How to Communicate with Professionals

Photo cred:  Tracy Byrnes
Photo cred: Tracy Byrnes

If you’re a college senior, you’re probably not the happiest person on campus right now.  Times are tough and that run of the mill job search strategy you were taught just won’t cut it anymore.  There are a couple values that are more relevant than ever though, and that is differentiation and “it’s not what you know…but who you know”.  You have to set yourself apart from the tide of college graduates that are gunning for the few jobs available.  That is why establishing relationships with professionals is more important than ever.

Today, the best way to set yourself apart from other students is no longer with a perfectly worded resume, or by wearing an expensive suit to a job fair. The best way is to establish relationships. If your school is like mine, this isn’t something that you were necessarily trained in.  You’re always told to keep to strict guidelines of what to write and say, but in reality that’s not what all professionals are looking for.  Here are three things to keep in mind when connecting with professionals…

  1. Show respect AND personality. This is very important when connecting with professionals.  The respect aspect is common sense, but many people mistake respect for very dry, boring conversation as to not offend anyone.  It’s important to be respectful, but professionals also want to get to know WHO you are.  Don’t be afraid to add some jokes and a little wit to your conversations.  Laughter is a powerful tool and if a professional finds that you make them smile even once a day, they’ll like you that much more.  Just make sure to remain respectful, and be careful not to offend anyone while expressing your personality. Know where the line is and don’t cross it.
  2. Create relationships by engaging in conversation. It’s important that you read what’s going on in your industry, and listen to what professionals are saying.  Even more important, is that you engage in those conversations.  Share your insights, show your passion and add value wherever possible.  If you have a question, ASK!  Most professionals love to give advice to students who are passionate and respectful.
    1. Use twitter. I don’t care if your friends talk about how “lame” twitter is (I hear it from my friends).  I can attest that it is the #1 way to connect with experienced professionals.  I’ve met some great professionals on twitter that I’m confident would recommend me for a job, solely based on a relationship that stemmed from a conversation on twitter.  You can use twitter to meet new professionals, and to stay connected to contacts new and old.
    2. Comment on professional’s blogs. Anyone who writes a blog can tell you that they love getting comments.  It shows that people are listening and that they care about what you have to say.  If you continue to post on professional’s blogs, they will appreciate it and be more willing to establish a relationship.
  3. Establish a relationship before you ask for anything. This is somewhat of a dilemma I’ve faced as I’ve heard some professionals say get to the point, and I’ve heard others say that it’s rude to come right out and ask for a job.  I’ve found that it’s always better to establish a relationship first.  A professional will be more willing to hire someone that they’ve gotten to know beyond a resume and head shot.  They’ll know who you are, that you have a passion in the field and will respect you for establishing a relationship.
    1. If you have to ask for a job right away…You should never come right out and say “I want a job!”  If you can’t establish a relationship first, send an email explaining that you’d like to connect further, possibly set up a coffee meeting, and make mention that you are looking for a job.  Make sure that it’s not the main focus of your initial message.

If you’re confused about what professionals look for in an email, check out Lauren Fernandez’s post on email etiquette.

Where Twibes Went Wrong

twibesTwibes is a new twitter app that allows users to choose their top 10 favorite twitters. The users’ picks are then included in a running tally and a list of the twitterers that were chosen the most is provided.  I think this is actually a pretty cool concept that could work well if done right.

It’s like an ongoing record of recommendations, something that could be good for things like #followfriday.  I would find it valuable to see how many times each twitterer was recommended every friday.  I’d be more likely to follow someone that recieved a great number of recommendations than someone who recieved one…right?  Maybe, but making that assumption is where Twibes went wrong.

Twibes ignored a very vital characteristic of the twitterverse, it’s focus on personal interaction. #followfriday works so well because it allows users to share with their followers the people that they enjoy following most.  It is a personal recommendation, and it is not based on popularity.  I’ve seen recommendations to follow people that have 25 followers, and followed them!  On twitter, a personal recommendation goes a long way.

Twibes takes away the value of a personal recommendation, and makes it a popularity contest.  To make things worst, in order to view the list of recommended users, you HAVE to recommend TEN people, no more no less.  That means that even if you only really have 5 favorite twitterers, you have to choose 5 more that you may not even want to recommend.

