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Stage Fright

July 4, 2011 Leave a comment

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It starts like this:

My heart pounds and I can feel the veins in my neck pulsating. The necktie gets tighter and I start to feel like I’m suffocating. I get butterflies in my stomach like I’m having a first date with a girl I really like. The fight-or-flight kicks in and I feel like a speed-freak from the rush of adrenaline, and without being able to spend all of this newfound energy I start getting jittery and talking faster and faster and it feels like a million eyes and ears are all fixed on my every word and what if I screw up and what if I say the wrong thing and what if everyone laughs at the wrong moment? I just want it to be over.

But then it’s done, and everything goes well, and the adrenaline surge turns into a calm buzz and relief washes over me. I feel electric and accomplished. Another presentation is through.

I hated public speaking. I still do, to an extent, but it’s getting easier to do and the dread declines each time I step up to the stage.  Since I have to do it quite a bit for my job, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that make speaking in public easier. Here are five of my favorites:

Happy thoughts

You don’t have to be confident to appear confident. Even if you think you’re shaking like a tree in a hurricane and speaking a mile a minute, you’re probably not. You can trick your audience into thinking you’re confident by looking confident. Dress well. Smile a lot. Tell (non-awkward) jokes. Project confidence and eventually you will feel confident, as if it happened by accident.

It’s your time. You’re the expert, and for the next 10, 20, 30, or more minutes, your audience is obligated to be there and listen to you. That’s powerful. For the next X minutes, you are the most important person in the room. Keith Richards said it best (I’m paraphrasing): “It’s your time to let the tiger out of the cage.” 

The terror goes away if you let it. The more you speak in public, the better you get at it. There’s no other way to gain the experience without feeling really uncomfortable at first. You have to take the leap and hope you can learn on-the-fly if you’re going to grow as a public speaker. It may be terrifying at first, but eventually the feeling subsides and you’re be able to relax a little.

Relax. Find a way to calm yourself. Take deep breaths between sentences. Tell yourself that it’ll be over before you know it. Find a way to zen-out. Your audience will be able to feel the relaxation flow through you and straight into them. Psyching up before a presentation is as easy as practicing in the mirror (it actually works) and having a ritual during your presentation. Some good advice I was given is to always start out with an introduction and agenda of things you’re going to talk about. If you start out with the same ritual each time, you’ll find yourself much calmer once you get into your rhythm.

There’s always an exit. The most liberating advice I’ve heard on the topic of public speaking came from a very wise person at work. She said that she just tells herself that there’s always an exit, and you always have the option to leave. You’re not physically bound to the podium. If things head south, you can always get out of Dodge and reap the repercussions later.

You may still feel the butterflies rising up and you make still feel like you’re doing a bad job, but you’re not. Every word you say and every minute you spend in front of other people is making you a better public speaker. Remembering these tips has made it easier for me to speak in public, and I hope they help you out too.

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Resolutions

January 2, 2011 Leave a comment

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Well, hey 2011.

It’s not just the start of a new year for me. It’s the start of an entirely new life. 2010 was the year I graduated college. It was the year I moved back in with my parents after leaving one of my favorite cities in the world. I got a “real person job” and moved back to that city. Quite a year.

So, let’s get this year started off right. Things to remember:

-Get distracted by shiny things. Kids go through their lives being curious, being open to new experiences, and being amazed by all the tiny intricacies of the world. Never let that childlike wonder die out.

Stop talking, start doing. I’m not really the type of person that makes it a goal to change everything around on January 1st, because I know that there’s a difference between saying I’m going to lose weight, drink less, and exercise more and actually putting in the effort and doing it. This is true for almost everything. People love talking about doing stuff but never actually follow through with it, and ideas get lost that way. It’s easy to talk about change; it’s harder to actually change things.

-Laugh frequently.

-Do scary things. Starting a new job was scary. It was a completely new experience and my head was crammed full of new information. I had to meet a ton of new people. I get nervous about so much “new” happening at once. I also have to give quite a few presentations as a part of this job, which is something that still freaks me out. But I’m learning and just by doing more of it, I’m getting a little more comfortable with the spotlight on me. I’m glad that I’m doing these scary things. Try to do as many scary things as you can; it makes life more interesting, and it keeps you on your toes.

-Get a girlfriend. I’m pretty good at making friends. I like to think that I’m a genuinely interesting person to be around, and I’m pretty loyal. Good things to have, right? So I never worry that much about making those kinds of connections. Making a romantic connection is a little more foreign to me, and I’ve always been a bit closed off in the emotions department. I should probably change that this yearI’m learning to be more open about how I feel, though (writing helps immensely).  It would make my mother quite happy if I found myself a ladyfriend.

