Monday, July 30, 2012

Your Career and You: "It's about 'Time'"

The Rolling Stones had a great hit in the ‘60s called “Time is on my side.” It was all about “the world is my oyster and sooner or later things will go my way.”

Good concept. Bad for the working world…especially for those who are (or should be) looking for jobs/internships.

I’m constantly on my undergraduate Communication students at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, as well as my graduate students at Regis College, where I teach in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area, to act now.

Take the ol' bull by the horns. Don’t wait for someone else to make the first move.

What brought this to mind was, in the course of one week, receiving four different messages from four different students in which timing has been or will be a factor in the outcome of their efforts.

1.    One student asked for help drafting an internship application letter.
2.    One student wanted to meet to discuss some internship opportunities.
3.    One student wanted to meet to schedule a “catch-up-on-life” meeting.
4.    One student was following up on internship application progress.

“Exhibit A” took exactly one week to respond to my suggestions on the letter.

“Exhibit B” hasn’t responded…four days after asking to meet…to my response.

“Exhibit C”forgot” to check Facebook (on which the request was sent).

“Exhibit D” acted on my recommendations, applied for the internship, and has an interview scheduled.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or ditch digger…or school teacher) to figure out which of the above stands a snowball’s chance in Hades of realizing success.

The point to all this is that time…that elusive, fleeting, amorphous thing that is always looking over our shoulder and is never around when needed…is a major player in life’s successes.

The annoying thing about time is that it doesn’t sit around waiting for you to act. It moves on.

And, if you don’t make your own move, you will be a fading memory in time’s rearview mirror.

Thomas Jefferson…one of history’s master time-users…came up with this take on time: Never put off tomorrow what you can do today.”

“Today,” of course, has morphed into a nearly unrecognizable concept with the advent of intercontinental, interactive communication. When I write to my niece in Taipei today, it’s already tomorrow for her…which makes wishing a “Happy Birthday” a bit of a trick!

But we’re talking about here and now…your response or reaction to a situation.

I’m absolutely not suggesting kneejerk responses. But I am suggesting…when the situation arises…that you start thinking about what you'll do…and start planning your response.

Then…act…immediately if possible (and feasible) but at least within 24 hours…unless there are some really complicating factors.

The point (again) is that someone on the other end of the communication loop is waiting to hear/see what you think/are going to do.

In some cases, they can’t act until they know what you are going to do.

In other cases, they’re not going to act until they hear from you.

Think about this if you’re applying for a job or an internship.

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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Your Career and You: “On Pigeons and Statues”

I had an epiphany a few days ago as I sat patiently (although you wouldn’t know it from the multiple snarky tweets I sent while waiting) as the folks at a local newly-opened restaurant tried to cope with a hungry lunch crowd.

“Chaos” is the only way I could describe the scene.

The front end of the restaurant boasted easily a half-dozen empty tables while the hostess “looked busy” but wasn’t accomplishing a whole heck of a lot.

The frazzled waitstaff had gotten their mantra down to a sincerely-mouthed “I’m sooo sorry for the delay” as patron after patron asked about an order.

The two guys at the table next to me gave up. Forty-five minute lunchbreak wait for a sandwich.

I decided to stick it out…slow day on the farm, so I had some time to kill…and Twitter was keeping me company!

Hamburger…35 minutes. Drink (“sweet tea”…hey, I’m a Southerner; I’m allowed to slip once in a while!) undrinkable. Who in heaven’s name puts nectar in tea?!?

So that’s the backdrop.

The young lady taking my order was the epitome’ of “cool-under-pressure.” Patient, empathetic...and exhausted…it was 1:30 p.m., and she'd been on duty since a little after 5 a.m.

Having done time myself after college working in my Dad’s soda shop back home, I understood how she felt…and appreciated her efforts to soothe ruffled feathers.

Through quick mini-chats each time she came by my table, I learned that this was an unusual day…apparently other days (the restaurant had been open just four days) had been less frantic.

And that’s what inspired this week’s thoughts…sometimes you’re totally in control of the situation and life is good.

Sometimes, as I often say in my classes at both Curry College, where I head up the Communication Department’s undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most PR courses, and Regis College, where I teach in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area, you have no choice but to sit back and watch the train wreck happen.

