Breaking into the real world is a lot less like a break-in and a lot more like a lonely drop off. Learning how to navigate the professional world, work culture, workplace competition and your actual job duties can be challenging. Lucky for me, I’m surviving it all so here’s a few tips and some truth for the future new pros.
Slow and steady.
I didn’t begin applying for jobs until four months before graduation. I knew exactly where I wanted to be and the field I wanted to be in so there was no way I was going to settle. Despite strategically applying for jobs like a lot of graduates, I crossed the stage with no idea of what my next move was. Unlike a lot of graduates, I was comfortable with where I was. I guess there is promise in putting your all into three job opportunities. Two months after crossing the stage, I had moved 2.5 hours away from where I spent my last four years and was embarking on my first professional adventure. The world of nonprofit.
Tip: Don’t let the hustle and bustle of finding a job keep you from getting a job. Do put your all into a few opportunities tailored to your interests. Don’t mass share your resume to every company within a 20 mile radius. Life always figures itself out. What is for you, is for you.
Let me be the first to admit — I am professionally awkward. I can’t say we discussed “how to be professional” in any of my college courses. Do I address my senior level coworkers as sir and ma’am? How soon is too soon to show my fun side? Even with having three internships, I was either amongst other millennials who preferred to work in a casual setting or largely communicating through email where it’s easy to fake it ‘til you make it so when I found myself in charge of leading a business meeting with a corporate partner, you can imagine I was feeling a bit uncomfortable. (They say you’re supposed to lead in with small talk but when you’re in the moment, it’s hard to small talk with a complete stranger.)
Like most, I prefer to be in control of all situations but when it comes to interacting in and out of the workplace I’ve been learning as I go. The important thing is learning from mistakes and extracting the positive out of what may feel like a negative circumstance.
Tip: Sit back and observe the workplace culture. Always be authentic in who you are but know when to turn it on high and when to put it on simmer.
What to look for.
As you are cruising job sites and looking at companies to work for, be mindful of the turnover rate. The rate at which employees leave a job and are replaced by new hires says a lot about culture within the company, not necessarily the company itself. If the company values align with who you are or the position available gets you one step closer to your dream job, then go for it.
As a new pro, I am always looking for moments to focus on professional development. Nothing is better than having an in-house mentor who understands where you are in life and is dedicated to making you a better professional. You want this individual to be able to identify the areas where you need growth and if you’re lucky, even walk you through the steps to achieve it. Whether it be cover letter and resume critiques in their spare time, impromptu coffee breaks to rest from your workload or cool talks on the way to an account meeting, guidance from an experienced co-worker is definitely something to look for.
If you’re reading this, you are already a step ahead as a member of PRSSA. Joining a network of professionals outside of your job is a great way to stay invested in your field. I am currently in the field of nonprofit and through the organization I have been attending meetings with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. Networks like this give you the ability to be an advocate for your organization/company and for your personal brand. That’s a two for one deal.
Without even trying, I have made a nice segue into my last topic.
With two executive board positions, four PRSSA National Conferences and Leadership Rally in my PRSSA repertoire, I often receive the question, “Did it help you in getting a job?” Yes, yes, a million times yes. Not only is the pure purpose of this student society (and the fact that you’re in it) impressive but the skills you obtain through an executive board position easily make you an attractive candidate.
In my journey specifically, I used the connections I made with the PRSA New Professionals board to help me highlight how my skills are useful in the world of nonprofit.
Tip: Make lasting relationships with the people you encounter through this organization. Creating connections now will make you a resource later.
Simone McDougal is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) where she served as president of the PRSSA chapter. She currently does fundraising and community engagement work for a nonprofit. She truly enjoys connecting the philanthropic work of a corporation to the need in the community.