Then, to pour salt on that wound, you HAVE to either send out DMs to every person you recommended, or post a tweet listing them which completely disregards the personal interaction aspect of twitter (yep, that means you have to put your password in too).  Only then can you view the list of recommended users, which I’m sure you can guess, it is pretty much a list of the most followed users.

Twibes needs to rethink how recommendations and people work on twitter, and stop sending me automated DMs.

Interview with Arik Hanson: Tips for Job Seeking Students

Arik Hanson, APR; ACH Communications
Arik Hanson, APR; ACH Communications

Arik Hanson, APR; ACH Communications, is a PR expert who has been a great mentor and friend to me since I’ve met him not too long ago.  Always looking to help others, he has now offered some advice for you, my readers, to help clear up some questions that college students looking for a job may have. Here we go!

1)  How should students approach their established connections to ask for job opportunities? When is the best time to start asking?

Don’t start asking about full-time opportunities until you’re ready and able to take a job. However, that shouldn’t stop you from discussing opportunities and exploring possibilities with your “real world” colleagues. As far as approaches, I’d suggest as much face-to-face interaction as possible. Invite a professional out to lunch. Take them out for coffee. You’ll be surprised how open folks are open to this approach. Most want to give back, just like someone did for them once upon a time.

2)  What are the best methods students can use to create connections with professionals?

The tried-and-true approaches still work today. You know why? Because so many students still aren’t using them! Attend PRSA or IABC events and start introducing yourself to professionals. Then, follow up with a call and ask to take them out to coffee sometime so you can learn more about what they do. Participate in existing programs.

In Minnesota, we have a program for students called Pro-Am Day. Students have the opportunity to shadow a pro and learn more about a day-in-the-life of a PR professional. Great opportunity, but so many students miss the bigger picture. Yes, we get great participation from students in the actual event. But, what’s missing is the follow-up. Most of us pros participate in this program because they want to help and mentor the next generation of PR pros. But, it can’t be a one-sided situation. I’ve participated in Pro-Am Day now for six years–I have yet to have a student call me afterward and ask if I’d like to grab a coffee and talk about career advice and PR. Students are simply missing out on a fantastic opportunity to build relationships with folks in the industry. Remember, most jobs don’t come from online channels or job boards–they come from word-of-mouth and references.

To that end, social medial channels can also be a great way to start the conversation. Just like what you’re doing David–very smart. Connect with folks in the industry–keep your name top of mind. When they have an opening, and you send them a note, they will remember your name and the work you’re capable of doing.

3)  To what extent are students expected to censor their online profiles? How can they do this while keeping to the values of transparency in social media?

Organizations are facing this exact same issue right now, which is why you’re seeing more social media policies popping up. The learning for students: There are no black and while rules, but there are guidelines. Be yourself online, but just be aware that nearly everything you post can be accessed by a recruiter or manager. If it’s me, and I’m searching for that first job, I’m pretty darn aware of the photos I’m posting to my Facebook page. I’m not saying you need to censor yourself completely–but, your online persona is a direct reflection of your real self. Organizations in the PR industry want to hire folks who are responsible, mature and creative thinkers. They don’t want to hire folks they think may embarrass the organization. That’s not a new thing. My advice: Expect every potential employers to search every online asset (photos, blog posts, etc) you produce. If you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see it/read it, don’t post it..

4)  What was one thing that you wish you did differently, or that you wish you were aware of when searching for your first full time job?

For me, I really wish I would have taken the more personal approach. Like many students, I search job boards, scoured listings in our career resource center and browsed the newspaper listings (back when those mattered–remember, I’m old). But, I realize now, the way to stand out among the crowd is to establish those personal, more human connections. And it’s not that hard. Again, not many students are doing it, so for the ones that are, they stand out like rock stars. I also would have looked and accepted an agency job right out of school. Great way to learn about a variety of different PR disciplines to figure out what you want to pursue further. Plus, you usually have the chance to travel–both across the U.S. and the world. What a great opportunity to experience different areas of the country and parts of the world–even if you are usually working 18-hour days during those business trips!

