Your Career and You: “Where Do I Go Next?”

Publication1One question I am asked most often is: “Where do I go next?”

Most of the time it’s from young professionals who have just gotten a start in their career and are eager to move onward and upward. I get similar questions, though, from many of my Curry College Communication students…especially those in the Public Relations Concentration who have tasted the nectar of the PR world and want to experience more.

My answer is similar regardless: “What do you want to do? What makes you excited?”

I love this quote from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” where Alice comes to a fork in the road and asks the Cheshire Cat which path she should take.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a great 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.”

In other words, you need to have a plan. Sure, you might be just starting out, but you need to have some idea “where you want to get to.”

Of course, the famous New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra also had a pretty good take on this with his own pronouncement: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Hmmm…

The point here is, we all sooner or later reach a point in our professional (or personal) lives where we feel like we need someone smarter than us to help guide us along the path to success. In professional parlance, this person is called a “mentor.”

The Public Relations Society of America’s College of Fellows has a mentoring program through which senior practitioners provide advice and guidance to other public relations pros to help them navigate the choppy waters of their careers. Not only did I take advantage of it myself back in my “PR professional” days; I also volunteer as a mentor at PRSA’s International Conference each year, meeting with and offering advice to PRSA members.

Regardless of what your career field is, there are folks out there who are ready and willing to share with you their own knowledge and experience to help you “sort stuff out.”

How do you find these people?

  • If you’re in college, start with your professors and your career services folks. Believe it or not, they are there to help you!
  • If you’re out in the working world, check out the professional organizations in your area. I mentioned this in my last post, but it bears repeating.

For those of us in the communication arena, national organizations include PRSA, IABC and AMA. Each of these has local chapters that are readily accessible. In addition, especially in major cities, there is a “Publicity Club”; here in Boston it’s the Publicity Club of New England. (There are other, similar organizations in cities around the country, and this is just a sampling. Check ‘em out!)

Bottom line here is…you’re not in this alone. There are others out there who are more than willing to help you. But they’re not mind-readers. You have to start the process by asking the simple question: “Where do I go next?”

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, Inspiration, job hunting, job search, mentoring, networking, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Passion for Your Profession”

Samantha

Photo by Sheehan McCarthy

A photo on Instagram taken of and posted by my friend/former Curry College student Samantha Valletta drove home for me the absolute need to love what you’re doing for a living. Samantha has multiple passions including theatre, dance, yoga…and public relations, and she’s having the time of her life juggling all of them. (And, yes, that’s the photo…used with her permission.)

One fringe benefit of my current life as coordinator of our Communication Department’s Public Relations Concentration is the opportunity to meet, study, and become friends with young men and women who are hell-bent on finding a career path that allows them to do something they really love doing.

Some actually wind up working in PR. Others head off on different paths, combining and using the multiple skills and interests that they have found in the course of their college life. And that is as it should be.

I always think of my younger brother, Jimmy, who initially studied law in college and built himself a very successful law practice afterwards. But his heart wasn’t completely in it and, after a number of years of “doing ‘okay’,” he made a radical change, earned his ministry degree, and the past 10 years have been for him, in my own biased opinion, “pure heaven” as Senior Pastor at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, GA.

But it was a daring move on his part, and Jimmy was careful as he moved forward with this major shift in his life. He had the support and encouragement of his family, so that eased the load a little.

The lesson in this is pretty simple…and very complex.

Many people settle on and in a “job” that pays the bills, is socially acceptable, and offers some hope for a decent retirement. They go to work, do their job, and go home at the end of the day.

Others, either through careful planning or, as was the case with my own career, through sheer luck, find career paths that allow them to do something that gives them pleasure, allows them to use their skills, and pays the bills.

It doesn’t come quickly to all…took me 10 years to actually figure things out…but it will come. You just have to believe in yourself and believe that it will happen.

You have to do some “stuff” up front, though, if you want to have at least a decent shot at this.

If you’re in college, talk to your professors and your career services counselors about internship opportunities. Get started on this as soon as you can…internships help you figure out what you like to do as well as don’t like, what type of organization you like working for, what makes you happy.

