Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bloomberg's Verbal Gaffes Show Biz Skills Don't Always Translate

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's no stranger to verbal gaffes; he frequently finds himself in situations that reflect his experience as a business leader has translated into a different philosophy than a typical politician. While that can sometimes produce refreshing candor that voters will appreciate, it seems to make him unaware of how to properly respond in a crisis.

Most reading national papers or watching major news networks are probably aware that the New York metro area was hit with a blizzard Sunday night that left the area struggling to deal with up to two feet of snow. While most of the suburbs have recovered, a microscope has been trained on New York, as airport delays and transportation issues took a toll on visitors and residents alike.

Bloomberg caught the ire of city residents when he basically chastised them for complaining that their streets hadn't been cleared -- saying that the world wasn't coming to an end. That led many to seize on the fact that, as an independently wealthy person, he was incapable of showing empathy in connection with the struggle of average city residents.

On several occasions, Bloomberg has essentially called city residents "whiners" for voicing opinions that differ with City Hall's policy. While his characterization certainly holds water in some instances, when it comes to situations that are having a big impact on people, he often shows a striking lack of empathy.

It's this lack of empathy that I think most who think successful business leaders make great politicians don't always see in advance. We often complain about career politicians, but in a sense, we get to better see what we'll be getting because much of their professional life is played out in the media. Contrast that with someone like Bloomberg, who as a leader of a private company before assuming the mayor's office in New York, had to answer to no one and who didn't have to disclose any information about his business or personal life to anyone else.

This kind of "like or leave it" mentality can make it difficult to get things done in politics, as most don't have city councils or other supervisory bodies that are "rubber stamps." Also, this attitude can quickly come across as abrasive and make voters cool on you relatively quickly. Bloomberg's isolated from this concern, as he's in his last term, but verbal gaffes can be costly for politicians.

New York is a resilient city, not so much because of the leadership of its politicians, but because residents must quickly acclamate to a life that often means putting up with a variety of temporary struggles, such as power outages, building issues, etc. But like any group of people, sometimes they reach a point that makes them feel they've had enough. They're definitely in that spot this week, which has Bloomberg feeling the heat.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Careers Need Effective Messaging Too

Being a public relations pro, one of the things I consistently stress is the need to create an effective, articulate message. Unfortunately, all too often people assume the a product or service’s "wow" factor will automatically put them over the top, even though that’s not always the case. While it may not automatically seem like something that’s vital to career management, messaging should be one of your top considerations here too.

Stop for a moment and think about how we’re communicating these days. As much as we’re actually talking with others in some interpersonal setting, we’re also communicating online via some sort of social network, e-mail, etc. We may not automatically think of them as such, but all of these conversations are actually messages whose impact can vary tremendously depending on how we structure them.

When it comes to career management, we all know that we should put our best foot forward, but here too many tend to focus more on how to interact in an interview than any other step in the process. Problem is, you’ve got to do a good deal of effective positioning to even get to the interview – especially in an era where unemployment rates are still hovering a post-Depression highs and not forecast to decline dramatically over the next couple of years.

Given that, put some thought into the messages you create when you’re seeking a career. Concentrate on using specific words and phrases that articulate how your skills are better than the competition’s. And if you’re between jobs, please – no matter what you do – don’t label yourself as unemployed. Hiring managers these days are becoming increasingly concerned about someone’s skills becoming rusty, given the fact that long-term unemployment – that is people who’ve been without a job for at least six months – is also at post-Depression highs.

During your job search, focus on doing all you can to get your skills in front of people, whether it’s starting and promoting a blog showcasing your skills or doing pro-bono media relations for a local non-profit. All of these things will not only illustrate the sharpness of your skills, but will also get you in front of someone who might very well be able to help you.

And when you do get some help, whether it’s a recommendation from a former employer, a job interview, etc., please make sure you properly acknowledge that help. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard hiring managers say that if they have two equally qualified candidates, they’ll advance someone who remembered nice touches like sending a follow up "thank you" letter to someone for an interview.

One of the venues where I spend a good deal of time each week is LinkedIn. As such, I have an opportunity to review a number of different profiles. I’ve been amazed to see some list their current position as "unemployed." These people may be superbly qualified for a great opportunity, but honestly, I rarely read past that because of the way they position themselves. Given the fact that this tight labor market is likely to last for some time to come, think about messaging and use clever, concise descriptions of your skills and experience in hopes of giving yourself a leg up on the competition!