Now I cannot sit here and say that I am any kind of expert, having only graduated from my Public Relations degree a mere six months ago. Since then I have been working as an Account Executive at a communication research agency based in Oxford. In this time, I really believe that I have learned more about working in the media and communications industry than I have during my entire time at university.
In saying this, my degree has been the foundation for my career and I think that is a good way to think of it. I could have not ended up working in this industry, but for now, I am quite happy. My teachers and friends I have made along the way have been my inspiration to work harder and have given more insight into an ever changing industry than I could have ever hoped for.
The thing about this industry – and like a lot of industries for that matter – is that everything just changes so quickly. our lives in general are just super fast paced, so why wouldn’t our work lives be any different? In the blink of an eye, there is a crisis that changes your whole day. You have to wake up and prepare as best as you can for that. There is nothing that can really prepare you for the onslaught of experience that will be thrust upon you in your first six months of work and it will probably be the steepest learning curve of your career.
I truly believe the first six months of your first real full time job after university is the time that separates the boys from the men; this is it – the sink or swim of everything you have been working towards for the last three to four years of your life.
I never thought that I would miss the university deadlines, but it turns out that I really do. Sometimes, when you are working towards deadlines that make a difference for a company, a bottom line, there is a great deal more pressure than a 20% reduction in your grades per day you hand something in late.
There is a lot of talk about what kind of skills you need as a Public Relations professional – whether or not doing a communications degree actually prepare you for the industry. I think that it lays the foundations of understanding an industry, but Public Relations, I believe, can only be ‘taught’ to a certain degree. While this ‘teaching’ of business and communication skills is imperative, your adaptability, willingness to learn, work hard and learn all you can about an industry cannot. How to deal with clients, making decisions can all be simulated in a university environment, but it is nothing like doing it in real life.
Public Relations as an industry can still seem like a mystery to most, (my brother I am pretty sure is still not sure what I do – when he gets asked what I do for work, he just responds with ‘she works overseas’) even though it is an integral part of how many people conduct their business.
To be successful in this kind of industry, you need to have a coherent grasp and familiarity of the different types of tools, functions, mediums and tasks that make up the industry; then immerse yourself in them. You take all your learnings – from university, internships, networking events, reading blogs, twitter and you put them into practice.
As a successful PR practitioner, and I may go as far to say, as a successful person, you need to be prepared for absolutely anything, but you also need to know how to differentiate yourself, keep your ideas fresh and think outside the box. It’s easy to hire someone who will do a good job. It’s harder to find someone that has the courage to do the right job.
Innovation is the product of hard work, it is the product of late nights but it is also the product of knowing how to think about the same things and the same problems in a different way. Having relentless ambition is an obvious successor to achieving this; there is also an inherent stroke of luck involved, but in my opinion, the opportunities that we create for ourselves create our luck.
The interesting thing about working with a range of different clients is that you learn quite quickly that a single system approach won’t work for everything. This is an important key learning for life as a whole. But you need to have confidence in your decisions, even when you aren’t 100% sure of what you are doing (which is basically a two sentence summary of my life over the last six months). Sometimes that is the most difficult thing to do. Drawing upon your experiences from university come into play here – you probably don’t realise how much you have actually learned.
You need to always make sure that you have the right attitude.
I am affectionately known around my office as the eternal optimist (although, ask me again when I’m an hour from a deadline) but I think that it is so important to surround yourself with people, and try and be a person that sees optimism in times of stress. The ability to be able to step back and look at the bigger picture is something that we all need to be reminded of from time to time and when you are under the pump of a deadline it is even more important.
You need to push yourself. You need to work hard.
This isn’t to say that you need to absolutely kill yourself with the amount of work that you are trying to do, but it means that you have to be motivated, you have to push as hard as you can and then just when you feel like you are about to give up you need to push some more. Of late this is something that I have been learning a great deal of.
When you are at university, you have plenty of time. Once you get into a real job, you realise how precious your time actually is. I’m sure that you have guessed already, but I have quite a passion for writing, poetry, prose, I just love it. Some days the only thing that keeps me sane is going out of the office on my lunch break for twenty minutes or so and writing something – not related to my job. While it’s important to push hard at work, you need to have something else that keeps you motivated – it’s how you stay hungry to keep achieving – it’s what keeps you alive. You need to keep pursuing whatever you are passionate about – even if it is outside of your ‘job title’ job. You will be a much more fulfilled person this way.
Never ever lose your passion – whatever that may be.
Something that these kind of posts always make reference to is asking questions; pretty much because asking questions is absolute key. It is the only way that you are able to learn and figure out new approaches to undertaking tasks. There is no such thing as a stupid question but there is such thing as time wasted on a mistake. The amount of times I have stared blankly at a syntax, before turning around and asking one of my colleagues to take a look at it – a fresh set of eyes is always a welcomed addition when you are trying to figure something out. Again, this can be applied almost universally.
You need to understand your industry. I’m not talking about the Public Relations industry specifically, you need to know who your clients are, really know them or know who to ask to get the information. We live in a time where access to information is so readily available that we have absolutely no excuse to know who our clients are and what they want to achieve. Six months ago, I couldn’t tell you what a ‘powertrain’ was, I knew rubbish all about cars and to tell you what, if I am completely honest, I am quite impartial to the automotive industry, but as a communicator I have the ability to find out the information about a certain area and I can speak with confidence about the things that I research for my clients; I’m learning more and more every day and I think this is the key to being successful in this type of industry.
In saying this, it is important to know about more generalised industry trends, to keep connected with industry bodies and make connections. It is all about the people that you have the opportunities to meet along the way. Working international in Public Relations allows me to experience this in such a way that I am sure I would have similarly in Sydney, but gives me the opportunity to network and make global connections that I can take with me throughout my career.
Having some experience with journalistic writing and an interest in writing and sharing my opinions just in general I think really helps, everything I write, regardless of whether it is a report headline or a piece of poetry, everything I write has a piece of me attached to it. I think that is such a beautiful thing and it always is my inspiration to keep going on the days that I probably could have just given up.
There are hard days. Super hard days. More often than not sometimes. Days that will make you question what you are doing, that will make you wonder whether or not it is worth it. But if you are prepared for whatever the next week will throw at you, you will always be okay. You need to maintain this preparation because you will never know what is waiting for you around the corner.
Since finishing university, I feel as though I have developed my writing skills, my time management; growing personally and professionally through my role in the Public Relations industry. I have had a few quintessential intensive sink or swim moments and I think that I have done my best to work to be as adaptable as I possibly could be; this is something that I will take with me for the rest of my career – learning from my silly mistakes and being a better thinker, a better communicator and a better person.
I think that the biggest mistake that you can make, is to believe that you are working for somebody else.
A job title will always be there, you will probably always have one, but the driving force of your career, regardless of the industry that you work in or what you want to work in, is owned by the individual.
Jobs are owned by a specific company, but you are the only one that is accountable for your career.
So the advice from someone who is probably not experienced enough yet to be giving advice is: go out there and give it your all. In whatever you do. Flip tables. Take names. Stay motivated. Every single day counts in whatever you are doing and it is a step closer to the place that you want to be – and the aim of the game is to never stop striving to achieve the little goals you set for yourself – and I’m lucky enough to be just at the beginning of an awesome career in an amazing period of time.
‘The belief that you can have a meaningful career is the first step to finding one’ – Sean Aiken