This month, I’ll have been in the workforce full-time for five years. And how that time has flown. I still learn something new every day. And when I look back, I realize how much of what I do didn’t even exist while I was in college. They certainly didn’t teach it in the classroom.
This blog post is not a knock on academia. I did learn a lot from my professors at LSU. But not much can replace real world work experience. So, if you’re about to graduate (or if you’ve already graduated), and you’re looking for a job, what do you need to know? Here are a few things I value in our interns.
Get an internship! Actually, get multiple internships.
Last year, 62 percent of college graduates in the United States had completed at least one internship or co-op prior to graduation. That means they are entering the workforce with valuable real world experience that will give them a competitive edge over applicants without the same credentials.
But, in my opinion, you shouldn’t complete just one internship. In many cases, you can be paid for your work, meaning you can dedicate more hours to it without having to worry about picking up shifts somewhere else. If you’re working toward a career in PR, I’d suggest interning at an agency or two, at a nonprofit and at a company or other for-profit association. Get as many internships as you can to diversify your experience. Believe me, the work is different everywhere, and more experience can only help you in the future!
I’m not going to say there are no dumb questions. But, no matter what you’re doing or where you’re working, asking questions can only help you. This is especially true in an agency setting where clients may do things differently.
Read. Read. Read more. When you think you’ve read enough, keep reading.
In our business, we have to keep up with what’s going on. In fact, my husband makes a game of trying to tell me things that happened in the news. If he knows something before I do, he wins. But it doesn’t happen often, because I read SO much news!
On top of the news, things change so rapidly that you have to keep learning. My mom, who has worked in higher education for almost 30 years, is continually frustrated by how long it takes for information to show up in textbooks. By the time something shows up on the radar, is sufficiently researched by the people writing the books and is finally printed…it’s out of date. Let’s consider social media in this example. If we relied on textbooks to teach us everything we know about it, we would probably just now be introducing college students to Xanga, AIM and MySpace, all of which are essentially obsolete for most marketers at this point. Now there’s a throwback for you.
Everyone does things differently. That’s why I recommend getting multiple internships at a variety of different companies. Working at an agency, for example, will help you learn to multi-task, balance your time and adjust to doing things five different ways for five different clients. But, working at a corporation, nonprofit or member-owned association may be different.
Don’t assume that your way is better. You might have to change things in order to fulfill the needs of the organization you’re working for. Listen to the people around you and remember – you don’t know what you don’t know!