I was extremely fortunate to land my first job in the field of public relations. What started out as an unpaid internship in a small department that never previously hosted an intern turned into a full time job with benefits. Go me! It’s not always that easy. The PR gods were clearly looking out for me.
It turns out that my first job was exactly what I needed. I had an amazing boss who was very interested in making me the best communicator that I could be. She got many things right when dealing with me, but I’ll save the specifics for a different blog post at a later date.
I spent four great years at my first job. Your first job in the field is probably one of the most important jobs you will have in your life. After reflecting on what I learned in that four years’ time, I realized that I learned a lot! The following five things seem to stick with me wherever I go:
(These lessons are in no particular order.)
Lesson 1: Make nice with the food people
Food people make the world go round. Or, I should say that food people make my world go round! Get in good with the executive chef, the general manager and the cashiers and your workdays will be much happier. If you don’t have food services at your place of work, make nice with the workers at your local dining establishments. A little bit of chatter, a whole lot of friendliness and a good tip can go a long way when it comes to scoring free food.
Lesson 2: There are two types of senior professionals – know the type you are dealing with
Young professionals will encounter two types of people when they are just starting out. The first group consists of veterans who are inclusive. They actively seek your input in meetings, they take care to provide you with necessary background information so that you can approach your job more effectively and they are encouraging and supportive. They understand that when you do better, they will do better and when everyone is doing better, the organization does better. Win, win, and win!
The second group consists of veterans who are dismissive. They don’t care for your input or to include you in the decision making process. Your development is not their concern and can sometimes even be seen as threatening. These people like to throw their years of experience around as a way to demean your own experience. Unfortunately, there is little you can do in this situation. Keep your head up, demonstrate your competence and get the job done.
The bottom line is that you should soak up every bit of knowledge you can from the first type of senior professional. Be sure to take notes on how you should not act when you find yourself on the other end of the situation later in your career so that you don’t end up like the second type of senior professional.
Lesson 3: Never write off a media outlet
The first organization I worked for was quite difficult when it came to media relations. It wasn’t that we didn’t have good stories to pitch. We were actually quite active and able to place several stories a month. It was just that the media consistently got the story of the organization wrong due in large part to the history of the industry in the region the organization was operating in. As frustrating as this could be at times, my first boss taught me to never write off a media outlet, no matter its carelessness or vendetta. It was our job as PR professionals to tear down those walls and build those relationships. It took some time, but with a lot of persistence and a little help from staff turnover in newsrooms, our team was able to get journalists to more accurately portray the organization in news coverage. Don’t back down…double down.
Lesson 4: Never accept the status quo
This is perhaps my favorite lesson I learned from my first job in PR. As a PR professional, you are the eyes and ears of the organization, you are the cheerleader and, most importantly, you are the change agent. Think about it – you are imbedded in the organization like a wartime reporter. This allows you to see where the organization is going and better advise senior leaders how to navigate the waters of change to get the organization there. You know the staff, you know the conditions and you know the external publics. This is the environmental scanning function of PR.
Do not become complacent and do not allow your senior leaders to become complacent. EVERYTHING can ALWAYS be better. Good is simply not good enough. Achieve excellence and once you get there, go further. If your organization is not constantly working to improve, it is falling behind.
Lesson 5: Relationships are everything
Relationships truly are everything in this business. Whether it is a pushy and persistent sales person, an incompetent colleague or a less than reliable vendor, the universe has a way of putting these people in your path time after time. Suck it up, Buttercup. Chances are you will run into these very same people after your first job, or you will meet someone who knows them and thinks of them fondly. Heck, you might even need them!
Your reputation will follow you. Make sure it is a good one.
So, there you have it. I learned a lot about myself while in my first job and a lot about the industry. We unfortunately don’t get any do-overs when it comes to our first jobs. First timers should take note and make the most of their experience in these very formidable first years. Your first job can often set the tone for the rest of your career.
What lessons did you learn from your first job in the field? Let us know in the comment section below!