Did you get some inspiring advice when you were in or graduating from college?
Something whispered, perhaps—imparted with the secrecy and gravitas of the Masons’ handshake or the map of King Solomon’s mines.
Chances are, you didn’t listen. That’s understandable; you were young and bold—and kinda stupid.
Since your salad days, whether they were last year or decades ago, what do you wish
you had known? That one thing that would have made your personal or professional life easier. Maybe it was whatever Aunt Miriam or Uncle Chet told you at your graduation party. Perhaps it’s that piece of wisdom that you earned
, damn it.
asked nine people in the PR and media industries this question. Here’s what we learned:
Love what you do; everything else will fall into place.
Can’t get no satisfaction at the office? You had better start looking for it, according to James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic
“What matters most is finding work you enjoy
and feel satisfied by,” said Fallows, a Harvard graduate. “That is the only thing (professionally) worth worrying about. If you figure this out, finances will take care of themselves. If you don't, you'll have bigger worries than the strictly financial.”
Book smarts aren’t as important as you think.
Dorothy Crenshaw, CEO of Crenshaw Communications, thought she would work in academia. The graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut said she didn’t figure out she wasn’t well suited for that career until late in the game.
“If anything, I wish I had known myself a little better, and that my prestigious education and ‘book smarts’ weren't as important as other qualities that I had to develop along the way, like knowledge of the business world, political savvy, mental agility, and large-company survival skills,” she said.
A little braggadocio would also have helped, Crenshaw added.
“At my first job, my supervisor sat me down and told me to ‘blow my own horn’ more, meaning, brag about my accomplishments, and I suppose that was my first lesson in PR.”
Employers don’t care about your grades.
How many hours did you spend stressing out over grades? Well, current college students, here’s a little secret: Employers won’t ask about the grade you earned in Astronomy 101 (unless you’re applying for a job at a planetarium, and probably not even then).
“I wish I would have known how little employers care about what you did in college,” said Kevin Allen, a marketer and journalist (and PR Daily contributor). “The further you get from it, the less they care.”
Allen graduated from the University of Missouri in 2002.
Current students shouldn’t go blowing off classes, though—you still need to graduate and learn a few things along the way.
Business classes would have been nice.
College campuses are full of liberal arts majors who are certain they don’t need business classes. Good luck to them. Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich in Chicago, is among the liberal arts major who wishes she had taken such courses.
“You know, I wish someone had suggested I take some marketing and business classes,” the Creighton University grad said. “I didn't understand, until I started my own business how to really measure results and that was based solely on the fact that I was suddenly in charge of a [profit and loss statement], a very foreign subject.
“If I'd coupled my liberal arts degree with some marketing and business classes, it wouldn't have been such a shock later in my career.”
Everyone of a certain age, at some level, is a dummy.
“I wish I had taken a college course, ‘Your Ass from a Hole in the Ground: A Comparative Study,’” said David Murray, the editor of Vital Speeches.
Murray, a 1991 graduate of Kent State and former Ragan Communications editor, wrote a piece for The Huffington Post
in which he elaborated on this idea.
“I was shocked and frustrated by Chicago's disinterest in my shiny bachelor's degree in English,” Murray wrote. “After being told by my advisor that I was one of the best poets at Kent State, I was turned down for a job at Bowler's Journal
on Michigan Avenue because I didn't have much bowling experience.”
Later in the story, Murray quoted Larry Ragan, founder of Ragan Communications (and the man who took a chance on Murray by hiring him), who wrote in a memoir about his first job after his discharge from the Army in 1946.
“This company sold false teeth by mail,” Ragan wrote. “I worked there as a sales correspondent. There is no other way to put it: I was dumb. What blindness prevents us from avoiding such dumb decisions...”
Relationships are more important than you think.
Networking is getting to be one of those buzzwords. You hear about the importance of networking; you bemoan having to attend all those networking events. You know deep inside that your social networks could be so much better.
What all this refers to is relationships.
“I wish I had known the power and importance of relationships in just about everything you do professionally,” said Arik Hanson, principal of ACH Communications in Minneapolis. “I know that seems obvious, but I just had no idea how critical relationships are to the job-seeking process, building rapport at work, and finding new vendors. You name it.”
Hanson, a 1996 graduate of Winona State University in Minnesota, added: “I don't see how anyone could do this kind of work without having a network of deep relationships that span across industries, professions, and disciplines.”
Strategy is nice, but tactics get the job done.
It’s not a sexy topic, but lists of media contacts (a.k.a. media lists) are an important aspect of public relations. Knowing how to build them is an essential skill.
“I wish I knew how to build a really good media list,” said Abbi Whitaker, owner of Abbi Agency.
But that’s not all. Whitaker also wishes she had learned how to overcome objections when pitching media over the phone and how to use software from Cision or Vocus.
“School taught me how to research, but I don't think it prepared me to execute a well-researched plan,” said Whitaker, a 2003 graduate of the University of Nevada Reno. “When we graduate, we are not going to be writing PR strategy; we are going to be building lists and, hopefully, pitching.”
A job and the job are two entirely different things.
Many new graduates are eager to join the job market—to put the degree to work, make a little money, move out of Mom and Dad’s place. But they should be careful, because salary shouldn’t be the only reason to accept a job.
“Professionally, I wish I had known that having a job wasn't the same as having the right job,” said Becky Johns, of Cramer-Krasselt. “I, like many grads and job-seekers, took the first opportunity that came my way without thinking much about whether it was a good culture fit or put me on the path or in the place I wanted.
“Company culture is the single most important factor in professional growth and job satisfaction,” the 2009 Michigan State grad added. “Don't let salary be the only guiding factor in your job search decisions.”
Be careful about accepting advice.
Remember that advice you ignored? Maybe you were right.
“I wish I'd known to be very choosy in picking the people and criticism I listened to and took seriously,” said Peter Shankman, who graduated from Boston University in 1994 and went on to found Help A Reporter Out. “It probably would have saved me total of hours, if not weeks of professional and personal heartache.”
So, readers, have any hard-earned advice you’d like to share?