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?”

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, internships, job hunting, job search, PR, PR students, public relations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

Your Career and You: “One Step Forward; Two Steps Back”

Publication1Once in a while throughout the course of my career first as a public relations professional, now a public relations professor, I have hit a point where I ask myself “what’s the point?” A feeling of “here we go again” washes over me, and I’m tempted to curl up in the corner with my teddy bear.

I like to think my colleagues (both professional and academic) and I are making a difference for the future generations of PR pros who pass our way either as mentees or as students. Then “stuff” happens.

I got that feeling just recently thanks to an email from a student in one of my classes at Curry College, where I ride herd over the undergrad Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses.

The student…five days after the work was assigned and with less than two days to complete it…apparently decided that the instructions I had posted were written in Klingon.

Hence his statement/question: “I don’t understand. Can you explain?”

Now this truly was a “complicated” assignment. The question related to a famous libel suit back in the 1700s that we had discussed at length in our mass communication class. The wording of the question was, basically, “John Q. Public…what happened and why was it important for communicators?”

Needless to say, the entire scenario is discussed in detail in our textbook, and a quick Google search provides a wealth of additional info.

But, nowhere in the book does it specifically say “Kirk will ask this specific question and here is the answer all spelled out for you.”

Hence, “I don’t understand. Can you explain?”

I try to drive home to my troops the importance…since they harbor eager thoughts of being radio or television newscasters or, better yet(!), public relations professionals…of what we refer to as “critical thinking.”

The thought behind this concept is that you, the student/professional-to-be, will take a pile of assorted information, sift through it, and arrive at a conclusion of some sort…a resolution to the problem at hand.

Why do we give emphasis to this approach? Pretty simple, to me.

Because that’s the way it’s going to be once you stumble across the stage at commencement, give your “ate a bumblebee” grin for the photo with the president, and clutch your diploma in your clammy hands.

Your boss isn’t going to say, “Here’s a problem we’re facing, and here’s how I think we should deal with it.”

Unh-unh. Ain’t gonna happen.

The conversation is going to go something like this: “XYZ just happened. I need a plan to deal with the fallout by noon.”

Your challenge is to sort through the smoldering rubble, find the cause of the situation, identify possible options for resolution and come back to the boss with your recommended solution.

We spend a lot of time talking about “life after college,” “growing up,” and all that. And, once in a while, we think we’ve gotten through. A faint glimmer of understanding flashes across our young charges’ faces.

Then the question comes: “I don’t understand. Can you explain?”

One step forward; two steps back.

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Your Career and You: “You Can’t ‘Buy’ Ethics”

Publication1 (2)I’m doubling up on my posts about public relations and ethics this month. September is “Ethics Month” for the Public Relations Society of America, and we devote a lot of energy to educating/ reminding public relations professionals about the responsibility that sits on their shoulders when it comes to ethical practice.

I’m happy to also say that my Communication students at Curry College get a reasonably good introduction to ethics in both my “Introduction to Mass Communication” and “Principles of Public Relations” courses. I know that my colleagues at colleges and universities across the nation do the same, so we’re laying a solid foundation for the future of our profession.

I’ve written quite a bit about ethics in public relations, with articles published in the International Public Relations Association’s “Thought Leadership” series as well as in the Public Relations Society of America’s “PRSAY” blog and its monthly newspaper, “Tactics.”

Like any profession, not every single person who calls him- or herself a “public relations practitioner” is pristine in thought and action. There are bad apples everywhere, which makes it even more important that those of us who do conduct ourselves ethically remind the rest of the world that we believe in and support the ethical guidelines laid out for us.

Here’s the deal, though. doesn’t offer “ethics” as one of its many products available for purchase online. And I didn’t see any on any of the shelves at Costco the last time I was there.

Ethical behavior is a very personal thing. You either have it, or you don’t. You can’t be “sort of ethical.” You either are, or you’re not.

So that’s why it’s so important that those of us who do live and breathe ethics as a core element in our thought and practice be willing to share that conviction with others who may, or may not, share that belief.

I’m not suggesting Bible-thumping ethical evangelism (although the mental image of “saved” PR practitioners falling on their knees in a fit of fervent revelation is kind of cool!). Rather, it’s a quiet but consistent commitment that others see, sense, and support.

Ethical conviction comes from the heart, and it shows in every single thing we say and do on behalf of clients or employers.

Will everyone see the light and commit to ethical practice? Not likely. Again, as I said earlier, there are those who believe in the “whatever it takes” theory, and ethics isn’t a consideration.

But we can fight the good fight, and demonstrate to those who are willing to pay heed the long-term benefits of doing the right thing for the right reasons.

You can learn ethics. You can teach ethics. You just can’t buy ethics.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Communication, Curry College, Education, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Help, I Need Somebody…Help, Not Just Anybody!”

Publication1It’s that time of the year again…start of the new semester at Curry College…unfamiliar faces in my classrooms…alarm jolting me awake at 4:45 am after a restful couple of summer months of “sleeping in” until 7. I’ve been doing this “teaching thing” for more than 10 years, and the routine doesn’t change.

One thing that never fails to intrigue me is the inevitable encounter with new (as well as not-so-new) students with questions ranging from “what should I study?” to “why do I need to take this course?”

The good news for them is that this won’t be the first time I’ve been asked these questions. The bad news for me is that I really want to give solid advice that will either set them off on the right path or help them get a more solid footing on that path.

