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Archive for October, 2007

I have become increasingly concerned about how well graduating students are prepared for life in the world of work. I try very hard to prepare all who will listen for what to expect on the job. College coursework can prepare them only so well. Soon, reality will meet expectations for many December graduates.

Expectations is the operable word here. In college, it is a matter of what students expect to earn on their assignments, how hard they expect to work on them to get the grade they want, and what instructors expect of students’ work to earn a grade. Expecting to get by with minimal effort and score high is a trap in college. In the world of work, minimal effort won’t cut it either. It won’t help you keep your job, much less get promoted or earn you a salary increase or bonus.

One of my favorite historical figures is Alexander the Great, who conquered most of the known world before he was 33 years old. His resume is one of unquestionable accomplishment. He is called “the Great” for good reason. He earned it.

I have even higher regard for his teacher, Aristotle. Imagine having one of the greatest thinkers of all time as your personal teacher. Alexander got a heck of a good start on his way to Greatness with Aristotle as teacher, coach, and mentor. My students definitely do not have that advantage.

Whatever Aristotle did worked wonders. Alexander’s many accomplishments are testimony to that. Speaking of expectations, I am sure that Aristotle had the highest expectations for his student. As the son of a great king, I am equally sure Alexander’s own expectations were high as well. I’m sure Aristotle never said, “Okay, Alex, that’s close enough. The other boys did better, but you get an award too so your self esteem will be intact.”

Self esteem is confidence and satisfaction in oneself, usually earned by tackling a tough task and succeeding at it. A person rarely has sustainably high self esteem if life’s treasures are simply handed to him or her along with everyone regardless of achievement just to be “fair”.

When students enter the job market, what will they find? Will the work place be fair? Will employers ignore poor performance so as not to injure the employee’s self esteem? “I know you caused us to lose our biggest account with your ineptitude, but it’s okay. You are still a valued part of our team.” Or, ” you’ve missed three consecutive deadlines for important assignments, but not to worry — you are a winner. Here’s your bonus.” I do not think so.

The only thing that matters in business is results. Those who can achieve the necessary results will win; those who cannot will lose. It is Darwinian in scope, pure survival of the fittest. It’s not pretty, but it is real.

One of my most demanding but best supervisors once told me, “where much is given, much is expected.” He simply meant that the jobs we had at that organization were quite good. The organization paid us very well, gave us rich benefits, and provided us with responsible positions working for a major player in a fast-paced, high-growth industry. It was the most difficult work environment I had ever experienced. I regularly got extremely complex but important assignments. I was expected to complete them on time and correctly, often with little guidance, or I’d be gone. It was that simple: produce results or be replaced. I succeeded and found it exhilarating, but I paid my dues big time.

Expectations are formed and refined, now in the class room, then later on the job. The point is that a person cannot expect to be rewarded in the class room or the board room without putting in the time and effort it takes to get the right results.

If it were different, we might be talking about Alexander the Adequate.

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In the post below, I talk about some of the achievements of Facebook superstar Mark Zuckerberg. He had a revolutionary idea and manifested it into reality. He is a modern-day hero. Like Bill Gates, or the Google brats, as they are sometimes called, college dropout Zuckerberg won’t miss any meals any time soon. For extraordinarily talented visionaries like Zuckerberg and Gates, college may not be necessary.

But what about the rest of us average people? Folks who can’t hit a 96-mile-per-hour fast ball, or conceive and program a revolutionary social media site, or sing like Jennifer Nettles, or dance like Maksim or Edyta? For us, college is a pretty good start.

More With Les frequently discusses careers in communication/PR/IMC. We discuss how to get jobs, keep jobs, and be successful on the job. I am blessed with many wise and experienced contributors to MWL whose comments make this blog a textbook of helpful, practical tips for anyone who wishes to succeed, student and practitioner alike.

But what about college? I favor applied course work, that is, study that has a practical nature to it, rather than only theoretical. I teach principles that can be applied to solve problems that working professionals experience all the time. I draw heavily on my 35 years as a practitioner. To me, college is where a person can explore career options, pick one, and learn how to do it. The purpose is to learn skills that will feed, house, and clothe you and your family throughout your life.

But nowadays, a college degree is but an entry fee, a basic requirement to get you in the game. Graduate school is helpful in providing you with a competitive advantage. So is accreditation from IABC or PRSA, but earning those designations requires years of on-the-job training and real world experience.

In each semester, I see some senior burn out as students get closer to graduation. They simply are ready for a change, yet are fearful of what lies ahead. I can easily understand this. But each college course may be an essential building block to a successful career. You have to tough it out and do the best you can in every course. Because next, you will start your working career, and that runs to retirement for most of us, unless you win a lottery. 

My advice to students is to build equity now, in every class in every subject. When you graduate, join IABC and PRSA and go to professional development offerings and continue learning. Prepare yourself. Arm yourself with knowledge, and be your own hero.

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Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is one cool dude. That is, for a college dropout.

That’s right. Zuckerberg, who in 2006 turned down a $1 billion purchase offer from Yahoo, didn’t finish college. His creation, Facebook, now has 41 million users. He has 300 employees and all the demands of any other CEO.

Facebook is the darling of the tech world. Now both Microsoft and Google want a piece of the action. But Zuckerberg appears to be taking his time and not jumping to any hasty deals. Taking his time, that is, if you consider how he has shaken up the social media world with Facebook, which is only three years old.

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I was part of an interesting discussion in our Student PR Group meeting this past week. The group, comprised of PRSSA and IABC student members, discussed skills needed to get and keep good jobs. Some who were present graduate in December. Others graduate in May 2008 or later. All seemed bewildered by getting a job.