Or…to use one of my absolute favorite sayings: “Sometimes you’re the pigeon; sometimes you’re the statue.”

Job-hunting is a good example.

Career searches, while they should be somewhat controlled, occasionally jump off the track and you find yourself scrambling to straighten the mess out.

A friend texted me at the end of last week to say she had hurt her back moving into a new apartment and had had to call and re-schedule a job interview. She was in a bit of a tizzy because this is her first real job hunt, and she was afraid things were going to spiral out of control.

I assured her that her excuse was entirely legitimate and…more important…if the organization with which she had scheduled the interview was unsympathetic…she didn’t want to work there anyway.

We like to feel like we're in charge of our lives. And, for the most part, we are.

But occasionally things happen. And there's not a blasted thing we can do about it except soldier on and do our best.

Back to my young, anonymous friend at the new restaurant. She’s heading off to UMass-Amherst in September to study English, and I hope her professors recognize early on that this young lady is a budding young professional.

Cool under pressure. Poised under fire. Pleasant and upbeat while Rome burns. I would hire her in a microsecond.

And, to close this conversation…statues stand all regal and self-important…and immobile, oblivious to all that is going on around them. Pigeons (forgive me pigeon-lovers) are annoying birds that poop on people, places and things…including the regal, self-important statues.

Professionals understand that not everything is going to go the way they want, and they learn over time how to respond to unexpected glitches.

It's called "experience."

“There comes a time in every man’s life and I’ve had many of them.”
– Charles Dillon (”Casey”) Stengel

Monday, July 16, 2012

Your Career and You: "Homework Time!"

Every once in a while (although it seems like more frequently these days) I get a message that either (a) sends cold chills up my spine or (b) baffles me. Or both.


Because the sender obviously spent less than a micro-second actually thinking about what he or she was asking.

My students at Curry College, where I ride herd over 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, get this lecture a lot…and I’ll keep on hammering away.

Back to the “tipping point” (hats off to Malcolm Gladwell for this!): This morning, I received a tweet from someone claiming to be part of a PR firm.

At least that’s what he/she said.

No information available on this person’s Twitter page to give me a clue who this person is or where he/she is located.

Checked the website: “Under construction.”

Nonexistent on Facebook or LinkedIn so far as I can tell.

But…  (Insert dramatic background music (<=or click here!) …in your head!)

I also got a message asking for my email address so he/she could send me something.

Blue flashing lights and blaring alarms went off.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask.

I answer, “Google ‘Kirk Hazlett.’”

What’s the first thing that pops up?

It’s called “research,” my friends, and we do it…A LOT…in public relations.

Before we send off a pitch letter…or a news release…or an events calendar listing…we check to see, if possible, to whom that bit of information should go.

Before we meet with a potential…new...or current client, we check to see what we can learn about that client or what has been going on recently with the client.

I’m not saying you always can find what you’re looking for right off the bat. Sometimes it takes a little digging. But, especially in today’s Internet-based world, it’s very do-able…and very, very informative.

(Full disclosure: I Googled my name several years ago and discovered, unbeknownst to me or anyone who knows me, “Kirk Hazlett, age 35” had escaped from prison. I was, at the time, in my late 50s, so I figured it wasn’t me and went on about my day. But I have always thought…what if I had been looking for a job, and a prospective employer had checked me out online?!? Yowza!!)

“Homework” doesn’t stop when you graduate from high school or college. In fact, I would argue, after more than 40 years’ experience either as a PR pro or as a PR prof, that it just begins when you graduate!

Oftentimes, though…in my world, at least…the answers aren’t conveniently located at the back of the book.

You have to assemble a pile of facts, moosh (a “Kirk-word”) them together a bit, and come up with the answer on your own based on your knowledge, your understanding of the situation you’re dealing with, and the input of others.

Then, and only then, do you make a recommendation or take a course of action.

It’s called “doing your homework.”

BTW…haven’t heard “boo” from the individual I was talking about in the beginning!

“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”
Samuel Johnson, from Boswell’s “Life of Johnson” [April 18, 1775]

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Your Career and You: "Jambalaya"

I woke up this morning with the sounds of Doug Kershaw’s “Jambalaya” running through my head.

