By Stephanie Bostaph
Five years ago, I was a newly-minted journalism graduate from West Virginia University,
determined to make a difference in Washington, D.C. I accepted my first job as a staff
assistant for former Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. A few years and jobs later, I am now the director of operations for Concepts, Inc., a small, woman-owned communications firm in Bethesda, Md. Although I am still a young professional, sitting on the other side of the desk gives me a unique perspective and plenty of insight to share about how to best start or advance your career.
1. Be Passionate.
When you enjoy what you do, you give off positive energy. If you don’t like your current job, focus on activities outside of work. During interviews, draw parallels between your skills and interests. At Concepts, our projects make a difference in the lives of others, and during the recruiting process, we look for people who have the same dedication and drive. Talk about how you are training for the Tough Mudder, volunteering in your community or writing a blog about cooking. The things you mention in your interview tell employers a lot about the person they may ultimately hire.
2. Every Job Counts.
Whether you are still looking for a breakthrough into the industry or recently accepted a position, every job matters – even the ones, you may think aren’t applicable to your career. I felt incredibly discouraged after changing jobs twice during my first year after college. Initially, because I discovered that I didn’t want to work in politics, and then, because the car dealer advertising industry was hit hard by the recession. However, those jobs and the ones after gave me skills that helped advance my career. My first job exposed me to the inner workings of Congress; my second taught me how to negotiate tough business deals; and the last two (where I worked as a waitress and an unpaid social media intern) built resiliency.
3. Get the Facts Right.
This one is simple – do your homework and remember, the “devil is in the details.” Make sure you research the company before you apply for the job, and spell the company’s name correctly on your cover letter. We can always tell when someone rushed through the application process, because 90 percent of the time he or she calls our firm “Concept PR.” You only have one chance to make a first impression.
4. Practice Writing.
I am still surprised at the number of writing samples we receive from job applicants that have significant grammar and punctuation errors. In our industry, above all others, being able to effectively communicate messages is crucial. During the application process, you need to show employers what you can do for their clients. The first way we judge your abilities is through the presentation of your cover letter and résumé, and second, through your writing. Now is the time to start practicing, and find others who are knowledgeable about different areas to check your work.
5. And Most Important, “Pay It Forward.”
No one makes it to the top alone. Friends, mentors, professional colleagues and the Starbucks barista who makes my tall latte every day – they have all contributed to my success. The number one take away is to “pay it forward.” Once you’ve gotten your foot in the door, help someone else without expecting something in return. I can guarantee that you’ll feel rewarded, and who knows where that person may end up some day.
Stephanie Bostaph is the director of operations at Concepts, Inc., a small woman-owned communications firm in Bethesda, Md. She is a proud Mountaineer, West Coast swing dancer and an MBA graduate student at the University of Maryland.