Friday, February 19, 2010

#HAPPO and the Reality of Job Searching

#HAPPO - or help a PR pro out - has been going on today. I am on the list as a national resource, because I volunteered to be part of the event. Part of it is I am a big believer in giving back to the industry I care about, and work in.

I think what is being done is very important - helping out the community find jobs, and help point them in the right direction. But that is not enough - as it is only half the battle. I will help those I know with opportunities, but that means putting down my name as a reference, and that is my personal name on the line for people. I do that for friends, colleagues I believe in, and friend's of friends whose word I trust.

Throughout my career, almost all my jobs have come through referrals or recommendations from past interactions. That is how the world works, and you have to allow your work to speak for you, not your social media presence. Your social media presence, while important (especially for new college graduates) as it shows your understanding of how social media works, is not an end-all, be-all. It's interesting that the really big names in social media are not involved in #HAPPO, isn't it? It's likely because they don't care about anything but themselves, using social media as a tool in self promotion, and only self promotion. Well, you can probably scratch the likely.

So here's my advice on finding a job, and where to look, and what you need to do. And it's targeted to college students, as that is the next generation that we need to think about (and whom I work with the most, it seems).

You are only as good as your network. Go to mixers and events, and meet people. Go to the IABC or PRSA events - if you are not a member, they do have open events - and meet professionals. Go to social media events to learn, and meet people. Get out of the chair, though, and network. And network on Twitter with good conversations and astute points. It's how I met Sarah Lilly, and other students in the past, and how I know that they actually care about the industry. Sarah reached out to me, asked me questions, showed an interest that wasn't fake, sucking up, or flattery. It was sincere, and I'll keep an eye out for her when she graduates and refer her to people. If she chooses.

Join LinkedIn, and connect with people you have worked with in the past, and know your personal job history and work ethic. Not people you met in the industry, but people you know and worked with (agency or client, does not matter).

Find mentors, and choose them wisely. For the past 7 or 8 years (hey, I lose track of time), I have been mentoring college students, mainly through Robert French at Auburn, and now through Karen Russell at University of Georgia. I have also mentored students at Michigan State University, Pepperdine, Alabama and others.

By mentoring, I mean I am there to answer questions, help them out with situations, give advice and more. I'm basing those answers on 15 years of public relations experience, and about the same amount of time in social media or online PR or influencer relations (pretty much all the same). Those years give me insight and advice that is time tested.

Seeing people with less than one year in public relations and social media touting themselves as mentors is both scary and laughable. You should run away from those people, run away as fast as possible, as they bring you nothing but pain and trouble. Those people with no real experience that are mentoring are not mentoring to help you, but to make themselves feel important. No one that green has any business mentoring students, but should be listening and seeking out their own mentors. Instead, they're creating little social media ego monsters.

Why do I mentor? Because I like the industry I am in, I have had great mentors in the past that I still speak to on a regular basis, and I feel it is my duty to do the same. I still am in contact with most of my old interns, and mentored students ... because that's what you do if you really do care. And I learn from them as well, seeing how they are using technology, how they view certain things in social media, and how things are being discarded.

Now, what can you do on your own to find a job? There are plenty of job boards and places you should look, and professors you should keep in contact with on a regular basis. Join KITList and Young PR Pros, as both have PR opportunities.

Keep in contact with people you have worked with in the past, those you went to school with, and realize that finding a job is the hardest job you will ever have. One of the UGA students I've mentored, Erin Burry, gave up unemployment for Lent and is waking up at 6.00 AM every day to start her job search: that's dedication, and it will pay off for her as it shows the right drive and work ethic to get a job and do well. And, yes, I've referred people to her as well.

It's not enough to sit back, though, and expect these jobs to come through #HAPPO on Twitter. You have to have the drive to go out and meet, network, and more. The job market is not the best I've seen - especially for more seasoned professionals, it flat out sucks because of low-balling - but there are opportunities out there. Stay calm, stay cool and collected, and hope for the best.

But, those of us with jobs need to remember to pay it forward as it is a two-way street. #HAPPO will be successful only if PR pro's really help each other out. Otherwise, it will be like too many things in social media: too fleeting, people and companies taking part of it to feel good about themselves, but actually do nothing. Just because it was today, does not mean you should not continue to network and mentor others.

As this post was very focused on PR students, and graduates, here's a takeaway for senior PR people: the recession has impacted everyone, including those with college degrees and a number of years of experience. All this advice (still) applies as well: network, network, network. Look into freelancing to keep on top of trends, media, and more. Brush up on social media, such as Twitter, FourSquare, LinkedIn, Facebook and other forms.

The days of looking for a job in the newspaper are dead, and the online job board is suffering as well. You find any quality on HotJobs, Monster or Craigslist anymore, or is it through personal networks, and in a way, the LinkedIn job boards?

And, if you are employed remember this: you cannot afford the luxury of sitting back and being dickish to those people looking for work right now, as most of them are unemployed through no fault of their own, but due to the economy and mismanagement. None of us can rest on our laurels, because those are fleeting and all of us can be in the same boat at one time or another.

Plus, if you are a corporation or PR firm, think of this: I know that it's easier to hire those people that are employed, as they are "sexier" to you. The unemployed PR executives are likely just as qualified, if not more so. I look at people I know that are working and scratch my head as they are just good at politics, and not PR. And I look at those that are not employed that are great in PR, but just might be too blunt (like me) or choose not to play politics.

Remember, it's just today that is #HAPPO but it's networking for forever. Good luck in the job hunting, we've all be there.
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