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Archive for the ‘Comm/PR/IMC careers’ Category

College is supposed to prepare you for your career and to lead a productive work life. In what ways do you feel most prepared for this challenge? In what ways do you feel least prepared?

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Yes, it is.

I could stop there and make this my shortest post ever. But my short answer to this frequently asked question needs some explanation.

I teach public relations/communication management at Towson University. A valid question is, can someone be successful in PR/communication without a college degree?

The answer is, of course, yes. But here’s the rub — you have to be hired first. And why would an employer hire someone for even an entry-level position without a college degree when so many graduates are churned out each year who vie for low-salary entry-level jobs?

Get the picture? You must have credentials to get hired. “Credentials” means “qualifications. You can become qualified over time by on-the-job training, but as I said, you have to get hired first. That’s the hard part.

The first thing any reputable employer looks at is your experience (qualifications) for the open job he/she is trying to fill. The old chicken-and-egg question is, “but how do I get experience if I can’t get hired?” The simple answer is, “go to college and get a degree in the field.” That gives you, at best, the entry fee to seek employment.

Businesses must consider the  return on investment (ROI) on all big decisions. Like any business, a high school grad must consider the ROI in deciding whether or not to earn a college degree.

But in considering college, a student must view the payout in more than just enhanced earnings over the life of a career. Enhanced lifetime earnings for those who have college degrees is well-documented. But intangibles like personal growth and life experiences should factor into the decision, too. College can help you in so many more ways that what happens in the classroom.

Does this mean you can’t obtain personal growth and life experiences without a college degree? Of course not. But the four years you are in college are an intense time of learning and growth that prepares you for your career and your life, too.

To many of us who have hired, trained, and fired employees over the years, a college degree is really just an entry fee for the world of work. Real learning begins on the job. Sadly, many organizations must offer remedial training to raise the level of competence of new hires, often on things they should have mastered in school.

Remember, to be hired for any job, you must demonstrate qualifications. It takes time to gain the qualifications you need, but earning a college degree puts you well ahead.

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What are the most important skills/abilities necessary for success in the Public Relations career you envision as being perfect for you? How will you demonstrate to potential employers that you have those necessary skills/abilities? How will you continually improve your skills/abilities after you graduate?

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The helpful folks at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) have recently provided vital information for college graduates entering the work force. This is must-have information, for knowing what employers want in new hires should be part of every graduate’s career plan.

According to NACE’s Job Outlook 2013 Survey, the number one skill/quality employers seek in job candidates is “ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization.”

Here’s the NACE top ten in order:

  1. Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization.
  2. Ability to work in a team structure.
  3. Ability to make decisions and solve problems.
  4. Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work.
  5. Ability to obtain and process information.
  6. Ability to analyze quantitative data.
  7. Technical knowledge related to the job.
  8. Proficiency with computer software programs.
  9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports.
  10. Ability to sell or influence others (NACE, 2012)

This information is timely and relevant for me as well. For my doctoral dissertation,  I am currently formulating research on the influence of Web 2.0 technologies on Millennial Generation students’ interpersonal communication skills and abilities. My own research echos the NACE finding — employers want new hires who can communicate effectively face to face.

In fact, Numbers 1 and 10 go hand in hand. Successful employees need excellent interpersonal communication skills in order to sell and influence others. Book after book, study after study, all proclaim that employers want effective communicators, but these works often cite “written and oral communication skill” equally. However, the NACE study is clear: the ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization is critically important.

Why is there such sudden emphasis on face-to-face communication among employers? Could it be that there really is a deleterious effect of growing up digital, of being a heavy user of Web 2.0-enabled technologies? Could it be that college grads of today are less skilled (or less predisposed) to communicate effectively face to face?

I have been curious about such questions since I began my college teaching career in 2004.

By next spring, I hope to have clear answers to such questions once my mixed methods research is completed. I intend to study the phenomenon of Millennial Generation students’ interpersonal skills and abilities in considerable depth. I am excited about what I will learn.

But in the meantime, I hope all my students will pay attention to what NACE’s study found out.

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I am blessed to have a life-long friendship with former student Kris Jones. Kris is a 2007 Towson grad with a degree in Mass Comm, PR track. After graduation, Kris went to North Carolina where he had a successful and lucrative career in pharmaceutical sales. While in Raleigh, he also met and married his best friend, Leigh. He was happy and successful, living the good life.

