When I graduated from college, I didn’t have a job. Since my junior year at Slippery Rock University, I had wanted to work in an agency and do PR. I had a very specific goal in mind, yet I was nowhere near getting it. I had one internship under my belt, but it was hardly the experience I needed that would resonate with any firm. (I worked in the promotions department of a radio station.) So I needed to get crafty. If I wanted that coveted position I yearned for, I was going to have to work extra hard. I got a job, but it wasn’t until a year and a half later that I landed an agency gig (an apprenticeship at an ad agency). This May, it’ll be six years since I graduated. In that time, I quickly climbed up the ranks and now still work in an agency, and hold a manager position. I didn’t get where I am today doing the bare minimum. I’ve worked hard in the last six years, so I wanted to share some “habits” with college students and young pros alike that can give them the boost they need to succeed.
Habit 1: Stand out
Everyone is different and unique, yet so many resumes are just ho-hum. Yes, you could have gone to a great school or did a great internship — but what sets you apart? When I applied for the apprenticeship, I did my research on the agency, learned the client roster, and brought in a press release I had written on one of the clients to my interview. Was I asked to? No. But I really wanted to show them I was a go-getter and could write well. I set myself apart. After I had been working there a few months, social media for business started to come into play. It was in its infancy, but I took an interest into learning more about it. Of course everyone knows it BLEW UP, and I was there with the knowledge, so people looked to me to know more. I ended up handling one of my client’s Twitter pages before that really became the norm, and it was the first social media initiative my agency had done. It brought revenue in, gave me this special knowledge, and catapulted me into a social media professional. I set myself apart.
Habit 2: Network
Everyone always hears they should network. Well, it’s true. My first year out of school, networking was all I could rely on to get me anywhere in my industry. In my networking, I made some connections. I just set up informal coffee sessions, or met people at their offices to talk about the industry. I’m not gonna lie, A LOT of it was a bust. It will be for you, too. However, there will be important people you meet along the way. In 2007, I met Paul Furiga, president and CEO of WordWrite Communications. His PR agency didn’t have any openings at the time, but Paul was still gracious enough to meet with me, give me advice, and help me find more networking connections. In 2009 when there was an opening at WordWrite, Paul remembered me and although I had an agency job, he reached out to me to come interview anyway. I ended up getting the job. See — networking works! And a piece of advice — don’t ever stop networking. You never know when you’ll need someone for a job, advice, a reference or just talking shop.
Habit 3: Use your current situation to your advantage
Don’t have a job? Well that gives you time to network, go to events and volunteer. Have a job you don’t like? Use your lunch break to meet professionals for lunch and network. Or start a blog to talk about your passions. Have a job you do like? Kick ass in it. Everyone has different situations. Use it to your advantage. In Habit 1, I talked about learning social media for business when it was new. Maybe your company could use someone to do extra research on a particular area, and could add that capability to their repertoire. Be the person to go the extra mile. If you want to go far, you’re going to have to work more. It’s that simple.
Habit 4: Participate
When I first started working in PR, I immediately became involved in PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) Pittsburgh. I had been involved in the student society in college, PRSSA, so I wanted to get involved again. It was a great move, because I joined a committee and got to meet lots of PR professionals from all over Pittsburgh in different areas – agencies, corporations, non-profit and solo practitioners. I quickly became a board member and have some great experience under my belt from just that organization, including event planning, judging for awards, non-profit, media relations and social media. It got me experience in addition to my job and so many more connections. Not to mention a resume boost. So get out there and participate in an organization or volunteer for a non-profit.
Habit 5: Be proactive
Did you know this is an original habit from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? Yeah, I stole it, and the title. But it applies to young pros as well. No one ever got anywhere by just doing what they were told. You have to be proactive and bring things into your company. Perhaps it’s a vendor you noticed on Twitter, a lunch and learn you think would be beneficial, or you started a project early. I HATE it when my boss or client brings something up that I was already planning on doing. Like the status of a project or something we had talked about doing in the past. So I always try to bring it to them first, or least shoot them a quick email that says where I am with something. Also, I’m a big component of the saying, “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.” 9 times out of 10, someone will be glad you did something proactively, especially if you have the results to back it up. Just be mindful.
Habit 6: Speak up
Sometimes, you just need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Maybe you don’t understand an assignment. Instead of thinking you’ll look stupid, why not just ask? I’ve wasted a lot of time not asking enough questions and having to re-do something. Get all that you need and don’t be afraid to ask. You’ll end up doing a great job if you know what’s expected. Also — if someone presents an idea and you have a different opinion on how to approach it (or additional idea) — speak up! Even if it’s to someone who habitually (no pun intended) thinks they’re always right, don’t be afraid to challenge them professionally. Just be sure to pick your battles. It’s so not worth the energy every time. And the more often you challenge, the less effective you’ll seem.
Habit 7: Keep learning
When I was little, I used to watch “Reading Rainbow” all the time with my older sister (LaVar Burton rules!). That show was so corny, but it was super entertaining AND educational. I didn’t have to watch it, but I chose to. And I’d want to read all the books they recommended. Today, I take that same approach. Yes, I’m college educated and have a job, but I want to keep learning. I want to learn about other disciplines in my agency, best practices of my industry, what other brands are doing in social, etc. I take note when I read magazines, watch commercials, and go on websites and social media to see what people are doing because that applies to my work. I try to read blogs and articles, participate in webinars and conferences, and keep learning. You should do the same, no matter what your industry. The more you know, the better you’ll become, and there’s ALWAYS more to learn.