Sunday, September 30, 2012

Your Career and You: "Don't Be Invisible"

I’ve noticed recently, especially since I launched a “Social Media Communication” course at Curry College, where I oversee the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the undergrad PR courses, the incredibly low profile that a majority of my students have.

It’s not that they’re not aware of the need to “see and be seen.”

It’s just that they don’t seem to have grasped the true meaning of “social media presence” in today’s ultra-wired world…the need to “see and be seen” on at least the most popular platforms.

If they were studying science (I’m gonna hear from the Biology Department on this!), this might not be so much of an issue. But they’re Communication majors, and the very name implies a knowledge…and utilization…of current avenues for both getting the message out and being “seen” by others.

It’s not confined to my troops at Curry, however. I’ve been invited to present a seminar on social media’s role in career advancement and job search at Regis College, where I teach part-time in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area. The objective is to present a clear explanation of why social media, in this case LinkedIn specifically but also other platforms, is a “must be there” reality today.

I “get” that not everyone is or is going to be social media savvy. But I’m not talking about “everyone.” I’m talking about college seniors and grad students who are feverishly combing online job sites and (or at least, I hope) career services job listings at their college or university.

Note the emphasis on “I hope.”

Colleges' career services offices, from what I saw in my peregrinations about the state a few years back as a part-time professor at several colleges in the Boston area, are a woefully underutilized resource. Granted not all are what I would classify as “with it,” but the majority have databases that can at least pry open the employment gates so that you can catch a glimpse of the wonders that await you.

At Curry, I'm happy to say, we offer a robust selection of services and resources for both current students as well as alums...and people find jobs or internships regularly by taking advantage of the advice, assistance, and guidance offered.

But that’s just one piece of the puzzle.

The other is establishing yourself “out there”…creating an online “you” that I, as a potential employer, can access and learn more about you.

An obvious start would be LinkedIn…populated by employees, employers, would-be employees, employment specialists (recruiters), and others. To use my explanation (that those smarter than I absolutely hate), it’s the professional’s Facebook. Yes…before you start spamming me with your protestations…I know it’s much more than that. But let’s K.I.S.S…Keep It Simple, Savant.

And there are other “value-added” options such as Twitter (where you can post frequent and regular comments about events in the news, your own observations on life/business/college, etc.), Pinterest (where you can create boards to post articles, cartoons, and such that show your interest areas)…your blog (created with a clear vision of who you are or want to be and populated with regular posts showing the depth and breadth of your thoughts).

I’m not suggesting you have to be using all these, or even most of these.

What I am suggesting is that you have a presence on at least one so that, if I meet you at a professional event (PRSA, Social Media Club, IABC, or elsewhere) and you give me your card, I can do a quick Google search or visit the website that you indicate on your card to find out a little bit more about you…and…perhaps…pass on your name to someone who I know is looking to fill a vacant position.

But this isn’t going to happen unless I can find you online…so don’t be invisible!!

"As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish he'd stay away"
Hughes Mearns, "The Psychoed"

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Your Career and You: “Smiles Go Miles”

One thing I’ve become aware of as I wander aimlessly around campus and around town is the growing number of otherwise intelligent humanoids patrolling the pathways with their faces stuck in some sort of mobile device.

Eye-to-eye contact apparently is neither practiced nor, it would seem, encouraged.

It suddenly (today starting out dark and dreary) occurred to me that I’ve overlooked an important aspect of career advice when discussing careers, internships, job searches, and everything in between with my undergraduate Communication students at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration, as well as with my graduate Organizational and Professional Communication students at Regis College.

I hammer home the absolute necessity of having good writing skills, being able to conduct basic research, and having some degree of creativity in program development and planning.

But I haven’t been talking as much as I should about the fact that, at least in the public relations profession, human contact is kind of part of the whole package.

At some point in your life, you will be required to interact with others…employers, co-workers, potential clients…media.

And “texting” isn’t going to cut it. You are going to be required to actually look someone in the eyes and talk to him or her. (Cue anguished wail)

A good way to become comfortable with this (alien) concept is to start practicing as you roam about campus between classes, on your way to lunch, heading back to your residence hall…

Instead of feverishly checking your phone to make sure you didn’t miss that all-important IM from your friend who you just saw three minutes ago in class, look at fellow students…and professors…who might be walking in your direction.

Make eye contact.

Say “good morning/afternoon” as you pass.

You might be surprised to see that they won’t suddenly burst into flames or turn to stone.

In fact, they just might talk back to you!

Now I know I’m suggesting something very foreign to your current level of experience, but trust me…really cool things happen from these adventures.

You meet interesting people. I often tell my students about starting a conversation with a fellow in an elevator at a PRSA International Conference several years ago. I commented on the interesting attire that he was wearing. He turned out to be the Director of Tourism for Kenya, and he was on his way to a function where he would be recognized for the amazing PR programs he had created to promote tourism in his country. Very cool!

You make new networking contacts. I try to attend two or three events...public relations, community, social...a month, and, each time, I walk away with a minimum of four or five business cards of interesting people I’ve met. Some of them make it into my database depending on circumstances; some don’t. But the database steadily grows…and I have contacts not only for personal activities but also as potential resources for my students’ internships and jobs.

You find jobs. I often (some would say “too often”) talk about my move from Massachusetts to Hawaii in search of a new start on life. I hit the ground running, with more than two dozen informational interviews scheduled before leaving Massachusetts and dozens more within a couple of weeks of hitting Hawaii. I scored three serious job interviews within a month of arriving…all from contacts made at PRSA Hawaii, AMA Hawaii, IABC Hawaii and other meetings that I either finagled my way into or was invited to attend. And I wound up with what probably the whole world now knows was the BEST public relations job I’ve EVER had!

All this and more has happened for one simple reason.

I looked at, smiled at, and spoke to someone.

“Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.”
Christina Georgina Rossetti, “Remember” [1862], l. 1

Monday, September 17, 2012

Your Career and You: “Coffee Helps, Too!”

I’m often asked…usually by my bleary-eyed undergrad Communication students at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration, but also by my grad students at Regis College, where I teach in the Organizational and Professional Communication area…how I manage to seemingly always be chipper and energized.

My response is invariably some rendition of “oceans of coffee.”

And, while I do slurp down about three mugs in the morning with my breakfast, that’s usually it for caffeinated stuff until…if the day allows…I settle back for “teatime”…a tradition born of marvelous days at the Peninsula Hong Kong.

“Coffee,” for me, is rapidly becoming a euphemism for “I love my work!”

And little has changed in my transition from public relations professional to public relations professor.

With only, perhaps, one instance in my professional career where I was genuinely miserable, the bulk of my working life…even when I was a civil engineering intern as a high school senior and college freshman back in the 60s…has been a wonderful mélange of challenges and learning opportunities that helped shape who I am.

Why? Because I was and am allowed and encouraged to try new things, to step outside my comfort zone and do stuff that I thought I didn’t know how to do.

Ø  I taught “English as a Second Language” in Vietnam armed with a major in English/18th-century British Lit (and an M-16 semiautomatic rifle by my side).
Ø  I catalogued (typed information cards for) roughly 1,000 films for a job with absolutely no clue as to what they were about...OR how to type…taught myself…which explains (if you could see me doing this) why I type the way I do!
Ø  I’ve now been teaching undergraduate and graduate college courses for going on 10 years with no “formal” training in how to actually do this…just relying on my love for my profession and pleasure that I get from passing on my knowledge.

The point of this rambling is to emphasize, as I do time and again, that I was doing and am still doing something that I genuinely love.

The challenges were…and are…invigorating. I have to get and hold attention, focus on detail, and present information that will be of use to students at some point in the (hopefully) near future.

What this means is that I have to be on top of my game…to be current and proficient in the technologies and techniques that comprise 21st-century public relations practice.

Which means that I can’t just load my camel at the end of a day of classes and head for the oasis of my wonderfully comfortable chair for a snooze.

I have to be combing the news, reading the professional publications, scanning the Internet in search of new and exciting things that have bubbled up to impact the public relations profession or public relations practice in some way.

What this means for you as a future public relations practitioner (or whatever your chosen field of endeavor will be) is that learning never stops.

Yeah, you won’t have to take exams (at least not those administered by evil professors on a beautifully crisp fall Monday morning) to test your absorption of knowledge.

Instead, you will be tested “real-time” by work requirements and work-related incidents that will try your professional knowledge and skills.

And your success or failure will affect your employer’s success or failure.

The lesson here, grasshopper, is to find your “coffee”…that shot of energy disguised as a profession that invigorates you…that gets you bouncing out of bed in the morning eager to get on with the day.

Find what you love doing and want to become what I refer to as "the world's walking expert" in doing. Make it yours. Own your successes and learn from your mistakes.

And…a well-brewed mug of fresh-ground espresso doesn’t hurt!!

"Cato said the best way to keep good acts in memory was to refresh them with new."
- Francis Bacon, "Apothegms" [1624], no. 247

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Your Career and You: "Life's Little Surprises...Talk to People!"

I was in Chestnut Hill (MA) Bloomingdale's the other day looking at things I couldn't afford, didn't need, and, of course, desperately wanted, when a sales assistant caught my eye.

If you don't know, I'm a transplanted Southerner and am absolutely genetically incapable of not speaking to folks I see in stores, on the street, and just about everywhere else (except the subway, where weirder people than I seem to congregate).

Well, I said "hello" to Geneva, the sales assistant, and we struck up a conversation.