“Yeah, jambalaya and a crawfish pie and fillet gumbo,
'Cause tonight, I’m gonna see my ma cher amio.
You pick guitar, you fill fruit jar and be gay-o,
'Cause I am a son of a gun, we gonna have big fun on the bayou."

Then I logged onto Facebook to find a message from my longtime friend/Saigon, Vietnam roommate, Bill Jackson, updating me on his developing plan to accept a position in Abu Dhabi…with the enthusiastic support and encouragement of his wife, Pat.

How totally cool!

I love it when someone (besides me) goes “job-search bungee-jumping”! There are adventures around every corner, bright shiny objects to chase, and enormous balls of string to play with. Carpe diem!

My students, both at Curry College, where I oversee the Communication Department's Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, and at Regis College, where I teach in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area, hear it from me all the time. Enjoy life!!

So why “Jambalaya”? Well…my friend Ted Chaloner’s wife, Lydia Walshin…a genuinely awesome cook and terrific blogger…makes a mind-blowing rendition that I would crawl through alligator-infested minefields for.

And when I was working with Ted at his executive recruitment firm, Chaloner Associates, we would occasionally have it for lunch. We would sit there...talking about work, the world, and everything in between...and savoring each spicy, flavor-packed bite. Oh…My…God!!

Now to the musical version. There is fun, adventure, out-and-out joie de vivre that should be a part of your approach to life, careers, job searches, and everything else. This song, for me, captures that feeling…that spirit of freedom and love of life.

In other words, lighten up on occasion and do fun/brave/ slightly (but not completely) insane things.

Find the fun in your job…it’s there, buried under a mountain of “to-do’s” that somehow never gets any smaller. Or it’s up the street in a great coffee shop or bistro. It’s out there waiting for you to come find it.

I’m not suggesting that you should blow off work and party. Or that you should forego your job search activities.

What I am suggesting is that you should not lose sight of the human side of life.

Even Ebenezer Scrooge, with the help of a parade of ghosts, figured out that life is actually made for living.

You can be intently focused on your business or your life goals; but take time to “smell the roses (or coffee)” in the process.

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Essays: First Series, 'Circles'"

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Your Career and You: "Customer Service-It's in the Eyes"

I just had an interesting experience at a local, somewhat upscale, pizza place.

Went in. Ordered a pizza and coke to go. Paid. Waited. Picked up. Left.

In that roughly 15-minute interval, the young lady at the register never once made eye-contact with me.
Ø  As she was processing my order, her eyes were glued to the register.
Ø  When I paid, she carefully examined the top of the counter between us.
Ø  When my order was ready, she ogled the pizza cooker guy.
Ø  And as she slid the pizza box and coke across the counter, the best I can figure is she was checking out a spider crawling up the wall behind me.

Absolutely NO eye-contact in this entire process with the customer.

I chimed in on a blog post this morning (pre-pizza) about one of the culprits in this “failure to see eye-to-eye”…social media and mobile devices. I deal with it in the classroom…and in the “real world” as a shopper.

We/you have grown up in an online world, and apparently there’s now a fear of turning to stone if you actually set eyes on someone, like in the tales of the goddess Medusa. Seems that, if you looked directly at her, you would instantly turn into a rock. Hard way to go (snicker, snicker)!

But that’s mythology, and I’m talking about real-world customer service where people interact…where there are people who need people to help them. And part of that interaction is eye contact.

I hear time and again from colleagues in the professional world that one of their pet peeves in a job interview is the inability…or outright failure…of the interviewee to make eye contact during the interview.

Flash forward to yourself at work. How do you think the customer feels when you don’t bother to look at him or her?

I won’t ask how you would feel if that were to happen to you because I doubt that you would even notice or care…feel free to correct me if I’m wrong (sneaky way to find out who’s reading this blog!)!

So this is a short rant today on a growing problem as the younger generations morph into the workplace and, at least for brief periods of time, are detached from their computer screens or mobile devices.

Look at people when you are interacting with them…you won’t turn to stone, and you will make the other person feel appreciated…and you just might convert that person to a return customer!

How cool would that be?!?

“Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent, and always assist him to save face. Put yourself in his shoes – so as to see things through his eyes.”Basil Henry Liddell Hart, “Deterrent or Defense [1960], 'Advice to Statesmen'”