But something was missing in his career. Kris is also known as the ultimate fan of the Baltimore Ravens football team. He regularly traveled to Ravens games, despite having a heavy work-related travel schedule. The more he pursued  his passion for the Ravens, the more he realized that what he wanted to do with his life and career centered on this purple-clad NFL team.

He knew what he had to do. He quit his job, moved back to Baltimore, and became a journalist with Ravens 247. He turned his passion for the Ravens into his career.

As a result of this bold action, he has never been happier. Although he works 12 to 14 hours a day, he loves every minute. “I never get tired of it,” Kris says. “I am living proof that you can turn your obsessions, your passions, into a viable career.”

Recently, Kris took time away from his work to speak to Towson’s Student PR Group, an organization composed of IABC and PRSA student chapters. Kris’ low key, personable, and motivational presentation style was a huge hit with members. PR students can easily relate to Kris, because only a few years ago, he sat in their same classes. Many PR track students are interested in sports marketing and PR, and Kris is proof that your dreams can come true.

However, Kris will quickly tell you that, to accomplish your dreams, you have to make it happen. “It takes hard work, dedication, and above all, the courage and willingness to take risks,” Kris says.

“I am so blessed to be able to follow my dreams and to have the love of my life, Leigh, with me on this incredible journey,” Kris says. “I had always hoped that one day I could do what I love, and now I am. I can’t wait to work every day now that I am doing what I love to do.”

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In this difficult economy, in which one in two recent college graduates is unemployed or underemployed, what do you think is most important to prepare yourself to get a job in public relations?

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A mentor is a trusted guide, a teacher, a coach, a person who provides us with wise counsel in our career development. I encourage all who read this, especially my beloved students at Towson University, to seek a mentor when you enter the world of work.

The term comes from Greek mythology. A friend of Odysseus, Mentor, was trusted with the education of Odysseus’ son Telemachus. Mentor’s name echos through history as an affirmation of the experienced person helping the less experienced to learn and grow.

There is a Zen saying that applies here: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Be open to those who would mentor you, for they will come to you, perhaps when you need them the most.

My first mentor, David Wesley

My first mentor was David Wesley, who sadly, died of cancer. I met David (pictured here in my home in Hohenecken, Germany, in 1972) when I was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army after graduating from college in 1970. David was a staff sergeant in the Public Information office in which I was assigned.

David was an extremely talented communicator, proficient as a writer, editor, photographer, designer, and manager. He spoke fluent German. He was well-read and had traveled extensively. He was a connoisseur of fine wines, gourmet food, and classical music. He was intelligent, erudite, accomplished, and personable.

In short, David Wesley was everything I was not. I was an immature and undisciplined young writer/editor trying to become a successful communication professional. David taught me how to do it, and in the process, showed me how to become a better man.

I will never forget one simple piece of advice he gave me early on. I asked him, as student to Zen master, “David, oh wise one, how can I become a better writer?”

He looked haughtily down his nose at me, took another puff of one of the ever-present cigarettes that would eventually kill him, and said: “Well, for starters, you can stop reading only those car magazines and start reading some good literature.” I took this advice. Now, thousands of books later, I see so clearly how right he was.

In addition to helping me with career skills, David also introduced me to the music of Beethoven, his favorite, a gift made more memorable because of Beethoven’s German roots. I was blessed to be able to live and travel in Europe to places where so much of my favorite music was written, all the while under the mentorship of a knowledgeable person like David. I treasure this period of my life, for I was introduced through David to so much that was enriching and beautiful and lasting.

David also gave me my first (and to date, my only) birthday party. Since I share Beethoven’s birthday, December 16, David and his wife Reggie, hosted what they billed as a “Beethoven Birthday Party”, but in truth, it was for me. Good German wine flowed freely, and we laughed and talked away the night listening to the beautiful and powerful music of Beethoven.

I learned so much from David that my writing skill could never do his memory justice. I have not yet mastered writing well enough to be able to do that. From editing my copy, to introducing me to fine dining from Bonn to Bavaria, to taking me to my first German wine tasting, I learned so much from this talented and generous mentor.

David Wesley gave the term “mentor” a greater dimension of substance and value, for he epitomized what the term stands for in its highest sense. I am eternally in his debt for taking a crude young communicator and trying to work some magic. I fear the magic was all mine, for I could never give to him equally what he gave to me.

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