More than eight years into my career as a PR person, I continue to wonder what I could have done to climb the career ladder a little faster. I feel lucky to work in a firm where superiors try to mentor their teams instead of manage them, and I try to practice this approach while leading our teams of interns and entry-level Account Coordinators. However, I would love to travel in a time machine and tell my 23-year-old self a few tips that would have made that climb a little easier.
No matter how old you are, everyone can benefit from another’s experience. Regardless of whether you’re just starting a career in PR, looking to change professions or know someone who is looking for tips, here are my personal tips on how to get to a higher rung in your career during those first five or so years.
1. Office experience: Many college students hear this all the time. In many PR study programs, internships are even mandatory to graduate. But that’s not enough. Once you get to your junior year of college, let the babysitting and waitressing jobs go and find an office position. Seriously, any office position is better than none. Even if you’re just answering phones at a front desk or organizing files in a back room. Even if you are doing something completely unrelated to the career you are studying for, the experience you absorb in an office environment is priceless. You will learn how to conduct yourself professionally in person, over the phone and digitally, and it really shows when you’re applying and interviewing for post-grad positions.
2 2. Keep in touch: I’ve found there tends to be two kinds of people. First, there are people that will drop by unannounced just because they were in the neighborhood and had a free minute (not caring if the person they’re visiting had a free minute, too). The second type is people that need a reason to drop by. Be the first. I’m not suggesting that you drop in on old bosses unannounced, but an unexpected e-mail or Linked In message is always a good idea.
I always encourage our interns to e-mail or call me after their position with us, even if it’s just to say “hi.” I am always willing to give advice and our company will always look to hire great previous interns once they have graduated and if a full-time position on our team is open.
This is something I have to work at every day, but the younger you start making it a habit, the more natural it will come later. In PR, the ability to build and nurture relationships is crucial because your success depends on the connections you develop.
3 3. Ask lots of questions, but answer them first: I am a big fan of my team asking questions. I much more prefer that you ask me 100 questions throughout your project to ensure you are doing it right, rather than you ask none, get it wrong and then you have to do it over again. However, before you ask any question, think about if you have the resources to answer it yourself first.
4 4. Proofread everything, and then proof it again: I have found that graduates often think they are expert editors. However, I have yet to meet a graduate that never had any typos. I often hear “Oh yeah, I had to take an editing class in college,” but then submit content with spell check alerts still underlined in red. I admit this still happens to the best of us occasionally, but work looks sloppy if “your” is used instead of “you’re” and it’s distracting if spell check is yelling at the reader from the moment a document is opened.
I won’t hold my breath for the time machine, but hopefully some young graduates out there will find value in my tips. I hope to keep climbing the PR ladder and will continue to offer my insight. I also welcome any tips others might have. As I would tell myself, keep those communication lines open!