Three things I learned while in school that I encountered within my first week on the job

By Casey, guest contributor

Casey, author of Three things I learned while in school that I encountered in my first week on the job

I recently graduated with a bachelors degree in public relations. I am a lifelong learner and expect to head back to school as soon as I can. After graduation I took an internship as social media specialist with the United States Army at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, WA where I got to experience the government PR environment.

I currently work with outdoor digital signage. My position has me doing anything from working with our advertising clients to creating advertisements that reflect their brand, developing interactive social media campaigns for our advertisers, to boosting the social media presence for our business.

In the midst of the transition from student to professional, I am planning a wedding set for June of 2014 with my fiance Eric. In my freetime I like to take far too many photos of my dog Zoey, and watch entire series of T.V. shows on Netflix in a weekend.

Let’s connect on LinkedIn!

 

I am brand new to the professional world. By new, I mean I have been working at my job for approximately one week. I graduated with my bachelors degree in public relations in May and then went on to a summer internship. So, I am just starting my professional career. When I started my position as a digital content coordinator on Monday at a local audio visual company, I was nervous. By the end of my first day, I was overwhelmed and completely exhausted.

As I write this at the end of the week, I am thrilled with the position I have chosen. Throughout the week I have noticed several things that my professors either taught me or warned me would happen in the professional world. I was surprised every time I was asked to do something by my boss that my professors had said would happen when I went out into the “real world.” I guess I just didn’t expect these things to happen to me. I was wrong.

So I am going to share my experience from the perspective of a recent graduate and first time professional:

(These lessons are in no particular order.)

#1 — Public Relations comes in all shapes and sizes

When I was in school, I was told to excessively research all the different types of PR fields. Many times college students think that PR is just one job or can be defined in one quick description. In my classes, I was surrounded by people who wanted to be event planners and only event planners. Events are great for people who want to eat, sleep, and breathe event planning. But, there are jobs out there that involve event planning on a smaller scale, as opposed to planning and executing events everyday.

In my job search I noticed that many communications job openings have event planning, social media, and media relations embedded in them. In just the first week of my job, I have had the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience in social media, internal communications, and media relations. So perhaps one of the most important things I learned and implemented after graduation was how I went about searching for my first job. If I didn’t listen to my professors, I would still be searching for the “perfect” PR career.

#2 — Strong writing is the key to success

I am lucky enough to work at a growing business that is excited to take the steps to create a strong social media presence. But if I suggest something, I better have a well written proposal in hand. We are far past the days of just saying “Hey, I think this a good idea” and then making it happen. Just suggesting that my company should create a stronger LinkedIn presence led to me creating a 7 page proposal on the who, what, where, when, and why. If I didn’t have a professor in college who was almost irritatingly obsessed with a red pen, I would have never been able to complete the 3 proposals I have written this week.

#3 — They aren’t going to take it easy on you in the real world

Wow. This is so true. Within the first couple of days at my new job, I had a client set a meeting with me for the same day. I wasn’t prepared, but I had to force myself to be. I ate lunch at my desk and did my research. In college, I spent my time glamorizing what it would be like to have my first professional job, but it turns out its all not sunshine and roses. No one ever asks you if you CAN do something, they just expect that you know how to do it. Now, I obviously suggest you ask questions if you need help, but your boss won’t typically walk around the building asking if they can help anyone or answer questions. This was perhaps the hardest lesson that I have learned, and my professors warned me about it in advance.

Even the most successful college student can have a hard time adjusting to the expectations of a new career.

What lessons did you learn from your first job in the field? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Five lessons I learned from my first job in PR

By Staci

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!

To get a PR degree, or not to get a PR degree, that is the question

Is a degree in public relations necessary to be successful in the industry?

By Staci

I was browsing the latest and greatest discussions in one of my LinkedIn groups last week and came across a topic that was stirring up some heated responses. A young professional working outside of the field of public relations was wanting to the switch to PR and asked the following questions:

“I was wondering what the best degree is to go into public relations? Should I study communications? Is a degree required for public relations?”

As you can imagine, there was a dividing line drawn between those who feel it is best to jump right into the trenches and work your way up in the industry and those who advised taking the time to get a formal education and training. I happen to fall into the latter camp for the following reasons:

The times they are a-changin’

Back in the olden days – you know, before the internet, personal computers and…gasp…fax machines – bright eyed and bushy tailed kids could jump headfirst into the industry and work their way up to the top. Keep in mind that a college degree wasn’t necessary to make your way in the world only a couple of decades ago. Formal public relations programs were even only just broadly adopted by most schools of communications within the past 15 to 25 years.

So yes, many of the pioneers in the field did not need a degree in public relations to be successful. I tip my hat to those veterans. In fact, it is because of those trailblazers that many colleges and universities have excellent degree programs which include faculty who were initially among the ranks of degreeless practitioners. But, the truth is that you often need a degree in public relations (or a related field) in order to even get past most automated application systems today. Most employers won’t consider your candidacy without meeting their minimum requirements for the job.

And with so many great public relations degree programs available throughout the country, why wouldn’t you just go for it and get your degree anyway? This brings me to my next point.

It’s more than just a degree

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Photo credit: University of Denver / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

A degree in public relations is more than just a slip of paper that can help you get past automated application systems. If you choose the right program, you will walk away with a strong foundation based in theory, a thorough knowledge of public relations practice fundamentals and, most importantly, you will be exposed to all aspects of public relations before being cast out into the cruel harsh world. (This broad exposure early on will make you a better practitioner.)

The most optimal time to get your sea legs in the industry is to do it while in school. You will get countless hours of writing practice, be exposed to numerous internship and networking opportunities and will most certainly experience personal AND professional growth. If you are going to make mistakes, do it surrounded by the comfort and constructive support of your school. Don’t worry, you will get the opportunity to have blunders on the job, because really trial and error is what this industry is all about, BUT you are expected to walk into an entry level job in the field already well versed in the public relations skill set. (Personal Note: I don’t even take on interns who can’t demonstrate a basic PR skill set. Ain’t nobody got time for that.) The learning curve once you land that first entry level job is already steep enough.

My advice is to do yourself a favor and get a degree. Starting behind the curve is just that – starting behind a large pool of applicants who are immediately more qualified than you because they have a degree.

Only you can lead the way

Another reason to get a degree in public relations if you want to seriously practice in the field is because most organizational leaders do not understand public relations. This is a constant battle that you need to be prepared to take on for the rest of your career. (Public relations is not simply media relations!) I’m not knocking senior managers here. Public relations is a complex and multilayered craft. Sometimes it is even hard for me to explain the full scope of the field to other people who are not practitioners. An organization that is not utilizing all aspects of the public relations machine in its strategic communications strategy is not realizing its full potential.

Let’s be honest here. You are the practitioner. It is your job to counsel on all matters of communications for your organization. If you don’t even know what it is that you are supposed to be doing or could be doing, you are doing a disservice to your organization.

Now, I realize that may be a little harsh, but we live in a cruel harsh world.

Whether you start with or without a degree, you are going to have to work VERY HARD to make your way in the industry. The only difference is that starting with a degree gives you a head start. A degree in public relations is like the Yoshi to your Mario. It gets you where you are going faster and proactively helps protect you along the way. I choose Yoshi.

So, if I haven’t already made it clear by now, go ahead and get that degree in public relations. Where do you fall in this debate? Let me know in the comment section below!