Six months ago I began my career in public relations with an internship at Edelman Seattle. For most, six months is a short time in the span of a long and successful career, but I think your first six months in the real world is probably the most insightful and revealing of what working in a certain industry is like.
Upon graduating from Gonzaga University, I thought I could pick up a full-time job in an instant. Little did I know that most, if not all, public relations agencies require those with freshly minted diplomas to go through a post-grad internship. Naïve little me thought I had enough experience under my belt to take on the world, but completing this rigorous internship proved to be an eye-opening opportunity that I'm so grateful to have had.
For those just about to enter the real world, here are some important insights I learned from Edelman to consider as you take the plunge into public relations:
- Expect the unexpected. Having a tech internship in the past, I thought I knew exactly what kind of day-to-day projects I'd be working on, but those documents were just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being a PR professional. I participated in brainstorms, did intense research, worked at events, pitched media, witnessed crisis communications, worked with social media, networked with other employees and even formally presented ideas with other interns to the rest of the agency. Every day truly demanded something new, allowing for me to sharpen a variety of skills.
- No task is too small. I'll admit I'm an idealistic, big picture kind of guy. Sometimes it's hard for me to see the value in doing small tasks that don't seem to have any "return on investment." But as soon as I asked my team for overall context, I understood the importance of the nitty-gritty client work to the larger goal. You simply can't enact a PR plan without completing the groundwork.
- Everyone has a different working style. It's easy to understand that people live different lifestyles and the same concept applies to the workplace. Some people like to be sent progress emails every step of the way when working on a project, while others want only the quick and dirty facts when absolutely necessary. Working in harmony with others means being patient and understanding to what they need. The easiest way to find out what works best for each person you're working with is simply just to ask!
- Be open-minded and ready to learn. You may think you know the ins and outs of public relations from your higher education, but no amount of textbook fundamentals can prepare you for working eight hours a day with a variety of personalities on a ton of projects that have different demands and deadlines. Having a "can do" attitude will show that while you may not know how to do everything, you are willing to try new things and learn from those processes.
- Public relations is all about cultivating relationships. Whether it's showing another new intern the ropes or helping a VP find their missing laptop, every interaction you have in this business should be geared towards creating strong relationships. Get to know as many people as possible, and not just for the purpose of simply networking with them. Your coworkers are humans, with passions and dreams just like you. Getting to know them for who they really are will allow you to collaborate and create amazing work.
- Network, network, network. This is one thing I wish my professors would have encouraged even more strongly during my education. Networking can be a nerve-racking, unnatural thing to do, but you absolutely must do it. So many people at Edelman were more than willing to get coffee with me and talk about their experience freely. Make your interactions casual and don't expect anything out of it. Ask lots of questions about the person you're networking with and you'll find they want to ask lots of questions about you too. Get to know people doing PR for different clients and different agencies. You never know what you could discover about yourself and your own career when you talk to people doing great work in different fields.
- Have fun. I remember how stressed out and irritable I was when I was first looking for an internship after graduation. Even during my internship, there were days when I would incessantly think about what my next steps were going to be and how I was going to get my next job. It got to the point where I got annoyed listening to myself have conversations with my friends. Going to happy hour with your fellow interns, attending office events (like the holiday party I attended last weekend) and finding opportunities to breathe are so important during your first six months of any new work endeavor. Remember that you aren't supposed to be a job-hunting machine that operates 24/7. You can get burnt out quickly and easily if you don't take time to have fun, so just do it (and do it responsibly)!
Looking back at the past six months has made me the realize the whirlwind of growth I've gone through. Some of the highlights I experience included attending a fashion show, dressing up for Halloween with my intern friends, appearing in Starbucks b-roll, exploring Seattle in a new way, working at a TEDx event and attending plenty of happy hours. I discovered a lot about my professional self and what I want. While I realized a traditional PR role for technology clients is just not for me, I was able to find out that I love working with social media for consumer-focused fashion, food and lifestyle clients. I'm excited to see where I'll land next!