I didn’t take a “counseling” course in college. Whatever I do or say in response to these questions comes as a result of my own “take off the training wheels and see what happens” experiences. (Note: I actually pedaled straight off a 12-foot embankment!)

I remember so vividly a few years back counseling a student who was having some serious home issues as well as college studies challenges. We talked at length about his plans, his dreams, his realities…

Finally, in frustration, he said wistfully, “But I’m just a kid.”

My response to him was, “You might think of yourself as a ‘kid,’ but you’re not. You’re at the very beginning of your career pathway, and you’re going to have to take control of your life.”

I’m happy to say that he has taken control and is on what I’m sure will be a slow but rewarding climb up the professional ladder.

I’ve written many times about my own totally erratic career path. Undergrad degree in English. Undergrad and grad degrees in business management. Career in public relations: Air Force, Army, high tech, member services, PR firm, healthcare, trade association…cemetery. Now teaching.

Looking back more than 50 years ago, I had absolutely not the slightest intention of doing any of this. Certainly not public relations…I had never even heard of public relations! And being a teacher was as close to the bottom of the ladder as I could imagine.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m very happy with the way things have turned out. It’s just that I really would have liked to have had someone offering real-life advice of what and where to go.

So we flash forward to today and my roles both in the academic setting and in the world of public relations. The most comforting assurance that I can offer to my charges is “things will change…many times…and that’s okay.”

I go on to remind them that, much like my earlier student, they are on the way to becoming responsible adults, so they need to start focusing on where they want to go and what they want to do.

So here’s the deal. Start asking yourself, “What am I really interested in?”… “What makes sense given my proven abilities?”… “Which internship(s) did I really enjoy and what job possibilities did they offer?”

Then set (and keep) an appointment with your advisor or your mentor…the person who you feel can give you meaningful guidance.

Then…start thinking of yourself as that professional that you believe you are capable of becoming. Start or continue your networking with other professionals in that area. When they see that you are dead serious about your desire to get a foothold in the career field that they, themselves, have succeeded in, they’re going to offer their own advice and guidance.

But it’s a process, so don’t think you’re going to hit the jackpot right off the bat. Be patient. Be persistent. Be positive. And remember…

The Beatles said it first, “Help!”

Posted in careers, Curry College, feedback, internships, job hunting, job search, mentoring, networking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Your Career and You: “Running for the Bus”

Publication1Classes have started for the fall semester at Curry College where, as a member of the Communication Department, I head the Public Relations Concentration. That translates into a whole new herd of wide-/bleary-eyed students ricocheting from class to class trying to work out some sort of manageable daily routine.

Their feeling of “OhMyGodWhatHaveIDone?” kind of hit home for me this morning as I was doing my own regular commute routine and was running to catch an incoming subway.

Grade school lasts for a lifetime. You start off about the same time you took the training wheels off your bike, and it comes to a crashing end around the time you get your driver’s license.

Then, just when the fog has lifted from your graduation night revels…COLLEGE STARTS!!

You thought you had some idea of what math, history, and English were all about. THEN you find yourself sitting in a class taught by a professor who WROTE A BOOK about the subject.

This raises the “OMGWHID” level to whole new heights, and the temptation to curl up in a corner of your (no-longer-private) room with your teddy bear washes over you.

Especially with my own advisees, most of whom have tentatively decided that public relations is the career path they want to pursue, I say ever-so-gently, “Welcome to my world!”

Life is kind of like that. Sometimes you’re snuggled up with your security blanket; then you’re staring at a “to-do” list that sits on your shoulder and bites your ear once in a while.

Frankly, as I also say to my disciples, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Granted a little peace and quiet helps. But I tend to get bored very quickly when it gets too peaceful and too quiet.

Maybe it’s because I’m the oldest of six children, and I grew up in an environment where there was always something going on. I just assumed that that was the way life works.

I’m not advocating total and absolute uncontrollable pandemonium every single minute of every single day. Unrealistic, unreasonable, and unproductive.

But you really need to keep the creative juices percolating, which means that you need to find or create new and exciting challenges to tackle.

The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is wise advice, but that doesn’t mean you can’t “tinker” with something a smidge and maybe improve results.

As an intern working for the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Public Affairs Office, I was once assigned to the Command’s Publications Branch to learn editorial skills.

One part of our daily routine was doing reading level assessments on every training manual draft that was in the process of being published. Simple enough. The folks in the group had a formula of sorts that they used, and it seemed to work fine.

But I was curious. What if…? How could…?

So, after working with the old formula for a while, I created a new formula, based on the existing one, but in what was to me a more efficient format.

At first my professional colleagues were skeptical, but they also were willing to try new things.

What happened?

They found that my new “tinkered” version enabled them to reduce turn-around time on reading level tests by more than 25 percent! Huge time savings!

And the point, Kirk, is…?

It’s easy to get in the comfortable rut of “that’s the way it’s always been done” and slip into unthinking autopilot. And that’s where you’ll stay…comfortably numb in your unchanging routine.

But you’re not going to go anywhere. You’re going to wake up years later to the reality that you’re doing the same things you were doing at the beginning…and basically at the same level with the same responsibilities. No movement. No growth. Nowhere.

Bit of advice here. Don’t do that. Look for new challenges. Be curious. Ask the “why” questions. Ask the “what if” questions.

Success in life…success in business…does not come from sitting around with the career motor in idle. Success is realized by moving…by doing…by running for the bus!

Why? Because, like your missed promotion, the next “bus” might not show up!

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