Quick and Easy Interview Tips for Young Professionals

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Among the main things I learned was even if certain majors require internships, they may not always prepare students for the interview process.

This post was originally published by and written for Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport).

During my stint at a start up that happened to be located in a college town, I spent a considerable amount of time screening candidates for internships and part-time positions. As you can imagine, we had plenty of college students seek us out for openings. Most majors required students to have an internship to graduate.

Over time I came to realize that more and more students seek to acquire internships, even if its not a requirement, because it’s becoming more difficult to attain an entry level position without previous work experience.

I learned a lot about today’s college students from these interviews and from the ensuing conversations with those we chose to hire. Among the main things I learned was even if certain majors require internships, they may not always prepare students for the interview process. I can only speak to Auburn University, but it was apparent to that Liberal Arts majors had much less career support than say the students in the College of Business.

It is important to take advantage of all the career prep opportunities available to you while in undergraduate or graduate school. This is also the case once you land that first job. Always look for career development opportunities and see if your employer will help supplement the costs.

With all of that said, below I’d like to present some quick and easy interviewing tips for young professionals. There are may things to practice before that first interview, but sticking to these tenants will help ensure you’re the candidate that gets consideration.

1) If you’re “on time” you’re late – I operate by this mantra perpetually. Nothing annoys me worse than people who are late to an appointment. It tends to show that you or the reason for your appointment isn’t a priority to the other person. My “on time” is to arrive no later than five minutes before the scheduled start time. Most times I find myself arriving around 10 minutes early. You will never lose points for being punctual!

2) Always over dress – I’d like to think that if you’re going to the interview for a position that you really hope to land, you’d dress for that job. As they saying goes, dress for the job you want, not for the job you have. For guys, always wear a suit and tie. For girls, a nice blouse paired with slacks or a knee length skirt, with closed toed shoes is best. Always over dress. It’s one less thing to worry about.

3) Do your homework – It is a must that you research the company with which you are applying and interviewing. Don’t ever enter an interview unprepared. Those interviewing you will notice and notice early on. In fact, the question “Why us?” may be one of the first questions asked. You won’t get away with having a generic answer. You’ll need to have a knowledgeable answer, one that shows you’ve done your homework. Working in “when I was doing my research” or “I saw on your website” into other answers will further show how you prepared for the interview.

4) Finish your sentences – One of my biggest pet peeves during interviews is when candidates don’t finish their sentences. Instead they trail off with a “so…” I mean, come on. Practice your talking points and want you might say. Always speak in concise sentences and full thoughts. Even if you feel like you’re rambling, or not exactly sure how you’re going to answer a particular question, still make an effort to speak in complete thoughts. It is OK to ask for a moment to compose yourself or to gather your thoughts. This won’t lose you any points, but consistently trailing off at the end of your sentences will.

5) Send thank you notes – This tip is one that may not win you that job, but it sure as hell will lose it for you. ALWAYS send a thank you note following any interview. Make sure to note all the people you speak or interact with. Every individual that meets those prior two qualifiers should get a prompt email Thank You and also a handwritten thank you note. Not sending a note will definitely cost you. At both of my two previous employers, candidates who didn’t send thank you notes were never considered a serious candidate.

I don’t claim to be an HR expert, but I can say with confidence that following the tips above will give you a good chance to land your next big opportunity. Not following them can surely lose you a chance at your next big career move. So, take it from me, combine the easy steps above with your industry knowledge, tactical skill set and confidence and you will be well on your way to landing the job you want.

Professional Development Q&A With Brett Myers

This post is the eighth in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 6   Part 7 

Name: Brett Myers (@brettmyers0)
Profession: Program Director in a Research, Innovation, Strategy capacity/role
Degree: Accounting

I’ve known Brett for nearly 15 years now (time flies!). We met through mutual friends while in college and immediately formed a bond over Cardinals baseball, good laughs and good drinks. Brett has been there for me every step of my adult life as I’ve moved states, switched jobs, got married, got fired, got divorced, rediscovered myself, found peace, re-married and while making this latest move looking for new opportunities.

Throughout my life journey, I’ve had many conversations with Brett about a variety of things. He constantly challenges me to think differently about things. Whether it pertains to my career path, my personal life or even my sometimes overly passionate feelings about the Cardinals. Brett won’t let me settle for average. He won’t let me settle for a situation that’s overly comfortable. Brett likes disruption, but in a good way. He knows that’s not my personality, but challenges me to think differently.