5)  What are some things that students can do to stand out from the crowd, differentiating themselves from other job candidates? What are specific things that you look for?

Well, you could walk around NYC with a bunch of resumes attached to your body. If I remember correctly, that’s what Peter Shankman did–seemed to work for him. For me, it comes down for three areas:

  1. Writing. Huge. A must have. And employers need to see samples–lots of them. From internships, pro-bono work, even blog posts. We need to get a feel for how well you can write.
  2. Initiative. This is surprisingly big–for me. In PR, you can’t be a wallflower. You need to be able to speak up in a meeting with senior executives. You need to be able to take a project with minimal direction and make it happen and produce quality results. And you need to be able to start and facilitate engaging and productive conversations with clients, colleagues and partners. Again, wallflowers need not apply.
  3. Social media skills. This is where students can really shine right now. There’s a whole sector of professionals that are uncomfortable using these new tools. But most recognize the need to at least explore the possibilities they hold for their organizations. And they need help. Students have been living and breathing many of these new technologies for years. Today’s students grew up on Facebook, MySpace and text messaging. I’m only 36, but I grew up with a land-line phone (with a cord), a word processor and bulletin boards. Big difference. Students can add tremendous value in this area by helping “coach up” senior-level professionals on the ins and outs of social media.

You can find a Lauren Fernandez’s answers to these questions here.  Thanks so much for your time Arik!

Interview with Lauren Fernandez: Tips for Job Seeking Students

Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa
Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa

Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa, is an enthusiastic PR Professional, who is always willing to help out students looking to become PR professionals.  Lauren was kind enough to provide some great advice for you through my blog, enjoy!

1) How should students approach their established connections to ask for job opportunities? When is the best time to start asking?

Once you start interning and gaining PR experience, you should treat every opportunity as a future job. You never know, because 5 years down the road that contact could be your next boss. When I was just beginning to intern, I would collect cards, and if I felt that I could learn from the person as a mentor, I would constantly email them with questions, advice and meet with them for coffee and/or lunch. I would also write a hand written thank you card every once in awhile. I don’t think it’s valuable to come right out and ask for a job – but by building a relationship and showing interest, you are saying “Hey, look at me – I am valuable and could be in the future.”

2) What are the best methods students can use to create connections with professionals?

I am a big fan of Twitter – this is an easy way to get a hold of me, and also to start establishing a contact. Once we have that, we can move to email, phone and networking. I love meeting students at events, and coming home and already having an email thanking me for my time. The email that contains questions about the field and about what I do, how I got into PR, etc. will always gain a lot of mileage when creating a connection. Also, make sure to keep up the connection – don’t drop off the face of the planet. PR pros talk daily, and we share stories. The PR world is very small, even in big cities such as the DFW area where I work.

3) To what extent are students expected to censor their online profiles? How can they do this while keeping to the values of transparency in social media?

Frankly, I don’t want to see parts of your body you wouldn’t show at work, or you chugging beer in the conga line. That is all fun in college, but this is the professional world, and you have to think of it from the standpoint of: What would your co-worker say if they were standing next to you in these pictures? Would your boss like to know that your interests include whiskey and chasing the opposite sex? Probably not. Your social media profiles and presence should only add to your character and exemplify it, not take away from it. There are privacy settings if you need to keep that one picture on there, but once you graduate, it really is time to grow up.

4) What was one thing that you wish you did differently, or that you wish you were aware of when searching for your first full time job?

I wish I knew the value of patience, and the fact that you don’t have to accept the first job that is offered to you. I know in this economy it can be a tough pill to swallow, but my dad gave me great advice when that first job I took went really sour and I quit: “Lauren, was that a job that you would be happy with if for the next 5 years you weren’t paid for it?” I didn’t have passion for that job, and that is something you should always have. You are a rockstar, and you have to believe in it. The job will come – and one that you love.

5) What are some things that students can do to stand out from the crowd, differentiating themselves from other job candidates? What are specific things that you look for?