If you’re in college or are graduated and are working but don’t feel like your current job is “it,” one word… “network.” Connect with the professional organizations (here in the Boston area, for communicators, it’s PRSA Boston, Publicity Club of New England, IABC Boston, AMA Boston, for starters). Attend meetings; meet people; find out what’s out there.

Yeah, I know. All of this sounds like work, and it is. But this is how you find the profession that fulfills your passion. As Nike likes to say, “Just do it!”

Posted in Action, careers, Communication, Curry College, feedback, Inspiration, internships, job hunting, job search, mentoring, networking, Planning, pleasure, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, PRSA Boston, PRSSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Good Housekeeping = Good PR”

Publication1In one of my previous lives as a public relations practitioner, I developed an odd (to my co-workers) habit of stopping on the way to my office to pick up stray bits of paper in the parking lot and dust the (fake) shrubbery that adorned our lobby.

This routine struck a lot of folks as strange because, according to my job title, I was “Communication Director,” not “Housekeeper.” But, as I explained time and again, I was, in fact, “housekeeper”…as should each of them be.

I tell this story regularly to my Communication students at Curry College, especially those who take my “Principles of Public Relations” course as part of their PR Concentration requirements. The point I try to drive home is that public relations is much, much more than writing news releases or organizing events.

No. Public relations in general terms is about “appearance.” As communicators, we spend a lot of our time telling others about our client or employer’s activities. We do our best to paint a positive picture that encourages their support.

But, as I also often say, “appearance is what’s in your front yard”…what you want passers-by to see and think of you…your reputation.

There’s another side to this, though, and that’s your “back yard” where you store your junk in hopes that no one will see it…the “real” you…your character.

Back to my plant-dusting. At this particular organization, we spent a lot of time and energy emphasizing the cleanliness of our operations. And we did a pretty good job of it.

But it hit me one day as I walked from my car to our main entrance that there was a bit of a disconnect. The question popped up in my mind, “How can we credibly communicate ‘cleanliness’ when people have to walk past trash on their way in to our building?”

Then I spotted cobwebs on the fake plants. To quote Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, “Bazinga!”

Thus began the daily ritual…pick up pieces of trash on the way in; check the plants…and other spots…for cobwebs or anything else that might contradict the perception of “cleanliness.”

Ethical business practices are much the same. Organizations say they care about their customers and the general public and society and all that. But what goes on “behind closed doors”?

This is where we, in our role as communicator and corporate conscience, come into the picture. We (ideally) should be part-and-parcel of the corporate decision-making process, lending our perspective as a communication professional to the conversation.

We should be plugged into the thoughts of our stakeholders…aware of their opinions, wants, and preferences. If our leaders are considering actions that are contrary to what those important audiences are thinking, we should be ready, willing, and able to speak up. As I so often say, “If it makes the hair on the back of your neck get all creepy-crawly, there’s very likely a problem.”

And this leads us back to my original thoughts on good housekeeping. It’s our responsibility to make sure our “front yard” is neat and tidy. But we also have to keep an eye on the “back yard” where plans and programs are created…is everything equally presentable? Would we be proud of what passers-by (stakeholders) will see?

After all, “good housekeeping = good PR!”

Posted in Action, Communication, Curry College, Customer Service, Ethics, PR, PR students, public relations, Thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Public Relations and Ironing Clothes”

Publication1It’s Sunday morning, and I’ve just wrapped up the first set of tasks that I’ve inherited over the past 40-plus years of married life, one of which is ironing clothes.

I actually enjoy this chore, and I used to think I was probably a “little” weird because of it. That is, until I was having a chat with my president at the Blood Bank of Hawaii way back when. We were comparing notes on our relatively frenetic lives, and I mentioned that I enjoyed ironing clothes, to which she responded, “So do I!”

We both agreed that ironing clothes was a therapeutic action for us. Our workdays were filled with ever-changing twists and turns that kept us “on” pretty much all the time. Ironing clothes on the other hand, as we both agreed, had a beginning and an end. We could control the action.

As we talked more, I realized that this seemingly mundane task was very similar to my day-to-day challenges as a public relations professional.

