By Jen Bemisderfer
I recently attended commencement ceremonies for my alma matter, North Carolina State University. As I sat, waiting for thousands of graduates to stream to their seats inside the arena, I thought back to my own graduation, nearly 20 years ago. To be honest, I didn’t remember much about the day. Who was the speaker? What advice did they deliver? How did I feel? Was I excited? Scared?
For what is supposed to be one of life’s biggest milestones, my memory was fuzzy. What I do remember – clearly – is the first day of my first job. The first day of the rest of my life. I’d had internships in college, but this was different. I had a salary! Healthcare! A 401k! And lots to learn about building a successful career in PR.
For all the new graduates who will be flooding in to the National Capital Area ready to tackle the first day of the rest of YOUR lives, I wanted to share a few tips I’ve learned along the way, as well as some advice from my colleagues at RH Strategic Communications – many of whom have been in your shoes more recently!
Cultivate your network.
You might not know it, but you already have a network. Stay in touch with your professors, your friends from PRSSA and your internship supervisors. Even if you’re making a leap to a brand-new city, make the effort to stay connected. As you grow in your career, you’ll add co-workers, supervisors, even your roommates and friends who are in relevant or adjacent fields. You never know how a connection to someone may lead to a dream job, mutually beneficial relationship or just an interesting conversation.
Take time to read the news.
Any entry level job in PR is going to include monitoring the media. You’re going to feel like you get more than your share of news, but I’d challenge you to go beyond your company or your clients’ industry news. Read The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, CNBC.com and the like. Knowing what’s happening in the world, even if it doesn’t have a direct tie to your day-to-day job, will add context to what you’re working on and will help you understand better what is newsworthy.
Ask for opportunities.
Don’t let your title hold you back. If you want to take a stab at owning a project, ask for it! Bonus points if you can identify a need that your bosses and co-workers aren’t even aware of yet. “I noticed many of our contacts are out of date. Is it ok if I spend some time updating our company’s broadcast media list?” You’ll get noticed.
Don’t just write. Write well.
Quality writing is the most surefire way to stand out as a new PR professional. In particular, knowing how to translate a more complicated topic into something that’s easily digestible for your client or reporter’s audience is key to success. Study the OpEd pages of your local newspaper. Ask senior staff for tips on how to write clearly and concisely. Also, knowing AP Style and proper grammar and punctuation is critical!
Learn to love feedback.
It can be hard to hear that your pitch didn’t hit the mark, or your project management skills need improvement. However, it’s also one of the most effective ways to learn. When you get feedback from someone, whether it be a colleague, account manager or a mentor (inside or outside of your organization), challenge yourself to DO something with it.
Whatever your first job, chances are you won’t be there forever. At some point, you’ll move on to a new opportunity. When you do, it helps to have a personal/professional brand that is unique and is going to stand out from the flood of others with the same training. Look for opportunities to dig deeper and develop skills that will set you apart.
Request informational interviews.
If you’re still looking for the right job or post-graduate internship, don’t be afraid to ask for an informational interview, even if the company that you want to work for doesn’t have a position available. It’s a great way to build relationships and learn more about the company or field that could pay dividends in the future.
Good luck, graduates! I hope you all find success, excitement and fulfillment in your PR career. One last tip: Don’t forget to join PRSA!