I can’t blame them. Been there, done that. In fact, before joining the Mass Comm department at Towson in 2004, I did that for 30-plus years.

As an instructor, I constantly draw from my real-world experience as a paycheck-earning practitioner to make lessons come alive for students. In fact, every “scholarly” point I make is usually punctuated with a from-the-trenches bridge like, “Now, what this means when you are on the job is….” or, “This is why this is important on the job…”, or “This is how you use this on the job…” or  something like that. Students seem to appreciate the practitioner’s perspective in putting lessons into context that has meaning.

What I know and I hope my students will understand and embrace is the fact that their employability begins in the classroom. They learn the basic craft and management skills here with my instructor colleagues and me. But the truth is, their college degree is but an entry fee for the job market.

Students seem most troubled about how to get their first job. First and foremost, to get any job, whether it be entry, middle, or senior level, I stress the value of professional association membership. If you have read any of More With Les, then you know my passion for this involvement.

It seems that most students fear making the wrong choice in a first job. Heck, having any choice is great! You will have to choose among what options you have at any given time. Harsh as it might sound, you may have few options. Your options are a result of your credentials, experience, and ability, the availability of jobs in the market you select, how you market yourself before and during an interview, and the effort you put into the job search to get interviews. Getting a good job is like sales — it is activity driven. The more leads you track down, the greater your options.

My usual job search advice is to first decide what type of communication/PR practice you wish to pursue, such as corporate, agency, nonprofit, or government. Do you wish to be a specialist or a generalist? Heavy PR, marketing, advertising, or a combination?

Second, decide where you wish to practice. Fact is, some markets are good for our profession and some are not. What is your life style, city or suburb or rural? Fast-paced or slower? North, south, east or west? A good market has to have the quantity and quality of career options for you. The size and health of the local IABC or PRSA chapter is a good indicator.

Third, get busy joining IABC and/or PRSA and start volunteering and networking. Get to know people. Let them know you and that you are available. All the while, be as professional as you can be in dress, thought, word, and deed. Follow up leads. Be proactive and persistent. Market yourself with diligence and dignity.

Some resources to aid you in your job search:

  • Ned’s Job of the Week, a free email networking newsletter for professional communicators. To subscribe, send a blank email to JOTW-subscribe@topica.com
  • For your spirit, read Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, by Marsha Sinetar.

Happy hunting.

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Seduced by Facebook

I’ve been neglecting my blog lately. It is the fault of Facebook.

A few months ago, I thought I was too old to be on Facebook. I thought there must be an age limit, like college students only.

But then my college students urged me to join the fun. And fun it is. I am having a terrific time with Facebook. I began this blog in an effort to learn more about social media and its huge impact on the communication/PR profession and life in general. Facebook fits in the effort quite nicely.

There is a pleasant surprise daily with Facebook. Connecting with new friends, re-connecting with old friends, sharing photos, jokes, and helpful information. I love it.

In addition to the fun aspects of Facebook, I recently received a great internship opportunity for my students over Facebook. The applications appear to be endless.

I would like to hear from members of the More With Les learning community about your experiences with Facebook. Of course, we could be discussing it there, too.

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More With Les (MWL) has just learned that my bff Robert J. Holland has decided against running for President of the United States in 2008. Holland cited increasing demand for his consulting services, greater need to spend quality time with his sons, Max and Sam, and in general, the desire to have a life.

Having made this important decision, Holland, a frequent contributor to MWL, will be free to continue his work in advancing the communication profession.

A source close to the situation said Holland could be a Great Communicator President. He could use the office to advance the cause of more effective organizational communication.

Seriously, it would be wonderful if someone who shares our passion for effective organizational communication could have the power of so high an office. What if we had a president who blogs? More and more company CEOs are blogging. Some are real and effective, others are ghostwritten by staffers, a complete no-no.

The good news is that CEOs and other senior leaders who value organizational communication may be finally growing in numbers. I have seen an evolution in the practice of organizational communication over the past few decades. Growing numbers of enlightened senior organizational leaders now realize that at the top of the list of their key publics/audiences is the organization’s own employees.

It has not always been that way. For too long, organizations followed more of a military style of top down leadership hierarchy, a command and control model. Economic downturns and resultant layoffs, constant scandals, and a general erosion of trust of authority and institutions has made a huge impact on organizational employee relations.

Fortunately, more and more senior leaders get it. That’s a good thing for professionals who practice organizational communication. Employee communication is a powerful strategic management tool. More and more senior leaders expect high levels of contribution and results from organizational communicators. This is revolutionary. And it has implications for us all, mainly in a need for continuing professional development, improving business knowledge, and developing a strategic mindset and practice.

I am happy Robert decided to stay in the private sector. His leadership is needed in helping keep this revolution going.

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I have many students who will be graduating in December 2007. Many more will follow in May 2008. What can they expect? Many are thinking long and hard about that question.

I speak often with my students about careers and how to get good jobs. I still believe that the best way of learning about and getting good jobs is through professional association membership. IABC and PRSA are there for our continued professional growth. That includes educational programs and resources to help us progress in our careers and networking opportunities to connect us with other professionals.

Dedicated professionals seek other dedicated professionals to fill job vacancies. Where do these dedicated professionals congregate? You guessed it, in professional associations.

Among the many benefits of professional association membership is current information on salaries. This is valuable in helping professionals see what the market is doing and to see where they are compared to others in the profession.

For students who may not have seen it, here is the link to IABC’s recent Profile survey about salaries and job satisfaction in the profession:

http://news.iabc.com/index.php?s=ideas&cat=26  

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