When I started my preservation career more than 30 years ago, the Main Street movement was in its infancy. In fact, I went to the third ever National Main Street conference in 1983 and still have the binder full of Xeroxed materials.
There were not a lot of fancy publications then, but the characteristics of what it takes to be a successful Main Street Manager were beginning to become apparent.
In those ancient days, the Main Street Four Point Approach™ was a new idea designed to comprehensively focus on downtown improvements:
- bring people back downtown through promotions;
- organize and raising money for a new nonprofit management organization;
- promote quality design, preservation and restoration of downtown buildings, and
- understand the current demographics and market of the downtown in order to help existing businesses grow and recruit new ones that would be successful.
Little has changed about the comprehensive nature of downtown revitalization. Yes, we have become more sophisticated and learned about how to compete against big box retailers, other downtowns and lifestyle centers nearby. We still must create destinations that are clean, safe and interesting places for people to shop and dine. We do this with usually one staff member, the Main Street manager as our cheerleader, orchestra conductor and guide.
Being a Main Street manager is a great job for a young person right out of school, whether college or graduate school. No place else will give you direct profit and loss responsibility for a five or six figure organization when you are 22. Main Street does. While the manager is not entirely responsible for raising the money to keep the organization afloat (that is the Board of Director’s responsibility–more about that in a blog post soon), the manager must know where every dime goes so that he or she can help balance cash flow over the course of months when revenue is light but expenses heavy.
Then, as now, managers must be enthusiastic “people” people. The work of downtown revitalization involves scores of stakeholders from banks, newspapers, big employers, local and county government, big and small merchants and long-term property owners. You will meet and get to know all of them in less than a few months.
As a manager, you will need scores if not hundreds of volunteers to get the work done. The idea is daunting: managing hundreds of people, yet being a very young person, who perhaps has never supervised anyone before. You will be responsible for motivating a host of small groups of volunteers to do great things: plan events that bring in 10,000 people to town or cheering on a new property owner who takes a decaying building and invests hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore it to productive use. These will be the highlights of your job.
A manager’s job is also filled with routine tasks, and sometimes just plain drudgery. How many managers spend every Thursday morning at 7AM, come rain or shine, lugging the popup tent to the park for the seasonal Farmers Market? Hundreds across the country.
But the energy you’ll get from the selfless volunteers is contagious. You’ll see ordinary people—your volunteers—do extraordinary things. They will pass laws, paint buildings and clean lots, all because they want their community living room—their downtown—to be better. It is awe inspiring.
I wish managers were paid more. Or at least as much as other planning and community development professionals in the area. No place else gives you the responsibility and opportunity to make such a big difference in a small place like downtown. You will use all of the skills you ever learned from any job, from school, and all in a hurry in downtown.
As we continue career month here at the Heritage Consulting Inc. Blog, we are focusing this week on networking 101 for new preservationists. We will make some remarks about collecting contacts, organizing information, using your contacts and doing informational interviews. Let us know if you want more suggestions about networking in the comments section below.
- Start your contact database from your first day in graduate school or working in the field. Collect business cards, and start your database.
- Everyone in an organization might be helpful to you, not just the top dog. So even the administrative assistant or a temporary worker might be a good contact for the future. Get everyone’s card.
- Make sure you have a card too, even if you are just starting out. Use Vista print or other quick printer to make simple business cards with your name, address, phone number, email, twitter handle or Facebook profile.
- Use your volunteer experiences for networking purposes too. Many people start in the preservation field as a volunteer. Use your volunteer contacts with board members, staff members and others and collect their business cards too. Your volunteer colleagues might also be helpful to give you entree or learn about a position opening.
- Develop a database of your contacts, using access, excel or other program that is simple for you to use. If you do not have a simple system then you will not use it. Outlook or other contact management system is useful. If you are familiar with Access, use that. If not just, use Excel or Outlook. Regardless, use something to collect cards and make sure you get the email address too. Make your record complete. You might want to start assigning some kind of code to people as you enter them, so that you can sort readily. Create a system that works for you.
- Write a brief note on the front or back of the person’s business card when you meet the person “reception for Joe” and the date. Make sure you put that information in your data base/Outlook file, a few years from now you will not remember where you met so and so.
- Enter data regularly. Do not wait until the stack of cards is 50 high before you enter the data. Enter a few at a time.
Using your contacts
- Be helpful always. Some news item may have crossed your desk that your contact might find interesting. If so, send it along. In networking, it is all about being helpful to others. The best networkers are always giving information, advice, referrals, suggestions. Even to the most successful or high-powered.
- Ask your contacts for names of other contacts so that you can get good advice from other people. Ask, “Is there someone else you know that might be helpful for me to know within your network for an informational interview?”
- Most people will be flattered if you ask for an informational interview. Ask for about 20 minutes of their time for an informational interview and come prepared with a few questions and a copy of your resume and a writing sample or two. Do not overstay your time; thank them profusely for their time and assistance.
- Unless you know the person well, do not ask them to send your resume around—if they offer to do that great, but do not ask them. Rather ask them for more leads so you can do interviews that are more informational. Make sure you get the spelling right for any lead and the name of their company. Ask for a number or email address.
- Send a brief thank you note (better) or email (ok) to your informational interviewee right after your meeting. Reiterate that you would be interested in knowing about any opportunities that might cross their desk that would suit your skills.
