Wednesday, September 3, 2014

8 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Class

In 24 hours, my Marist College class covering journalism, PR, social media and life will meet for the first time this semester. With the new academic year now underway, here are some thoughts for students on what makes for a great classroom experience.

First, show up. Yes, my class meets at 6:30 p.m. and continues until 9 p.m. and I do not take a break in the middle. However, in all likelihood, you won't be too tired to go out after my class lets out. Heck, at 9 p.m., your evening is barely getting started. I put a lot of effort into each of my class sessions and I expect students to do the same.

Second, pay attention. That means not checking your email, looking at Facebook, or drafting your next tweet, unless it's about something going on in class. It's easy for me to find out whether or not you're paying attention. Just one example. You ask me a question about something someone else just asked and for which I gave a five minute response. There are other ways I know you're not paying attention, but I won't divulge those.

Third, following up on the point above, ask questions or give an opinion. I do not necessarily have to agree with you. We can have an honest discussion and perhaps learn from each other's point of view. However, be prepared to back up whatever point you're making. Your future bosses will expect that, too.

Fourth, hand in assignments on time. Hundreds of students over the past 20 years will tell you that I do not accept an assignment even one second late. A deadline is a deadline. If your boss asks where your work product is and you say, “Oh, I went out last night and didn't get home until 4 a.m.,” have your resume updated. You'll need it.

Fifth, get to know me and allow me to get to know you. You cannot ask me for a reference and I cannot recommend you for an internship or job if you are just a name on the roster, sit in the back, never look up, never speak, never offer an opinion, never answer a question in class, never even say hello or goodnight, or in any other way show you care about what you're suppose to learn in class.

Sixth, do a little bit extra. Are you involved in a club or organization? Write a story for the school paper or write a news release to send to the media. Attend meetings of PRSSA and the student chapter of SPJ. It's not just to pad your résumé. It's an opportunity to give me something to talk about should I get a phone call from a former student to whom you have applied for a job...and whom you don't even know is my former student. And yes, she or he will call me if they even suspect you are or were in my class, whether you list me as a reference or not.

Seventh, when I bring in alumni or bring you to places where alumni work, dress appropriately, show interest, ask questions, network, say thank you at the end and follow up with a handwritten note or an email. I have brought my students to dozens of PR and ad agencies, corporations, newspapers and magazines, even the headquarters of Major League Baseball. When the presenters, nearly all of whom were my students, finish their presentations and ask you a question, please don't just sit there staring at the floor. I'll let you in on a secret. They're evaluating you as prospective new employees. One of them could offer you a job. Treat this as an opportunity to meet an advocate for your hiring and get the inside scoop on a possible employer.

Eighth, stay in touch. I have placed more than 200 students in internships and jobs over the years. I understand I may not be your favorite person. However, if I don't hear from you for three years and you send me an email that only says, "Can you review my résumé?" I will be less inclined to respond as quickly as I do to those who keep in touch with me on a regular basis and don't just write to me when they need a favor.

Are there other suggestions professionals in the field would recommend to current students? Please feel free to comment below.

One last thing...I am so grateful to my former students who approach me with job openings for current students or recent grads as a way of saying thank you for helping them. Students who graduated 5, 10, 15 years ago are now in positions where they can hire and they remember when someone helped them. Now they want to pay that back. I tweet those openings and put them up on LinkedIn and Facebook. Some draw a lot of attention while others are ignored. Whatever the result, I ask my former students to keep sending those openings to me. You know I will only send and recommend someone who has done the things I mention in this post, those whom I know will succeed and not disappoint you. Thanks for giving back to your alma mater and those who follow in your footsteps.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Finding a Solution to a Criminal Justice Problem

Dutchess County (NY) Executive Marc Molinaro recently appointed me to be vice chair of an advisory committee to review plans for the development of the new Dutchess County Justice Transition Center in Poughkeepsie. The chair is former State Senator Steve Saland.

The DCJTC consists of the County Jail and other facilities and programs that provide alternatives to incarceration and help with the transition back into the community. 

Our group met on the evening of August 12 to get to know one another and learn what is expected of us. We were also presented with information about our role. We were unanimous about having our monthly meetings in the evening and open to the public. They will be held in the County Legislature Chambers on the sixth floor of the County Office Building at 22 Market Street, across from the Bardavon. A meeting schedule is being developed and will be publicized. The County will develop a Web site to keep the public informed and I will post information on this blog. All of us seek feedback from residents of Dutchess County, particularly the City of Poughkeepsie. Feel free to post a note here or at the end of other DCJTC blog posts.

There are several issues that need to be addressed. With an inmate population of 292, the current County Jail is full. The County spends more than $8 million a year to house additional inmates in other counties’ jails. Pods capable of housing an additional 200 inmates will soon be installed at the jail complex in the City of Poughkeepsie. Yet, that is still not enough to meet the need for the number of people currently incarcerated for anywhere from a few days up to just under a year.

This out-of-county housing of inmates, as much as four hours away, has additional costs, including transportation, staffing, scheduling issues with the courts and attempts at rehabilitation, and difficulties for family visits.

The current configuration of the County Jail is severely inefficient, cobbling together several buildings, including one with a zigzag design that caused the County to hire an inordinate number of corrections officers (COs). In Dutchess County, $27.5 million of the $40 million jail budget is spent on personnel. There are 223 COs, which equates to a ratio of 1.2 inmates for each CO. Warren County in Upstate New York, has a ratio of 3.4 to 1. At a typical cost of $110,000 per CO for salary and benefits, those expenses add up quickly and are borne by County taxpayers.

Our committee will review siting and design to provide adequate inmate capacity and address special populations, balancing the needs for incarceration and rehabilitation. This must be accomplished while ensuring public safety and enhancing the surrounding neighborhood. That last point is of particular interest to me, because I grew up and lived around the corner from the jail. The property under consideration includes the original site on North Hamilton Street and additional land along Parker Avenue near the Walkway Over The Hudson. This property is important to the city and we should think outside the box to incorporate open space and retail along the streets that serve as the gateway to the Walkway, which annually attracts 750,000 people from all over the world.

Another advisory group is looking at “special populations” housed at the current jail and how both physical space and programs, particularly alternatives to incarceration, can address them. A third committee was appointed by the County Legislature and will serve in an advisory role to them. This is why the new facility will be called the Dutchess County Justice Transition Center, because it will be more than a traditional “jail” in both construction and program.

I appreciate Marc's confidence in our panel and his desire to have wide-ranging input on such an important issue. We have a lot of work ahead of us over the next several months. Together, we can and will change the criminal justice system in Dutchess County and make it a model for New York and the nation.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

LinkedIn Etiquette: Woo Before You Pop the Question

It's again time for college seniors to send out résumés as part of the great job search. My most recent Marist PR class focused on branding oneself on social media. A student in the Marist PRSSA chapter, Tatiana Miranda, attended a talk I gave to the college's Emerging Leaders program a couple of months ago and asked me to expand on one of the areas I covered -- LinkedIn etiquette -- for the Marist PRSSA chapter's newsletter, "esPResso." Since I provided Tatiana more than she could include in her Real Advice column, I will share my thoughts on that topic here.

Think of LinkedIn as Facebook for professionals. That starts with your photo. It should be a head shot of you, professionally dressed. It should not be you at a party with your arm around a boyfriend or girlfriend, or worse, holding a beer. Your profile is your first impression upon a prospective employer. Think of yourself as a brand. What image do you want to project? Your name is your brand name. Your appearance, not just physical, but also written and photo representations, are your packaging. Always remain a professional.

You are transitioning from your current brand as a Marist student to what you want it to be: an account coordinator for a NYC PR firm, a cyber criminologist, or a media relations professional representing a nonprofit organization. Use your summary for that. That summary doesn't have to be in great detail, but it should create that bridge from your studies and internship experiences to the job or career you want after your graduate.Stay away from jargon and buzzwords. Be yourself. Again, remain professional.

Don't treat your LinkedIn updates like Facebook updates. Share information that is valuable and informative, not that you went to a great party or ate a bagel for breakfast. Have you read a blog post about job searches that you found was very helpful? Share it. Was there an article in the NY Times online that is in your field of interest? Share it. Are you attending an event that allows you to network with others in your field, or are you speaking at a workshop? Share that info. Don't just mention things, share links. People look at posts that include links more than they do when you just write a short statement.

Follow companies, agencies or organizations that are of interest to you. There are many, many groups of interest to public relations students and professionals. Connect to them. There is a PRSSA group, a Marist PR alumni and student group, and groups that discuss areas of personal interest. There are "influencers" you can follow. They often post great tips for students and people working in their fields of interest. For your first post in any group, start with a very brief introduction so others get to know you.

Link to classmates and friends outside of Marist. Link to alumni in your field. Link to people at companies or agencies or organizations at which you'd like to work. For some of these, you can connect because you share a common connection. For others, explain who you are and why you'd like to link to someone. People like to be flattered, but don't go overboard. Explain to your prospective connection that you are about to graduate from Marist and would like to expand your network of professionals to learn from practitioners who have become successful in their careers. If you have no connection to a person but are friends with someone who does, ask that friend to offer an introduction on your behalf.

Once you follow someone or some group, don't jump in right away. Observe before you participate. Get a flavor for the conversation before you join it. Share and be helpful before you ask for something. I'm pretty liberal about accepting requests for connections. However, if after accepting you start pitching me business or asking me for a job, I will delete you immediately. You don't introduce yourself to someone by asking him or her to marry you. You have to get to know someone first before you take the relationship to the next level.

Your profile will be viewed. With each passing day, LinkedIn becomes an increasingly valuable form of networking and job searches, not just for individuals, but for companies that look to hire people. Remember that your digital footprint is forever, so think before you post. Make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors. Ask yourself, would my boss -- or my grandmother -- be OK with what I wrote? One bad tweet, Facebook post, or LinkedIn update can undo years of image building and personal branding or destroy a career. Don't believe me? Google Justine Sacco.

One last thing...My husband Pete and I thank all who made donations to the Alzheimer's Association in memory of his mother, who passed away Christmas Eve. The national organization and local chapters, particularly the one in the Hudson Valley, report receiving thousands of dollars to support their work. We also received many letters and emails from friends who told us how their families have been touched by Alzheimer's. Together, we carry on and support those who will one day find a better way to treat, or better yet, prevent this dreaded affliction. Again, a deeply heart-felt thank you!