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Reflections

This is the final post of the year. At the end of the year, you tend to see a lot of lists. Best of lists. Worst of lists. Things we’re grateful for. Things we want to do in the next year, etc. We take stock of where we started from, where we are now, and where we want to go in the future. I think I did a pretty good job of accomplishing what I set out to do at the beginning of this semester. I have no regrets, and when December 13 rolls around, I will feel good about what I tried to teach those of you who are graduating.

I don’t take the responsibility of being your teacher lightly. I love learning about you and helping you realize that you have it in you to do the things you’ve always (or sometimes never even) dreamed of. I loved learning the phrase “be like a duck” and hearing about your networking successes. I love that one of you already has a post-grad position lined up, and that several of you have already had successful interviews. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, strengths, failures, and goals with me (and each other). Thank you for the privilege of being your teacher this semester. You are an amazing group of students, and I’m excited about all of the great things you will do when you leave my classroom. When you move on to your next step, be sure to drop me (or someone in the department) a line from time to time to let us know what you’re up to. As cheesy as it sounds, it means more than you know to hear from our former students. And who knows? Maybe one day soon, you’ll be writing the next alumni blog post! (Speaking of which, just this week I heard from someone who was in your shoes a year ago. She wanted to tell me that she just landed a full-time job in “the exact field I wanted to enter.” Through networking, the skills developed in this class, and the portfolio, she got her foot in the door and is being promoted to full-time. So remember that it might take a lot of patience and some time, but don’t ever give up.)

For this final post, I want you to offer two pieces of advice for future Discipline Capstone students AND I want you to discuss what being a UNCW COM Studies major has taught you/meant to you. Think about your entire experience as a COM major–what have you learned that will stay with you forever? For those of you graduating next week (congrats!), what do you hope to accomplish within the next few years?  And for those of you not graduating this month, what goals do you have for the next semester?

Alumni Guest Post — Who You Know Really Does Matter

Hi COM Studies Capstone class!

First off, congratulations! You are now in your final stretch of your senior year and are either graduating in just a few short weeks (albeit, you may feel like they are the longest weeks of your life) or you have one semester left until graduation. Either way it’s an exhilarating feeling! Be sure to take time to soak in these last few weeks or months because your time at UNCW will be some of the best years of your life. And life after college is well…different. Different how you may ask? I will tell you. But before I start, let me tell you a bit about myself.

My name is Amanda Frasca, and I graduated from UNCW in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies. After graduation, I wasn’t quite ready to leave Wilmington (after all, Wilmington had been my home for the last four years and truth be told, I wasn’t ready to leave the beach!). So with my diploma in hand, portfolio in tow and my confidence level high, I was ready to take on the dreaded “real world.” How bad could it be, right?

Life after college can be a bit of a downer at first (it gets better, I promise!). You no longer have a set schedule of classes and extracurriculars to fill your day with. Instead, you are sitting at home (most likely in your pajamas), scrolling through job openings on LinkedIn and Indeed searching for that dream job in pr, advertising, broadcast, etc. After months of follow-ups only to be answered with empty replies from the “black-hole” that is job search engines, you start to feel a bit discouraged. The thought of “how am I supposed to get a job if everyone keeps telling me I don’t have enough experience” is one that will constantly come up (hang in there). But I’m here to tell you that those feelings are completely normal and to not give up. I’m also here to tell you that you need to step away from your computer, get dressed and start networking. (Side note: I’m not telling you this to scare you. Think of it of a mini reality check. This is the stuff they don’t teach you in school, but wish someone would have clued you in on how things really are after graduation.)

It took me about six months of searching before I landed my first “big girl” job out of college. While six months doesn’t seem like that long of a time period to some, for me it was. After sending my resume and cover letter out to numerous pr positions with no luck, I decided I needed to change my approach. I began reaching out to every adult that I knew. I reached out to my professors, my internship supervisors, my parents, my neighbors, etc. I sent them my resume and expressed the type of job I was looking for. After that things started to fall into place.

