Your Career and You: “Success: It’s An Uphill Climb”

Publication1It seems like I have the conversation pretty regularly.

A student (usually a senior) will stop by my office with a tentative “Are you busy?” look, and we start talking…about classes, life, the world in general. Pretty soon it zeroes in on “I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.”

Since I have permanent residence in the land of “I’m doomed to a life of ‘average’,” I can easily identify, but I need the student to tell me what has brought on this latest case of despair.

Sometimes it’s a recent test score that, in the student’s eyes, should have been much higher. Sometimes it’s a feeling that he or she has sent out seemingly a bazillion resumes and has gotten zilch for a response. Sometimes it’s the realization that, in a few short months, the “real world” is going to be waiting impatiently.

Whatever the case, “success,” however it’s defined, keeps inching farther and farther away.

One of my self-assigned roles at Curry College, where I head the Communication Department’s Public Relations Concentration, is that of “cheerleader.” I absolutely believe in the capabilities of my student-friends.

I’ve wrestled with self-doubt pretty much all my life; I’ve been ready to just call it quits and curl up in a ball of self-pity. Thankfully, I’ve always been able to overcome the feeling and to move on.

Defining what “success” means for you as an individual is tough. And then there’s the challenge of determining if what you’ve achieved is “success” or if you’ve just “settled.”

I’ve known a lot of people ranging from childhood friends to current-day colleagues who, in my eyes, have “settled.” They’re doing well, no doubt. Financially comfortable. Personal life going very nicely. In my eyes, though…

But this is my opinion. And, thank goodness, I have never given any indication of how I feel. But I also so wish they would step out of that warm, comfortable blanket of “settled-ness” and show me the energy and enthusiasm that I know lives somewhere deep inside.

So, back to my student’s all-too-real concern.

First and foremost, I say…sometimes a smidge too energetically…do not give up. You’re just starting out on that amazing rollercoaster ride called “life,” and, believe me, my friend, you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet!

There will be times when your plans will go off on an orbit of their own, and all you can do is hang on and see what happens.

There will be times when it seems like everything you touch comes up a winner. Enjoy the feeling!

Whatever the case, believe in yourself. We all are put on this planet for a purpose…but defining that purpose and then working to make it come true requires determination and self-confidence. And it requires a healthy dose of bravery…taking a chance on a job offer…moving to a new city thousands of miles from home…committing to a lifelong relationship with someone from a completely different culture…

There are no guarantees in life. Life is what you make of it, and the pursuit of success is an uphill climb. But, trust me…it is so worth the effort!

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Your Career and You: “They Only Seem Like ‘Little Things’”

Publication1 (2)I was struck today with the realization…not new, but definitely reassuring…that the “little things” that you do are oftentimes not so “little.”

More than anything, it was a reminder of and reinforcement for why you do things for others when asked with no expectation…or thought…of reciprocation. You’re doing it simply because.

This particular occasion was the result of some introductions I made for some of my Curry College students/friends who have been enjoying an amazing winter break vacation in London with (he muttered jealously) side-trips to Amsterdam and to Barcelona.

I’ve had the pleasure of having all of them in one or more of my Communication classes at Curry and have been able to tempt at least a couple of them over to the “dark side” of the Public Relations Concentration. Every single one of them has the potential to be, in my totally biased opinion, a certified PR rockstar!

So…bottom line on this part…I just got “thank-you” messages via Twitter indicating that the meetings with my PR colleagues in London went very well, and new networking connections have been made for my Curry friends.

I’m blessed as a PR professional/professor to have other professional and/or academic friends around the world, all of whom are “wired” just like I am…to provide assistance/ guidance/advice when asked. Why? Because we all got where we are today because someone else was willing to provide us assistance/guidance/ advice in our earlier careers.

I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go overboard, but the “little” things that others do for you often turn out to be major, life-/career-changing actions.

  • My original mentor Clinton Parks, with the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Public Affairs Office, gave me my initial start as a PR pro.
  • My good friend Scott Shirai, at that time with Hawaiian Electric Industries, made a phone call that led to my being offered the best PR job of my entire professional career.
  • My academic colleague now retired/then-Department Chair at Curry College, George Wharton, encouraged me to apply for what is now a decade-long position teaching public relations and other communication courses.