Learn how to use LinkedIn to its full potential
- Create your LinkedIn profile with care. It is your best online resume. Add your experience even if it does not really relevant to the field yet. Add your clubs and extra-curricular organizations, languages spoken, and software programs you know well. Include a recent head shot.
- Connect with people on LinkedIn that you have met, but do not send generic invitation notes—personalize each note. Since you are a student you will need to remind the person how you met, so they would be interested enough to accept your invitation to connect. Download your Outlook, Yahoo or Gmail account contact data base and send out invitations to connect from that, too, but use some discretion. Make sure you have me the person or include in your invitation note why connecting would be useful.
This blog post is only scratches the surface on this topic. Hope it was helpful. Please add more suggestions for other topics to explore in the comments section below.
This is the second of two blog posts with advice about seeking internships in historic preservation. This post is part of a series of four blog posts during April dealing with starting and growing a career in the historic preservation movement. Last time we explored seven Do’s for those seeking preservation internships. This time we are talking about seven Don’ts.
This list of Dont’s was developed based on my experience in the past few months while interviewing interns. This list might not represent every employer’s experience, but most of these are common points.
Seven Don’ts for Preservation Internship Seekers—second in a series
1. Do not apply if you do not have most of the skills required for the position.
Read the job description and understand if your skills are a good fit for the position. Learn about the organization and what it does. The job description explains the skills needed for the position If you do not have even a modicum of the skills needed, please spend your time looking at jobs where there is a better fit. You will generate more interviews by applying to jobs where you are truly qualified.
2. Do not apply to the wrong organization
Know the name of the organization where your credentials are being sent. For example, my firm has a name that is similar to several other private sector preservation organizations in the region. One applicant wrote a good follow up email about receipt of his application (see the list of Do’s from last week), but unfortunately he really wanted to work for one of the other heritage organizations in town, not my firm. It took two emails from me, before he understood that he had sent his materials to the wrong person. Oops. Please do some basic research about the organization before you prepare your cover letter.
3. Do not send a generic cover letter
This year I had many applicants from one university and most used a standard template format for their cover letters and resumes, one page each. I suppose this is what the career center is stressing. Consequently most of these applications looked the same–bland.
As a result of this template approach, several students left off their resumes, valuable and useful work experience they had before attending graduate school, so their resume would fit the one page dictate. Use good sense and include ALL of your work and volunteer experience, even if you have to go to two pages. Show me if you started earning money in high school (if you did), and explain the variety of volunteer and leadership experiences you have had such as being an Eagle Scout, yearbook editor, or lead docent etc. Even if these jobs have little to do with preservation, it shows that you know how to organize your time and get stuff done. Tell me in your letter how the skills you have developed over the years fit the job, and how you can be helpful. Your cover letter/resume is your one opportunity to stand out. You will not get an interview without a good letter/resume. Showing all of your experiences either in your cover letter or resume shows me your ambitions. A short, generic cover letter is just not useful in making your case.
4. Do not forget to send all the required information
Read and follow all instructions about what materials to send, and in the requested format, such as PDF, or all in one document. You will not get an initial interview if you do not follow the instructions in the job description about sending writing samples, references, resume and cover letter. When in doubt about what to send, please ask questions. Several students who seemed to be highly qualified for an internship, goofed by sending some, but not all, of the required materials. Since I had plenty of applicants, there was no need to chase anyone down to have them complete their file. Following instructions gives me confidence that you will follow through on assignments I give you.
5. Do not misspell words, or use poor grammar
Please proofread your cover letter, resume and writing sample. I cannot tell you how many spelling and grammatical errors I found this year in cover letters, resumes and writing samples (even thesis chapters!). I admit that I am not the best proof reader myself, but if I see these errors (obvious spelling errors, misuse of they’re, sentences ending with prepositions, and poor word choices), it makes me wonder if you will take any care in the writing assignments I will give you. Please have someone else read your cover letter and writing samples and make corrections. Please make sure your letter does not go right into the trash because of poor editing. Your mother was right: you only get one chance to make a good first impression.
6. Don’t ask about salary or benefits in your first interview
I have always put the salary or salary range in the job descriptions I write, because the information encourages candidates to come forward knowing what they will be paid. I know that there are many that believe that providing this salary information sets the organization up to pay more, not less, for talent. Regardless of your philosophy on this, it is poor form to ask when you will get a raise or salary review or what the benefits might be during your first interview. This might seem shocking, but job applicants make this mistake more often than you imagine. Please remember that the first interview is like a first date; both parties should try to determine if the fit is good. Leave specific questions about your salary requirements or benefits to a subsequent interview.
7. Do not forget to send a thank you note after the interview
Sending a thank you note gives you the opportunity to reinforce that you are truly interested in the position and a chance to elaborate on any point you thought needed more emphasis. This note can be handwritten (nice) or an email (fine). However, please send it within three days of the interview. If you talked about sending other documents, send them along quickly. Ask when a decision will be made about the position, so you know when to follow up. Good manners are always in fashion.
I hope this two blog series is helpful. Please share any other bits of advice that you want to share in the comments section below. Next week (Wednesday) we will talk about Networking 101 and give some tips about creating and maintaining a powerful network to help you throughout your career.
Here is the handout from the crash course I hate fundraising which is hosted on my web site. Click on the link below or just copy and paste this link into your browser to get the PDF check off document you can use with your board to help them identify tasks they feel comfortable doing related to the larger fundraising effort of your local Main Street organization.