My neighbor at the time worked in sales at the Greater Raleigh Convention Center and passed my information to her contact at the Wilmington & Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from them stating they received my resume, but unfortunately have no open positions. After three months, I was notified that a position opened. I interviewed and was offered a part-time position of the assistant to the assistant of Marketing and Communications. I know what you’re thinking…is that even a real position? But I didn’t care, because it got my foot in the door and that was all I needed. (Side note: At the time I had no clue what a CVB was when I accepted the interview. Thank goodness for Google!)

I worked for the Wilmington & Beaches CVB for three and a half years. During that time, I was promoted, worked hand-in-hand with the Communications/PR Director and took on tasks that helped lay the groundwork for where I am today. I was responsible for researching story ideas, media monitoring, planning and working events, writing and editing press releases and pitches, and assembling press kits. Towards the end of my time there, I was attending media dinners, FAM tours and media mission events. While I loved my job and the company I worked for, I felt like my career hit a plateau and knew it was time to take the next step.

And so the dreaded job search began again! After experiencing what pr was like on the client side of things, I knew I wanted to try my hand at agency life. I started researching agencies in North Carolina, Chicago, New York and again let my internal network know I was on the hunt. Then, one day I received an email from Jennifer Chin with an opening at Howard/Merrell (H/M), a full-service advertising and pr agency in Raleigh that was passed on to her from her contact at the agency (perfect example of networking at its finest). The position was for an Associate Account Executive on the pr and social media team. I submitted my resume and cover letter, interviewed and was offered the job. From there, I had two weeks to pack up the last eight years of my life and start a new chapter of my career in Raleigh. I was beyond thrilled and excited about where I was going!

I have worked for H/M for a little more than a year and a half and am now an Account Executive. I manage the pr and social media campaigns for six clients, the agency’s internship program and as well as some of the junior employees in our department. I communicate daily with my clients, am constantly pitching story ideas and or press releases to the media, putting together reports, booking media appointments, attending trade shows, creating social media content, writing proposals, etc. You name it, I do it. And guess what? I love it! I know this is where I was meant to be.

Working in an agency can be exhausting and at times stressful, but it gave me a perspective that I wouldn’t have been able to experience anywhere else. For me, H/M has been the place where I have put everything I learned in the COM Studies discipline into practice (especially Advanced PR, IMC and Capstone!). But I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for networking.

I learned the importance early on in college that landing a job isn’t necessarily about what you know; it’s really about who you know. The WHO you know is what gets you in the door. The WHAT you know (your experience and education) follows in the interview and then the job. While in Wilmington I stayed connected to my professors, participated in Project Protégé, volunteered with the American Heart Association and the Junior League of Wilmington. I have carried that same tenacity with me to Raleigh. You will be surprised how many people you can meet and connect with if you just put a little effort into it.

Well, I hope you found insight and advice helpful. Good luck with your final year and beyond!

 

The Interview – Preparing for Your First Date (with a Company)

Interviews can be pretty stressful. You should take interview preparation as seriously as you would an exam. An interview is essentially a test for both you and the organization to assess whether you’re both a good fit for each other. Yes, you’re also interviewing them. It’s kind of like a first date, and similar to a first date, it’s natural to be nervous. Here are some tips for making interviewing a little less intimidating.

1. Do your research. It always comes down to research, doesn’t it? We teach you in PR that you do research before making recommendations. We teach you to do research before you plan an event. (And before a first date, fess up – you’re likely stalking that person’s social media to learn everything you can about them.) And in an interview, if you do research, you’re already leaps and bounds ahead of most of your peers. Learn all that you can about the company and the people working for it before you set foot inside the building. Start at the website (and it should be a red flag if you can’t find one), then follow, like, join every social media channel you can find of theirs to learn what they post about and how often they post. These can provide good conversation starters for interviews that are longer in duration. Check out a few employee Tweets to get a sense of what the people are like and whether they are happy at the organization. Also research the field you wish to enter and the entry level salaries in the geographic location you are interviewing. Salary can vary by location and industry. Consult this list of resources from Virginia Tech Career Services to help guide your search.

