Your Career and You: “Teaching and Learning”

Publication1I’ve been doing this teaching thing for more than 10 years now…not counting a couple of years waaay back when I was in the Air Force and teaching English in Vietnam. Never intended to make it another career path, but so be it.

The funny thing is, though, a bazillion years ago I mentally charted my life’s path and projected that, at this time in my life, I would be teaching.

Then I barreled off into my life’s work of public relations and kind of forgot about that goal.

Flash forward 40-plus years, and here I am at Curry College after having worked for some totally cool…and a couple of not-so-cool…companies and organizations in places as varied as South Carolina, Washington, Virginia, the Philippines, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

The interesting (to me) thing is that there has been one constant throughout that entire period…I’ve never stopped learning:
> Added two business degrees to the English degree that I started off with.
> Graduated from the Defense Information School with a certificate acknowledging my capabilities in government public affairs.
> Studied for and passed the Public Relations Society of America’s professional accreditation exam.
> Started writing book reviews for a couple of professional journals…which meant that I had to read, understand, and explain the various marketing, public relations, social media, and advertising texts that I was asked to cover.

I’m in the classroom now sharing those experiences and the knowledge gained with hundreds (thousands, now??) of up-and-coming professionals. And I learn something each and every day in the process.

My take on this activity is that, if I am going to help these young men and women prepare for a career in whatever field they happen to choose, I have to be as current as possible in my own knowledge.

So I continue to learn by reading and by attending professional programs offered by PRSA; the Boston Chapter, PRSA; the Publicity Club of New England; and others.

And then I bring what I’ve learned back into the classroom to share with my students.

It’s a continuum…learn…teach…learn some more…

PRSA has as its slogan “Advancing the Profession and the Professional.” That, to me, is the key. We all have knowledge and talents that make us uniquely us. But those qualities should, again in my opinion, be shared with others.

I write often about enthusiasm for what one is doing and pride in having done it. Sharing one’s passion with others is one source of the pride that I so firmly believe should be the hallmark of a professional…regardless of his or her chosen career path.

It’s one thing to know how to do something well. It’s an entirely different matter to then pass that knowledge on to others so that they, too, might realize the pleasures, the rewards and…yes…the “challenges” of building a successful career.

Success in one’s life…personal OR professional…is an ongoing opportunity to teach AND to learn. How are YOU doing??

Posted in Communication, Curry College, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your Career and You: “A Shoulder to Lean On”

Publication1A friend/former student stopped by my office at Curry College recently. He graduated last year, but he lives in the area now, so he stops in from time to time to say “hello” and to update me on what he’s doing.

He has always been an upbeat sort and firmly believes that his dreams will come true. I share that belief.

But the perceived flurry of positives that he experienced shortly after graduation has slowed down a bit, and he’s starting to get a little worried. Not freaking out worried, but worried nonetheless.

This latest visit was a “reassure me it’s not me” type…he needed to say what he’s been doing so that he could hear the words and so that someone else could hear them as well and give him feedback.

As we wrapped up (I had to scurry off to my “Principles of Public Relations” class), I reassured him that he was doing all the right things but that he has now hit that dreaded “hurry up and wait” stage that we all suffer through at some point in our professional lives.

Throughout their college lives, students are told time and again that deadlines are sooo important. “You’ll lose a letter-grade if you don’t turn your assignment in on time.”… “No work accepted after the deadline.”… “If you’re late, you won’t get credit for participating.”

And then the real world steps in.

The student/new professional does what he or she needs to do or is told to do as quickly as possible and “turns the work in” only to be met with dead silence on the other end.

What we haven’t been able to clearly communicate as teachers/advisors is that the “real world” doesn’t always operate on the same schedule as you’ve gotten used to in school. Potential employers don’t get back to you the next day with a response. People who previously expressed an interest in you suddenly are focused on something or someone else.

It’s confusing. It’s worrying. And you’re not sure what to do next. So a bit of advice…

…curl up in the fetal position and start sucking your thumb. Won’t do you any good, and thumbs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be anyway!
…start banging your head against the wall wailing “why me?”
…shut down completely and start blaming yourself for something that, for the most part, is out of your control.

…take a deep breath and review what you’ve done so far…anything missing?
…look in the mirror and tell the person looking at you “we can do this.”
…turn to your support team…friends, former teachers/advisors…and talk it through. Ask for…and listen to…their advice and opinions.

