In this age of technology with email, texting, Twitter and Facebook, we are able to communicate with people without always being face-to-face. While this has opened the door for easier communication with people throughout the world, it has also created a culture that lacks professional appropriateness and generosity. There are times when professionals in our field have lost sight of how to communicate with potential employers and coworkers in a manner that reflects our ability to complete tasks, take initiative and indicate our knowledge about conceptual matters. Therefore, it is important to rethink how we, as young professionals and students, communicate with others in a manner that is professional and competent. We need to examine proper communication etiquette — written, verbal and nonverbal — as we prepare to expand our opportunities for career growth or acceptance to graduate school.
While electronic communication such as email and social media allow increased exposure, we must be even more mindful of the messages we are sending, intended or not. The more professional you consider yourself, the more others will as well. Consider your email address. Whether it is email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, employers are looking for professionals who can represent their agency and community in a positive way. While these email addresses may have naïve intentions, they do not show that a person is ready for a career. It is best practice to use some form of your name when corresponding via email.
Social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, have become advertising staples for many park and recreation organizations, including NRPA. It is also a great way to advertise your skills and abilities to potential employers and others you meet during networking opportunities. However, be aware of your image on Facebook and know who has access to your information. A common misconception is that using a pseudonym makes you invisible in the cyber world — unfortunately, fake names are often very easy to crack. Additionally, as professionals, we need to be aware of who has access to your photos, messages and other things you may “Like” on Facebook. Oftentimes, this can be public information. Many fellow professionals may not serve as a reference for people who share such information because they do not want to be associated with someone who lacks professionalism.
Communication is also vitally important in showing others that we are professional and take what we do seriously. While face-to-face or verbal communication is best when conveying important information with others, it is not always an option. Therefore, many park and recreation professionals rely more on email and other text correspondence than ever before to share ideas and provide essential details about our programs and facilities. Because of this, we must remember that not every email is intended for Mom and not every text message is for our best friend. For example, when you are emailing to inquire about a potential position, no matter if it is internal or at another agency, LOL, BTW, LMAO and other Internet slang terms are not appropriate. Remember, email may be the only opportunity to offer a first impression, and the way that message is projected may determine whether an interview is offered or not. Furthermore, when writing professors, instructors, professionals or former supervisors to serve as references, starting the email with, “Will you be a reference for me?” is insufficient. Explain yourself and why you need the reference, and always attach your resume and the job description. I have received countless emails from colleagues and students that provide little to no details about the position or individual. Ultimately, the request for the letter was not fulfilled because not enough details were given in order to create a letter that could adequately speak to the individual’s desirable skills and abilities. If this is the case, how great of a reference can a person be?
Finally, when it comes to cyber communication etiquette, it is important to not be overly critical, especially when your audience is far-reaching. Thus, you should be aware of the messages you provide for others to view. Often, social networking sites allow for you to share funny stories and pictures, give updates on what is happening in your personal and professional life, and express frustration with those things as well. Be sure that the messages you share do not negatively impact your ability to thrive professionally. It is your right to share information; however, you need to be aware of who may view these messages, now or in the future. Your supervisor, a program participant, a potential reference or a future employer may find your words and may not react positively to what they read.
A professor of mine once told me that your personal values should be the same as your professional values. It is indeed important for professionals in a field that works tirelessly to legitimize itself to continue to uphold the impeccable reputation of those before us. Many years ago, leaders of our field fought to convince community members, legislators and philanthropists that recreation is important for everyone. We need to consider how our actions, whether in person or on the Internet, can affect perceptions of our field and the important work that we do on a daily basis.
Brooke Burk, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies Department at SUNY Cortland.