2. Practice your answers to standard interview questions out loud. It always sounds better in our heads, right? All the more reason to practice our phrasing out loud. Use the questions I sent you as a starting point. Here are some additional ones. Flag ones you’re unsure of, and bring them to class and we’ll talk about them in more detail. Think about which questions lend themselves well to using an artifact. And practice how you will describe that artifact. Make sure your answers show a diverse range of experiences (you don’t want all of your answers to be about the one internship that you’re doing right now). Consider which answers you can draw from experiences such as roommates, extracurricular activities, group work for classes, challenges you’ve overcome, and successes you’ve had. Make a list and PRACTICE!

3. Focus on your delivery, too. This interview, while a bit cheesy, discusses 7 important body language factors that can make a big difference. Also pay attention to your use of language – don’t use words or phrases such as, “This just shows,” which makes your accomplishments seem less impressive. Get in the right mindset for your interview. For me, this means working on my articulation and pronunciation so that I say, “kind of” instead of “kinda” and “yes,” instead of “yeah.” Or as I like to call it, “sounding like a grown-up.”

4. Come prepared with questions. Asking questions shows that you’re genuinely interested in the position and that you’ve done your research into the company. But don’t ask the ones in this funny (bad) example from the movie Step Brothers. Generally, it’s a good idea to stay away from any talk of money/salary/benefits in the first interview. Stick more to open-ended questions, such as what kind of training is involved, how will you be evaluated, what kinds of opportunities are there for advancement, and how the organization shows that it values its employees instead. Think about what you would want to know about the company that you can’t easily find on their website.

Everything we’ve done thus far in the class has been building up to this final major assignment, the mock interview. For this week’s post, tell me what you are nervous about for the mock interview, and describe for me one of your past interview experiences. What position was it for, what was the interview like, what was asked of you, what did you wear, and did you get the job? How did that interview experience compare to what you’re about to do in a few weeks?

Alumni Guest Post — Being on the Receiving Side of Resumes and Cover Letters

Hi class! My name is Kelli Queen… Many ages ago (10 years actually) my name was Kelli Matthews and I was sitting in Discipline Capstone with Jennifer Chin, just like you are today. She really tried to drill into our brains the importance of resumes and cover letters, though it wasn’t until many years later, when I was in a position to hire people, that I realized the significance of the lesson she was trying to teach us.

Let me first back up to tell you a little bit about my work history. After graduated in 2004, I moved back home to Maryland and worked for one year at a marketing research firm. (NOTE: Beware of the word “marketing” when looking for jobs, because it seems to be a catch-all for many different positions to attract naïve recent graduates to apply.) I absolutely hated my role, which entailed me sitting at a desk all day and staring at a computer screen. The company sure liked me though – named me employee of the quarter, and even gave me a t-shirt and a special parking spot. My advice when working at a position you do not like is to make the best of it, have a good attitude and learn from it before moving on. My next job was one I created myself. I was approached by a friend of my father who ran an independent financial firm that was outsourcing all of its marketing efforts. I was brought in for an interview, where I actually had to present for them what I could bring to the table if they would hire me and stop outsourcing. (YES, I used my portfolio!) Next, I was fortunate enough to come back to UNCW to work as a special events assistant within the Division for University Advancement. I was promoted to Special Events Coordinator after about a year and then had to apply for my new position as Assistant Director for Stewardship and Engagement. In all of these roles at UNCW, I have served on search committees for different positions within University Advancement and also across campus. I have tons of experience with resumes and cover letters to share:

1. First and most important, take the extra time to personalize these documents! When I am reviewing 100+ resumes (and yes, that is how many people apply for any position at UNCW) I don’t have a lot of time to read through each one. We use a scale of X (recommend) / (maybe recommend) or 0 (do not recommend) and then meet as a committee to see how many “matches” we have in common and to discuss any special cases. When I read a cover letter that says “I have a passion for the field of Public Relations” and it’s an event planning position, I give this person a 0. (When the job description says “attention to detail” I take this very seriously. If he/she did not have the time to personalize the material, then I don’t have the time to read it and I need to move on. It’s also important to customize the information on your resume to be applicable for the position which you are applying. (When I applied for my event planning position, I said that I was a waitress at Texas Roadhouse and highlighted my customer service skills and then included information about an event I helped with. If I was applying for a sales position, I would take out the event planning information but add in sales information.)