There’s not a magic answer here, but one thing is for sure…

You’re not in this alone, even if, in the darkness of the night, you feel that way. There are others who care about you and who are standing by to offer a reassuring shoulder to lean on.

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, job hunting, job search, networking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your Career and You: “Do Your Homework and Choose Carefully”

Publication1Events of the past few weeks here in the Boston area have reminded me of one important thing as you start out on your search for either your first adventure in your chosen profession or the next step in your career.

I’ve done enough bashing of the MBTA on Twitter as well as on Facebook and elsewhere, so I’ll leave it at this…there are some companies that you really don’t want to work forespecially as their public relations representative.

I counsel my students at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the undergrad PR courses, to pay close attention to the first steps in a job search, like resume and cover letter construction, opportunity research (where are the jobs?), personal appearance, etc.

One thing I’ve been a little lax on is the importance of doing your homework when it comes to the actual places you’re applying to…who are they, how are they doing, how are they communicating….

I speak (sadly) from experience…two different jobs in the course of my career that, to put it politely, “did not go turn out well.”

The first was part my fault, part the company’s. I did some of my homework, but not enough. Reader’s Digest version…bad management for the most part; lack of clear business focus for the rest. I left the company very shortly before it self-destructed.

The second was entirely my fault. This was nearly 10 years since Fiasco # 1, and I should have known better. I simply did not do my homework.

I did basic research…very basic. The little birdie sitting on my shoulder kept saying “check ‘em out, Kirk.” But I was blinded by the excitement of potentially doing some really cool stuff for an organization that I thought I understood.

Bad choice # 1…I quit.
Bad choice # 2…I got fired.

Learned a TON from both experiences, most especially that really digging as much as possible into the background of an organization…AND the people who run that organization…is vital.

> DO your fact-checking online and elsewhere…reputation…operational success…the nuts and bolts.
> TALK to current and, if possible, former employees…what do they think of the organization or, if applicable, why did they leave?

After doing all this, focus your thoughts on how you might be able to help the organization in its communication initiatives. What skills and/or experience can you bring to the table?

If you’re just starting out in your career, you might be asking “what can I ‘bring to the table’?” And that is a legitimate question.

Look back on your internships…you DID do at least a couple of internships, didn’t you? What did you have a chance to do that you really enjoyed doing…and your internship supervisor thought was well done?

Build your case on those strengths…you’re just starting out…you’re not expected to be the world’s walking expert quite yet. But be prepared to tie your strengths to their requirements and needs.

Bottom line here…starting out on your career path or moving up doesn’t just happen. A bird doesn’t fly by and drop an opportunity on your head.

You have to do your homework…and choose carefully. Good luck!!

Posted in careers, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, internships, job hunting, job search, networking, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Making Connections…Connecting Dots”

Publication1I love it that my students at Curry College, where I head our undergrad Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, are starting to explore internship and job possibilities…without me poking and prodding.

We’re in the third week of a snowstorm-battered semester…sporadic classes…befuddled professors…antsy students…and the troops are finding themselves with more “me” time to think than they’re used to.

The outcome of that self-reflection is that many of them are devoting some serious brain cells to life after commencement. And they’re realizing that “commencement” does, indeed, mean “the beginning”…not “the end.” The beginning of life as an adult.

I talk about things like internships and job experience in nearly every one of my classes. I “gently” nudge my advisees and anyone else who crosses my path to start immediately looking at internship possibilities…even if he or she isn’t yet eligible to do one for credit.

My advice is, “The earlier you start thinking about and planning for an internship, the more prepared you will be when the time comes.

Fortunately, most of them listen, and most of that batch pay attention.

End result? My PR converts wind up walking out of Curry with a minimum of 2-3 internships under their belts…in different areas of the profession so that they have had a chance to get a better sense of what type of organization best fits them as an individual.

Public relations internships…and PR job opportunities…are not “one size fits all.” We all like and are good at different things. That’s what makes us human. We’re not all wired the same.

I say this from personal experience and a bazillion years as a public relations professional. Worked in everything from federal government to private sector, for-profit and non-profit. Didn’t actually hate any one of the jobs, but didn’t love a couple and was happy to move on. But each one was a terrific learning experience that made me smarter.