I look for dedication, hard work, and response time. I am a very busy professional, but I can always stop to help someone if they are dedicated to this field. I only want those that can accelerate and benefit the field I love to enter it – and those are the ones I help. I don’t like arrogance (trust me, you aren’t a PR God come to save the field), and I love simple thank yous. If a student can respond to me in 24 hours or less, or at least tell me they received my message, then that will gain a lot of respect for me. If a student asks me to lunch, they stand out, because they aren’t afraid to be in a setting that is outside the professional workplace. If a student sends a hand-written note, that gets a lot of bonus points as well.

You can find Arik Hanson’s answers to these questions here.  Thanks for your time and thoughts Lauren!

3 Steps to Help Starters Beat the Twitter Learning Curve

Picture Cred: "Shovelling Son"
Picture Cred: "Shovelling Son"

You’ve probably heard people say “I dont get the point of twitter” or “twitter is just like facebook updates” as much as I have.  I’m not sure any twitter user completely understood its concept when they first tried it. I know I was on twitter and only sent the occasional random “what I’m doing” post for a good month or so before learning how to use it correctly.

One of twitter’s biggest issues is converting new users who don’t understand, into regular users who do.  This is because of the “twitter learning curve” or the open mind, experience and time that is required before a user is really able to grasp the concept of twitter.  Some people give up before even getting to that point…but that doesn’t have to be the case!  There are ways to overcome the “twitter learning curve”.

Here are 3 steps I wish I knew when I first arrived in the twitterverse.

1. Start Following

Twitter is all about connecting with people who share your interests.  I would recommend starting off by following about 20 people when you first get on.  If you follow too many, people will think you’re a spammer. There are a number of ways that you can find people that share your interests…

  • Twitter search: type in a keyword that you’re interested in and find out who’s talking about the same things.
  • Find friends from other networks: Assuming the people in your email address book are people that you enjoy connecting with, this is a good way to find contacts that are already on twitter
  • Suggested users: twitter provides a list of people, pretty much the most popular of twitter, as people you may be interested in following. Personally, I don’t like this method because it’s likely that these people will not engage with you although they may provide you with some cool news and entertainment.
  • Copy other’s follows: This is a method that I used and it worked for me.  I found a few people that shared my interests, and just started clicking on random pictures from the list of people that they follow.  More often than not, the people I clicked on also shared my interests.
  • Blogger’s recommendations: Read the blogs of the people that you follow on twitter.  Chances are they’ll mention other twitterers often in their blog posts.  If they’re worth blogging about, they’re probably worth following.  Some bloggers will even write a post specifically recommending some tweeps. If you’re interested in PR, check out this post by Dave Fleet and this post by Danny Brown.
  • Follow Friday: This is the great contribution by Micah that encourages twitterers to recommend people to follow every friday.  If the people you’re following aren’t participating, search #followfriday and a keyword (on a friday) and you’ll find plenty of great recommendations.

So make sure you have YOUR picture up, you fill out your profile and go into some people’s profiles and check out their tweets.  If they have a lot
of @reply messages, that’s a good person to follow.  It means they’ll
be more willing to engage with you.  If they don’t, they may still provide valuable info, but watch out for spammers.

2. Read and Engage

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get many followers at first.  I promise they will come!  What’s important now is that you learn the way people communicate on twitter.  It’s a bit different from IM,  facebook or any other communication platform you’ve ever used.  Here’s how you can learn to communicate on twitter:

  • Read:  Seeing how people word their tweets, especially @replies is a big step to understanding twitter. Click on people’s profiles so that you can see all the @replies they are sending to others.  Others’ @replies won’t show up unless you’re following both people. Watch how people post links, updates and how they share news.
  • Engage: Start responding to others’ questions and thoughts.  Don’t be afraid to message someone and say “I’m new to twitter, any advice?”  You’ll find that one of the greatest things about twitter is how willing people are to help.  If it’s someone that regularly engages (replies), chances are they will respond with advice and may even follow back.  The best way to beat the “twitter learning curve” is to jump right into the conversation.