2. Always try to address the cover letter to someone… It is even a good idea to call to see whom it should be addressed. This stands out very quickly because not many people take the time to do this. (Yes, call and not e-mail!) If you apply for a position within any college/university, it’s typically a search committee reviewing your application

3. You are a recent graduate, unless you are a non-traditional student with tons of past work experience, your resume should not be more than one page! I don’t care that you worked at Pizza Hut in high school, so you don’t need to tell me. We also don’t care about your high school extracurricular activities… you are a college student now. If you don’t have college extracurricular activities, find some quickly (community service always looks good)!

4. I don’t have time to click on a link to see your work, so please don’t send it to me. (I understand that others in a tech field may think this is more appropriate, so please disregard this advice if you are applying for one of these jobs.) When coming to an interview, the search committee likes to learn about the applicant’s accomplishments by him “selling” himself and showing us actual examples. (Now, if he/she showed me something tangible in the interview that I really liked, I may be more inclined to click on the link when it is sent to me after the interview.)

5. Don’t be one of these people:

  • Don’t say one of your accomplishments was to have never been fired from a position (yes, this came on an application from a UNCW student worker… who did not get an interview)
  • Don’t tell me you have good attention to detail and then have a million spelling and/or grammatical errors
  • Don’t list community service / extracurricular activities as work experience. (Treasurer of Phi Mu is not a job)
  • Don’t use a template without making it your own… It’s very noticeable when you use a standard Microsoft Word template with no tweaks
  • Don’t list your mother, father, aunt, uncle or youth pastor as a professional reference (yes, we’ve seen this too)
  • Don’t start each bullet point with the same word (kind of like this post… it doesn’t look so great ☺) and make sure the tense is appropriate and matches throughout the document
  • If you are applying for a position in a town where you do not live, don’t be afraid to include a sentence in your cover letter explaining that you are willing / planning to relocate. (Yes, the company is “supposed” to not judge you by your location, but this happens nonetheless)
  • Feel free to add a little personality. Keep it professional, but don’t be a robot at the same time.

I’m always happy to help review anything you would like to send at queenk@uncw.edu. Good luck!

The Strength of Forte

I admit it. When I was first asked to complete the Forte survey, I was reluctant. I didn’t get it. I felt like it was something I was being forced to do against my will. The last few years, I’ve come around to Forte. I’m using it in my First-Year Seminar class, I tried to use it (pretty unsuccessfully) with Project Protege last year, and I decided to focus more on it in Capstone this year. Here’s why I’ve had a change of heart: The Forte profile will…

1. Help you describe to a potential employer what conditions you work best under. This is traditionally a question that seniors have trouble answering (this question is related to “How do you prefer to be supervised?”). See page 6 of the report. Why is this important in an interview? Your supervisor will have a large impact on whether you enjoy your job, so it’s to your advantage to communicate clearly to a potential employer the type of environment you will thrive in.

2. Give you options for how to answer the question, “What motivates you?” Employers want to know how to motivate you to help the company succeed. It’s especially relevant for those of you interviewing for lower paying positions, such as those in sports or education. What will motivate you since pay isn’t by commission? What will keep you going when you’re doing tasks like sweeping floors or working 15-hour days? See page 6.

3. Offer suggestions of words for your 5 adjectives question. Standard interview question. It’s easy to sound just like everyone else by saying that you’re a “motivated, outgoing, friendly, hard-working, people-person.” It’s difficult to stand out in a good way with your answer to this question. See page 5.

Those three reasons alone justify its use in this course. (It can also be used to help you describe how you cope when you and a teammate disagree or how you handle conflict.) I used to walk around with a stupid piece of paper (it literally was in my backpack everyday) with a running list of adjectives that I thought would describe me. I finally threw it away a year or so ago because I keep the latest Forte report on my flash drive, so I never have to worry about where I put that piece of paper. If you take the time to read the report (which I didn’t the first several times I took the survey), you come to realize spot on it is. I laughed when I read that I am “demotivated if the rules are changed without plenty of notice and there is not a worked-out system.” That drives me CRAZY.

