To Teach or Not to Teach: 10 Reasons to Consider

TeachingShotEver wonder: “Why didn’t they teach me this in college/university?” Likewise, have you ever asked: “Why can’t new grads come with these skills?”

Addressing these gaps initially piqued my interest but after teaching a mix of communications/marketing/fundraising to international development students for three years, plus PR program courses, I’ve found other benefits. Wealth is however not one of them.

So why teach? Here are my reasons that outlive the pay cheque.

Teaching….

  1. Forces you to re-think the rationale behind the tasks you intuitively do each day. It also motives you to keep current and gives you firsthand knowledge of “gen next” thinking.
  2. Opens access to insights in direct/related fields. While reviewing a paper on skilled migration, I recently learned about the large variance between remittance and foreign aid to developing countries.
  3. Connects you to academia and potentially the opportunity to inform the process. Your proximity and heightened understanding makes you a good candidate for surveys, review audits and panels to develop new curriculum.
  4. Gives you an excuse to expand your own network of experts. Sometimes you invite new contacts as guest speakers who can offer real life examples beyond your own. Down the line, these contacts may prove invaluable to your core work.
  5. Can lead to presentation opportunities and even new business. Last year I moderated a social media panel for a student-run event. The Dean attended and invited us to present to faculty and administrative staff.
  6. Provides an accessible database of talent to fill internships, one-off projects or short-term contracts. What’s a better time saver than having a direct line to emerging talent that you’ve vetted?
  7. Prompts interesting collaborative opportunities. To address the shortage of relevant case studies for the international development niche, I collaborated with an NGO to develop a case study on its challenges.
  8. Nets invitations to innovative initiatives in their infancy. One former student started Canada’s first North Korean Film Festival for Human Rights (now JAYU) and gave comps to his professors. The event has rapidly grown and even secured a space with TIFF.
  9. Delivers the intrinsic value of opening someone’s eyes to a profession you’re passionate about. And many students thank you in their own way. A few even send notes like one student who said: “I have found myself looking back on your slides for insights. ….bringing up our assignments to design strategies and tactics for NGOs has been a real point winner in interviews.”
  10. Offers the ongoing opportunity to “pay it forward.” The commitment doesn’t end with the final marks. I’ve provided a handful of references to commendable people, as well as editing and job hunting support. Hopefully they’ll do the same for others someday.

What have you taken away from teaching? What reasons have I missed?

Note: This post originally appeared in IABC/Toronto’s CommVERSATIONS blog in June 2013, but the messages are still relevant.

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12 Visual Resume Tools and Ways to Depict Your Expertise

Spurred by inspiring convocation addresses, a slew of new grads are hitting the streets and competing with seasoned professionals. More than ever, the push is on to stand out from the crowd and boost your appeal to prospective employers. Many hiring managers are among 65 per cent of the population classified as “visual” learners. Why not visually profile your brand to catch their attention? You’ll still likely need traditional tools but there are several ways to also visually depict your expertise.

I created this personal branding wordle from references on my LinkedIn profile.
I created this personal branding wordle from references on my LinkedIn profile.

Choose from a wealth of free or nominally priced do-it-yourself (DIY) infographic tools, follow a template or adapt an application/social media platform to meet your needs or combine several tactics.

Below are some options, with examples and links to start. (If you’re not looking for a new role, maybe you can share this post and links with someone who is.)

Infographic Resume Tools –

1. ResumUp.comProvides a template for you to create a comprehensive profile with a: work timeline, skills chart, personality profiles, skills and education summary and preferences.

2. Re.Vu – Enables you to auto create a visual resume with a photo backdrop from your LinkedIn profile. Comes with timeline, stats  (revenue generated, events implemented..), and other mix & match options that you can edit, customize or skip. Includes options to upload portfolio/work samples.

3. Vizualize.me (Beta version) – Enables you to create a visual resume from your LinkedIn profile, with a timeline, references, stats and various other mix & match options to edit, customize or skip.

4. Nuzume – This service creates a custom visual resume for $69 and within four business days.

5. About.Me Page: Use this free, intuitive tool, to quickly create a personalized, single page site as a central anchor for your online profile. It can showcase your text bio, photo, social media and other contact links and a range of other plug-ins that tell your story.

Other DIY Options & Ideas:

6. Personal Website: Showcase your skills in several pages, with portfolio samples and video links, by creating a website using WordPress or a similar platform.

7. Présumé (with Slide Rocket): Select one of Slide Rocket’s “Présumé” templates and customize it to create your own combo presentation and resume. For a basic Presume, just change the text and photo to make it your own, or take it further by embedding photos, video, charts or plug-ins for word definitions and quotes.

8. SlideShare Presentation:  Start from scratch to tell your story and value proposition (i.e. how you can uniquely address a potential employer’s pain points) in a PowerPoint presentation. Then post it on SlideShare, a growing social media platform that plugs into LinkedIn and others.  Check these innovative SlideShare resume examples from workawesome, many for non-creative roles.

9. Pinterest Resumes: Use this rising social media star as a base to create an innovative resume.

10. Word Graphics: Create a word graphic using Wordle or  Tagxedo to depict your breadth of expertise or what others say about you. Copy references from LinkedIn (as I did) by stripping out article words (the, a, in…) and using what’s left as a base. Alternatively, review your past jobs and type the key single word skills used in each, with repetition as required.  The resulting graphic shows your more finely-tuned skills/attributes larger than the others.

11. Video: If video is your forte, profile yourself in this medium, as these job seekers have done. You may however want to include a link to a PDF with summary details, as well.

12. Hire a Pro: You can of course always hire a professional like Christopher J. Spurlock to create a resume like his.

What have I missed? What’s worked for you or someone you know?

How Do You Measure the Days in a Year?

Time to reflect back on 525,600 minutes, assess and plan for the year ahead.  We know it’s important to examine our own personal growth strides and professional results but what about the world beyond?

Increasingly companies are measuring and being measured for more than their financial output and stakeholders are asking: “Success at what cost?”  Should we use a similar scale to take stock of our own results? If we do, what would it look like?

Taking a page from triple-bottom line reporting, it might look something like the graphic below, with the core spheres and their guiding principles, with of course some cross-over between them. As with traditional corporate social responsibility, we’re not legally mandated to adhere to these principles but when we do, we contribute to sustainable well-being of our society and world for today and future generations.

PersonalCSR2

To assess 2012 against this model and set goals for the year ahead, here are some possible questions to ask or examples to identify:

Societal:

  • What specific networking actions helped others? When did you tap into your network for support? (Did you “take” more than “give”?)
  • Did you mentor or provide support to someone at an earlier stage in their career?
  • How did you connect with and nurture relationships with your family and close friends?
  • How did you volunteer or “give back” locally, professionally or even globally? How much time, in-kind support or resources did you provide?
  • Did you treat co-workers, staff and management fairly and ethically? When you had to make hard business decisions, did you take the most humane and respectful route? What could you have done better?

Personal:

  • Did you take steps to optimize your health through diet, exercise, sleep, medical check-ups and other recommended practices? Did you meet (or approach) your fitness goals for the year?
  • Did you feel like you made a viable contribution at work and home this year? Did your efforts make a difference beyond your organization or could they?
  • Did you challenge yourself to learn new skills and what level of mastery did you reach?
  • Did you take a course or tap other resources to expand your knowledge? What were the 3 most important things you learned?
  • How engaged were you within and outside your workplace? At what points did you feel particularly valued, respected or part of a community?
  • What did you do that was particularly innovative or creative this year (at work or elsewhere)?
  • What were your 3 most noted achievements? What goals are carrying over to next year?

To dig deeper in this sphere, you may want to check Eileen Chadnick’s 12 questions to get the jump on the year ahead, which appeared in the Globe and Mail or  Finding Meaning at Work Even if your Job is Dull , a recent HBR post.

Financial:

  • Did you meet your personal compensation goals for the year (in terms of salary, bonus and other perks)?
  • Did you maximize your investment opportunities and take full advantage of RSPs, tax-free savings accounts, RESPs and other financial savings options? Where could you improve?
  • If you had a budget, did you stick to it or where did you go astray?
  • Did you research, compare costs to make sensible purchasing decisions? (Did you pay $100 or more on anything you quickly regretted?)
  • Did you make ethical financial choices personally and at work (where applicable)? If relevant, did you practice good governance at work?

Environmental:

  • Did you reduce, recycle and reuse items within your home this year and if so, how much?
  • Do you know your personal or family’s carbon footprint and what did you do to reduce it in your daily lifestyle? (If not, you may want to measure it through zerofootprint and set a reduction plan for 2013. Alternatively, you can calculate your footprint and amount to offset it at BC’s Lifestyle Carbon Calculator.)
  • Did you support any community efforts to improve the environment? (If not, what is your community doing to reduce its environmental impact and what role might you play in the coming year?)

Put this into a carefully crafted instrument and we could have a personal scorecard to measure our year, as well as identify imbalances and growth opportunities for the coming year.

Caveat: Please note, I’m not a professional coach and don’t profess to be one. I’m posing these questions simply to scratch the surface on how we might want to consider integrating CSR practices and sustainable thinking into our own lives.

Did “Thank You” Get Archived?

 In recent years, I’ve noticed a growing scarcity of the phrase “thank you,” particularly between internal stakeholders and peers.  Sure we thank our customers/clients and external influencers  but when it comes to employees or volunteers, there seems to be a top-down belief that verbal gratitude for “doing your job” is irrelevant.This may, in part, be reflected in Ceridian Canada’s recent Pulse of Talent survey which found 44 per cent of respondents are either not satisfied (22 per cent) or indifferent (22 per cent) with the level of recognition they currently receive at work.

In some cases, I think this tendency stems from litigation-weary executives, who cynically lump “thank-you” in the same group as “sorry” — that is, a cause for suspicion or softening of their authority.  Case in point was an executive who forced me to justify why I wanted a “thank you” line at the end a letter asking franchisees to take extra steps to manage a vendor challenge (and protect the corporate brand). Similarly, I heard of a hospital VP forbidden by her CEO to thank staff for investing extensive effort to prepare for a stringent accreditation process.

Sadly, thanks is often replaced by citing tiny shortfalls of a job that’s generally well done and may even exceed objectives. Alternatively, there are those who grill employees (or even volunteers) in meetings but quietly thank them behind closed doors.

I’m not sure when this started. Maybe a time crunched world with many people agitated by email acknowledgments filling their in boxes prompted “thank you’s” dismissal? For some, I think there’s a tendency just to cut to the chase with “no time for pleasantries.”

But is that all “thank you” is? Hardly.

For one, isn’t it just common courtesy and good manners? Oddly enough though, a quick Google search for articles linking business etiquette with “thank you” came up blank.

There is however evidence that it makes good business sense.

O. C. Tanner built its organization around “The Carrot Principle” and data demonstrating that the most successful managers provide their employees with frequent and effective recognition.  They also use it to engage people, retain talent and accelerate performance.

Companies like this demonstrate the value of appreciation in a formal format but what about in casual exchanges?

2010 study (by Grant and Gino) published in the Journal of  Personality and Social Psychology found that people who received thank you emails after helping a stranger with a cover letter, were 66 per cent more likely to help this person again with a similar task because “they appreciated being needed and felt more socially valued when they’d been thanked.”  This sentiment had a lingering effect as 55 per cent of the same individuals responded to a similar call for help, from a different person, the next day.

Is it not then in an organization’s best interest to boost morale and ongoing engagement with a sincere “thank you” in meetings and correspondence?

Is my experience isolated or did “thank you” get archived? If so, here is one study to counter the skeptics and back up the value of gratitude. (Please tell me if you know of more.) With them, maybe we can help reverse this potential trend and in doing so, maintain and build support among our internal teams and our most vital ambassadors. What do you think?

Why Reactive Letters to the Editor Often Get Derailed

Among life’s certainties, negative news follows closely on the heels of death and taxes.  This certainty keeps communicators on their toes, as they strive to continuously mitigate the risks for their organization or at least hope to net out with a balance toward the positive.

But what about stinging, factually erroneous coverage that comes out of the blue? This is particularly disheartening for obscure organizations or sectors that rarely hit the news media radar. I’d suggest it’s also an opportune time for these types of organizations to “step into” an existing news cycle, with potentially a receptive platform to tell their story.

The caveat is not all scenarios warrant a response or are likely to create a beneficial result; so carefully assess your options. (Our IABC chapter faced such a decision a few years ago and decided not to respond. We noted the negativity centered on subjective opinions and we believed most readers would dismiss it because the writer was known for consistent bitterness.)

When a response is the best action, a seasoned tactic is a Letter to the Editor.  I’ve seen and written such responses that made it to print with positive outcomes. Essentially, you need to straddle three hurdles to keep the letter on track:

1. Keep it positive & objective – What I’ve found works is to position it as providing helpful and factual information to augment the offending article (i.e., delicately sprinkle the commentary with sugar). Even if the writer is blatantly wrong or overtly malicious (sometimes due to a hidden agenda), it’s probably not safe to publicly tell them so.

2. Keep it short – A Google search reveals recommended word counts for a letter to the editor range from 150 to 300 words, with the average about 200 – 250 words.

3. Keep it prompt – Strike while the interest is there by sending the letter as soon as possible, ideally within two days of the article’s appearance or less.

To communicators, this is rote knowledge but best practices run amuck when the CEO/President/Executive Director weighs in. Although most leaders accept their association with each message their organization issues, it can hit hard when their name is clearly printed out. And here’s how their response often plays out against these best practices…

1. Positive? – “We must correct them.” – It’s hard for a leader not to be ignited when their organization is unfairly beaten up. They may react by peppering your copy with emotions and possibly direct accusations.

2. Short? – “We need to explain things to them so they get it right this time.” – And so the flood gates open with exhaustive detail as they attempt to edit your copy to cover every angle.  Given their passion for the topic, they might find it tough to imagine the letter being rejected due to length. You can gently suggest it may survive but the paper’s editor may cut it down by amputating key sections to leave diluted messages or fragments with skewed meanings, possibly pulled out of context. (Of course, the mere mention of this possibility may re-start issue one, with a few more heated phrases.)

3. Timely? – “I need to run it by the executive just to be sure…” – This means navigating tight schedules to cycle the letter (and edits) through several hands. By the time the letter is perfect, the story may be history (or these days, the paper may have closed).

Alternatively, the leader may get cold feet after looking at the edited letter (which is now long and maybe slightly explosive) — and simply cancel it. I’m not sure how many of these letters are abandoned midway but I’d suggest the number is high.

Surely writing one of these letters challenges the greatest rapport and trust between an executive and their chief communicator or agency. But without a response, the fallout may unfold with the initial inaccuracies fueling more rumors, more negative coverage and a damaged reputation, leading to sales declines, market price drops, disenchanted employees…. With so much at stake, what can we do to keep these letters on track and with them, an organization’s reputation?  I welcome comments and ideas ….

Efficiency Links for a Desert Island with Wi-Fi

Truth be told, working as an independent consultant is sometimes like being on a desert island. Fortunately, there are plenty of online tools to make business and personal life more efficient.

Here are my top picks (in Letterman order) and most are free (unless cited):

10. You Send It – When everyone has access to an FTP site except your client (or employer) and you need to send a massive video, conference call recording (done that), presentation or the like — it’s indispensable and free for files up to 100 MB or 1 GB per month.

9. Mapquest – I’m chronically direction-challenged and even some well meaning GPSs can throw me off. So getting step-by-step directions in advance can make my day.  Even with a high navigation IQ, you may still find value.

8. Jacquie Lawson ($12 CDN or US per year) – Personal niceties are good and near the top of the list is remembering a birthday. Sending an eCard is wonderful but your intentions may backfire if you hit them with a ton of ads. This site offers an array of watercolour animations set to classical and original music. Great if you’re a pet lover or even if you’re not.

7. SurveyMonkey – Dependable online survey development tool for external questionnaires to internal peer evaluations. There is a free version but to stop the ‘hard sell’ to your users, the $20 (US) monthly fee is worth it. [As an aside, I’ve just discovered Fanappz for somewhat hassle-free Facebook quizzes.]

6. morgue File – Sounds morbid but this is my site for a good range of free, downloadable stock photos you can legally copy, distribute, transmit or adapt. (You just can’t use them as standalones to profit by.) Ideal for small iconic photos for blogs and Facebook pages (e.g. events) and I’ve yet to see a corpse pop up. And you can make a donation to help sustain this site for the long-term.

5. Twellow – Good tool for identifying Tweeter users (tweeps) that cite a specific topic in their profile and you can use it to narrow to a specific geographic region [e.g. Search: Toronto, Within: Dogs (selected from available topics)]. Wefollow and Listorious are also helpful. None is perfect but you need to start somewhere.

4. Klout – Once you’ve found them, Klout measures the size and strength of a person’s sphere of influence on Twitter in terms of: True Reach (real people followers & friends not robots)Amplification (likelihood their messages will be re-tweeted or spark dialogue); and Network (if their engaged followers are influential). Would I bet money on its accuracy? Definitely not, as it has me pegged as a Montreal Canadiens fan, for one thing. (As a Toronto native, I’ll always hold a candle for the Leafs.) But it does offer some insights.

3. Bit.ly – Even before Twitter, URLs were like octopuses always getting tangled and truncated at the worst times but with the 140 cutoff, something had to give. Drop your URL in the gigantic blue field, release mouse and a short URL appears. What’s more, it can track clicks to this URL and even create a Quick Response (QR) code. (Click Info Page+)

2. Alexa The Web Information Company – Comprehensive tool for navigating the web to find relevant blogs and discover their DNA (inbound links, origin, Alexa ranking, traffic ranking within various countries, etc.). You can even set it as a widget on your toolbar to assess sites on the fly.

1. Snag-it ($49.95 US one-time purchase) – More an application than an online tool — but I keep it open 24/7, so it might as well be. It captures small sections of a screen that you can then “copy” and “paste” or save in almost any file type. (Guess how I made the collage on this post?) Invaluable for copying sections of a reference document or website that refuses to print the regular way.

That’s my list. What’s yours? And what have I missed?

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Making Lemonade with Life’s Lemons

A year ago, my position was eliminated after a corporate sale. Déjà vu to many.

Sometimes you can’t jump back to full-time immediately for fiscal or other reasons. Given the options of resting, hitting the pavement for an elusive senior role in a recession or a hybrid of working and growth, I chose the latter. Here’s what I aimed for and did. Hopefully one or two options suit you.

  1. Pursue a short-term contract (even if it’s slightly below your ideal title or compensation) – While the fallout from an involuntary exit varies, I don’t think anyone escapes a jab to their self-esteem. Bouncing back’s important but you may need to regain balance first. I contracted to a former manager who wanted my skills for a short-term crunch.
  2. Catch up on giving LinkedIn accolades & pursuing some yourself – It’s an ideal time to recognize people who’ve made a huge impression or been a major asset. As networking starts with giving, I didn’t position it as quid pro but separately pursued references from established contacts, with one from my last employer as a top priority.
  3. Boost your social media knowledge & online library – Set-up a feed reader, subscribe and devour social media blogs. Adopt a bookmarking tool to catalogue relevant articles. I set-up iGoogle but readers have grown since. I fell for Delicious to bookmark but latterly switched to trunk.ly.
  4. Strengthen  personal use of social media & grow your online brand – Update your online profiles, claim new ones (check your name’s availability) and take ownership of those morphed with your name (begin with zoominfo.com). Participate in conversations. Post thoughtful comments & answer forum questions. (Even one favoured answer to a LinkedIn query earns you a profile highlight.) For me, it’s a work in progress.
  5. Develop content creation or curating skills in low-risk settings – Learn WordPress.com and develop blogging acumen if possible. If not, focus on curating. (I fail at blogging but took rudimentary steps with a sustainable living wiki using Wikia and managing facebook pages, starting with one for my church.) Curating is on the rise with even more opportunities to explore, such as Paper.Li, the time’s ripe to embrace it.
  6. Volunteer during core hours (as well as night-time) to enhance skills & learn new disciplines – Daytime hours open new insights and sometimes you can negotiate a work-in-kind donation. One day a week, I re-vamped a national, not-for-profit’s website. And don’t forget IABC’s wealth of volunteer roles.
  7. Polish your presentation skills with diverse audiences – Present to professional and IABC forums but also stretch your audience agility by addressing PR college classes or career day at your child’s school.
  8. Teach a post-secondary class part-time – Teaching doesn’t have to be full-time but taking on one class forces you to identify the steps behind core PR skills, keeps you current and gives you firsthand knowledge of gen next thinking.
  9. Take in-class or online courses – They don’t have to be expensive. IABC offers select free webinars  and other organizations offer IABC member breaks.
  10. Reconnect with family & friends for intangible value but sometimes this too uncovers opportunities.

Other ideas?  Please share.