3. Explore

By this point you should start to understand the concept of twitter.  In a nutshell it’s fast, live content sharing and conversation.  Now you’re ready to start exploring further. Here are some things you may want to consider exploring:

  • Twitter Apps:  Twitter suggests some of the more popular apps.  There are hundreds more on top of the few they recommend.  You can ask others for recommendations or just search on google.  There are also twitter app databases like twitdom with brief descriptions and pictures of each app.  These apps will completely change your twitter experience and allow you to use twitter more efficiently and in new ways.
  • Twitter Trends:  People put hashtags in front of tags that allow for conversations on trending topics.  You can also find scheduled chats like #journchat and #healthcomm where twitter users gather weekly to discuss industry topics.  This is a great way to learn, find more people who share your interests and to gain some valuable followers. Arik Hanson discusses some great chats worth checking out here.
  • Tweetups: Tweetups are just organized events for twitter users to gather and meet at a determined location.  It may be a bit before you feel comfortable attending a tweetup but it’s a great way to turn twitter contacts into even better contacts or friends.  Social media is great, but ultimately nothing beats good old face-to-face interactions!

So next time you get your friend to try twitter and they say, “this is stupid, I don’t get it…I don’t even like cats”, share these three steps to help them beat the “twitter learning curve”.  They’ll be avid twitter participants in no time!

(hope this wasn’t too cliche twitter starters guide-ish)

“Creative Authority” and Why It Shouldn’t Exist

Photo cred: Bart "Cayusa"
Photo cred: Bart "Cayusa"

Lauren Fernandez had yet another great post on her blog the other day titled, Bridging the Generation Gap: How Do We Overcome It? The post and the comments are equally worth reading and should be checked out now…stop reading, go check it out. Seriously, go.

Okay…so while commenting on her post, I began to think about the concept of what I call “creative authority.” (I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with that phrase in this context).

The “generation gap” is in essence, the failure of seasoned professionals and Millenials to cooperate efficiently in a professional setting.  I’ve discussed my thoughts about this issue before. I think a big reason for this gap is a matter of authority.  “Creative authority” or the assumption that, as a result of a difference in age (on both young and old end), one’s thoughts and ideas outweigh that of others’ is never alright and should be eradicated from all professional environments.

On the other hand, “mentorial authority”, or the authority that a good mentor would practice on their mentoree, is a great thing that can benefit both sides.

I will use my experience in my internship at Ruder Finn Interactive as an example of what you SHOULD do.  I speak a lot about my summer internship experience and how amazing the people at Ruder Finn Interactive were at being receptive and supportive of my ideas. The person I worked closest with was Yan Shikhvarger who’s a great guy and smart as hell.

Yan was always receptive to, and supportive of my ideas and even let me take on projects on my own after seeing that I was capable enough to do so. He exercized authority in areas that were needed, by providing criticisms based on his expertise and guiding me through the processes that I felt unfamiliar with.  That is the type of mentor mentality, or “authority” that every Millenial needs.  I felt that all my ideas and thoughts were given equal consideration to anyone else on the project team. Yan did not practice “creative authority” and I am forever grateful.  I would not be as confident in my endeavors as I am today if he made me feel like my ideas didn’t count as a result of my age.

Now as I said, this existence of the generational gap can be attributed to all professionals, young and old. Authority has been drilled into us millenials for as long as we can remember, from parents, teachers, coaches, and now bosses. A general mentality that because we are younger, our ideas are not worthy of full consideration is something that has been apparent our entire lives. On the other end, many millenials have convinced themselves that their ideas are better than an older professional’s ideas.  They think that older professionals are too committed to tradition and have no innovation left in them.  Both mentalities hinder cooperation and are not productive.

A big step in bridging the gap is to break this mindset.  Young professionals must acknowledge that…

  • their ideas are just as good (but not necessarily better) as any other professional’s ideas, regardless of age
  • experienced professionals are experienced professionals for a reason… their ideas are what made them who they are and should be respected

Older professionals have to

  • encourage millenials to express their thoughts and ideas
  • give those thoughts an ideas equal consideration to that of their own
  • realize that incorporating those ideas does not make them look bad, but rather emphasizes their ability to spot a good idea

Ultimately, we all have to realize that there is nothing to gain from “creative authority”and everything to gain from “mentorial authority”.

“Creative Authority” should not exist.