This week, I want you to go back and read your Forte profile (I asked you to complete the adapting survey in September). Tell me three things you learned about yourself in your report that will help you in your future interviews.

Having It All

It has been stated numerous times this semester that most of us are juggling multiple jobs, responsibilities, activities, family, friends, school, and sleep. The idea of having it all is a fantasy, reserved for people who can afford housekeepers, nannies, and personal trainers and chefs. While I do find that I am most productive when I am busy, I also get worn down by the mid-way point of the semester. Last week, I had every minute of every day planned to a T, which meant I didn’t have any room for flexibility. I had to move from one thing to the next to the next. In some ways, I do like to marvel in the accomplishment of how much I can accomplish in a 24-hour period on 4 hours of sleep. It shows how important it is for me to be efficient when I work. But in reality, I know that it’s unrealistic for me to expect that everything I have planned that day will go as scheduled. And even if I do get everything I have on my list done, I do it at a cost.

I will sometimes miss out on FaceTime chats with my nieces and nephew b/c my schedule isn’t compatible with a kid’s bedtime routine. I live b/t 6-12 hours away from them, which means I miss a lot of birthdays (I think I’ve only been to two birthday parties), and I generally can only do either Thanksgiving or Christmas because of the cost of flying up to NJ. I don’t get to join in family vacations to Disney World because my summer break doesn’t coincide with the kids’. There are certain times of the year that I can’t get away (i.e., finals). In fact, my absence from my niece and nephew’s lives when they were little was illustrated by my father’s less than subtle remarks at the holidays, “This is your auntie Jennifer. Do you remember Jennifer?” Because of the hours I work, it’s really not possible for me to own a dog (it’d be inhumane). I don’t make a salary that affords me the luxury to own a fancy home or to drive a fancy car. I see my really good friends maybe once a year since we’re in different cities, and we’re all doing the best we can. I work summers to pay for concerts and car insurance. It’s all a compromise.

It’s easy to think because you feel like you’re doing it all now that you will be able to continue juggling everything after you graduate. The consequences are greater after graduation. You might have to let one thing slide to do another thing better. It’s impossible to do 100 things really well. There are always trade-offs. And I’d like to think that most employers would rather have you do a few things really well, as opposed to doing many things average. Check out these articles on the work-life balance, this one by The Muse and PayScale, and tell me in this week’s post how you juggle all of your responsibilities. What do you sacrifice to make it work, what tips/tricks help make it easier, and what worries you about doing this after graduation?

 

Your Spokespeople

Anyone who thinks they can be successful on their own without any help is highly delusional. Even people who are independently wealthy still need the support of others, even if it’s people to wait on them at restaurants and fix their cars. As you prepare to embark on the job search, one of the most important things you should do is line up your references.

Simply defined, a reference is someone who has first-hand experience with you and your work, who can speak to both when asked by a potential employer. Too often students don’t take references seriously. This article may make you rethink the importance of good references. It references a CareerBuilder survey in which, “Sixty-nine percent of employers said they have changed their minds about a candidate after speaking with a reference.”

According to Randall S. Hansen on quintcareers.com, “Having a few good references can be the deciding factor in your getting the job offer. Similarly, having one bad — or lukewarm — reference could cost you the job.” Hansen lists eight keys to choosing and using the best job references in your job search here.

If you Google “references in the job search,” most of the hits on the first few pages will direct you to articles that say similar things. The basics include:

1. Choose wisely. Select people who know your work and can provide specifics. These generally include internship supervisors, current and former employers, and professors. Keep in mind that teachers who have only had you in one class or in large lecture sections may not know you well enough to be able to provide a helpful reference. Brienne Discoll says on thejobscholar.com that you should always make sure that the person you are asking can say positive things about you in an articulate manner (another reason why you should ask for permission first). Also, it is a bit suspicious if your current employer or most recent supervisor is not a reference. Read Tip #7 of Career Builders’ “8 Tips for Getting Great Job References” for suggestions about how to handle a situation with a current employer that you don’t want to know that you’re looking. (I suggest asking someone you trust who works at that same company to be a reference instead.)