Turns out she is from Americus, Georgia, a hop-skip-and-a-jump from my own hometown of Dublin. Instant connection there!

What a coincidence!

Also found out her son was born in 1978...the year Margaret and I moved from Hampton, Virginia to a state where, watching the weather reports earlier that year, we declared "only crazy people live." (Note: Except for a three-year sojourn in wonderfully laid-back Honolulu, Hawaii, we've been here ever since.)

Also turns out Geneva used to work for Boston Edison (now part of NStar) and knows my friend Walter Salvi, who now heads the community relations activities for NStar.

What all this means both for you and for my Communication students at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, as well as for my graduate students at Regis College, where I teach in the Organizational and Professional Communication area, is that the world is really, really small.

You never know where you might run into someone who has some sort of connection with an organization you're interested in working for. The "trick" is to connect with that person.

It's called "networking," and I preach the sermon almost daily in every class.
  • Go to professional meetings for associations in the area you're interested. Here's my list of regulars: Boston Chapter, Public Relations Society of America; Publicity Club of New England; Social Media Club of Boston.
  • Take advantage of special programs offered by organizations in your desired career field. I'm on the mailing list for several PR firms and other organizations, and I go to as many of their programs as learn and to network.
  • Go out with your friends and your friends' friends...some of the best leads come from casual conversations over a beer/soda/chocolate milk.
And, talk to folks in the stores where you shop and the restaurants where you eat. Once again, just like my chance meeting with Geneva, you don't know who knows who.

This is what makes up what I think of as "life's little surprises." Learning how to look at people and speak to people can open up Forrest Gump's "box of chocolates." And, in the midst of all those yummy goodies just might be a connection that you can use.

"The man seeking his first job or trying to change the job he has should remember that third parties can approach employers as friendly middlemen. First of all, people he knows, experienced friends with knowledge and contacts, can broach the matter for him and can presumably be depended on to do a friendly service. Professional and trade associations know what goes on in their fields." - Edward L. Bernays, "Your Future in Public Relations" (Richards Rosen Press, 1961)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Your Career and You: “Don’t Drive and Shave”

I was standing at my bus stop a few days ago waiting…and watching the traffic pass by. I’m always curious as to what the various drivers might be doing as they’re wending their way to work or wherever.

Quite a few were yacking on their phone (I won’t go down that little alleyway!). A couple were (somehow) reading something. Then a car rolls by.

I look at the driver…who’s not really focused on much outside his car. Why?

'Cuz he’s busy shaving!

Now this is nowhere as alarming as the fellow I saw once who was brushing his teeth as he drove along. Occasionally, when I’m having trouble sleeping, I spend a few minutes speculating on how he handled some of the more obvious aspects of tooth-brushing…

Back to the present…

Watching the shaving driver, I started thinking about how we have a tendency to jam as many tasks as possible into a finite amount of time. Some of my undergraduate Communication students at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, as well as a few at Regis College, where I teach part-time in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area, are budding masters of this “art.”

And I occasionally spend some time talking one or the other of these troops “off the ledge” as he or she goes into a virtual stress-driven meltdown.

We hear a lot about the importance of being able to "multitask," to do a gazillion things at the same time...and do them reasonably well. Multitasking is a valuable skill, but don't get too carried away!

Although the poet said…very wisely… “gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” he wasn’t talking about self-induced massive overload. He was more about “enjoy life,” etc.

Enjoying life means setting priorities and focusing on things in descending order of importance. For example, if you have a test in a class tomorrow morning and you haven’t read the chapters yet…read! Don’t settle in with a “cool beverage” to watch the Red Sox go down in flames…again.

On the other hand, don’t get lured into the “busy work” syndrome, either.

I’ve had the dubious pleasure of knowing folks who have figured this little jewel out…Keep something on the stove so that…in case you’re approached by a supervisor, co-worker…teacher…you can self-righteously say “Gee, I’d like to help but…” as you point pitifully at your desk.

The “secret” here is to find a balance in your life where you are able to take on and complete the tasks that you have to do while, at the same time, you accomplish the things that you would like to do.

It’s called “setting priorities,” and it involves some serious self-evaluation to determine what, of all the things buzzing around you, are the most important…the things that, if you don’t do them, life as you’ve come to know and enjoy it is going to quickly become unpleasant.

Once you’ve created that mental or physical list, then you turn to the “If I had more time, I’d like to…” things.

Step 3 in this is to actually stick with your list recognizing, of course, that occasionally something unplanned will bubble up to the top of the pile. But if you’ve done your homework (loving these school analogies!), you will be able to fit the “intruder” into your schedule and quickly recover.

And there you have it. Take control of your life…and don’t try to shave…or brush your teeth…while driving!

“More men are killed by overwork than the importance of the world justifies.” 
– Rudyard Kipling, “The Phantom ’Rickshaw” [1888]