This is the final post in a 3-part series by students who participated in the Plank Center’s “Milestones in Mentoring” program. Here, two of my graduate students share their takeaways from the 2014 #PlankMentor award honorees panel discussion at DePaul University.
Keep your grades up, land internships, network, stand out, and go the extra mile—the career hints we have all heard before. While this advice is wise to follow, it is often too vague for students to create a reliable roadmap to success in the PR industry. Sometimes, the best way to understand what it takes to make it in the industry is to learn from those who have already succeeded.
DePaul recently hosted the #PlankMentor panel discussion with five of the 2014 “Milestones in Mentoring” honorees: Patrick Ford, vice chairman of Burson Marsteller; Wendi Strong CCO of USAA; Andy Polansky CEO of Weber Shandwick: Dr. Lynee Sallot, professor at University of Georgia, and Jose Rivera, adjunct professor at California State University, San Bernardino. These individuals are leaders in the PR industry and understand what it takes to foster great talent. Responding to questions from PRSSA members from six area universities, their insights go beyond what we have all heard before and provides straightforward career advice from the people who know the industry best. PRSSA leaders asking questions represented DePaul, Loyola, Columbia College, Indiana University Northwest, Valparaiso and Purdue.
Key career takeaways from the Q&A panel session with students:
1. “Get ahead by going abroad.” — Dr. Lynne Sallot
Never discredit the skills you gain from a life experience. Don’t be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, the ability to do so will benefit you in your personal and professional life. With corporations and agencies expanding around the globe, multicultural understanding is becoming essential in distinguishing yourself. Travel as much as possible and study abroad. It is important to expose yourself to other cultures, to achieve perspective on their business practices. Asia is a growing area in our industry and it is particularly important to understand this part of the world.
2. “Don’t just know your business, know business.”— Wendi Strong
Expand your education beyond PR and communication courses. Take behavioral science classes to learn about what drives consumers and motivates behaviors. Enroll in business classes like Finance and Marketing to understand business as a whole. If you want to have a seat at the C-Suite table, you need to understand what they are talking about. Learn how to read a balance sheet and how to make an analysis of a Fortune 500 financial statement. Never underestimate the importance of the PR profession—know why you are where you are, your role, and how you help the business.
3. “Recruit the agency, don’t wait for it to recruit you!” — Andy Polansky
Part of finding the right fit and workplace for you is recruiting the agency you want to work for. Know their business portfolio and reach out to people for informational interviews. Connecting with professionals is the key to success, and it is important to seek out your mentors as well. When you’re new at the job, find someone who knows the culture of the place and has been there for a while.
4. “Never stop learning, the smartest people are asking questions”–Pat Ford
As a student you have the ability to ask questions without inhibition. This is the time to do informational interviews. Be bold, be confident and never be afraid of taking chances. Reach out to even the most senior level people. Think about a strategic outreach, come with a good idea and be prepared. Remember to be distinctive, everything you do matters including every email you send. Find a creative way to highlight your abilities beyond internships. Don’t let your momentum slow once you land a job, continually push yourself to reach out, ask questions and distinguish yourself.
5. “You don’t have to be all things to all people” — Andy Polansky
Starting your career is a journey. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, and you’ll experience different aspects of who you are and who you want to be. Be the person, you’re going to be proud of. We always want to do our best, but you have to remember it’s impossible to be the best at every discipline in our industry. Know that you don’t have to be all things to all people. Be terrific at what you do best, and don’t be afraid to consistently focus on your strengths.
6. “Suit up and move on!” — Pat Ford
You will always be overwhelmed the first months on a new job. You’ll go through ups and downs and often have the feeling you are the only one who is struggling. Remember that’s not true, and nobody has it all figured out and knows what they are doing right away. Don’t get down on mistakes and avoid spending time ranking them. Instead suit up , move on, and treat each day like a new opportunity. Think like a winner to become a winner.
7. “Mentor the ones who come after you” — Jose Riveria
You will be in the position to mentor at some point. Lean on the mentors who are able to help you in your career, but remember to pay it forward to the ones who come after you. When you step up and become a leader yourself, prize the individual and celebrate the team. Great leaders lead quietly, make others look good and see the magic that happens when working as a team.
BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FROM HONOREES:
● Get Ahead by Going Abroad: A Woman’s Guide to Fast-track Career Success – by C. Perry Yeatman
● You’re in Charge, Now What?: The 8 Point Plan – by Thomas J Neff and James M. Citrin
● Confidence: How Winning and Losing Streaks Begin and End – by Rosabeth Moss Kanter
● Business Essentials for Strategic Communicators – by Matthew W. Ragas and Ron Culp
Sue Nicole Susenburger is a second-year DePaul Public Relations and Advertising graduate student and Fulbright scholar. The German native speaker is enthusiastic to be a mentor for the Step Up teen girls and helps developing equestrian vaulting in the Midwest. In her profession she has a passion for change communication, employee engagement as well as linking PR, Corporate Communication and Marketing together.
Megan Cauley is a graduate student studying public relations and advertising at DePaul University. She currently works at the nonprofit organization, Easter Seals Inc. as a public relations and social media intern and also serves on the Easter Seals National.