2. Be thoughtful about HOW you ask people to be your reference. (And YES, you should ALWAYS ask permission first.) If you want to be taken seriously (and what’s more serious than searching for a job?), then take the proper steps to secure approval from your potential reference. Don’t ask in front of others. It can put that person on the spot, and it’s awkward if the answer is no. If they’re on the fence, give them the courtesy of thinking about it first. Don’t ask via text message or on Twitter. Again, neither forms are very personal and professional. If you can’t ask me in person or in a professionally worded e-mail, why should I take the time to say positive things about you? (The jury’s out on Facebook, but I personally HATE it when people DM me on Facebook and ask. First off, I don’t have the new FB messenger, and I’m not about to download it based on what I’ve read about the privacy issues, so I generally don’t even see those messages until days later. Second, I work enough as it is — I don’t like to do work on FB, and my work e-mail is easy to find if you happen to not know it.) A good rule of thumb is to contact potential references in their preferred method of communication. If you don’t know what that is, err on the side of being too cautious and respectful instead of running the risk of insulting that person.

3. Keep in touch with your references. Be sure to give them a heads up when you’re going on the market so they can think of a few things to say in advance of being contacted. Make sure they have a current copy of your resume at all times, and let them know if and when you get the position, or if you relocate. It’s difficult to be a credible reference if you haven’t spoken to the candidate in several years. Any kind of good (effective) networking involves maintaining relationships, which means you need to communicate from time to time. Even if it’s just to say hi, hope things are well (which doesn’t sound as out of the blue during the holidays).

4. Don’t list your references on your resume (it takes up valuable space), and don’t submit them unless asked (they usually only ask if they are seriously interested in you). But bring the list to the interview in case you are asked while you are there, and always make sure you have your list up to date and with the appropriate information. References should also be included in your portfolio, says Kim Isaacs with monster.com.  For example, I do not permit others to list my personal cell number or e-mail on their list of references. I also want my official position title accompanying my contact information. If your references go by other names, they may or may not want their official birth name listed. This is another reason why it’s important to ask for permission first so they can tell you what information to include.

You can save yourself a lot of headaches later down the road if you line up your references now. Try to get permission for about 3-5 references, and if you choose not to ask for permission first, consider yourself warned. The articles referenced in this post reiterated the importance of references in the job search, and all of them said you should ask first. Personally, I will not answer ANY questions about ANY job applicant if I haven’t been asked for permission first. (And if you list me on your list for this class without asking permission, I will not give you credit for it.) Here’s why — it’s my reputation on the line, too, and I have worked a long time to build my reputation, and I certainly am not going to risk it on just anyone. I also view it as a sign of disrespect when people use my name without my permission. Saying things like, “I put you down as a reference, I hope that’s okay” after the fact does NOT make it okay. You knew you were going on the interview, you should have known you would be asked for references, so line them up in advance. Don’t just throw my name in after you learn that whoever interviewed you knows me.

Someone said to me last week, “_____ and I hold your references in high regards. We both know that if you are willing to back someone, then they are good. She straight up asked me a question about you in my interview. She said, ‘If I were to call Jen and ask her about you, what do you think she would say?'” I know this story is true because I was called by her current boss after her interview, and I was called about another grad that they hired that I recommended. So when you think people aren’t called, they are. And more often than not, if a place I know has an opening, they ask me to refer people I’d recommend, so the reference is implied. They don’t want me to waste their time on people I wouldn’t want to work with. Now’s the time to put your house in order. Get your references, your spokespeople set. And if you don’t have any yet, you should consider what actions you need to take in order to line some up in the near future. This week, tell me about what you’ve learned about references previously, any horror stories you’ve heard about references, and what questions you still have about references. Remember, you will need at least 3 for the portfolio assignment.

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