Note: This blog was inspired by the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey and applied to the field of public relations in the title and body.
Your eyes are red from a lack of sleep and too much screen time. The little voice inside your head screams at you as you anxiously flip back and forth between different tabs on your computer. You click on your grades (“you clearly need to be smarter and try harder”), a list of local internships (“you’re not qualified for any of these”), and maybe the social media profile of another girl in your PR program (“wow she looks so happy and successful”).
Stop that voice! Remember that you chose to study public relations for a reason. Recognize that feeling overwhelmed and unsure of your future is normal, but you may just need some direction.
One incredible resource is Stephen R. Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” a self-help book that presents an approach for business leaders to achieve their goals and become better people.
PR students should apply these seven habits to make the most of their time in college and get ready to take on the demands of a PR career. Georgia McGrath, a PR professional with in-house and agency experience in both the UK and US, shared some of her thoughts regarding these habits.
Habit 1: Be proactive.
Maybe you haven’t had any internships yet. Don’t worry, that means that it’s time to look around and create opportunities for yourself. The beauty of PR work is that EVERY organization benefits from it.
For example, Empower Agency found that 46.1% of churches say using social media is their most effective method of outreach.
Think about how your PR skills could benefit an organization as simple as your local church, a club at school or your friend’s nonprofit. Approach them and offer to create a social media page, help plan their next event or anything else you see fit.
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind.
Think about your career goals. If you don’t know exactly “what you want to be when you grow up,” that’s fine. Start by brainstorming. Take the advice of Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, try making a list of career paths that sound interesting to you, things you’re good at, things you don’t like, etc.
Next, step back and make a concrete plan to learn more about your preferences and achieve your goals. If you want to work on a political campaign in the future, for example, try researching local upcoming elections and see if you can help with a candidate’s campaign (this could even be in your own school for student elections). Don’t just randomly take any internship or job; instead, actively seek out ones that will get you closer to your end goal.
Habit 3: Put first things first.
If you think getting straight A’s should be your top priority, think again.
PR pro Georgia McGrath shares that when a potential employer looks at your resume and sees good grades with no experience, they will ask themselves “what have you done other than study for these exams?” McGrath urged undergrads to, “Go above and beyond and make sure you do more than just your course workload.”
Some companies like Google actually don’t even look at GPA in the hiring process because they value soft and technical skills more. This doesn’t mean you should start ditching class, but make sure to go out and make yourself a better candidate by developing real skills as you put Habits 1 and 2 into action.
Habit 4: Think win-win.
Something that puts a huge damper on your happiness and success in your PR program: competition (the bad kind).
Avoid comparing yourself to your fellow PR students: they are your teammates, NOT your enemies. If they get an award or an internship/position you wanted, celebrate with them and remember you will have other opportunities. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that PR specialist employment is expected to grow 11% from now to 2030, a faster rate than the average occupation.
McGrath said, “Think of the perspective: we’re all working to better the world we live in. And secondly, know that everybody has different paths to success, whatever success is. And they’re very, very rarely linear.”
Habit 5: Seek first to understand.
“Someone once said to me, there’s two things you need in your career to be successful: find mentors and find sponsors,” said McGrath.
Seek the advice of professionals who can become your mentors. Beyond that, think about how these people can recommend you for jobs. These could be college professors, staff from your on-campus PR lab, connections from extracurricular activities, speakers at events and more. Get connected with these people on LinkedIn and consider asking them for informational interviews.
Habit 6: Synergize.
Synergy means creative cooperation. PR involves lots of group work, synergizing with people who have different strengths and viewpoints from you.
“If you can build a team around you that elevates your strengths and helps alleviate the effects of your weaknesses… you’re gonna get to flex your best muscles while having a camaraderie and a team around you that is also flexing their best muscles. Everybody’s getting something out of it. And the end product will just be 10 times better.”
Don’t wait until you begin your career to start synergizing—look for opportunities in class and client projects to ask for others’ viewpoints. Vocalize when you see strengths in others and when you like their ideas. If you’re struggling with your own self-confidence, try making a list of your own strengths to recognize what you bring to the table (you can ask a friend if you need help).
Habit 7: Sharpen the saw.
In his book, Covey tells a story about a man who was having a hard time cutting down a tree with his saw. A friend walks up and tells him, “Your saw is dull. If you take a few minutes to sharpen it, you’ll be able to cut down the tree much more easily.” The man stubbornly replies, “I don’t have time to sharpen my saw. I just need to cut down this tree!”
Moral of the story: don’t try to keep cutting down your tree with a dull saw. You may feel overwhelmed in your classes and internships, feeling like you’re not doing enough and that you yourself are not enough. However, take Covey’s advice and take time each day to “sharpen your saw” through things like exercise, time with family and friends, meditation, spending time in nature or taking a good nap.
After reading these habits, you should realize that you are smart enough and you can become qualified for those internships. In fact, both you and that girl in your PR class can be happy and successful. No matter where you are in your PR undergraduate career, start to apply these seven habits to your life. You’ll use your time more effectively and find peace of mind as you press forward to a fruitful career in public relations.
Ellie Glade is a junior at Brigham Young University majoring in public relations and minoring in design and Japanese. After graduating in April 2023, she aspires to work at a PR agency. For now she works as a digital communications manager and spends lots of time writing in her planner, listening to podcasts about random topics and training for triathlons. Connect with her on LinkedIn.