Your Career and You: “Mentoring…Why We Do What We Do”

publication1Mentoring…I talked about this in my last post but some cool stuff has happened since then, so bear with me…

I was hit (happily) with the realization that mentoring occurs on at two levels.

The one that we most often think about is where, as more seasoned professionals, we offer advice and counsel to younger professionals who are at a transitional point in their own careers.

As co-chair of the PRSA College of Fellows’ Mentoring Committee, I recently helped organize a series of mentoring sessions at PRSA’s International Conference. Nearly a dozen Fellows met with close to two dozen other PRSA members who wanted someone with whom they could do a “reality check”…“Am I on the right path?…What steps do I take to move forward?”

Based on the feedback we’ve received, the effort was successful. The mentees came away feeling grateful to have had a chance to “test drive” their own thoughts and ideas about their respective career paths. The mentors appreciated having had the opportunity to pay back the support they, themselves, have gotten over the years from others.

But then I got back to Curry College, where I oversee the Communication Department’s Public Relations Concentration and serve as faculty adviser to the Curry College Public Relations Student Association (CCPRSA).

Almost immediately, I experienced three different examples of the second, equally important, level of mentoring…the chance to help young future professionals get started on their own career paths. They come to us…their professors, advisors, friends…with their own questions… “Is this the right set of courses to take?…What kind of internship should I apply for?”

So…what happened that caused me to have the mentoring revelation?

First, I went with a few members of the CCPRSA Executive Board to the PRSA Boston Annual Meeting. They’re all sophomores…COM major; PR Concentration. The concept of public relations as a career path is new to them, and they’re still trying to come to grips with what PR really is.

In the course of a few lightning-fast hours, they shook hands and chatted with the chief communications officer for General Electric, the chair of the board of directors of PRSA (who is also senior vice president at a major PR firm in the Boston area), the former director of marketing and communications for a major law firm in Boston, and countless other PR pros from agencies, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. In short…a networking orgy.

Then, during the meeting, I got a text message from another CCPRSA E-Board member (a senior) apologizing for not having made it to the meeting as planned. She was at her PR firm internship and was offered the opportunity to assist with some after-hours client-related activities. In addition she had gotten a hit from some media outreach she had done and was setting up a client interview. I honestly could see the gleam of excitement in her eyes in the message!!

THEN…the very next day…I had a chat and coffee with a Curry COM/PR alumna who, since graduating just a few short years ago, has firmly established herself in the event planning arena. Every job that she has had since graduation has moved her up the path to success. Our conversation started with her immediately saying, with one of the happiest looks I have ever seen on anyone’s face, “I LOVE my job!” As I like to say so often, “’nuff said.”

And these examples, my friends, are “why we do what we do” as mentors. It’s not for personal gain. There is no expectation of a “payback” in the future. With a tip of the hat as always to Nike®, we just do it.

There IS a “reward,” though. The reward is the look on the face and in the eyes of each one of our mentees when he or she realizes that a particular career field (PR or whatever) is “home,” and the knowledge that we have helped in some way to reach that realization.

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, internships, job hunting, job search, mentoring, networking, PR, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “On Mentors and Mentees”

publication1I’m often asked by my Curry College colleagues and students, “Why do you teach?”

Logical question given that, even today…some 15 years into this profession…I really don’t think of myself as a “teacher.”

Rather, I like to think I’m a guide…a conduit…leading young men and women from four years of college studies to and through the doorway to their future in public relations or another field.

For the longest time, I didn’t really know what this role actually was called.  “Advisor” seemed to work. “Reality checker” has often been a closer description!

Finally, a few years back, at a PRSA conference, someone handed me a pin that I proudly wear and that bears these words: “New Professionals PRSA Mentor.”

To quote the venerable sage Sheldon Cooper from “Big Bang Theory,” “Bazinga!”

So that’s what I’ve been doing! I’m regarded as a “mentor”!

It’s ironic that I’m talking about it right now because, among other things that I’m involved in with PRSA, as a member of the organization’s College of Fellows I am co-chair of our Mentoring Committee.

One of the activities that I helped organize for this year’s conference is what we refer to as “Mentor Match,” a program through which we connect members of the College…all seasoned PR veterans representing the upper echelons of the public relations profession…with newer members of PRSA who are at a point in their own careers where they realize they need a sounding board to make sure they’re on the right track.

As I’ve reviewed “mentee” requests for a “mentor,” I’ve been struck by the value that the mentee puts on the opportunity…and vice versa for the mentor. I’m excited because nearly two dozen mentees and an equal number of mentors were introduced to each other via email and met in person for the first time during PRSA’s recent International Conference.

Another irony is that I, too, got a major boost at the start of my own professional career thanks to my own mentor, my internship supervisor at the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Public Affairs Division…Clinton Parks.