I could write an entire post about my relationship with Brett. He’s been such an important person in my life. But, I should probably let him speak for himself. He was kind enough to answer my career questions and I’m honored to feature him on this little blog of mine. Brett is an inspiration to me and I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Brett Myers.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
My degree was in accounting, so most people would say it doesn’t have much to do with running a team that focuses on research, strategy, and innovation. I understand why people think that way, but my thoughts are very contrary to that. I went into accounting because I wanted to understand how businesses worked, and numbers made a lot of sense/were easy for me. As I got more into the degree in college, I realized I didn’t really want to do accounting in the traditional sense. Instead of changing majors, I realized it still made sense for me to study accounting. This is because I had the realization that my brain understood numbers very well and accounting increased my ability to understand business through numbers. So, my classes in college sharpened my natural mentality towards logic and data, which I think is a lot more valuable long-term than being an expert at accounting or some other specific topic.

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
My plan after college was to help run companies at whatever level I was able to achieve in terms of success (still working on that part!). I think back then I had a lot of specific job roles, job titles, financial definitions of success, and so on. I think at a high level the big things have been directionally according to plan, but the specific journey definitely could not have been predicted. The biggest change between now and then, almost 15 years ago (sad face), is that when I think about my plan and how I define success. It is geared much more around a few things: my ability to impact people and companies. Whether I’m getting opportunities I desire, and whether I get the experiences I enjoy and/or need. Don’t get me wrong, money 100% matters and one should know their value. I even recommend talking to others in some form outside of your company to know your market value. But to me, I don’t focus on money or power as much because they aren’t really inputs or leading indicators of success. If I’m making impact, money and decision rights likely come. If I’m getting challenging opportunities, I’m likely doing something right and will continue getting those opportunities. If I focus on the next experiences I enjoy, I tend to be happier and produce better work. Focusing on the experiences I need helps me more than focusing on a job title.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
Getting the actual tasks of the work done is important, but if that’s all you’re doing early in your career it will catch up to you in your late 20’s or early 30’s. Think about it, assuming this is your best case scenario: you’re hired in and do better than all of the other new hires. You get a few promotions your first 3-5 years out of school. Most others your age are moving up just a little slower most likely. Now, at 27 your peers are 30-40 years old and much more experienced than you. You may still have a lot of talent compared to others, but at this point your talent stops being enough for you to be head and shoulders above your new 30-40 year old peers. Then what happens??? This is when your personal brand, habits, and processes become critical to make you more than talented. This will happen at different points for everyone, but at some point your talent will find a ceiling in the workplace. You can wait for that to happen, or you can start right away learning about yourself so that you don’t become only as good as your talent. Understand your core values before facing tough decisions or tough moments. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Study self-awareness. Don’t collect business cards, build relationships. Study the science of leading, and know how to be led by others.

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4) What do like the most about your profession?
Problems and people. Which ironically, are more often than not very intertwined. I love identifying problems that are happening, creating an abundance of options for solutions, and then quickly testing and evolving the solution ideas. As for the people side, the more years I spend formally leading people the more I find deep satisfaction from being a part of their journey. Seeing people start families, achieve new career goals, etc. is just amazing. Knowing in some small way I am helping them achieve those things is a great feeling.

5) What is your favorite social media platform?
I’m all over the place with social media right now, here’s my current relationship status for each. I feel like Facebook is the girlfriend I know I need to break up with, I keep leaning on the good times, but it’s too much now and turns out she just keeps making up fake things. Instagram is the one in front of your face that you took for granted – nearly all good stuff, not complicated, and doesn’t bug you with a lot of stuff you don’t want. Snapchat is the girl that is either too young and cool or too weird to date…i’m just not sure which. I just know I don’t understand it so I haven’t really used it. As for Twitter, it’s in the friend zone and don’t see it getting out. So I’m currently in a move from Facebook to Instagram for the most part.

6) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
A lot of my reading of late has been focused on empathy. I think empathy is going to be an increasingly valued skill across professions. With that in mind, I just finished two books back-to-back which really challenged me to empathize with how someone’s experiences shape them. 1) The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace; 2) Hillbilly Elegy.

Both books are about someone that came from a tough, disadvantaged upbringing, ended up making it to Ivy League colleges, and then much more. The irony being one is from Newark, NJ while the other is from small, factory town Appalachia. Would highly recommend reading either, and especially reading both. Great perspective building books without being apologists for circumstances.

7) Where do you receive your news and information? 
I have a few network news online sites I’ll read regularly, some social media, and some television, including fun news/entertainment like The Daily Show. I find myself in search of diverse sources to hear different sides of most news items.

8) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
Most of my free time is around my family and friends. Outside of that, I like to read more and more. I also love to travel. I haven’t seen near enough of the people and parts of the world I’d like to as of yet. I think I have plenty of time for hobbies and make time for the things I want to do in life. When people “don’t have time” on a long-term basis, I think they typically just aren’t making things a priority. You’ll rarely hear me say “I don’t have time…” because I just don’t generally buy into it is a cause of not doing things. One exception, parents with young kids I think is fair to not have a mix of energy and time for things. Even then, I would say there are probably some ways to find time or more strategically use time.

4 Easy Ways to Find Work-Life Balance

It is possible to make some subtle changes to your lifestyle and find the right balance that makes you function efficiently in all aspects of your life. 

This post was originally published by and written for Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport).

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Individuals working in athletics and sports business know they’re choosing a certain lifestyle making the career decision to work in sports. A lifestyle that typically includes late nights, long hours, stretches away from family and friends, low compensation, lack of healthy meals, too many meals with limited activity, and the list goes on.

Those are just some of the reasons why people get burnt out and tend to transition to other career opportunities which offer a suitable work-life balance. That phrase “work-life balance” can mean different things to different people however. It doesn’t always mean changing careers or leaving a job that you really enjoy even if you have to make personal sacrifices.

Take it from someone who used to work in athletics and made the decision to look for a more balanced opportunity a few years ago. It is possible to make some subtle changes to your lifestyle and find the right balance that makes you function efficiently in all aspects of your life.

Below are some things to consider and some resources that exist to help you find that work-life balance to help you be the best version, both personally and professionally, that you can be.

Prioritize what gives you the most satisfaction –  Prioritization is key to achieving many things in life, but especially in finding balance. Does your job need to pay a certain amount? Does it need to have no travel at all or less travel than you experience currently? Does it need to offer flexible vacation time or generous holidays? Will it allow you opportunities for career development and growth? Will the employer offer a gym membership or on-site gym access? Prioritizing what aspects are important to you and will help you feel balanced. Discuss these items with those important to you and rank them. Use this a guide to help you remain where you are, look for something better, or just to keep you in the right frame of mind throughout your career.

Build downtime into your schedule – “Busy” is such an overrated word. There I said it. We’re in a culture of busy. People always say they are busy, like it’s a badge of honor. It’s really not. To me it means you can’t prioritize your time and efforts. Therefore you’re left scrambling all the time and use “busy” as a cover. Let’s stop the culture of busy. It can be done day planning your day with periods of down time, or periods when you are doing things that aren’t worth the time and effort. Make plans around improving your health. Make plans around strengthening the relationships that matter in your life. Downtime can mean many things and building in the time will make you a better person.

Focus on the good: complain less, appreciate more  – Gratitude is a powerful thing. So is positivity. YOU have a choice each day and during each situation you encounter to face it positively. YOU also have the choice to count your blessings and be grateful for everything you have in your life. So, stop complaining and start appreciating. You’ll be amazed at how your life will change. You’ll be amazed how you can change other people’s lives. You’ll also be amazed at the opportunities that will come your way when you remain connected to those that matter with a positive and grateful attitude.

When working, get in the zone  –  This last tip applies to being the most productive worker, employee, boss or mentor you can be when working. You have to be able to multi-task when working in athletics. Actually, looking at most job posting for any advertising and marketing jobs in any field will have “multi-tasking” as a critical skill. I tend to think of multi-tasking a little differently. I think you have to be able to accomplish multiple tasks and meet multiple deadlines within a given day or week. But, you need to tackle each task with a single focus. Don’t try to handle them all at once. Set your task priorities, focus on finishing on each task without interruption and get in the zone while working on each one. This will allow you to accomplish those tasks, but not get derailed along the way. It can get tough spinning so many plates at your agency or athletic department, but setting up your day with this focus can be a game changer.

These may seem like simple tips. And you know what, they are! They’re easy ways you can transform your life. They can make you a better person and help you achieve the professional and personal life balance that so many seek to achieve. Believe me, I practice the tips above and can attest to their power.

 

Professional Development Q&A With Mark Hodgkin

This post is the seventh in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6

Name: Mark Hodgkin (@Mark_Hodgkin)
Profession: Director of Product Development
Degree: BA in History, University of Texas at Austin; MBA, Bryant University

Mark and I connected via twitter (which isn’t that uncommon in this day and age). I would say it was in 2015 or so and again it was via my guy Chris Yandle. We traded some comments on Twitter for a while, and then in 2016 Mark reached out to me to discuss careers and other items.

At the time Mark was in career transition (or at least contemplating it) and he was picking my brain about my decision to leave college athletics and enter the private sector. He was genuinely interested in hearing about my story and also what I was up to in my career at that point. I never forgot the feelings I felt when he reached out and wanted to talk to me. I was humbled to think that I could help someone out and also excited to make a new connection.

Since that time, we stayed in touch and often discussed sports, brown drink and other common interests we shared. Mark was one of the first people I reached out to recently as I began looking for other career opportunities. He has been gracious in recent months to stay in touch to discuss careers, networking opportunities and of course bourbon. With that said, by the end of this blog I’m confident you will realize why Mark is such a great resource for me. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Mark Hodgkin.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
It’s hard to point to any direct relationship between my degrees and my current role. Late in my undergrad career I realized I wanted to work in sports. That led me to a graduate assistant position at Bryant University doing marketing while getting my MBA. I had never considered an MBA until then, but believe it has been useful in my career. Even my BA in History, which doesn’t seem terribly practical, definitely helped my writing and reasoning skills. That was very helpful with my MBA and in a general sense after my career.

My shift to digital came after taking an internship at Boston College, which came just as schools were starting to hire digital-focused people. That was a bit of good luck and timing as it led to a seven year stint at the Big East/American Conference and my current role at NeuLion.

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
I credit one of my mentors, Dennis Coleman, for suggesting that working in sports could be a viable career path around the time of my junior year in college. Until then, I was drifting along assuming I’d do something like teach, work at a bank or perhaps even go to law school. So I got a late start, but as Dennis told me, he “could open the door, but you have to prove you belong.” Ever since then I’ve been full into sports, but have been able to find my niche in it with digital media.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
It’s almost cliche at this point, but Network, Network and then NETWORK some more. Opportunities to advance will almost always correspond with relationships you’ve built. Relationships I’ve worked to cultivate have led to every job I’ve ever gotten. If you want to work in sports, it’s especially important as it is a very small, close-knit community.

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4) What do like the most about your profession?
The thing I like most about college sports are the passion of its followers and the community of people. I always try to take a moment to think about how many people pay to attend events that we call work. That’s not to say that it is easy or without serious challenges. But at the end of the day, most people have to work and I think what we do is special.

I also think people in college sports have been amazing to connect and learn from. I can’t speak for every other industry but am amazed at how many people take the time to talk shop and trade ideas in this space.

5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
Currently, it’s adjusting from a chair on a school or conference side to life at a tech company. While I interacted with digital partners in my last two jobs, the challenges on the inside are totally different. You’re trying to build a cutting edge platform that suits the needs of hundreds of partners, while living within the confines of a business. I’ve always worked with a broad array of people, but going more to the technical side has its challenges.

6) How has your industry changed during your time as a professional?
Thankfully for me, college sports has really gotten more focused on social and digital media. There are full-time positions everywhere and many now at a more senior level. What you’re seeing today from schools on the digital front is staggering. Take a look at the graphics today as opposed to just 3-4 years ago. It’s amazing and now something that almost all administrators and coaches see value in.

7) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they leave?
Speaking from a college sports perspective, a lot of people leave because of the hours and often low pay. It can be hard to have that elusive “work/life balance” and I see people get burned out. The economics of the system obviously push the big bucks to head coaches in revenue sports and the long line of qualified applicants keep wages low for many others.

As far as why people leave, I can’t agree or disagree. We each have our own journey and I understand the desire to spend more time having “a life”. Though I do think it can be done, many struggle with the so-called balance.

8) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
Absolutely not. A former colleague of mine always referred to what we do as the “toy section” of careers. It’s hard work and plenty challenging, but at the end of the day very rewarding.

9) What is your favorite social media platform?
From a usage perspective, it’s Twitter followed closely by Instagram. I love the connections with strangers who have often become real life friends. I love how we can talk about common interests as well as follow along with news and sports stories in real time. I do think there are some scary addictive symptoms of too much social media use so I try to keep that in check. A few months ago I got off social media completely for a full month and really enjoyed it. Now I try to be more mindful of the time I spend and how easily it can distract me from more important tasks.

From an observer of the space I have an amazing amount of respect for what Facebook (and its subsidiary Instagram) has built and run. When you stop to think how Mark Zuckerburg took a fairly run-of-the-mill idea and built it into a globally transformative company (as a 20-something with no business background) really is staggering. I tend to think what Facebook is today is just the start and can’t imagine what it will look like in five years.

10) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
I read a ton. Typically a few books at a time. The best one I read recently was “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by a very interesting writer named Cal Newport. His book “Deep Work” was also very interesting to me even though he’s a strong critic of social media. I don’t agree 100% with everything he says but think his perspective is important – especially these days.

11) Where do you receive your news and information?
I don’t subscribe to a print paper or watch much TV. Most of my information comes from Internet sources be it social media or curated feeds via something like Pocket or Feedly. I also have a subscription to the Washington Post on my Kindle and find that useful.

12) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
For a time during my college career I seriously considered dropping out and pursuing a culinary degree so cooking is still a great hobby for me. I also read a ton and love playing golf when I have the time.

Professional Development Q&A With Lora Wey

This post is the sixth in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5

Name: Lora Wey (@LoraWey)
Profession: Executive Director of Annual Giving at Illinois State University

I was first introduced to Lora Wey when doing research and prospecting for Verge Pipe Media, working to connect with those working in higher education annual giving. As an alum of Illinois State, I was thrilled to make a new connection with my alma mater and learn about their recent successes on Giving Tuesday. In fact, I profiled Lora previously to get her first-person perspective on how to run a successful giving day effort. You can read that article here.

Since our first interactions, Lora has been a great resource and sounding board for me on a variety of topics. She is one of the best in her industry and I am thankful that she is representing my alma mater and helping it become the preeminent public university in Illinois. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Lora Wey.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
My degree was in international business and Spanish. I’ve worked in higher education  since I graduated college. Although not directly related to my degree, my liberal arts education and affinity for working with people prepared me well to learn the art and science of fundraising.

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
I worked as an admissions counselor at my alma mater as my first job out of college. I knew I loved the school and was passionate about the college experience. I have never had a desire to leave higher education since. I have worked in this profession for 29 years.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
My advice is that your first job will not be your last. Be open to the experience and gain as much knowledge and experience as you can. It will be your springboard to the next chapter in your professional career.

4) What do like the most about your profession?
I like that our work changes lives every day. Not just the lives of students, but donors lives as well.

5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession today?
We can no longer depend on just a few channels of communication to resonate with donors. With the increased amount of not for profits and changing technology, we are forced to stay ahead of the curve in terms or messaging and creativity so that we remain a relevant giving priority to our alumni and potential donors.

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6) How has your industry changed during your time as a professional?
The biggest change is fewer donors giving more dollars. In order to sustain the pipeline, we need to grow our donor base. Telephone and direct mail are just a few of the many channels of communication in which we must be present. In addition, we no longer employ a one message fits all donors campaign. We must segment strategically in order to capture the attention of our audience.

7) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they leave?
Perhaps they think more money can be made elsewhere. Many schools are experiencing financial hardship causing frozen wages. It becomes demoralizing to staff not to be rewarded year after year for your efforts.

8) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
If I choose to leave it would not be for financial reasons, but for a different professional opportunity within higher education.

9) What is your favorite social media platform?
Facebook…I’m 50 years old and my friend base doesn’t utilize Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat etc. 🙂

10) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
I am currently reading You Win In The Locker Room First by Jon Gordon and Mike Smith. Our leadership team is reading and reflecting on how their advice is relevant in the work we do as managers.

11) Where do you receive your news and information
Of the choices you gave us (Print Newspaper, Online Newspaper, TV, Twitter, Facebook or other) I definitely get my news from online newspapers and my Facebook feed.

12) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
I volunteer with several not for profits in my community as an advisor to fundraising or mentoring. It energizes me.

Professional Development Q&A With Troy Johnson

This post is the fifth in a series of Q&A sessions with friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and other contacts who I consider both influential and inspirational. Each of these individuals possesses a skillset that I believe you will find valuable. They have each made an impact throughout my career path and I wanted to feature them in this series.

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4

Name: Troy Johnson (@TroyJohnsonAU)
Profession: Director of Communications & Marketing, Auburn University Raymond J. Harbert College of Business
Degree: Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations/Journalism from Troy University; Master of Technical and Professional Communication from Auburn University

Troy and I first met in Auburn around 2015 when I was looking for new opportunities. Though he and I were both members of the local PRCA Chapter, we weren’t close friends at the time. However, I reached out to form a better relationship in hopes of picking his brain as I searched for new opportunities. We’ve remained close since then.

In 2016, Troy and I also formed an agency/client relationship. The Raymond J. Harbert College of Business is a client of Verge Pipe Media‘s and I was the main point of contact for the account. Troy and I worked closely on strategic digital marketing efforts and further strengthened our relationship.

Even though I am no longer with VPM, Troy and I remain close friends and he is still a sounding board for me when I need one. I hope you enjoy the following tidbits and advice from Troy Johnson.

1) How does your current profession align with the degree you graduated with? If you have held other jobs, how closely have they been aligned?
While I earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations, the profession has experienced dynamic changes since my initial graduation in 1992. Portable technology and social media were as fanciful as the flying DeLorean from “Back to the Future” at that point. The Internet wasn’t accessible to the masses yet. It was another three years before I worked in an office where we were able to receive e-mail, and that was to a departmental address rather than a personal inbox. While the foundational elements of public relations I learned as an undergraduate remain relevant, there is little resemblance between what we were being prepared for then and what I experience now. The media landscape is very different, for one. We still place value on earned media, but we’re frequently able to bypass the traditional messengers these days and share information directly with our publics through social media, e-mail, push notifications, and other means. The biggest change I’ve experienced is the ability to collect relevant data and to be nimble in making necessary changes. We now have the ability to monitor the success of a campaign in real time and move to Plan B with minimal discomfort. All of those wonderful algorithms in the social media and software as a service universe also enable us to be far more targeted in our communication. A process that may have once resembled a shotgun blast is now a laser pointer.

I recently completed a master’s degree (while working full-time) in technical and professional communication. I selected the program because of its emphasis on web usability and accessibility, as well as design and rhetoric. The latter component is surprisingly relevant to what I do now. Part of my function is helping the public understand the value of academic and industry-focused research. Often, you have to simplify complex information in a way that makes it easily understandable for the masses.

The latter component, the focus on rhetoric, was particularly interesting and applicable as well. We studied Aristotle, among others, and examined the rhetorical moves they executed in attempting to persuade others. That’s useful for any PR or marketing practitioner.

2) What did you ‘plan to do’ after college and how close is that to what you’re doing at this point in your career? Were there any deviations along the way and did they help/hurt your path to your current job?
It took me a while to settle on public relations as a career choice. That was my initial plan, to do PR in the non-profit, agency, or political realm. But, as a double major in college, I was offered a six-month journalism internship at the Birmingham News (now better known as AL.com). They treated me like a veteran reporter, even assigning me to interview Michael Jordan during the height of his athletic fame. I loved the adrenalin rush of competing against other media and digging for news. That led to a 16-year career in which I covered everything from Southeastern Conference sports to the Olympics for various newspapers in the Southeast. I left that industry in 2008 because I didn’t like the uncertainty plaguing it. I had worked as a columnist for the last half of my career, which probably connected to PR in more ways than I realized. You’re the face of your news organization, for better or worse, but have opportunities to engage the community in ways many reporters don’t. One day I’d speak at a Rotary Club, the next day I’d be a guest on a radio or TV show.

In making the transition to public relations while initially working for Auburn University’s College of Education, I’ll admit there was a learning curve. In journalism, deadlines are often managed in minutes or hours rather than days. The focus is on immediacy. But people interact differently with the academic side of a university than they do with its athletic teams. At the same time, journalists are conditioned to be observant, to be resourceful, and to be multi-taskers. Those qualities are important for public relations practitioners, too. Coming from journalism, you may be well prepared to handle the tactical materials — the deliverables — that your organization or client needs. But there is an adjustment in terms of understanding the value of primary and secondary research before a project and conducting research on the back end to evaluate. You have to ensure that what you do is purpose-driven.

