The Value of Wisdom From Our Experienced Colleagues

June 2020
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As a recent college graduate and new PR practitioner, I have quickly realized the value of listening to career advice from experienced colleagues. And as newsletter chair for PRSA’s New Professionals Section, I think we can all benefit from hearing how these professionals got their starts in the profession. 

I spoke with five members of the College of Fellows and felt encouraged by their advice. One of them wanted to hear more about my perspective as a new professional, which she said would make her a better mentor.

Something I appreciate about the PR profession is that everyone in it has a desire to learn and to share their knowledge with others. I’m excited to be able to contribute to the conversation by sharing some things that I’ve experienced and found helpful as a new pro.

As students, we grow up inside the structure of the school system, with its clear-cut expectations and paths to success. We’re told that if we study hard, we will succeed on the test. And if we earn good grades, we will be rewarded with a high grade-point average. 

For many recent college graduates, we subconsciously expect our careers to continue the patterns we learned in school. I admit it was the case for me. Highly involved in my career planning throughout college, I knew that even entry-level jobs often require previous experience. So I made the most of a PR internship during my senior year in school. With my career plan solidified, I was ready to dive into a communications job as soon as I graduated — or so I thought. 

Job-searching frustration

From January of my senior year until August after my graduation, I applied for almost every job opportunity I could find — only to receive many emails containing the phrase that recent graduates don’t want to hear: “Thank you for your time, but we will be moving forward with another candidate at this time.” 

I felt so lost. I didn’t know what else I could do to make myself more employable. I had taken all the right steps in college and followed the advice that people usually give for career development. But I wasn’t seeing any results. 

I started to realize how much I had enjoyed the clarity of being at a university, where I had always known the right steps to take — that would almost always yield instant results. After graduation, I felt like I was trying to create a path for myself without knowing where it would lead. 

Searching for a job became a source of frustration. I needed to try a new approach, one centered on the idea that while I couldn’t control who would hire me, I could control my own hire-ability. I would have to get creative and find ways to obtain the experience I needed, even if it wasn’t from the kind of job I had expected. 

When I applied for a PR agency job that I really wanted, the owner of the firm emailed me to say that I didn’t have enough experience for the position. But she also said that she wanted to stay in touch with me. Seeing this as an opportunity to ask for guidance and hopefully find some clarity in my employment search, I asked whether I could call with some questions about the kind of experience she was looking for in her job candidates.

We ended up talking on the phone for 20 minutes, but that short call changed my career mindset and trajectory. She said I should try to fill in the missing parts of my experience by volunteering to do communications projects for nonprofits and small businesses. She also told me about PRSA, and I joined the following week. 

Taking initiative 

As new professionals we enter an unfamiliar world, one where the road to success is not laid out or clearly mapped. That’s why my favorite part of membership is being able to use the Open Forum in MyPRSA. Sure, I could search the internet for career advice and learn a lot, but it’s far more helpful to have a conversation with someone who has worked in the PR profession. 

The most helpful advice I’ve received is to take initiative in your own career. New PR professionals need to remember that being outside the structured environment of college is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, leaving that structure behind can be an amazing experience, because it gives us the opportunity to be creative and determine our own paths to success. And at this stage of our careers, we also need experienced professionals to set some road markers along our path, to help guide us in the right direction.

For me, the most helpful nudge is when a mentor suggests things I can do that will tangibly progress my career goals, even if I don’t have my dream job yet. Or when an experienced colleague reminds me that rather than being discouraged by job rejections, I can see them as a guiding light that shows me what I need to work on to achieve success in the future. 

In a world where new PR professionals face the Catch-22 of being told that we’re not experienced enough to get experience, the best help that senior-level practitioners can provide is to remind us of the power we have to forge our own paths to success. 

Your advice carries more weight than you might think. It always inspires me and gives me building blocks for my career.

photo credit: vgajic

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