I’ve written about Clint before, and I’ll do it again in the future. Just let it be said that he tracked my budding government public affairs career for nearly two years after I had officially become a permanent employee and wasn’t his “official” responsibility. He didn’t poke and prod. He just, in his own quiet way, let me know that he was there for me if I needed advice or needed to talk.

I’ve tried to be like Clint with my own advisees and others. I’m not an “in your face” presence. But they know I’m always there, regardless of where I might actually be…Taipei, Georgia, Singapore…on a flight to Indianapolis.

And I’m not a mentor to each and every student who comes to me for advice. In some cases, it’s a simple “what should I do?” But, in others, it’s “where will this decision take me?” And that’s a whole ‘nother question.

It’s one thing to help a student decide on one course over another. But when your answer morphs into “and here’s what taking that course means for your future,” the relationship has taken a more committed direction…the two of you are charting out a career/life trajectory that goes way beyond college.

Please note that this in no way is being a “stalker.” I, for one, let the student decide if he or she wants to take our relationship to the next professional level. The student connects with me. And the frequency of communication lies with the student as well. The relationship is organic, not manufactured.

Mentoring is a rewarding experience. I take genuine pride in seeing or hearing about a student’s successes. And I empathize when he or she hits a bump in the road and suffers a setback. Been there; know the feeling.

So, regardless of where you are…just starting out in your professional career or savoring the benefits of having achieved a level of comfortable success in your own career, give my words some thought.

If you’re a member of the Public Relations Society of America and feel as though you really could use some advice and guidance from someone who’s been down the path before you, request a mentor today. We’ll take your request and connect you with someone who we believe will best be able to assist you.

If you’re a college student, take a close look at the professors with whom you come in contact. See if there is someone whose background and experience seems to mirror what you think you would like to do. Then reach out to him or her. If you don’t ask, you won’t get!

Posted in careers, Curry College, Education, feedback, mentoring, Planning, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Career and You: “Life and ‘Overloads’”

publication1I’ve been doing something recently that doesn’t come naturally…never has, so “progress” will be interesting to measure.

Apparently I’m genetically incapable of saying “no,” and I occasionally (aka: “often”) find myself on the edge of mental and physical implosion. I’ve taken the, for me, drastic step of saying “No” when asked to participate in various activities that, previously, I would have dived into headfirst. We’ll see how this exercise goes.

I volunteer for short- and long-term projects based primarily on my experience-tested theory of “that sounds like ‘fun’, so I’ll do it!” Most of them are related in some way to my 30-plus-year active involvement with the Public Relations Society of America.

PRSA has been an amazing relationship both professionally and personally.

I’ve learned so incredibly much thanks to on-line and in-person programs that have covered the full range of challenges and opportunities that a public relations professional will encounter in his or her life. I can honestly say that I would not be where or who I am today had it not been for PRSA, both the national organization and the local chapters that I have belonged to.

On the personal side, I count as friends public relations professionals around the world…some of whom I’ve never actually met in person but with whom I have had a virtual relationship, in some cases, for years.

That being said, these friendships, opportunities, and challenges have come with a “catch.” I often get asked/invited/urged to take part in something. Maybe it’s a blog post. Or participation on a committee. Or lending a hand with an event.

Whatever the case, I wind up with just one more thing on my already-overloaded plate. And, occasionally, deadlines for multiple activities run headlong into each other and I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat realizing what I’ve gotten myself into.

The good news is that I rarely, if ever, let anyone (or myself) down. Deadlines are met. Events come off without a hitch. Blog posts get written and published.

The other “good” (or “bad,” depending on your point of view) news is that I share something in common with many of my students at Curry College where I head the Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the undergrad PR courses…the propensity to test my physical and mental limits.

I had a meeting with one of my student advisees recently and, in the course of our conversation, was reminded that she is taking a full load of courses (and doing very well in every single one) in addition to a two-day-a-week internship and a part-time job. AND she was meeting with me to discuss another part-time job offer that has the potential to turn into a full-time job doing exactly what she wants to do when she graduates in May 2017.

Her enthusiasm was clear. She’s loving every single moment of every single day.

She also realizes that there are limits to how much she can take on and still maintain the high standards that she has set. So we worked out a “work-around” on the second job offer, and we’re waiting to hear how our (her) counter-offer will be viewed. Fingers crossed!!

The point of this story is simple…sort of. For many of us, life is not about “settling.” We want to exceed our wildest expectations. We want to make our mark on our world and our chosen profession.

My advice, then, to myself, to my students, and to anyone who will listen is just this. You know that you’re not going to accomplish this by doing just what’s required to get by. You’re going to have to push yourself…to embrace the “overloads” that life sends out way. But be mindful of what you’re getting yourself into…what you’re promising others that you will do for them.

Don’t let the overload become a burden.

Posted in careers, feedback, Inspiration, overload, PR, PR students, professional organizations, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Thinking, Undergraduate Communication | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Your Career and You: “Your Success…Your Responsibility”

publication1_editedSeveral years ago, we had a news release writing assignment for homework in my “Principles of Public Relations” class at Curry College. It was a simple task, but I cautioned the students that spelling, grammar and punctuation would be THE most important part. Content, while obviously important, was secondary.