All of this is what I try to pass on to the next generation(s) now that I’m in the classroom introducing them to the career field that has been mine for closing in on 50 years.

So here’s the deal for my students…and anyone else who has questions about his or her future…

Connect with me or with anyone you know of who has experience in the profession you are interested in.

Ask us questions…starting with “How did you wind up working in public relations?” Then zero in on specifics like “What do I need to know how to do from the start?”

The conversation will flow on from there, and you’ll walk away with enough guidance to help you start sifting through the internship opportunities available through your Career Development Center as well as suggestions you get from me or whoever you talk with.

Start today by making the connection and connecting the dots.

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, internships, job hunting, job search, mentoring, Planning, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “The Old Way Doesn’t Work? Try A New Way!”

Publication1One of the fringe benefits of being a “veteran” public relations professional now teaching the next generation(s) of PR practitioners at Curry College is that of providing advice, counsel, and general “talk ‘em off the ledge” reassurance to young…and sometimes not-so-young…students.

They’ve been told, time and again, to face up to their challenges and work through them. The problem, though, is that they’re usually not given any pointers on exactly how to “work through them.”

The simple answer here is that there rarely is just one simple answer to a problem. Different people have different ways of dealing with situations, and you have to figure out what will work best for your particular challenge.

The one thing I do know for sure is that you can’t just keep banging your head against the wall. The wall might fall…someday…but odds are you will go down first!

So what to do?!? Here’s a thought…try a new way of tackling the problem!

A gazillion years ago, in my early Air Force days, I worked in a three-person audiovisual library. My boss and I were early-birds, so we always got to the office at 8 o’clock to open up for the day and serve our customers. The third member of our team was (for a variety of marginally acceptable reasons) incapable of meeting that start-time.

Thanks to some very successful promotions that I was doing for our operation, business had nearly doubled and with that growth had come increasingly longer…unscheduled…working hours. Some of our new customers needed to come by earlier than 8 to get their film and equipment; others needed to come by later than our traditional 5 p.m. closing.

An ad hoc planning session gave us a solution that also allowed us to avoid disciplinary actions against my sleepy-head colleague….my boss and I (habitual early risers) switched to a 7 a.m.-4 p.m. work shift; Roger took on a 9 a.m.-6 p.m. shift.

Bear in mind, this was 40 years ago, and “flexible work hours”…especially in the military…were unheard of! But Roger was a good worker, and we wanted to find positive resolution to the issue while meeting the needs of our growing customer base.

The result?? Not only were we able to get around a smoldering disciplinary problem (this was the military, remember…timeliness is a big deal). We also added two hours to our open-for-business day!

Business grew even more, and our late-to-work problem was solved.

I mention this particular example because, when I shared it in later years with other military and civilian co-workers, the majority of the responses fell into the “I would have written the lazy bum up” category.

That is an alternative solution, and one that often is used… “my way or the highway.” It just didn’t work for us. We didn’t like the alternative…so we changed it.

Explore your options. Try new ways of doing things. Take chances (within reason). You might just find you’ve solved your problem!

Posted in Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, public relations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your Career and You: “Plan Ahead…The Future Is Now”

Publication1It’s a well-worn “rut”…with the new year comes, for many students at Curry College, where I head our Communication Department’s Public Relations Concentration, the final semester of their studies before we kick them out into the cold, cruel world.

While I do try to help them stay on track as their advisor, once in a while plans go kerfluey and varying stages of panic set in.

Try as I might, I can’t persuade all who cross my threshold that planning ahead is part and parcel of “real life,” especially for those of us who have chosen public relations as a career path. Our PR textbooks talk about planning. I talk about planning. The cases studies that we read and analyze talk about planning. But…

Here we are, setting our sights on that long-awaited “I’m all growed up” day when everyone gathers in a tent, speeches are made, diplomas are handed out, photos are taken…and reality sets in.

Now I’m totally not the one to say “Do as I did.” If PBS wanted to do a “Nova” segment on cluelessness as a college senior trait, I would have been the perfect example.
> Didn’t ask anyone for advice…actually didn’t know you could ask someone for advice.
> Didn’t put any serious thought into what I really wanted to do…figured, as Doris Day sang, “Que sera, sera.”

