Chances are, mentors, professors, peers and colleagues have given you gold nuggets of information about how to land your dream job, nail an interview or make a positive impression. As part of the National Committee, we found that the advice we have been given has made a profound impact on how we approach our own career development. Here’s a compilation of the best advice we’ve ever received, along with some career tips of our own:
Laura Daronatsy, National President: Ask questions. You’re not expected to know everything as an entry-level employee. Plus, if you show your supervisor that you actually care, you will stand out by that alone. Remember that in order to care, you have to be working on projects you believe in. Also, acknowledge those mentors, friends, family members and professors who helped you get where you are. Send handwritten thank you notes. Finally, work is important, but your life should be about more than just the job you have. I will always choose an employer that recognizes me above the tasks I complete, because I believe who I am is more important than what I accomplish.
Heather Harder, Immediate Past President: You’ll receive a lot of career advice as a young professional. My advice is to take it to heart, but remember that the only person who has to live with your decisions is you. Trust your instincts. Something I’ve learned from PRSA members is to volunteer as much as you can, both inside your company and in your community. This will help you stand out and meet new people. A supervisor once told me that if you’re smart and talented, the only person who will get in the way of your success is you. Don’t get in the way of yourself. Speak up, and don’t be afraid to challenge someone else’s ideas just because you’re the youngest person in the room.
Veronica Mingrone, vice president of career services: I’ve always been a big believer in interning. There’s no better way to discover what you like and, more importantly, don’t like than by experiencing it firsthand. It’s never too early, and you’re never too inexperienced, to start interning. PRSSA offers its members an entire network of support and resources, so use them. The Internship Center, National Committee members, Champions for PRSSA and your local PRSA sponsor Chapter are just some resources that can offer you leads and advice when beginning your internship search. Once you land an interview, do your research on the company and be prepared to answer questions you know are coming (namely, the dreaded “tell me a little about yourself”). For research, look at sources that other candidates may not look at, including newspapers and the company’s stock, if it’s publicly traded. Most important advice I’ve ever been given? Always follow up with a thank-you note. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to make a lasting impression.
Emma Finkbeiner, publications editor in chief: At first, seeing all of my friends in bigger markets getting big deal internships made me self-conscious about my resume. However, my adviser told me it’s about more than where you get an internship. It’s about the kind of experience and opportunities you get from each internship. Though my resume isn’t filled with public relations specific internships, I’ve strengthened and diversified it with leadership and management experience, writing and editing positions, a local government research project and more. My adviser told me that each experience is what you make of it, so though my internships aren’t traditional, I always ask for additional responsibilities to continue building those bullet points to add to my resume and strengthen my skills. Then, I can leverage those skills in interviews by providing great examples in response to questions.
Bottom line: You don’t have to live in a metropolitan area, or even travel to one, if you can create opportunities to sharpen your skills and prepare for a career by digging a little deeper into your local resources. Oh yeah, and getting involved in PRSSA early often helps too.
Victoria Lewis, vice president of advocacy: Live with the “Why not me?” mentality. There is no reason why you can’t be the person to achieve your crazy goal. If you let your anxiety and fears get in the way of your aspirations, you will miss out on so much. However, you have to be willing to put the time and effort into your dreams. You’d be surprised at the things you can do in life when you take away fear and replace it with hard work. Why can’t you land that internship? Why can’t you be elected to National Committee? I see no reason why not.
Sarah Johnson, vice president of professional development: In short, be passionate about what you do. I’m a huge believer that your passions and your career should be one in the same. If you love what you do, you will be better at it, more loyal, more motivated and more effective. On the other hand, if you settle for a “filler” job based solely on other factors, like money, you will be selling yourself short. It’s a bit of a “starving artist” mentality, but I truly believe you should do what you are meant to do, and you can get a good idea of what that is by looking at your passions. Other things — money, location, hours — will align over time, but don’t focus so much on the practicalities that you find yourself in a career you don’t believe in. Do what makes you come alive, and look outside what you think you’re capable of, and the rest will follow.
Several mentors have instilled this in me, including my high school theatre teacher. I think nothing describes it better than this quote by Martha Graham (pro dancer/choreographer):
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urge that motivates you.
Keep the channel open.”
Jenn Shafer, vice president of Regional Conferences: From talking with others and based on my own experience, it is important to find opportunities and work that fit you. Of course you want to diversify your experience and get as much as you can, but when it comes to that first job, you shouldn’t settle. If you don’t think you will grow as a person or a professional in a job, then that job isn’t for you. Culture is also huge. One of the best pieces of advice I have gotten is to treat interviews as a two-way street. Not only are they interviewing you, but you are interviewing them. It should be a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties. Be yourself, and know that you can bring a lot to the table, so don’t sell yourself short.
Gary Bridgens, vice president of Chapter development: It’s remarkably important for pre-professionals to be excited about the future. It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of job hunting, become flustered and lose sight of what’s important. Sure, you should take your future seriously and be interested in what comes next. However, just be sure to take a step back and glean perspective. Be grateful for the opportunities that PRSSA has given you and rest easy knowing you have an incomparable network at your disposal. Use those connections and let your excitement shine through in your interviews and reference materials.
Nolan Miles, vice president of public relations: Live by an audience of one. What someone else thinks is the best job or action for us to take may not be what we want or desire. You must be the one to make those decisions yourself rather than relying on others to do it for you. One of my mentors once told me that “details take time.” This is true for any occasion, but especially as pre-professionals entering the job search. Apart from the consistent advice we get about interviews, resume building, etc. this was one that we can’t forget. Get noticed by really paying attention to the little things and by incorporating attention to detail to your work methods.
Josh Gordon, vice president of member services: Be a life-long learner. In an ever changing and technology driven world, it is paramount that professionals learn to adapt to stay ahead of the curve. Embrace curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge. I also received some great advice about interviewing from a mentor. First, research the company and write down the company values, mission statements and goals that align with your personal goals. Then, during the interview, have relevant stories from your work experience that correlate to the job you’re applying for. Applicable stories will bring your application to life and show you’re ready for the job.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet it using the hashtag #PRSSACDM.
Veronica Mingrone is the 2015–2016 vice president of career services, and a senior at the University of Florida. Follow her on Twitter @veronica_min.