Posts Tagged ‘Employment’

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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The recent California court ruling striking down teacher tenure and other state laws offering job security to educators is a good thing for education.

But specifically, it is a terrific thing for public school children.

In Vergara v. California, the California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles struck down as unconstitutional five harmful provisions of the California Education Code. The provisions in question govern teacher tenure, dismissal, and layoffs. The court ruled that they impose substantial harm on California’s students by forcing administrators to terminate passionate, inspiring teachers in order to keep longer-tenure but ineffective teachers in the classroom, a process known as LIFO, or, “last in, first out”.

LIFO is a bad deal. Why should longevity in a job be the ultimate consideration for continued employment over more desirable traits like ability and achievement? The hard truth is that some people may have 20 years in a job, but it is really just one year twenty times, meaning that they have not grown or improved.

I came to education after 32 years earning a living doing what I now teach Mass Communication majors. I learned early in my career that, in the business world, getting results is the only thing that matters to continued employment. As one of my best bosses/mentors once told me, “Les, go make something happen!”

I got the message, and I did just that. I got results, and as a result, I was never fired or layed off. I consistently overachieved on my objectives and was rewarded accordingly with more generous bonuses, promotions, and more interesting and challenging assignments.

But wait — do not think that I had a easy little career with loving and fair employers who just let me fly. No way. I earned what I got from extremely hard work, very long hours, and constant professional development to improve my skills and abilities. And I did all this since 1977 as a paraplegic and wheelchair user. With that extra challenge, I often had to work twice as hard as the able-bodied just to prove I was half as good. But as Faulkner said, I did not merely survive, I prevailed.

And I never had protection like guaranteed employment/tenure. Am I brilliant? Not even close. I just worked really hard and never quit trying. With tenure, you can quit trying with no penalty. That is why I find tenure a bit insulting to anyone confident and competent enough to meet workplace challenges head on. And if I can do it, anyone can.

With the Vergara v. California ruling, I believe that there will be a growing movement across the country to end tenure and other seniority rules that make it hard to terminate bad teachers. Good teachers are priceless and should be encouraged, supported, rewarded, and celebrated. If teachers are not willing or capable of meeting  job challenges, then their bosses must do as one of my more colorful bosses used to say of terminating bad employees: “Let’s help them be successful elsewhere.”

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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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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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If I were asked to give a college’s commencement address (fat chance), here is what I would tell the graduates:

1.  Lose the narcissism. Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough Jr., recently covered this better than I ever could, and I agree with McCullough; I would tell graduating college students that “you are not all that special”, even though, as members of the Millennial Generation, you have been told that you are all of your lives. The difference here is that McCullough was addressing high school seniors. My commencement speech is to college students, whose egos, by this time, have been knocked down a peg of two. But the point is still important — you are not the center of the universe, so get over your self-importance. In the grand scheme of things, you are just one among many out there scratching to make it. That simply means that you are not entitled to a high starting salary or the job of your dreams immediately. You will have to earn what you get, beginning with an entry level job and working your way up.

2.  Work means work.  When you take a job, you are expected to earn your keep. Being hired is not a license to coast. You must work to prove yourself every day, with every task, and on every assignment. You are being paid to do a job. Do it to the best of your ability, and then improve on your performance continually.

3.  Results are the only thing that matters. I love my Millennial Generation college students, but I get sick of hearing this excuse for a bad grade: “But I worked so hard on that!” Who cares that you worked hard? You are supposed to work hard. Do not ever tell an employer who critiques your poor performance that you tried really hard. The implication is, as it is with my students, that you should get some sort of credit for your effort. No way. You are supposed to give every task, every assignment, and every project your 100 percent effort. That is merely an entry fee. Results are all that matters. Yoda said it best: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

4. The Golden Rule is the only thing you ever need to know about diversity.  Simply treat people like you want to be treated. The Golden Rule is the golden key to living a successful, meaningful, and productive life in harmony with other people.

5. As members of the Millennial Generation, you must deal effectively with other generations in the work place. Learn to understand and respect Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. They got there first. They have paid their dues (if they are still employed there with you). Respect them. Help them. Learn from them.

6. You can’t text your way into super-stardom. You are not inherently smarter than the Boomers and Xers  just because you “grew up digital”. Just because you can text and Tweet and Facebook and email and surf Websites, often all at the same time, does not mean you are smarter than they are. They can do these things, too.  Being adept at Web 2.0-enabled social media, a hallmark of the Millennial Generation, is of small advantage in the face of the incredible life experience that these older generations have on you.

7. Never drink too much at an office social function. That is a career-limiting move for sure.

8. Happen to things; don’t let things happen to you. That was important advice from one of my mentors, David Hogan. When I went to him for advice about how to do a difficult project, he advised me to “go make something happen.” In other words, he advised me to figure it out. That is what he was paying me for anyway.

9. Accept the guidance of a mentor. Like David Hogan, and David Wesley before him (See my blog post below dated October 21, 2011), my mentors have been invaluable to my career success. You will find them, too, or they will find you. The is much truth to the old Zen proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

10. You, and you alone, must find your own way. And here is the good news — you will. I know you will, and it will all be okay.

Good luck.

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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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