But that was then, and this is now. And, if anything, I want to help…emphasis on “help”…not force…my students to plan ahead.

But I also have to remember that, to paraphrase one of my favorite lines, “They is me.”

So what to do? How to encourage “the future is now” thinking without also inciting panic?

Maybe it’s not perfect, and I’m sure there’s someone waiting gleefully to tell me I’m an idiot (stand in line, sport…lots of folks ahead of you!), but I introduce “real life” into every single communication class that I teach.

Yes, we talk about the theories of communication, and we talk about the history of the various communication specialty areas. But we also talk about present-day events, to drive home the point that “life happens and you need to be prepared for it.”

The result…occurring more and more frequently…is that the troops start asking questions earlier…“What should I do?”… “How do I know?”

And it falls on my…and my colleagues’…shoulders to be able to start the conversation that will help these young future professionals find the answer.

An emphatic “No” here…we should NOT give them the answer. We should help them find the answer based on their own interests, abilities, and knowledge.

But the conversation should start now. The planning should start now. The future is now.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” [1865]

Posted in careers, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, feedback, mentoring, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Oppurtunity and Common Since”

Publication1Two things that I try to help my students understand at Curry College, where I head our Communication Department’s Public Relations Concentration, are (a) that there are any number of great entry-level positions out there that they are fully capable of getting and (b) that they will blow their chance of getting one of those positions with sloppy writing…as in cover letters, resumes, LinkedIn profiles, etc.

Particularly for those troops who harbor some insane notion of diving into the public relations profession, correct writing…spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization…is paramount.

I wrote about this just recently, and I very likely will be ranting many more times throughout the course of spring semester. I hasten to add that producing compelling content is right up there with this, but today I’m focusing on the write right rite.

The misconception appears to still live that “someone else will find my mistakes and correct them.”

WRONG, Grasshopper! Or, actually, CORRECT!

BUT…you’re not going to get that lusted-after internship, first-job interview, anticipated promotion…or (horror of horrors!) a good grade in the course you’re taking with me…if you continue to crank out error-laden copy.

Clients/bosses are not impressed by the speed with which you craft a message filled with mistakes. Nor, I would argue, should teachers be, although I continue to be baffled by some remarks I hear… “Oh, well. He/she is just learning communication skills.”

To quote “M*A*S*H” Commander Colonel Sherman T. Potter, “Horse* hockey.”

(*Note: Shout-out to my eagle-eyed compatriot, Philip Tate, for noticing that I had mistakenly said “Bull hockey.” Thank heavens for keen editorial eyes!!)

We’re in college, sports fans, and we should not be “just learning communication skills.” We (read “you”) should be perfecting communication skills.

It’s called “A.T.D.”…Attention To Detail…and it’s what differentiates the “professional” from the “wannabe.”

So the next time you put fingers to keyboard, ask yourself… “Do I want to sound like I’m really the next great PR Account Executive? Or do I really want to continue getting ‘Thanks; No Thanks’ letters when I apply for internships or jobs?”

Now…sit at your computer and start writing…and thinking…and questioning…and double-checking what you’ve just written.

Use…but don’t trust…spellcheck. It’s a good first round of editing, but don’t rely entirely on it.

Then use that historical artifact known as a “dictionary” to double-check those words you’re not sure about.

Finally…learn from your mistakes.

Years ago, I was encouraged by a friend (PR professional) who I really admired and respected to apply for a very cool position working with him. He knew I was starting a search for a new position, and he wanted me to be in the running.

I was using a “form letter” format that (in my mind) covered all the crucial points in my qualifications, changing the names and other job-specific information for each application.

I wanted to impress him with the speed of my response, so I cranked that puppy out immediately and express-mailed (pre-internet days) my stuff to him.

The next day, I re-read my letter to him. And there…in the closing paragraph…it was waiting for me. I had left the previous job application’s company name in this new letter.

Sloppy? Yes. My fault? Totally. Did I learn my lesson? Completely. Did I get called in for an interview? Absolutely NOT.

Lesson learned…read, re-read, and then read again everything you write BEFORE putting in an envelope…or, in today’s terminology, “hitting ‘send.’”

“OppUrtunity” truly does knock but once.
But “OppOrtunity” will come again.

And that’s my “to sense wurth.”

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, internships, job hunting, job search, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment