Who You Know

So, I’m starting a new job on June 7.  I’ll be working in the Penn State Undergraduate Admissions Office as an admissions officer/writer and I couldn’t be more excited. The story of how I came to this job is truly a great example of the power of networking (I know, I know, you’re probably sick of hearing that lame phrase, but give me a few minutes to argue otherwise):

Two years ago, I attended the CASE Summer Institute in Communications and Marketing in Burlington, Vermont. I was a few months out of college, brand new to my job, and didn’t know anyone else attending the conference. I ended up meeting a great group of people there and keeping in touch with them through social networking. One of them was Shawn, director of College Relations at Hiram College. Shawn contacted me out of the blue last fall to let me know that his friend Renee was applying for a job and Penn State and had a few questions about the area. He put the two of us in touch and we exchanged e-mails for a few weeks as she went through the interview process and eventually accepted the job.

It just so happens that Renee’s job was in Undergraduate Admissions. A few months, she brought it to my attention that her office was looking to hire a new marketing person and she thought I should apply for it. I got my resume and cover letter in just before the job posting closed and was contacted about an interview a few days later. Knowing Shawn and Renee undoubtedly helped me get my foot in the door and put my resume at the top of the pile.

Will my approach work for everyone? No, of course not. The hiring in some fields is based more on technical skills or other competencies than who you know at the organization. But, networking is important in marketing/communications, where many job applicants have similar backgrounds and skill sets — placing more emphasis on things like personal connections and recommendations. Even though Penn State is one of the largest schools in the country, its staff is pretty interconnected and knowing the right people can really make a difference. I make an effort to get to know people, both personally and professionally, to expand my network. This just isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it can certainly have positive effects if done well.

Lastly, I don’t discount the fact that luck played at least somewhat of a role in making this new job possible. I happened to know the right people and be in the right place at the right time. But, the more people you know and connect with, the greater your odds are of finding yourself in a “lucky” situation.

I hope to be able to “pay it forward” and, if my current position in the College of Information Sciences and Technology is refilled, use my network to make recommendations about people who would be good fits for the job.

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As a member of one community performance organization, I feel compelled to support others when I can. This weekend, that involved taking in a performance of “Twelve Angry Men” produced by State College Community Theater at the Boal Barn Playhouse in Boalsburg.

All I can say is “wow.” The acting was on par with the professional theater productions I’ve seen through the Penn State Center for the Performing Arts — even more amazing when taken into account that these guys all have full-time jobs or other obligations in addition to the theater.

I had only marginally known about this group’s existence until I happened upon a flyer in Webester’s last week. One downside (if you can call it that) to living in State College is that there are so many wonderful arts organizations that are all vying for the time of a small portion of the county’s population. We all make flyers, put ads and articles in local media, use social networking, tell everyone we know, and hope for the best.

If you’re not the type who typically attends community theater or musical performances, I encourage you to try one (or a few) out this summer. The price of admission is usually low or free, and most events are family friendly.

For those in the State College area, the Centre Daily Times Weekender does a pretty good job of posting these events and I’ll try to post information here about things that catch my eye.

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My Lightbulb Moment

For better or worse, I tend to compartmentalize my various jobs and responsibilities – freelance work, day job, community band, tutoring, etc, etc.  E-mails get labeled and separated in Gmail, and I set aside time to accomplish certain tasks, and there is a network of ready, willing, and able people to help me with each (for which I’m extremely thankful).

Am I a little Type A? Definitely (maybe even more than a little). But, this compartmentalization mentality is great for efficiency, which frankly I need sometimes to get through everything. But, as I discovered recently, sometimes a little cross-pollination can be extremely useful.

Case in point: One of my assignments for Higheredjobs right now is an article about how to earn tenure intended for junior faculty and tenure-track job seekers. One angle they wanted me to pursue was talking to department heads about what they look for in a candidate when considering him/her for tenure. The company is based in State College, so I usually try to keep Penn State sources to a minimum. That lead to one slight problem – how was I going to get a hold of random department heads at other schools who didn’t know me from anyone else and would probably be too busy to speak with me?

I tried cold e-mailing and calling a few, but to no avail. With my deadline drawing closer, I had a breakthrough moment Wednesday morning. Over the past few years, I’ve become acquainted with other marketing/PR professionals at colleges around the country through conferences, social networking, etc. The lightbulb came on when I realized that I could talk to these people for more than just sharing advice about marketing in higher education, and that they could be my link to finding interview subjects who might actually talk to me. I sent a few e-mails and, within hours, I had already made more way more progress than I had in days of working along. (By the way, thanks to Andy, Lauren, Shawn, and Rachel, who helped make that possible in such a short amount of time.)

I know this might seem like a really small thing, but that simple change in mindset and realizing that things don’t always need to be so compartmentalized was huge for me. Did I say huge? Because I mean huge. How else can my networks overlap? I’m not exactly sure but I’m excited to find out. This doesn’t mean that I’ll be getting rid of my organizational structure entirely, but the walls may come down a little more when it makes sense to do so.

Has anyone else had a “lightbulb” moment recently?

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Writing for myself – the toughest client of all

Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at writing about other people, places, and things besides myself. As a reporter and higher education marketing professional, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of great people and learn really cool things from them.

But, none of that matters here. This blog is about sharing my own thoughts and ideas – something that goes against everything I’ve been trained to do as a professional writer, and something I’ve avoided like the plague for some time now.

What will you find here? I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve and am excited to explore others. I hope that you, dear readers of the Interwebs, will embark on this journey with me as I learn to share a little bit of my world.

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