-Stay in touch. I’m worried about staying in touch will all of the awesome friends I made during school. Of course, Facebook does make that process a little easier, but I know myself well, and I know that if I don’t put in some effort I’ll drift away from those awesome friends. I don’t want that to happen. I want long-lasting friendships with the people that helped shape who I am.

-Document. For Christmas, I got my Dad a VHS-to-Digital conversion kit so he could transfer all of the embarrassing VHS tapes of my childhood to DVD’s. Memories are important. All of these seemingly-insignificant moments in life are actually the most important things in the world.  Time to take more pictures, write things down, and finally make friends with nostalgia. Like Borges said, “don’t lose the now“.

-Embrace silence. It’s one of the hardest things to do in an age of constant noise. Being comfortable with silence is really tough, but it’s important to unplug from society every now and then and jump into a book. Take long, meandering walks with nothing in mind. Hang out in the woods around a campfire. Or, zen-out and sit in silence. Whatever it takes.

-Just try. Just care. Just because you can coast through life doesn’t mean you should. It’s time to wake up.

-And smile more, you magnificent bastard. Life is just too damn interesting to be cynical and bitter all the time. Just smile more. It’ll change your life.

And just like that Counting Crows song says, maybe this year will be better than the last. I have some faith. Here’s to a brand new year and a brand new chapter in the Book of Tom.

Have any resolutions you want to write down? Do it in the comments.

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Categories: Wisdom Tags: , , , , , ,

Programming Notes

October 28, 2010 1 comment

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Things are changing in my little neighborhood of blog-town. This is as much an explanation for what to expect out of me in the future as it is a reminder to Future Tom about the person I was. Bear with me, all 14 of you.

I’ve spent the last six or so months entrenched in a tiny bubble of the internet known as “ad-land.” I have learned a ton about advertising, social media, and marketing during this period because it’s my current passion. I like that in advertising you’re (theoretically) judged based on the quality of your ideas and your ability to make stuff. I like that good advertising can help shape pop culture. I want to be a part of that, so the last six months have been spent looking for a way to get my foot in the door of the advertising industry. It’s not an easy door to get into unless you have agency experience or a connection opens it for you.

Instead of zigging along on that path and waiting for the right ad job to pop up, I’m zagging. In a few days, I’m headed back to Madison, Wisconsin to be a Project Manager for a healthcare software company called Epic (cool name, right?).

It’s a huge change from what I’m used to. Since graduating, I’ve telecommuted to a PR firm in Houston. Working remotely is a strange experience, and it’s much different than working at an office (I wrote about it for The Next Great Generation. Check it out). I’ve never worked in a “real office” for a “real job” before, so it’ll be an interesting world to jump into.

Starting the new job creates a whirlwind of contradictory feelings. It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s an overwhelming relief that I was finally able to get a great full-time job. It’s unexpected. It’s an amazing chance to learn new things, gain some new skills, and grow as a person. It’s also a little sad, because I’m going to have to give up a certain amount of writing, reading blogs, and tweeting.

But that doesn’t mean I have to (or am willing to) quit cold turkey. I’m still going to be that person who will be all-too eager to tell you which agency created that ad campaign and what I think of it. I’m still going to write whenever I get the chance, and a lot of it will still be about advertising and social media. Hell, maybe even some of my posts will be about non-advertising topics, like working with teams and all the new things I’m learning. I’m still going to read as many ad blogs as I can, and I’m still going to tweet about stupid things, interesting things, fun things, and funny things.

Basically, you’re still stuck with me. You just have to put up with less of me. Who knows, someday I’ll zag again and end up having a part in creating the ads I can’t stop rambling about. Only time will tell.

Wish me luck, folks. I might need it.

 

Categories: Jobs Tags: , , , , , ,

In Defense of Generation Y

October 11, 2010 12 comments

 

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They say we hop jobs too often. We have no work ethic, expect too much, and want to be famous despite having no talent. We expect too many thank-you’s and pats-on-the-back, and we don’t take criticism well. Oh yeah, and we just don’t have enough respect for our elders.

At some point, hearing the same anti-millennial garbage over and over gets old.






Millennials get a bad rap. Look, I get it: Some of us are easy targets. Many people my age are poster-children for the Gen Y stereotype: They have helicopter parents, they received praise all of the time and thus expect a reward for everything they do, and they try to emulate Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Snooki .

Unfortunately for us, this is a case of a few very rotten apples spoiling the bunch. For every Snooki-obsessed Gen Y stereotype, there are a ton of entrepreneurial, hopeful, caring, and hard-working millennials that go unnoticed.