There have been others in my nearly 50-year career as PR pro/PR prof, but these three truly played a major part in my professional…AND personal…life.

My greatest hope at this point in life is that each of these gentlemen realizes that what may have seemed like a “little thing” to him was, for me, a HUGE gesture.

So we do this when asked by others. We pick up the phone and make a call. We send a quick note via email to a distant colleague. We help when asked…with no expectation or thought of reciprocation. We simply do it because…

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“Passion and Professionalism”

Publication1It’s “downtime” for me. We’re on winter break at Curry College, where I manage our undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR…along with introductory Mass Communication and occasional Writing for Communication…courses.

I was good for about the first 48 hours of this supposed “vacation.” Then I got seriously bored. And, as many folks who have worked with me in the past can attest, you do not want a bored Kirk…things can get messy really fast!

The problem is that I absolutely and totally love what I’m doing now, what I did in my previous career, and what I am preparing young up-and-coming (as I term them) “PR rockstars” to do. And if I’m not doing it, I get antsy.

Mind you, I don’t have any misconceptions about my classroom performance. I know there are others who are a heck of a lot better at this “teacher” thing than I, just like there were (and still are) public relations professionals who made my efforts look downright amateurish. So be it.

What I like to think I do offer is a wholehearted, in-your-face commitment to and belief in the principles that are the basis for public relations.

I want my students…especially those who have chosen the PR Concentration as their focus within the Communication major…to understand deep inside the responsibility that working in our field carries.

We are trusted by clients or employers to represent them to the “outside” world as well as to the internal employee audiences…and to help create an awareness and build an understanding of why they are important to both.

And we are trusted by those audiences, external and internal, to say and do everything openly and honestly. As public relations pioneer Ivy Ledbetter Lee said so well back in 1906 in his Declaration of Principles, “Ours is not a secret society.” Today we call it “transparency.”

Unlike lawyers, bus drivers, and real estate agents, though, we are not “licensed” as public relations professionals. Our credibility lies in our ability to accomplish sometimes seemingly miraculous deeds on behalf of others. While we know much of this lies in, first, the relationships that we have forged with our colleagues in the media and elsewhere, and, second, in our ability to communicate effectively, others see us as having a mysterious ability to “get ink.”

Whatever the case, we do what we do because we are professionals who are able, through action and deed, to “connect the dots” between our client or employer and the publics with whom he or she wishes to do business. And we do this with a passion that drives our efforts.

I’ve said this before…“public relations is both an art and a science.” The “art” aspect comes in our ability to create the communication vehicle through which the story is told. The “science” lies in our understanding of how the communication process works…how messages flow from sender to receiver and, in so doing, inspire the receiver to take a desired action as a result of that story.

Successful public relations practitioners let their love for the process show through in each and every thing they do…they show their passion and their professionalism every step of the way. Are you passionate about your profession??

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Your Career and You: “Just Checking In”

Publication1As a former public relations professional now teaching the next generations of PR pros at Curry College, I’m often asked why I devote so much time and energy to helping my young charges get a firm grip on “life after college.”

Part of my response is “because that’s what teachers do.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole story behind the real reason.

As I tell my students, when I started out in my public relations career, their parents probably weren’t born yet…or were still in diapers! But the memory of an encounter with one man has stayed me all those years.

Following graduation from college and an eight-year stint in the Air Force, I chose to pursue other opportunities. One that caught my attention was an internship with the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Public Affairs Office at Fort Monroe, VA.

The gentleman…and he truly merits this appellation…in charge of TRADOC’s internship program was Clinton Parks, and Clint put his heart and soul into the nurturing of each and every young man and woman who came under his supervision. He knew us; he knew our backgrounds and aspirations; and he instinctively knew our capabilities.

After a 12-month intensive learning experience at Fort Monroe and several other Army installations, we were given our first permanent assignments…“real” jobs that, if we showed that we had learned our lessons as “trainees,” could mark the beginning of a career as a PR pro.

As luck would have it, I was offered a starting assignment as Public Affairs Officer for the US Army Intelligence School at Fort Devens, MA. After persuading my wife that the job was located (as I cleverly phrased it) “close to Boston,” we packed our bags and headed off on what promised to be an exciting adventure.

