I’m an obsessive planner who makes spreadsheets for everything from my wedding to choosing the best dog food for Scout. My career was something I started planning back in high school. But, I’m starting to ease up and feel OK with just working hard toward my goals and letting my career evolve without a hard and fast plan.
The Harvard Business Review says career plans are dangerous.
Toward the end of my freshman year at CMU, I attended the annual CMU PRSSA spring conference and decided I wanted to work at an agency after graduation. I focused my entire college career on agency PR. I job shadowed two awesome agency pros (thanks, Lauren and Nikki!). I had the opportunity to intern at one of the top PR agencies before my senior year. Before graduation, I was offered a job at a marketing communications agency. My ultimate goal was to start my own agency in the future.
A year and a half later, I left. Somewhere along the way, I had a change in heart. Through my work with a probono client, I realized that I wanted to be in nonprofit.
In my interview with the foundation, I was asked where I saw myself in five years. I laughed lightly and said it would likely change, but I was interested in segueing into the world of nonprofit. Someday, I might even want to lead an organization myself.
But, life is unpredictable. Who knows? Maybe, in five years, I’ll start my own company. Maybe I’ll quit marketing altogether and become a photographer. Or a magazine editor. Or a professor.
HBR says: “Instead of formulating the logically perfect ending job and the optimal path to get there, begin with a direction, based on a real desire, and complement that with a strategy to discover and create opportunities consistent with that desire.”
In other words, it’s about the journey rather than the destination.
So, here’s my advice to the young PR pros out there:
- Don’t commit. Job shadow, go on informational interviews and intern at a variety of places. Try healthcare marketing. Look into nonprofit. Talk to people who have worked their way up the corporate ladder. Spend your spring break at an agency. Dip your fingers into every single niche you can to get an idea of what you like best. Try organizations of various sizes and cultures. This will help you figure out what makes you tick and where you’ll thrive.
- Look outside of PRSSA. I was in PRSSA for four years and it was a great experience. It helped connect me to people who gave me internship and job offers. I made some great friends. But, I honestly learned more during my time as press secretary for the Student Government Association. I was trusted with a substantial budget and was able to make a lot of decisions (and some mistakes) on my own. I also was able to work with some really great students who had broad interests – from chemistry to law.
- Match your job prospects with your personality. Are you an extrovert? If so, you might not enjoy a job that requires you to spend most of your days working alone in an office as a copywriter. Are you an introvert? If so, client-facing jobs might be extremely tiring. (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is a great book to read if you’re an introvert, like myself because it can help you understand this better).
- Make yourself memorable. Don’t assume that you’re going to get a job because you graduated with a degree, got decent grades and had an internship. You just described a decent percentage of job seekers. Do everything you can to make yourself stand out. Launch a nice online portfolio with your own domain name (yes, I think that matters), take on freelance work, network at events, meet local professionals for coffee, mentor students, speak to groups, etc.
- Find many mentors. Find professionals who you admire. Ask them questions about their careers. Ask for advice. Note that these people don’t have to commit to being your “mentor.” All of my mentor-mentee relationships have evolved from networking and simple Q&A via email or in person.
What’s your advice for PR pros just starting their careers?