While most of the students turned in reasonably well-written releases, one person actually had a typo in the headline!

She earned the “F” that I had promised for shoddy work and was self-righteously incensed. “How dare you give me an ‘F’???”

I pointed to the misspelled word and asked, “What do you think would have happened if you gave this to your boss?”

“He would have fixed it for me,” she replied.

I won’t bore you with the details of the minor eruption on my part that followed. Just let the records show the “F” was confirmed.

I use this example in many of my Public Relations Concentration classes to drive home the fact that, especially in PR but also in other professions, attention to detail is crucial. “Someone else” is not going to fix your mistakes for you.

And, to play “got one better than that,” I recently had to send a warning to a student who had missed two classes in a row. His response was that his “alarm clock didn’t go off,” so he overslept.

The class starts at 11:30 a.m.!

We all have a lot of “stuff” going on, and sometimes it feels like the whole world is leaning over our shoulder poking and prodding.

College…and professional…life can be challenging, and the stakes are high as you prepare to either venture into the “real world” with your newly-minted diploma or embark on a crusade to climb higher on your career path.

The good news is that there are others who are standing by to lend a helping hand.
The not-so-good news (for some) is that those folks are not going to do your job for you.

You’re going to have to start the process. You’re going to have to do your homework on opportunities available to you, requirements to qualify for those opportunities, and steps to take in order to take advantage of those opportunities.

Your supporters will be on the sidelines cheering you on…offering advice…perhaps opening a door or two for you.

But they’re not going to proofread your hastily slapped together “resume” that’s chock-a-block filled with grammatical errors and kindergarten-level descriptions of your “experience.”

No. You are going to have to do the gruntwork. You are going to have to do the research on potential opportunities.

Then you can turn to your support network to ask for advice or for a final “did I miss anything?” proofread.

It’s not easy starting out or moving up in professional life. But it can be done, and you can succeed. But you have to take this bit of advice to heart.

Your success is your responsibility.

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

Your Career and You: “Finding Inspiration”

publication1Occasionally I hit a wall with my enthusiasm. I feel like I ought to be doing something. I just don’t know what that “something” is, and I’m not terribly motivated to go looking for it.

I just finished reading a college-application essay written by my cousin’s granddaughter in which she addresses the same thing! So three generations apart…joined by the same challenge!

It’s sooo easy to slip into a comfortable “been there” mindset and spend your days just…“doing that.” But I’m not wired that way; I have to be doing something that is meaningful both to others and to me!

I sense this in a lot of my students at Curry College as well. As I get to know them in one or more of the classes that I teach in our Public Relations Concentration, I find that they, too, are looking for ways in which they can make a difference somehow. They may not know what that “difference” is or how they’re going to make it happen; but they are determined that it will happen.

The major challenge in this is that the opportunities are not going to come knocking on your door. You have to seek them out.

It took me a very long time to figure this out, so I’m not going to get all preach-y and wag my finger at you. I’m just suggesting that you’re going to have to do most of the legwork in this.

How to get started?

My favorite phrase: “Test drive.” Get out of your room/office/cubicle and pay attention to what’s going on around you. If you’re a student, what’s happening on campus? What types of organizations are there that, at first glance, sound interesting? Go to a couple of meetings and get a sense of what they’re about and how you might be able to get involved.

Then do something you would never do in class…raise your hand and volunteer! Is there a committee that sounds interesting and could use some extra help? Let them know you’re interested!

For example, in my very early years as a PR professional in Boston, I attended meetings of the local PRSA chapter. At one meeting, the chapter president made a pitch for volunteers to assist with the membership committee.

Immediately after the meeting, I volunteered to take on the challenge. She accepted my offer; I got involved; and more than 30 years later, I’m still an active PRSA member…and I’ve met a TON of PR pros around the world…and have gotten two very cool jobs as a direct result of those connections.

I tell this story often for several reasons. First, it’s a real-life example of how you can find something that gets you excited and makes you want to do more because you’re making a difference. Second, I’m not an outgoing type of person…I’m a serious introvert…I do not feel comfortable talking with people I don’t already know; I have a tendency to want to curl up in a ball in the corner and hide.

But as I’ve gotten more and more involved in PRSA (yeah, this is a not-so-subtle plug for joining a professional organization and becoming an active member…doing things, not just “being a member”), I’ve been offered a growing number of opportunities to use my energy and enthusiasm to help promote programs and activities. And I’m always inspired by the creativity I see in others.

The moral of this wandering tale is that you won’t accomplish great things by sitting around. You have to get out of your comfortably-familiar rut and actively seek out ways in which you can add value.

You have to find inspiration…it’s not going to come looking for you!

Posted in careers, Communication, Curry College, networking, PR, PR students, PRSA, PRSA Boston, public relations, Public Relations Society of America | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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