I also thought that would be the last that I saw of or heard from Clint. Not the case…at all.

I settled into my new position and launched myself enthusiastically into a whirlwind of PR activities. Then one day my phone rang. “Public Affairs…Kirk Hazlett speaking,” rolled easily off my tongue.

A quietly-familiar voice responded, “Good morning, Kirk. This is Clinton Parks.”

My first reaction was “Oh, boy. What have I done wrong?”

He continued, “I just wanted to check in to see how you were doing and to see if there was anything I could do for you.”

Very quiet. Very calm. And very much appreciated…I was feeling kind of “do-I-actually-know-what-I’m-doing?”-ish. After chatting for a few minutes, I was reassured.

This routine continued for the next year-and-a-half…long after my formal internship had been completed and I was officially a “Department of the Army civilian employee.” My phone would ring every three months or so, and it would be Clint calling “just to see how things were going and if there was anything I could do for you.”

This kindness and caring has since become an integral part of my own interactions with younger up-and-coming professionals. My belief is, thanks to a gentleman who understood completely how lonely it can feel when one is starting out on one’s career and what a difference a simple phone call can make, that I must continue that tradition.

My own students, both current and former, have learned that I’m always there, quietly listening and ready at any time to ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?” Social media has amplified my ability to reach out, and I take advantage of a variety of platforms to maintain the connections.

The going phrase these days is “paying it forward,” and I firmly support the concept. I also, with equal conviction, am committed to “paying it back” in memory of a man who took what was, on paper, a simple job of supervising young wannabe Army public affairs professionals and turned it into a genuinely caring and nurturing routine of “just checking in.”

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Your Career and You: “But I’m Just a Kid”

Publication1I’ve written about this before, but tonight it rings so true.

I’m just back from the Public Relations Society of America’s International Conference where I was in the middle of close to 3,000 public relations professionals from around the world…all of whom are a whole lot smarter than I am.

One night, I had “chocolate milks” (don’t try to understand…just go with it) with a couple of public relations professionals who make me feel (not on purpose!) like I’m just starting out in the field. As I listened to them talking, the words kept running through my head…. “But I’m just a kid.”

This phrase was said to me by one of my Communication students several years ago as we were talking about his progress at Curry College. Things weren’t going well for him, and he had reached the point where he was convinced his life was going to come crashing down on his head.

I reminded him that he was, in the eyes of others, a “young adult” who was going to have to take responsibility for his own actions very, very soon. Unfortunately, as I learned in the course of our conversation, he wasn’t getting any positive support from his own parents. He needed someone to talk to…someone who could make him feel like he was on the right path.

I have this feeling myself from time to time. I like to try new things…test new ideas…step out of my comfort zone. But I often also find myself wondering if I really know what I’m doing/talking about. This self-doubt especially pops up in my role at Curry as head of our Public Relations Concentration. My challenge is to make sure that what I’m telling my students is going to help them prepare for the inevitable future that lies ahead.

Then I wind up at conferences or smaller-level meetings, PRSA in particular, and find myself in the midst of a bunch of people whose accomplishments leave me with my jaw hanging in amazement. I keep thinking about how smart they are and how I wish I could be like them…confident and self-assured.

I realize after a while, though, that these folks are just like me…human beings.  As I listen to their conversations, I hear their own self-doubts, and I’ve learned over the years to ask a simple question: “How did you manage to get past the uncertainty?”

The answer invariably is “I turned to ‘XXX’ for advice and guidance.” And I realize that this whole process isn’t rocket-science. Very simply put, it’s humans helping humans.

So, what does this mean for you as you start…or continue…your own career journey?

It means that you’re not in this alone. There are a lot of folks out there who are ready, willing and able to help you. You just have to be “adult” enough to ask.

You have to embrace your uncertainty, admit your weak points, and, as I say over and over, “dive into the deep end.”

You’re not “just a kid” any more.

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, Education, feedback, mentoring, networking, overload, PR, PR students, PRSA, public affairs, public relations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Are You ‘Social’ Enough?”

Publication1I often ask my students at Curry College, where I ride herd over our Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the undergrad PR courses, how active they are on social media…what platforms, how much time spent, etc.

I never fail to be surprised at how comparatively little most of them are engaged.

