out in the crowd.”

Take a look at what you’ve done and be ready and able to show your enthusiasm for what you’ve accomplished and your desire to bring creativity and imaginative thinking to the game.

Those who don’t do this will blend into the wallpaper…become part of the faceless herd…not be seen as the “leader of the pack.”

It’s self-analysis time. Are you a stand-out? Or are you just another face in the crowd?

Let them know you’re coming. Be yourself!

"It is the lone worker who makes the first advance in a subject: the details may be worked out by a team, but the prime idea is due to the enterprise, thought and perception of an individual." - Sir Alexander Fleming, "Address at Edinburgh University" [1951]