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In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their fields, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.

They talk about how they got to be where they are and what they’ve learned from their mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.

This week our featured alum is Janey Bishoff (CAS’75), chief executive officer of Bishoff Communications LLC, a public relations firm based in Needham, Mass., that specializes in crisis communications, planning, risk assessment, and reputation management. Bishoff has advised businesses in a variety of sectors, including well-known national brands and nonprofit organizations. In 2010, the Publicity Club of New England honored Bishoff Communications with the Platinum Super Bell Award for its work helping the Melrose YMCA create a communications campaign following a sex abuse scandal. The following year, Bishoff received the club’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bishoff is a board member of the Friends of Copley Square and the American Jewish Committee and has been an adjunct lecturer at BU, teaching crisis management.

  1. BU Today: You majored in political science as an undergraduate. At what point did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in communications?

    Bishoff: I actually started my career in government, but found I wanted to be able to have a broader impact and see results more quickly. I was hired by an architecture firm because I spoke their language (I have a master’s degree in urban public policy from the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT). But it was my writing, research, and analytical skills that enabled me to move into marketing and communications.

    So it took nearly 10 years before I knew that was what I wanted to do.

  2. How competitive is the communications field for new college graduates?

    Communications has changed dramatically in the last few years, and though it’s extremely competitive, there are now many different areas that new graduates can pursue—especially those who have strong writing skills.

    As nearly every company and organization must now be a publisher, employees with strong communications skills—especially writing—are needed in a wide variety of industries.

  3.  

    What are the qualities you look for in people you hire? What are the deal breakers?

    Good work ethic, smarts, strong writing skills, resourcefulness, and knowing how to present herself/himself. If they don’t have those top qualities, that’s a deal breaker.

  4. What kinds of questions do you ask during an interview?

    I try to come up with questions that are not typical and will demonstrate how a candidate thinks and problem-solves. I may outline a challenging situation and ask the candidate how he or she would solve it.

    I also like to see how a candidate answers when confronted by an ethical dilemma.

  5. What are some common mistakes that young job candidates make?

    One of the worst mistakes is not being prepared with questions that demonstrate that the candidate has researched and is genuinely interested in the company. Another is an inability to identify the strengths that differentiate a candidate from every other graduate with a communications degree.

    I advise job-seekers to use concrete real-life examples of how they have used their strengths to achieve success in positions they have held, whether it was a job, an internship, or a volunteer activity. Academic success doesn’t always equate to early career success.

    Finally, too much or too little follow-up after an interview is another common pitfall. It’s the part of the process that shows me the candidate’s level of interest and ability to be persistent in a positive manner.

  6. What advice would you give an employee for the first day on the job, and for the first six months?

    If your employer or supervisor doesn’t give you goals and specific benchmarks to achieve in order to demonstrate success, ask for them. Be resourceful. Do as much as you can on projects without specific direction, but also recognize what you don’t know and ask questions.

    Think ahead—what information will you need to accomplish the entire project? Then, pull all your questions together so you can be respectful of someone’s time in a quick one-on-one or in a meeting.

    I would also ask about email preferences. It’s good to know when to use email and when to walk down the hall to ask someone a quick question.

  7. Are there mistakes you’ve made during your career, and if so, what lessons have you learned from them?

    Lots. As someone who is basically a shy person, I have not always been assertive (notice I didn’t say aggressive) enough, especially in my earlier years.

    Also, I wish I had kept in touch with people I’ve worked with in the past. You never know where someone is going to wind up or what position they’ll end up in.

  8. Who had the greatest influence on your career—teacher, colleague, boss, family member—and what did you learn from that person?

    I am lucky to have worked for a woman early on in government who had a lovely, understated style and a great sense of humor, which I always try to emulate.

Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at orourkej@bu.edu.

Read other stories in our “Jump-start Your Job Search” series here.

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