Granted they seem to be engaged somehow during classes…phones appear to take precedence over actually listening to what their esteemed professor is saying at the front of the room. But actually on a social media platform engaged in some sort of communication with others? Not so much.

I recently saw some statistics that say this generation is most active on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Interesting that Facebook has fallen down on the list…probably because so many users from my age-group are there…the “graying of Facebook”!

My point with my students, though, is this. “Most of you are Communication majors hoping to venture out into the ‘real world’ and find yourself some high-salary/low-hours job of some sort. You don’t know yet what that job will be, but you’re hoping it will be sitting there holding a sign with your name on it when you graduate and walk off the stage.”

Here’s the deal though. More and more hiring managers are turning to social media as a means of sourcing (finding) potential candidates to fill available position.

Question to students: “How am I going to find you on social media if you’re not there?”

Or, perhaps more important, “What will I find if I do happen to find you on a social media platform?”

As I caution my students, “If you are on one of these platforms and you want to connect with me, I will take a look at your activity online before accepting. If I find questionable photos and excessive profanity, we will never connect.”

Having laid the ground rules, I then launch into my “why it’s important for you to be reasonably proficient with the most common platforms” spiel.

First, as already mentioned, because that’s how your future employer is going to connect with you. Roughly 86% of companies report making their most recent hires via LinkedIn. Are you on LinkedIn?

Second, social media platforms have become an integral part of the communication/ marketing mix. Consumers more and more are turning first to social media to find out about your product or service.

Third, social media allows you, as the communicator, to connect directly with your current and potential customers. “Gatekeepers” in the traditional media world are slowly becoming extinct.

As your future employer, I am going to be looking to you to help drive my social outreach efforts. It’s not that I’m not familiar with and reasonably active on a number of platforms. But the fact of the matter is, you grew up with social media; I’m learning social media today.

So the question for you, young up-and-coming communication superstar, is: “Are you ‘social’ enough?”

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Your Career and You: “Watching Flowers Grow”

Publication1 - CopyOne of the truly rewarding things about my current life as a PR professor has been introducing young men and women to the profession that has been mine for more than a quarter-century and seeing that mental “light” go on in a student’s eyes when he or she figures out the next step post-college.

In the 10-plus years that I’ve headed the Public Relations Concentration at Curry College, I’ve “occasionally” been “accused” of being a smidge too intense in my championing of public relations as the field in which to spend one’s productive years. To which I (mentally) respond, “You ain’t seen nuttin’ yet!”

To be totally blunt, I don’t want any- and everyone flooding into the profession. Why? Because it’s just that…a profession, not an “oh well, couldn’t get a job anywhere else, so why not?”

In my absolutely biased opinion, public relations is, to borrow from Edward L. Bernays and countless other beacons in the PR world, both an art and a science.

The art part comes from the ability to craft messaging that resonates with target audiences and motivates them to do (or not do) something.

The science part lies in the ability to understand how and why that messaging works its magic.

And this is the beauty of teaching public relations in a liberal arts college. My students are required to take courses in philosophy and/or psychology as well as literature, history, and all the other trappings of what comprises a college education.

In the process, they are exposed to the way human beings think and the reasons for their actions…the science part.

They also take the usual contingent of courses in whatever their specified major might be…in my case, usually either Communication or Management…the art piece.

As much as I would love for every single one of the hapless souls who wander through my classes either voluntarily or under pressure to “drink the Kool-Aid” and swear allegiance to public relations, I know it’s not going to happen…but I see part of my mission as helping them figure out what they are interested in and would like to spend the rest of their lives doing.

College is an opportunity to explore…to “test drive” (as I like to term it) different things. Internships (required for my PR Concentration troops; encouraged for others) help fine-tune interests and, with any luck, get a start on a career.

It’s a process…

  • Identifying interests
  • Developing skills
  • Matching interests and skills
  • Pursuing job opportunities.

My job is very much like that of a gardener. I provide an educational “bed” into which the “seeds” of knowledge are planted and nurtured. With the proper amount of care (academic advising) and fertilizing (internships), the seeds that have been planted begin to sprout.

Success, for me, is measured in terms of the number of seeds that actually develop. I’m “watching flowers grow.”

Posted in careers, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curry College, Education, internships, job search, liberal arts education, Planning, PR students, public relations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment