Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Stand Out from the Crowd and Get the Job You Deserve

Over the course of a year, about 100 students ask me to help them with their cover letters and resumes and I am happy to do so.  With the help of my colleague Leslie Bates, editor for college advancement and proofreader par excellence, we look for content, style and grammar. With a little over three weeks until Commencement, this would be a good time to briefly review what makes a candidate stand out among the stiff competition for jobs in a hurting economy.  These same rules hold true if you’re applying for an internship.

Too many applicants focus on themselves in their materials.  I tell students, “Employers don’t care about you,” which makes them pay attention.  What they care about is, “What are you going to do for them?”  Keep the focus on your prospective employer and relate how your skills will help her or him.

Start doing that in your cover letter.  I can tell more about a job applicant from the cover letter than from a resume.  Your cover letter reflects your writing skills, personality, marketing and public relations efforts, and your ability to think strategically.  Sell yourself from the first sentence.  Nearly every cover letter starts off with a phrase similar to, “I am applying for a job in X,” or “Please consider me for Y position with your company.” BLAH!  Stand out from the crowd!  You have to impress the person who may hire you – 10 seconds.  Don’t waste a single word or line of that letter.

Perhaps you had an experience that is in keeping with the ethos of the organization.  In 2006, one of my students, Amber Sisson, attended a Rally for Darfur in Washington, DC.  She saw a table for Amnesty International and picked up some information about their work, including a notice on the availability of internships in Amnesty’s Manhattan office.  Amber started her cover letter with a story about herself – interest in human rights and her attendance at that rally.  She then connected her personal interest to the work of Amnesty and detailed how the skills she learned studying communication at Marist would be put to work as a public relations intern.  Amber got the internship.

Megan Murphy, like Amber, a 2007 Marist alumna, wanted to intern with the Hudson Valley office of United States Senator Chuck Schumer.  That job was run out of the Valley representative’s home.  Megan did her research on the person who had the job – a Red Hook town board member – and related her thoughts on the balance necessary to represent a senator while serving as a local elected official and how her writing, speaking and organizational skills could help.  Megan got the internship and today is Senator Schumer’s scheduler.

Reflect on who you are and relate those qualities to the needs of the company or division to which you are applying.  Impress with your accomplishments, but only insofar as you can explain how what you’ve done fits in with the needs of the company or agency.  Are you an Eagle Scout?  Don’t be afraid to mention that because the qualities necessary for that achievement translate well into one’s work and personal life.  Are you a marathon runner who has placed well?  Mention that because the discipline required to be an elite runner bodes well for a prospective employee’s work habits. 

Did you have a substantive internship?  Provide information and be a specific as possible.  A student who came to see me the other day had a 3.98 grade point average but no work experience.  He told me that he thought all you needed to do is work hard in college and have a high GPA.  As impressive as graduating summa cum laude is, he will be at a competitive disadvantage looking for work because he does not have one day of practical experience, while his competition has had one, two, three, even four internships – worth more than a year of work experience.  A common question I hear from graduating seniors is, “An entry-level job is looking for a year or two of experience?  How can I get that experience if I’m not given the opportunity to get an entry-level job?”  The preferable answer is a “real” internship, that is, one where you are doing more than making copies and getting people coffee.  You should be able to show great work products in a portfolio.

Use power words in your résumé and cover letter.  A good list can be found here: Complex vocabulary is not paramount and be wary of too many adjectives.  Be confident without being cocky.  A little humility goes a long way.  At the end of your cover letter, close the deal.  Tell the person reviewing your material what to do next.  "Review my résumé." "I look forward to detailing my qualifications for and interest in this position."  Make sure you give your email address and phone number, even though it's on your résumé.  Stand out from the crowd with good (and error-free) writing and relate to your employer, and you stand a good chance of being called for an interview.

My next post will focus on the value of networking.  The days of want ads are long over. 

One last thing…I had hoped to add a post per day, but my schedule, especially this past week, kept me in meeting after meeting, which meant I couldn’t do my writing for work until after 5 or 6 p.m., often continuing until 10 or 11 p.m.  By then, I’m exhausted, though you’ll still find me posting on twitter or Facebook until the wee hours of the morning.  I will do my best to post at least three days a week during the school year, perhaps more frequently during the still-busy but slightly-less-hectic summer.  While I have many topics in mind for the next several weeks, if you have suggestions for areas you would like me to address, please feel free to comment or send me an email at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Just Another #MaristMonday

I don’t like being called a “social media expert” because I don’t believe there is such a thing.  The social media evolution, or should I say revolution, makes it nearly impossible to keep up with every new networking or bookmarking site. Last June, when I spoke at the College Media Conference in Baltimore, MD, I mentioned a Web site called  It listed 149 such sites which you can check to see if your user name or “vanity URL” is still available.  Fast forward to earlier this month.  I gave another social media presentation to 140 senior communications officials from colleges and universities across the U.S. (as well as Japan and Spain) at the Public Relations Society of America’s Counselors to Higher Education conference in Washington, D.C.  When I showed again, the number of sites increased to 160.  Entrepreneurs and technorati want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey (founder of twitter), and established mega companies like Google and Yahoo! experiment with new applications to keep us eternally connected to one another – or at least to their platforms.

Yes, I enjoy speaking about social media, but no, I’m not an expert.  I share what I’ve learned by doing, succeeding, failing, repurposing. Tips from other users more intelligent than I are much appreciated, too.  Such is the case with on twitter.  That suggestion came from 2007 Marist alumnus Michael Sterchak, an analyst with the Federal Reserve in New York.  

Marist employees get together after Commencement for a community-building BBQ called Marist Fun Day to celebrate the hard work of the college’s faculty, administrators and staff and the successes of the academic year.  That moniker makes me think of The Bangles 1986 hit “Manic Monday” and its catchy riff, “Just another Manic Monday.”  Unfortunately, I do not get to attend Marist Fun Day because I am usually overseas teaching a religious studies class (this year in Greece, Turkey and Rome for a course on the life and writings of St. Paul).  Even though I’m not there, I can’t get The Bangles' tune out of my head as I silently sing “Just another Marist Fun Day.”  You’d think I would have taken the next logical step to come up with the catchy hashtag that encourages a sense of community among the Marist College Family.  I didn’t.

It was Michael (@ on twitter) who suggested , which has developed into an opportunity for students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, parents and others to share their current Marist experiences or fond Marist memories.  I also use it as a Marist version of #FF (Follow Friday) and share the twitter handles of Red Foxes who are new to the medium or newly-linked with me.  On a couple of occasions, #MaristMonday became a trending topic, no small feat considering Marist is a relatively small college.

Michael took his creativity a step further.  On September 21, 2009, I tweeted “Today is , but tune in Wednesday for the biggest announcement in Marist history.”  Michael retweeted that with the hashtag #BigNewsMaristWednesday.  For the next two days, more than 2,000 individual tweets tried to guess what the big news was.  That campaign generated buzz and excitement and pushed traffic to the Marist Web site for the announcement of a $75 million gift – the largest donation in Marist history and, as noted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the 12th largest gift made to any nonprofit organization that year.  The generosity of the late Raymond A. Rich included a 42,000-square-foot architecturally and historically significant mansion on the Hudson River in Esopus, NY, and the creation of the Raymond A. Rich Institute for Leadership Development.

How many visitors came to the landing site on the Marist homepage highlighting the big news and the slideshow of the Mansion?  I’ll let Google Analytics show you the spike in traffic for that day:

A second URL for the news release announcing the gift showed similar statistics.  By comparison, 641 visitors viewed Marist Public Affairs news release pages yesterday.

That’s when I saw, first-hand, the power of social media, and I’ve been a proponent ever since.

There will be additional posts on social media down the line, but I would like to note an event held one week ago tonight.  For junior communication major Marissa DeAngelis (@), what started as a project for Professor Mark Van Dyke's (@) public relations class turned into a learning opportunity for her and about three dozen Marist students, faculty, staff and local residents. Marissa, who is from Scituate, RI, organized a “TweetUp,” a gathering of twitter users connected to Marist who met face-to-face, many for the first time.  It was also one of the first TweetUps on any college or university campus in the country.

Marissa, who will be in my COM470 class next semester, senior Alyssa Bronander of Wyckoff, NJ (
@), who was in my class last semester, and junior Luke Shane of Bolton Landing, NY, (@ – who ran the Boston Marathon in 2:44:49 the day before and still had the energy to give a dynamic presentation at 9 p.m. Tuesday), all Communication majors, gave tips on how to best use social media. They detailed their forays into blogging and tweeting and the personal and professional connections they have made.  Dean of Undergraduate Admission Kent Rinehart (the official @ tweeter) discussed how the college uses social media to communicate with current and prospective students and their families.  I discussed the pros and cons of “digital footprints” and how they can help or hurt a student’s (or for that matter, anyone’s) search for employment.

