Banking Your COM Degree

Today I am going to take a break from my regular spewing of sarcasm to provide some unsolicited advice to my program’s recent graduates and graduates-to-be. The job market is tough right now and is likely to stay tough longer than they are telling us. On it’s face, that news is depressing, but I think there are some reasons for optimism–especially for Communication Studies graduates (at least the ones who have been paying attention). Below, you will find some ideas for how to present yourselves, your education and your experience to those last few people who are looking for workers.

What Your Degree Has Provided for You:

Right at the beginning of COM 111, you learned a fundamental truth that separates you from the masses of other graduates: Talk isn’t like it seems. Interaction is not passing meaning back and forth between people. Talk is negotiating common ground, shared meanings, and most important shared rules for how to interact with one another. Almost every problem that will arise in an organizational setting will be rooted in that misunderstanding: people think that because they said what they meant, other people heard what they meant. They were wrong, and now they are fighting. You know what they don’t: It doesn’t matter what you said. All that matters is what the listener hears.

I hear a message different than the one you intended, because symbols don’t contain meanings; they just point us toward them. Interaction is influenced by contexts, by the histories of the people involved, by the personal priorities involved. Being an effective communicator is not saying what you mean clearly (although that helps). Effective communication is deciding what should happen as a result of communicating, analyzing the person or people with whom you are communicating, and figuring out–within the boundaries of ethical practice–what you need to say to that person and how you need to say it to achieve that outcome.

What Makes You Unique?

“I have a listener-based” goal-oriented perspective on communication, not just a say-what-I-think perspective.”

“I know how to respond to the whole communication environment, not just the other person.”

“I am a flexible asset, because while contexts change, the basic dynamics of symbolic interaction do not.”

Your Degree is in Mass Media. What does that have to do with person-to-person conversation?

“My Mass Media degree is rooted in a basic core of pure communication studies–interpersonal communication, intercultural communication and group communication.

“As I am sure you are aware, the line between the average American’s public and private selves is slowly disintegrating. We more and more rely on distancing technologies like cell phones, conference calls, social networking sites, etc. I have spent a lot of time learning how the use of various kinds of technologies filters peoples intentions influences their responses.”

“The time I have spent studying how people perceive the world as members of publics, and as pop culture audiences has given me greater insight not just into what motivates people, but into what motivates bind us together. We are all individuals, but at the end of the day our similarities are more profound than our differences.”

What Concrete Tools/Skills Do You Have?

“I can summarize my specific skills with the four words: Composition, Reduction, Comparison and Portrayal.

“Composition is how things fit together. To really understand something you have to know how its parts function as a whole. A lot of times the way things are arranged is as important if not more important than what things are.

“Reduction allows me to analyze and hopefully repair complicated situations by breaking them down into their component parts, describing the parts, and explaining how they relate to one another. That allows me to be good at explaining complicated things to people. It also allows me to evaluate things like committees, and working groups to see why some work and others don’t.

“Comparison is based in the reality that people learn almost every new thing by comparing it to some experience they already have. I can use analogies and metaphors to clarify the unfamiliar for someone just enough that he or she will be willing to dive in and get acquainted with it–to teach yourself is the best way to learn.

“Portrayal just means that for any discussion, project, or campaign to be successful, the communicator needs to embody the message, not just relate it. You have to BE THE MESSAGE to sell the message.”

Why Should I Hire You Instead of Someone Else?

In addition to everything above, there are three important reasons.

“No matter what you make or sell or trade, the vast majority of challenges you face in the course of a day are communication challenges. How many times have you said to yourself or others “Why can’t these college educated people write a clear sentence or express a simple idea?” “Why can’t these people communicate?” If you say that to yourself a lot, you have answered your won question.”

“The second reason is opportunity cost. Every person you hire is a whole lot of other people you can’t. When you think about me, you should not just think of what you will get if you hire me, but what you will lose if you don’t. No matter who you get, that person will have to be trained to your specific way of doing things. So you can train that, but do you have the time or resources to teach people the skills and insight to overcome communication problems? I will bet your experience tells you you don’t.”

“My most important asset is my flexibility. You have a specific set of expectations for me now, but will those expectations stay the same? If there is any sure thing in the business world right now, it is the certainty of change. Employers need some people who have specific skills and training, but they also need people who are adaptable to unforeseen circumstances. Change like everything else in a corporate culture is about seeing things from a new perspective. My communication training not only gives me that perspective, it gives me the tools to help you help others to adapt to change.”

When Can You Start?

“OH, you’re making me blush!”

Some Random Thoughts:

  • Start acting like the person you will be in the job before you get it. Dress the dress. Talk the talk. Keep the schedule.
  • They are watching you. Keep your anti-social tweets and Facebook status updates to a minimum. Everything you are online is fair game. If you don’t like what you have out there get rid of it or lock it down.
  • Pass your job backward.Keep in touch with one another. If you are successful at changing jobs, let your supervisor know you have a friend who would be the perfect choice to replace you. That ex-classmate or next generation graduate needs your help as much as you need the help of others.
  • Realize that it is a numbers game. Keep sending your stuff out! Ten percent unemployment is ninety percent employment.It could be worse. You could be fifty, with three kids and a mortgage and be unemployed. Your optimism is an asset.
  • If you need us, call us!
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About bigshotprof

College Professor in the Communication Studies department at Pace University. My personal life fall somewhere in the gap between less than you want to know and more than you need to know.
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