I recently helped organize and sat on a panel of “experienced graduates” at a Winona St. University alumni event in Minneapolis. The intent was to help recent WSU grads learn the importance of networking in their job search and career paths, but also to connect WSU alumni with those grads, creating mentoring situations, when possible.
It was a small and intimate event. I thought I’d share my answers to some of the questions that were lobbed our way during the discussions. They might help younger pros as they consider their career path and options down the road.
Q: How would you describe your career path?
A: A jungle gym (I stole that one from Sheryl Sandberg). The “corporate ladder” has never existed in my experience.
Q: What was your job search strategy when you graduated?
A: To throw darts at a dart board and see which ones hit a double 20.
Since I had no idea what I really wanted to do, my approach was to try a bunch of different stuff and see what was somewhat interesting, then do more of that. Looking back, it was a ridiculous approach. It led me to about five straight jobs with minimal opportunities and very low ceilings. I would have done things a lot differently knowing what I know now. Then again, all those jobs led me to where I am today, so I can’t complain too much.
Q: How has networking played into your job searches?
A: The last two full-time jobs I had (at Beehive PR and Fairview) were both a direct result of networking.
With Beehive, the only reason I was even considered for the job is because a friend I had gotten to know through our work together with PRSA recommended me to a recruiter, who led me to Beehive. With Fairview, the only reason (I believe) I got the job is because I knew the director of corporate communications at the time, and she had put in the good word, as it were, for me during the interview process.
Earlier in my career, I focused more time on job boards and the online search–which really proved to be tough. Overall, I’ve found far more value in networking when it comes to jobs than just about any other approach.
Q: Tell us about a defining moment that helped you get where you are today.
The day I quit my full-time job at Fairview was a big one. Here I was: A father to two young children (3 and 1 years old) and I was convincing my wife I should quit my fairly stable, full-time job for the opportunity to try to make money on my own selling PR and digital marketing services. I only had two part-time clients at the time. Sounds rational, right?
But it was the best move I could have made, because I took a chance. I’m so glad I did.
Q: What skills are the most critical to success in the work you are currently doing?
A: Probably the abilities to prioritize and manage my time. As a solo consultant, I don’t have a boss or team to work with to remind me when I’m coming up on an important deadline. No one’s around to keep me on task when I’m dragging a bit.
In the summer here in Minnesota, motivation can be a bit hard to find, plus I’m often pulled in many different directions during the course of a week: new business, client work, blogging, admin stuff. It all needs to get done and it’s up to me
to make it happen. No one else can. That’s a big challenge each and every week.
Q: What are the most challenging aspects to your current job?
A: The most challenging part of my job is also my favorite part of my job: new business development. As a solo consultant, you either love new biz, or you hate it. I fall into the former camp, which has really surprised me.
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I always thought new business was about selling. Turns out, it really isn’t, at least not for a solo. It’s much more about relationships, trust, integrity, and being likable and easy to work with. Those are all things I can–and have–done fairly successfully over the last four years on my own.
Q: Are there any professional associations I should join?
A: In Minneapolis/St. Paul, I’d take a long, hard look at the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association if you work even remotely in digital or interactive marketing. Other states likely have similar organizations.
For those in PR, the Public Relations Society of America is probably a good choice. But there are plenty of opportunities to grow as a professional outside trade organizations. All sorts of ad-hoc organizations have popped up to fill the gaps left by the trade orgs. Social Media Breakfast
comes to mind. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for those, too.
Arik Hanson is principal of ACH Communications. A version of this article originally ran on his blog, Communications Conversations.