Things are going to change for the Boomer generation, and they’re slowly catching on to this fact. Naturally, they’re terrified, so they’re lashing out and trying to discredit us. There have already been some quality posts in defense of Gen Y, but I think it’s time to throw my hat in the ring. It’s time to stick up for my generation by explaining or attacking some of the common misconceptions the best I can.

Those darn kids want everything RIGHT NOW!

Yeah, we’re a generation of impatient, ADD-addled people. We want “instant” everything, and waiting on anything is annoying. We want and need everything to be instant: Communication, customer service, information, feedback…everything. It’s not natural for us to wait on these things.

We grew up with the internet and instant messaging, so we had a world of answers at our fingertips and indirect contact to every single one of our friends at all hours.  We grew up with mobile phones and text messaging (or at least came of age when they became popular), so we always have had instant access to our friends, family, and customer service, wherever we are. Our life is instant. The older generations are used to waiting for everything, but we aren’t. This is something the older generations are going to have to learn to deal with, because we are in a culture of “instant.”

Those darn kids are unrealistic and entitled

One of the often-used words to describe Gen Y is “entitled.” They say we believe we’re entitled to unrealistically big salaries. And you know what, they’re right. We DO feel like we deserve all of that. But who can blame us? We’re the ones who are paying an incredible amount of money to go to college, yet many of us still haven’t landed a job after graduation. We need a nice job with a big salary because the previous generation made student loans a HUGE hurdle in our twenty-something lives.

We believe in our own abilities to an “unrealistic” level (yes, it’s overconfident, but at least we actually believe in ourselves) because we’re the “good job for trying!” generation that “earned” a trophy for being in last place, just because we participated. There’s a quote attributed to Alex Bogusky, and it goes something like this:

“Being nice about someone’s mediocrity is the worst kind of mean”

We’re a generation that has been constantly rewarded for mediocrity, so of course we’ll feel entitled to unrealistic jobs, salaries, and lives.

Just remember: We’re praise-hungry, entitled monsters because you made us this way.

Those darn kids don’t know how to work

Yeah, we don’t want to work 9-to-5 desk jobs in traditional offices. Get over it, because that’s not going to be the norm in 10 or 15 years.

Who wants a desk job? We’ve seen how miserable our parents could get because of their crappy, thankless desk job. Of course we’re going to fight against having that, and we’re going to do anything we can to avoid it. For us, it IS avoidable….we’re the generation of dorm-room entrepreneurs. We have laptops, the internet, and smartphones; “work” isn’t bound by location or time.

Those darn kids whine on social media

Hell yeah we whine on social media. It works; smart brands understand our influence and want to make us happy (ALL brands should want to make their customers happy). We found a way to be heard, so we’ll send out our grievances in 140 characters or less and hope it reaches someone important.

We found a way to create communities that aren’t bound by geography. We found a way to band together and take the power back from the massive institutions that we can no longer trust. So yes, we’re going to keep writing tweets & blog posts to get your attention, and we will broadcast our negative experiences and expect them to be rectified (instantly, of course).

Those darn kids are…just like us?

There are a lot of things that separate our generation from the Boomers or Gen X. We’re very different because we grew up in different time periods, with different cultural norms and different situations. But, remember this: Just like your generation and the next generation after us will, our generation wants to laugh, love, and live. The definitions of what these things mean may be different, but we’re still driven by the same desires. Of course I’m going to complain about the next generation, and I hope the next generation feels free to challenge their elders like we do.

But for now, shut up and give us some respect for once, will ya?

What do you think about Gen Y?

Fear and Loathing on the Career Path

October 6, 2010 Leave a comment

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Hunter S. Thompson was a comet. The Good Doctor was the type of person that you only come across every few decades, the type who burns the earth with originality, passion, and talent. Someone who listens to his heart and does only what he wants. A true one-of-a-kind, a perpetual black sheep. We should all try to be comets.

Anywho, I enjoy Hunter S. Thompson’s particular brand of in-your-face writing. I like seeing people break the rules and succeed. It was a delight to come across a cover letter he wrote to the Vancouver Sun in 1958 and see that he even wrote his job applications in this manner. I think we can learn a lot about careers, the job hunt, and life in general from Hunter S. Thompson.

Forget everything you know about writing cover letters

I’ll never understand why we’re taught to fit in when we’re in school. In college, I was required to take a class devoted to “professional writing,” and we were taught how to create a cookie-cutter cover letter. It’s like they were setting us up to fail. The whole point of a cover letter is to STAND OUT from the mess of equally-qualified people. Hunter S. Thompson understood that. As you can see from his cover letter, he hit all the necessary spots: Who he was, what he expected from the job, what they could expect from him, and that he would like to work for them. That’s it. The rest is up to you. Forget what they taught you and start trying to stand out….it’s the only way you’re going to get anywhere in this world.

Pioneer new career frontiers

If the world isn’t giving you a viable career option, make one up. Gonzo journalism, a subjective, first-person-narrative form of journalism, didn’t exist before Thompson. He immersed himself in the world of his subjects and walked a mile in their shoes (or rode, as was the case in Hell’s Angels) and ended up creating his career. It is a form of journalism rooted in the idea that the story is more important than getting all the facts right, that true objectivity is a myth. Many bloggers write in that style today, and it’s more entertaining, informative, and trustworthy than most of the so-called “objective news” out there.

The point is this:You don’t have to try to fit into an existing career path. If you have a vision of what you want to do, but it’s different from any career you’ve heard of, make it up. Have enough confidence in yourself to create your own career. Hunter S. Thompson was filled with millennial spirit; our generation has created a lot of jobs where none had previously existed. Mark Zuckerberg created his own frontier with Facebook, and there are many other examples of successful Gen Y entrepreneurs on and off the internet.

Trust Yourself

If there’s any lasting message I can take from Hunter S. Thompson’s life, it’s this: Listen to your inner voice and screw the rules. I can’t stress that enough.  It’s true that you can follow the herd and survive, but to really live you have to figure out how to trust your own ideas. Like he said in his novel “The Rum Diary,”

“Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right.”

It’s not an easy road to take, and you’ll certainly have your enemies because of it, but it’s the only way to live.

Obviously, Hunter S. isn’t the best role model. He did a ton of drugs and was by all accounts an asshole, and in the end he took his own life. You could live for a hundred lifetimes and still not be as much of a badass as this guy was. But you can learn a lot from people who truly listen to their inner voice and have reckless disregard for social norms. Trust your instincts, follow your own path, and forget the rules. Be a comet like Hunter S. Thompson.

What do you think: Was Hunter S. Thompson a raving lunatic, visionary, or both?

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LinkedIn : Using Social Media’s Uncool Uncle

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

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Everybody has one: the party-pooper relative at family gatherings. While the “cool” relatives are playing touch football with the rest of the family in the backyard or telling funny, slightly-inappropriate stories to the kids, the party-pooper is sitting around talking about synergy, fluctuations in the stock market, and cash flow. He’s important to talk to if you’re in business, but not very much fun. Say hello to LinkedIn, the uncool uncle of the social media family.

LinkedIn is all about business. It’s a social network devoted to business networking. So before you dismiss LinkedIn because it isn’t all that fun, remember that it is a very crucial part of your social media toolkit.

Get Recommended

LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to give and get recommendations, which are sort of like virtual referrals. Getting a recommendation from someone on LinkedIn shows that you were once a valuable member of a team (or you know the right people to bribe) and gives others the opportunity to write nice things about you.  Of course, this also means that you’ll have to write recommendations for others, too. It’s a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” sort of situation, and it is something you should embrace (and I should get working on!).

Select which tweets you send to LinkedIn

LinkedIn gives you the option to connect your Twitter account to your profile; this will put all of your tweets into your LinkedIn feed. Avoid this option like it was a cast member of Jersey Shore.  Not everything you tweet about is going to be relevant to your LinkedIn connections. A lot of it, like the aforementioned cast of Jersey Shore, is trash to them; they simply don’t care about what you had for dinner or what you thought about the most recent episode of (you guessed it) Jersey Shore. They’ll end up being turned off by your updates.

LinkedIn gives you the option to select which tweets go into your LinkedIn feed, which is what I do. When I want to broadcast a new blog post to my LinkedIn connections, I simply add the hashtag #in to the end of the tweet. It’s a good way of keeping my irrelevant tweets out of my LinkedIn feed, while still letting my connections know that I’m active on the service and have valuable things to say.

LinkedIn will also let you connect with your blog (if you have one). Especially if your blog is industry-related, you should definitely make your blog as visible as possible.

Join Groups

I don’t have a whole lot of experience with groups on LinkedIn, but I know that you should consider joining them. Join groups relevant to your industry and participate in discussions. Join college alumni groups; these will be filled with members of your alma mater, so you will already have something in common. Use groups on LinkedIn to try to create connections with people in your industry that you would never meet in person. It never hurts to put yourself out there and see if you can get yourself noticed.

