Reflections on a year post graduation – what I have learned and what advice I would give to those about to embark on the same path.
It’s been a year to the day since my graduation from the public relations and communications degree course at Leeds Business School. That year seems to have flown by.
These past 12 months have been new, exciting, a little hectic and stressful at times, but on the whole enjoyable and I’ve achieved virtually all I wanted to in the first year of my post-university career.
I was fortunate enough to secure a job before my graduation – an internship with a leading global integrated communications agency that I’d wanted to work for since the outset of my studies in PR.
Soon after, I was taken on by the agency on a more permanent basis, and more recently rose to my current position.
As with any anniversary or milestone, this point in my career has been cause for reflection. Recently I’ve been thinking about what I have achieved, learned and experienced over the past year, and what advice I would give to those who are graduating this year.
I have distilled these thoughts into six key areas below:
Throw Yourself In At The Deep End
The first year of your post-university career – particularly in the early months – is an exercise in finding your feet. You will be asked if you can help with things. You will see opportunities to get involved with projects come across your desk. And, you will likely wonder what you should and shouldn’t commit to.
My advice would be to throw yourself in and get involved. Ask yourself “will this have a negative impact on my other work/commitments?” If the answer to that is no, then you should do it.
In the early stages of your career you have much more freedom to do this – to broaden your experience and work across many projects and with many different people. These opportunities and experiences often pay dividends later down the line, and you’d be wise to take advantage of them.
Take Every Opportunity To Learn New Things
Just because you’ve finished university doesn’t mean you can stop learning. We all know this, but how many of us actually do something about it.
I’m lucky to work for an organisation that places great importance and significant investment in the learning and development of its staff.
Not everyone is that fortunate. But learning can take many guises. Reading books or blogs on complementary areas of business practice or listening to a podcast on the latest trends in a particular space is still learning.
Learning doesn’t have to be a high effort, long-term endeavour. That kind of education does often serve a useful purpose, but often the short, digestible insights and expertise gained from elsewhere can prove itself just as valuable to your working day.
I’d encourage young practitioners to seize every learning opportunity, be it large or small. They will benefit you far more than you will ever realise.
Make An Extra Effort To Expand Your Network
There’s an adage that pops up in my LinkedIn timeline from time-to-time, as these things tend to do, “your network is your net worth”. It’s a quote that has been attributed to many people over the years. It’s not a quote that I particularly like, but there is some truth in it. As your career develops and you, your friends, your colleagues, and your clients move around, you will find yourself leaning on and leveraging your increasingly diverse network much more than you did at the outset of your career.
Social capital acts much the same as financial capital – investing early means you can take advantage of compound interest. This fostering, building, and nurturing of relationships is an important part of business. But it’s one that doesn’t feel natural to many of us – myself included.
That said, there is significantly less pressure and expectation on more junior professionals. It makes great sense to take advantage of this. If you can expose yourself to networking early on you can overcome your apprehensions, increase your effectiveness and put yourself one step ahead of many of your peers. It’s something you can only improve at through practice.
Develop Yourself Professionally
This is something I feel particularly strongly about, as do many in our industry – but particularly those of who are members of our professional bodies and trade associations.
Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is a hallmark of an individual and an industry that cares about its ‘fitness to practice’.
Clients call on us to provide expert advice and strategic counsel – we can’t do that if we don’t keep pace with the rate of change in business.
CPD is easier than many people realise, and can take many different forms. It ensures we as PR professionals are able to conduct effective work at the highest levels.
I’d recommend committing to more formal, demonstrable Continuing Professional Development where possible. It will improve your knowledge, skills, and ability to do your job. It also shows colleagues, clients, prospects and employers that you care about your reputation, craft, and ability to serve client need.
Goal-setting, both formal and informal, is an important part of personal and professional growth. In my job I have set goals and targets I know I have to meet to progress into roles with greater seniority and responsibility. But I also set myself other goals for my wider career and my own personal development. I do this in the short, medium, and long term.
It’s important to consider exactly what it is you want to achieve, take adequate steps to help you achieve this, and have some way of measuring success, or showing progress made.
As I eluded to earlier, I’ve achieved many of the things I wanted to over the past year. In fact I achieved all the short-term goals I set for myself. In the longer term I’m a little further away from achieving some of my goals than I wanted to be at this point.
Goal-setting is a useful tool in planning your career, setting objectives and measuring your performance. It’s one that I’d encourage everyone, at all levels, to engage in in some form.
Be Concerned About Your Reputation, And That Of Your Industry
Again, this is something that perhaps is more of a personal view than that of the wider industry but I feel practitioners of all levels across public relations and communications should care more about how we are perceived by the general public, our friends and families.
I used to experience something incredibly frustrating – when meeting friends of friends I was occasionally introduced not as a professional communicator, but as a ‘professional bullshitter’. Now, those of you that know me will know that I’m quite happy for jokes to be made at my expense. However, I’m not happy to be tarnished by a tired old brush and lazy stereotypes of public relations professionals as spin doctors and media manipulators.
I no longer tolerate these petty jibes, and I don’t think any of us should. We should challenge these remarks both reactively and indeed proactively. I care about my chosen industry and its future.
How are we supposed to attract the best talent to careers in communications if they think we are all angry, Malcolm Tucker-esque spinners or schmoozing, glorified publicists as we are so often stereotyped? They are unfair characterisations, not the industry I recognise.
We need to make much more of an effort to explain and educate people about what it is we actually do. We need to ensure young people know that public relations is a valid career choice at a much earlier age. And, we need to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes wherever they might arise, whether they be in seriousness or in jest.
That’s enough from me! I’ve also published some fantastic thoughts and advice from those who also graduated on that sunny day a year ago – all very wise and reflective of their own unique and diverse experience and career paths.