Marissa’s organizational skills led to a well-run event.  Alyssa will graduate in less than a month, and I can sum up her talents by a hashtag that some wise public relations agency, corporation or nonprofit will heed: #HireThisWoman!

Also in attendance was Chris Cornell (
@), director of social media at Thompson & Bender, a Westchester-based public relations, advertising and marketing firm and the man behind Chris also reported on the event for The Examiner, a weekly newspaper covering New York's Westchester and Putnam counties. The full article can be found at

One last thing...I’d like to thank Sarah Abouelmakarem (@), a Marist junior communications major with a concentration in public relations, for creating the banner at the top of this blog.  Sarah used her artistic skills to develop the stained glass motif.  We’re going to work on it just a little more, but her generous offer to give a visual identity to this blog was unsolicited and is greatly appreciated.  Thank you again, Sarah.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Thanks for stumbling across this blog. Originally I planned to start writing on a regular basis a year ago, but, as always, life got in the way.  As a one-person public relations shop for Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, it's difficult to find time do anything outside the normal duties of my job.  However, as I approach 12,000 submissions on Twitter, I thought, "If I can post my thoughts 140 characters at a time morning, noon and night, perhaps I can offer more substantive reflections at least once a day." Whether anyone else is interested, well...that remains to be seen.

My wonderful neighbors, Hal and Elayne Seaman, gave me a diary last Friday, suggesting that I record personal thoughts during my trips abroad teaching religious studies courses for Marist.  I also teach a course called Organizational Writing, which is really a course on life, with lessons in journalism, public relations, ethics, the job hunt and whatever else pops up during the course of a 75-minute class.  A number of my students have started blogs of their own, ranging across a broad spectrum of interests.  Seeing the enjoyment they derive from writing gives me hope, as I believe putting pen to paper, or type to screen, is a dying art.  Yet, I am rejuvenated when I read outstanding work by current and former students who have been in my classes or whom I have come to know in other capacities during my 16+ years years at Marist.  Between the suggestion from Hal and Elayne, and the efforts of my students, I thought I'd give this blog another try.

Just a few personal notes for this first post.  Born and raised in the city of Poughkeepsie, I graduated from city schools, Dutchess Community College and Fordham University.  A few years later, I undertook additional studies in philosophy and theology, for one year at Iona College, then two years at the Pontifical North American College in Vatican City and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy.

When I was working as a news reporter at WEOK/WPDH Radio, I was paired on PDH with Peter Clark and we became the station's first morning team. Pete, a true musicologist, played tunes and I, the newsaholic, was the reporter. We also did comedy routines together, usually focusing on a funny but true "kicker" story at the end of the newscast, which led to successive ad-libbed puns and the pairing of an appropriate song.

Little did I know that chance pairing would last 31 years (as of this October).  Pete is, by far, the most incredible and wonderful person I've ever met -- kind, loving, caring, intelligent, and the epitome of ethics and values.  He is more than my partner, he is my life.  More on Pete and our family down the line.

After leaving radio, I worked a succession of public relations positions in the Hudson Valley for a public employee union, county legislature, and regional utility, before entering academia at what was then called Bryant College in RI.  In 1994, I became chief college relations officer at Marist and three years later started teaching.  I had prior teaching experience at Dutchess Community College in the early 1980s, when I was barely older than my students, and returning to the classroom has been a true blessing.  In 2002, I left Marist briefly to become vice president of Pace University, returning to Marist as chief public affairs officer after only five months.  I'm glad I did.  Had I not, I would not have met many incredible colleagues and students, some of the latter have become like members of my own family.  I hope to highlight them in future posts because I love them, am proud of them, and want to promote their accomplishments in work and in life.

Community service has also been an important aspect of  who I am since I was a high school student and I am currently a member of several foundation and nonprofit boards in the Hudson Valley, Albany and New York City.

As someone who reads entries on a dozen blogs daily and follows many other news sources, I appreciate what it takes to be "newsworthy" or otherwise maintain one's interest.  Let's see if I can get you to come back, encourage others to stop by, and offer insight into whatever happens to rise to the top of my consciousness on a particular day.

One last thing...the title of this blog comes from my desire to write a book about my experiences in seminaries in New York and Rome, and I always joked that I would call it "Looking Through Stained Glass," as I got to see the best and worst in the Church and its adherents.  The same is true today, 24 years after I returned to the United States.  I see people using their faith to help, but also to oppress and harm their fellow human beings.  Posts in that realm will probably be among the more controversial.

If you're still here, thanks for reading, and I look forward to your feedback and suggestions.  Perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks.