Monday, May 20, 2013

Communication / PR graduates, success is simple.

Confetti - Undergrad Graduation
Photo by Flickr user m00by, used under Creative Commons license
Listen, I know. Every blog you read is shouting at you about how to interview, what to say on your resume, and the dos and don'ts of using social media when you're looking for a job.

It's like open season on recent graduates out there.

So I'll keep it simple. There's just one thing I want you to keep in mind as you launch your career in communications, and it's this:

Do what you love.

Ethnography and communication

Chuck Kent deserves the credit for inspiring this post. He recently wrote...
“All of us who present ourselves as brand storytellers might do well to pursue a closer association with those who specialize in understanding humanity through in-depth listening to its stories.” 
 ...and neatly encapsulated a concept that I’ve been struggling to define for years (thanks Chuck!).

Communicating effectively with others is a surprisingly difficult thing to do, and intelligent folks who dig beyond the surface of the world around them are better communicators.

Ethnographers specialize in thick description, which is just an academic way of saying they want all the details. And, most importantly, they (should) allow the subjects of the research to drive the conversation. It’s about getting to know the people you’re researching, on their terms, and taking the time to make sure you understand (in as much as understanding another person’s lived experience is actually possible).

Communications professionals who understand ethnography can peel away the distraction of the tasks of communicating and see the strategy. That’s where you truly “add value” to your employer.

Follow your interests

But there’s a bigger picture here. A more important part of the equation, I think.

If you want to be the kind of communication professional that develops truly innovative ideas, you're going to need disparate experiences and viewpoints to draw on, something I talked about a bit in a previous post.

Example: Scott Steele used to be a journalist. He’s also a Foucault junkie, willingly tackling the post-structuralist philosopher for his graduate research, so it’s no surprise that Scott is keenly in tune with the absurdities of the world around him. Also: one of the best comms people I know. (Follow him on Twitter: @WScott_Steele)

So if you want to be great at your job, and not just get a high-paying job, follow your interests, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s a waste of time. Define success for yourself.

I can tell you're not convinced.

Look, I’ll prove it. Here’s some random stuff I’ve done and how it makes me a better communicator.

I loved: Why it makes me a good communicator:
Getting a Bachelor of Science degree. I understand and can communicate technical or scientific information to laypeople.
Putting myself through university coding websites. You need to be able to teach yourself technology if you want to keep up in today’s communication world.
Developing photographs (you know, back when we still used film) and doing graphic design. Communication is about more than words. If you understand design you’ll be better at visualizing end results and at working with designers.
Completing half of a degree in Anthropology (before moving to another town and being forced to abandon it due to antiquated academic regulations) See: ethnography and communication, above.
Taking evolutionary biology, psychology, and physical anthropology courses. Then reading Foucault and questioning everything I’d been taught. Questioning your assumptions is a basic life skill. Be the devil’s advocate sometimes- it’s better to discover a major flaw while you’re still in the planning stages of communication than after it’s been seen by the public.
Travelling in Africa, Ireland, India, Central America, and North America; living in Tanzania; surveying Etruscan ruins in Italy and excavating stone-age sites in South Africa. Travelling is incredible experience. Experiencing other cultural viewpoints allows me to bring new perspectives to my work. And showing that you’re adaptable is always a good thing. Go ahead, put me in a new situation. I’ll rock it!

So, new graduates: all those things you’ve done for fun? Think about how you can use them to show potential employers you stand out from the crowd.

And keep following your passions.

You might not believe me yet, but I promise, life’s too short for anything else.