How and why? Simple! The basic steps in ironing are…
1. Gather all the clothes in need of ironing. (Research)
2. Set up the ironing board; fill the iron with water and turn it on. (Action)
3. Take each item and iron until wrinkles are gone. (Communication)
4. Check to see that all clothes in need of ironing are, in fact, neatly ironed and ready to wear. (Evaluation)

Sure, you will have to repeat the process next week or whenever your ironing cycle comes around again. But you will have successfully addressed the challenge and you have an operable plan!

And, just as in public relations life, occasionally there will be a need to re-iron a recently-worn item because of an unexpected occasion that requires wearing it. (Crisis Management)

Our main goal as public relations professionals is to “engineer” (Edward L. Bernays’ description) a mutual understanding between our client or employer and those publics with whom we wish to (or must) conduct our business. (Wrinkle-free clothes)

We want those publics (or “audiences” if you prefer that term) to view our client or employer favorably. (Neatly-pressed appearance)

Occasionally we will have to take special extra steps to ensure that favorable opinion. (Starch on clothes)

In the end, though, we will have accomplished our mission. So the next time you’re facing a pile of wrinkled clothes, don’t think of it as “another mindless household chore.” Look at it as a very solvable public relations challenge!

Posted in Action, Communication, Evaluation, Planning, PR, public relations, Research, Thinking | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Your Career and You: “Nothing’s Perfect, Little Girl”

Publication1I read a terrific post on PR Daily recently entitled “8 Fundamental Truths about Public Relations” by Christina Nicholson that got me to thinking about all the things I pass on to students at Curry College who wind up in my “Principles of Public Relations” class.

I tell them about the “fun” stuff…dealing with crises, orchestrating way cool promotional events with professional/celebrity sports figures here in the Boston area, getting amazing media coverage for employees and students at various organizations where I’ve worked.

I kind of hint at the downsides to the business…snarky reporters who hang up in the middle of your (to you) brilliant pitch, bosses who demand that you “call the editor” of the Boston Globe and read him the riot act over recent coverage of your organization, a dead body discovered in the bushes right outside your main office…

As I tell anyone and everyone with whom I come in contact, I loved my former life as a PR professional as much as I love now my current life as PR professor. As a member of Curry’s Communication Department and as “chief cook and bottle washer” for our ever-expanding Public Relations Concentration, I get a chance to introduce young men and women to what has consumed nearly 50 years of my life.

For those who “drink the Kool-Aid” and commit to studying public relations as well as doing PR in multiple internships, I try to paint as realistic a picture as possible of what lies ahead.

I’m also reminded, as I do this, of something a frazzled salesman said to my wife years ago when she spotted a microscopic flaw in a lamp we were interested in buying and had immediately launched into her awe-inspiring-to-this-day bargaining mode. (I’ve told this story a couple of times before in previous posts, so it may sound familiar.)

After about a half-hour of her expressing an interest in the lamp but then zeroing in on the flaw and attempting to negotiate a reduced price, the hapless fellow finally burst out with an exasperated “Nothing’s perfect, little girl!”

And that’s the point I want to make about public relations as a profession. As I tell my students, there are some incredible highs…days when it seems like everything you touch turns to gold. And then there are gut-wrenching lows, when everything you come near turns to donkey poop.

That’s called “life,” and there’s not a whole lot as a human being you can do about it other than to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try it again.

I’m also not suggesting that you should accept “close enough” as your standard of professionalism. You should always go for the gold…do your absolute very best…every single time. Don’t “settle.” Don’t “sacrifice.” Put every ounce of your pride and professionalism into everything you do for clients or employers…or the world.

But, by the same token, don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go exactly as you had envisioned. Be optimistic…the next time, they will.

And always keep in the back of your mind that salesman’s wise words… “Nothing’s perfect, little girl.”

(P.s., we wound up buying the lamp…at a reduced price!)

 

 

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, Education, internships, PR, PR students, public relations, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Personal Recognition…It’s Good ‘PR’!”

Publication1It took me a long time to figure this out myself…If you don’t tell people who you are, they’re not going to know who you are.”

I know this is a mind-blowingly obvious statement, but how many of you are as guilty of that mistake as I was??

We’re not talking “bragging,” which is the way I looked at self-promotion in earlier times.

No. This is about offering others an opportunity to see/hear/experience the special things that make you “you.”

Now, if you’re diligently spending your time in college preparing to be a hermit, stop reading and crawl back in your cave. But if your goal is to go out into the “world” and focus on a professional career, read on.

There is not, to the best of my knowledge, a single [legal] profession on this planet that doesn’t depend on some level of publicity for its success. In case you’ve forgotten…I was Communication Director for a cemetery here in the Boston area… “last people on earth who will let you down!” Okay. I know that’s a little creepy, but the reality was that a lot of people in our area didn’t know who we were…my job was to fix that, and I did.

I’m teaching Public Relations at Curry College now, working with a lot of very smart, accomplished education professionals…something for which, other than having taught English as a Second Language in Vietnam for two years, I have zero formal training. So I have to do some self-promotion to let folks…students…fellow teachers…know who I am.

The simple fact of the matter is that people…potential customers…potential employers…are bombarded with information about “new, improved” products, “custom-tailored” services, “award-winning” job applicants.

After a while, the pitches start sounding like the teacher in all the “Peanuts” cartoons… “Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah.”

But what if? What if, when the prospect (customer/employer) sees/hears your name, it rings a bell. “Hmmm…I’ve heard that name before…let’s see…”

What this means, of course, is that you have to get your name and your message in places where those prospects go for news and information. Which also means that you have to do some homework to find those places and make sure your information (blog posts, comments on others’ posts and articles)…whatever you want people to see that introduces you to them…is there.

A word of caution…don’t overdo your welcome. Be seen, but don’t be obnoxious. It’s like learning to swim or to ride a bike…start off slowly and carefully.

Some of you will freak out at, as I did at first (and still struggle with it), the thought of “putting yourself ‘out there.’” If you’ve read anything at all that I’ve written in the past, you know that I am a board-certified introvert. Can’t deal with crowds. Have mini-panic attacks when even one new person comes within chatting distance.

But I also have learned that, if I am to have any hope of continuing my snail-paced climb to what I define as “success,” I have no choice. I have to continue building my network and putting my name and face in front of strangers.

So don’t just do as I say, my friend. Do as I am doing. Be seen on social platforms that are visited by those who you want to connect with. Be present at those in-person functions that are attended by those you want to meet.

Build your personal recognition…It’s good PR!!

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Your Career and You: “It Doesn’t Get ‘Easier’”

 

Publication1

Retirement…something I talk a lot about but, until recently, haven’t done much about…suddenly looks a little shakier, at least for the short term. Not “panic-mode” shakier, but definitely a little less reassuring.

I think of this because, for the past month or so, I’ve been noticing the Facebook posts by my recently-minted Curry College alums…filled with optimism, hope…and a tiny trace of panic.

Their initial reaction after graduating was “OKAY! It’s OVER!! I can sit back, get a job, and enjoy life!!” But now reality has come knocking in the form of rent checks, student loan bills…REAL “life.”

You see. That’s the downside to grownup-ism. Expectation is sitting there on your shoulder impatiently waiting for something to happen…for a job to be secured…for you to move out and on your own…for you to put to meaningful use that hard-earned degree you recently got.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from a student a few years back who, after we had had a long and serious meeting about his future, plaintively said, “But I’m just a kid!”

Maybe, in his mind, he was. But to the rest of the world standing around watching, he was a young adult on the threshold of “real life.”

Graduation is a nerve-rackingly exciting event. In literally a 24-hour cycle, you transform like a caterpillar into a butterfly from “college student” to “young adult” with all the accompanying challenges and responsibilities.

>The good news? You don’t have your RA pounding on your door at 2AM telling you to keep the noise down.
>The bad news? It’s your landlord saying you’re a week late on your rent payment…again.

>The good news? You found and applied for a dozen jobs that looked like they were made for you.
>The bad news? You heard back from four…who said “no thanks.”

>The good news? You got a call-back and have scheduled an interview with a really cool company.
>The bad news? They want you to relocate to Left Armpit, North Dakota.

And so the cycle goes. The good. The bad. The hopeful. The hopeless.

Welcome to “life after college”…or “life after retirement”…whichever might apply. Now is your chance to show others…and yourself…that you’re ready to take on the challenges, to explore new opportunities.

It may not get any easier. But if you believe in yourself and in the choices that you make, it does get more manageable. So buckle up and get ready for an amazing ride!

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