3) What’s your best piece of advice for today’s entry-level candidates?
When you apply for a job, show that you have done your homework. Have you visited the organization’s website, looked through any of its print materials, taken inventory of its social media, experienced its product or service in some way? Having been on a number of search committees and making various hires, I can say my biggest pet peeve is when an applicant misses the mark in a cover letter. So many write about how being hired by the university fulfills their dream or objective. That’s nice, but I want to know how you are going to add value to my team. A lot of people view cover letters as a formality, but it’s a chance for you to tell your story. How does your skillset align with the job opening? That’s what I want to know — not that you’ve been an Auburn fan since you were 5 years old.

4) What do like the most about your profession?
I love the problem-solving component. You’re trying to drive action, change perception, build awareness, curate existing relationships and foster new ones. There’s no better feeling than seeing your work result in a national media placement, or being able to see that you have helped persuade previously disengaged individuals or groups to invest their time, talent or treasure in your organization.

Design

5) What is the biggest challenge you face in your profession?
Managing the flow of data. It’s referred to as Big Data for a reason. There’s more of it than there used to be, and it can be overwhelming. We’re fortunate in that we have a Data Scientist who is helping us build a better framework for managing the flow of information and helping to ensure the right people know the right things at the right time.

6) Why do people leave your field or company? Do you agree with why they leave?
In my professional circle, most fellow practitioners are long-timers or are just beginning their careers. If they’re not leaving because of retirement, you may have some who start their own firms or set up an LLC and do consulting work. They may leave an organization, but they tend to remain connected to PR and/or marketing. In the corporate sector, you see some departures due to downsizing or restructuring.

7) Are you considering leaving your current field or company?
Not at all. I wish I had made the transition to PR sooner. I also enjoy working in a higher education setting. You come to work feeling good about who and what you represent.

8) What is your favorite social media platform?
Probably Facebook, although I understand why it wears down so many people. It’s a versatile platform, and it’s more personal than, say, Twitter. In my personal use, I probably treat it the way I would a barstool at a local pub. It’s the place where I pontificate, try to make people laugh, occasionally argue, and share news I consider important. Because I work for a College of Business, I can say LinkedIn is an important platform in my professional role. You’re able to conduct research there on alumni or industry partners. I also value the ability to target specific companies or industry sectors. Some of the applied research conducted by our faculty offers relevance to executives in a variety of industry settings — banking, supply chain and logistics, management, accounting. We’re able to connect and share news with corporate leaders who may not be part of our alumni network.

Lately, I’m finding myself becoming more active with Instagram. It is becoming more vital for our organization since we serve individuals in their late teens and early to mid-20s.

9) What was the last book you read? The last TED talk or other e-learning content you consumed?
Not counting what I read to my 5-year-old son at night … my recent reads have included “Edelman and the Rise of Public Relations,” a non-fiction account chronicling the life and career arc of the firm’s namesake, and “Headed for Home,” a fiction/humor book by a friend, former Auburn University professor Mary Helen Brown. In terms of web-based learning, it runs the gamut. The Public Relations Society of American offers an abundance of resources. Also, as someone who works within a College of Business, I find value in checking out occasional webinars offered by Harvard Business Review. That sometimes helps me in understanding the common language or our faculty and industry partners.

10) Where do you receive your news and information?
It’s a mix of print and online newspapers, TV, and Facebook. I tend to read the following newspapers online: The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Opelika-Auburn News (local). I also have access to print issues of the NYT and Wall Street Journal. I watch local TV stations, and will occasionally check out the weekend morning shows like “Meet the Press,” but rarely consume cable news. I tend to monitor on Twitter rather than engage on the platform. I find Facebook to be useful in finding useful stories that may surface throughout the day, but tend to be very selective about what I read or view from it.

11) What are your hobbies? Do you wish you had more time to pick up a hobby?
I love spending time with my family. I have a 5-year-old son who is into a bit of a polymath. He’s taking lessons in everything from tennis to acting to ceramics to Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

I love to travel. My first time outside the U.S. was covering the 2000 Olympics on assignment in Sydney, Australia. I’ve been making up for lost time since then.

And, finally, having been an athlete in my fading youth (football and soccer), I love to exercise and play sports. Right now, because my creaky joints don’t hold up well running full-court in basketball, my primary diversion involves weight training and power lifting. I like pushing, pulling and moving heavy things. I refer to myself as an AFG — Athletic Fat Guy.

I’m trying to make time for other pursuits. I serve on the state board the Public Relations Council of Alabama and have just recently started as a board member for Auburn Opelika Habitat for Humanity.