Follow Companies You Want to Work For

You can “follow” companies on LinkedIn. This means that you’re able to see new hires, new departures, and new job openings that the company has. You can also use this feature to find someone within the company and send a message to them asking about job openings and what it’s like working for that company. You may not get a response, but it never hurts to try. Connecting with a company on social media lets them know that you’re active on social media (duh), which is good for any industry except Amish gift shop management.

Let’s face it; we’re in an age where prospective employers will use any and all tools at their disposal to check out applicants. LinkedIn is designed to help you find a job. What makes it so boring also makes it useful: it is all business, all the time. This means that professionals are probably more apt to check LinkedIn before they look at your Twitter stream or your Facebook page. It may not be as fun as Facebook or as interesting as Twitter, but it’ll come in handy once you’re trying to get into the professional world. Do yourself a favor and make a profile, keep it up to date, and use LinkedIn to your advantage. And be sure to be nice to your uncool uncle the next time you see him.

I’d be a little dull if I wrote an entire post about LinkedIn and didn’t  pimp my profile: Connect with me on LinkedIn, will ya?

Are you active on LinkedIn? Is it helpful to you?


Building Your Personal Brand Without Selling Your Soul

September 8, 2010 2 comments

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Sad Don Draper has a personal branding problem

A few years ago, “personal branding” was one of those phrases that made me hate that I was in Business School. I always saw it as a gimmick to avoid, a game I wouldn’t play along with, and an idea I could never believe in. I don’t want to be a person with a catchphrase, and I’m not the type of person to rely on some false trait in order to advance my career. However, I’ve learned that personal branding isn’t so bad as long as you remember that you can be yourself and still succeed.

You’re the product

Whether you’re going for a job, or trying to get in a relationship, or applying for school, you’re essentially selling yourself. That’s what personal branding is about. Whether you like it or not, you are a product, and your attributes and abilities have to be attractive to the company you are trying to work for (the “buyer”). You do this by finding out how to differentiate yourself from all of the other brands out there vying for the buyer’s attention, and by promoting the best aspects of your “brand.”  Hopefully, you do this well enough that someone wants to hire you, or go on a date, or accept you into their school program. If this sounds impersonal, good. It’s supposed to. This is where you can inject some of your personality.

Blend personal and professional

One of the questions I come across fairly frequently as I’m reading things online is “should I have separate Twitter accounts for my friends and professional life?” I don’t believe that you have to separate your personal and professional identity to get a job. The way I see it, my personality is one of the most identifiable differentiators my personal brand has; I WANT people to see more than my “professional side.” There are hundreds of college grads from UW-Madison that have my credentials, but there’s only one person like me (and this is coming from someone who has an identical twin). If an employer has an issue with me tweeting about anything “off-topic” or showing off my personal side, then I probably wouldn’t be a good fit in their company anyways, and I sure as hell don’t want to work in a place where I don’t fit. Simple as that.

Of course, there are limits. You have to be mindful of the things you post online and the pictures you show up in. This doesn’t mean you have to untag every picture of you with a red Solo cup, or take every damn, hell, and ass out of your online lexicon.  Have fun online. Just understand that the internet is a public forum, and be careful.  As long as you’re comfortable with whatever you’re posting, you’ll probably be alright.

Oh, Lord. Networking

Networking is a word that evokes fire and brimstone to me. A place of slick hair and slicker pitches. A world of opportunistic people exchanging firm handshakes and elevator speeches. People donning their best suits and going to events solely to lie and pass out business cards. The opposite of authentic, the perpetual job fair.  My own personal hell. But networking doesn’t have to be so bad.

It helps to remember that people aren’t usually that cold, and many actually feel the same way about networking. If you like having conversations with people, just think of networking as talking with a bunch of people interested in having a conversation. Pretend you’re at a bar; even though you’re at a business event, you can still talk about other things like popular culture, sports, and music. Try to make some new friends, and who knows, maybe they’ll be good people to know in the business world too. Maybe your personal brand is attractive to a recruiter simply because you’re not all business, all the time. Maybe, just maybe, being yourself will land you a job.

In the end, just be yourself

“Personal branding” was such a strange concept to me because I didn’t understand how easy it is. You don’t have to buy in to all of the gimmicks, or be fake, or pretend to be something you’re not. All you have to do is be yourself, and your personality will become your “personal brand.” Some people may not like your brand and they may not want to buy your product, but that’s alright. That’s why you don’t see a 40 year-old businessman browsing through the Slayer tees at Hot Topic and why you don’t see Donald Trump at Walmart.  Square pegs don’t fit into round holes, so don’t waste your time chasing an employer who doesn’t like you for who you are.

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What do you think about personal branding? How about networking?

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