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Welcome to the Real World

Published on March 30, 2016, at 4:10 p.m.
by Lindsey Young.

As graduation approaches, college seniors prepare to enter the “real world.” But after four years of studying public relations, are they really ready? Many young professionals have confessed that while in college they succeeded in their communication classes, attended professional development events and even held several internships, but nothing really prepared them for their first PR job.

Rachel Uniatowksi, account coordinator at Ketchum’s global headquarters in New York City and a 2015 graduate, is still working to get the hang of her first PR position. Having worked for 10 months now, she described how it can still be tricky to know the ins and outs of the “real” PR industry.

While Jessica Airey, assistant account executive at Edelman San Francisco and a 2014 graduate, has been in the field a little longer, she confessed that she underestimated some aspects of her job. She discussed how her job is a cadence of ebbs and flows and at times can be very challenging and take a lot of mental stamina.

In contrast to these two recent grads, Jessica Noonan, associate at Burson-Marsteller’s regional headquarters in New York City and a 2012 graduate, has been working for four years. She discussed how her time at Burson has been a major professional learning experience. These three practitioners may be in different places in their careers, but they have very similar beliefs about their first job in the field: It may be different than you expect.

Workplace communication challenges
You studied it in school, but do you really know how to use it efficiently? Communication is a topic that sometimes seems exhausted in college studies; many students even approach their first job feeling like communication experts. But each of these young professionals noted how they struggled with communication on the job. Airey described how using this type of communication could be more difficult than she expected.

“One thing that I didn’t mentally prepare for, was having teams located in different offices all over the world,” said Airey. “It was exciting in my head but it’s pretty difficult to coordinate logistically. You end up spending a lot of time going back and forth on emails but not getting as much face-to-face time. I think that was a big challenge for me at first because I’m very well-versed in interpersonal communications. I had to get used to getting hundreds and hundreds of emails every day and having to respond really quickly.”

When communicating with media contacts, it can be difficult to know what type of language to use. Noonan explained how when she first started pitching, she had difficulty determining when to be more candid.

“I really struggled with always presenting everything in a very business sense,” said Noonan. “I always had my script ready to set up the perfect business pitch. When really what I’ve learned is that talking to people like they’re people actually gets you a lot further.”

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Communicating via email can be more difficult than you expect. Uniatowksi confessed that although she sent many emails during her time at school, she never learned how to do so efficiently.

“Work on making your emails professional and to the point,” suggested Uniatowksi. “A lot of times student emails are really long because you want to make sure you are covering everything. Something that was difficult for me was trying to see things how my client might be seeing them. And that begins with answering their questions before they ask them and keeping your communication efficient and to the point.”

Time management
Students tackle a variety of organizations, classes, jobs and projects in their daily lives. Although we may feel that our Google Calendar is overflowing, these young professionals agree that the No. 1 thing they felt underprepared for was time management.

“Time management is something you think you know in school, but in reality, you have so much more time as a student than you do in a workday,” said Uniatowksi. “In the agency world, it’s all about being billable. In school you may procrastinate on a project for days, but in the real world you realize you have a budget, and you can only spend a certain amount of time on that project.”

Airey agreed, describing how deadlines originally overwhelmed her. She noted how learning to manage your time and knowing how long individual tasks take is an art.

“The biggest thing was being prepared to handle complex schedules and deadlines that were a lot stricter,” said Airey. “I felt like in college, most deadlines had some flexibility, and in the corporate world they don’t have any. Sometimes it feels almost impossible to meet all the deadlines, and you really have to over-communicate.”

Being overwhelmed is something that is inevitable in your first job. To combat the dread that may be overcoming you now, Noonan offered advice for preparing to be successful in time management.

“What helped me the most is that while I was at school I was balancing my workload,” said Noonan. “I had an internship, I had a job and I did PRSSA as well as being in the business fraternity. I think that what prepared me the most was having all those different things to juggle at once. It essentially prepared me to juggle multiple clients at once.”

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Be an eternal student
There are many misconceptions surrounding your first job, but they should not intimidate you. Your first job can be exciting and is a chance to grow in the field. So, raise your hand and learn.

“Don’t be afraid to raise your hand to ask for help when you’re first starting,” said Uniatowksi. “Also don’t be afraid to raise your hand to try challenging things that you don’t think you would normally be able to do.”

Learning begins now, during your education. You can learn so much during your time as a student that will prepare you to be successful.

“When you’re a student, you have this unique period of time when you’re able to really embrace what you’re passionate about,” said Airey. “You are able to discover what you’re good at and what you love doing. When you’re a student, you can really take the time to take risks and be bold. Try something new and see if you like it. Take the time to figure out what you actually love doing and be sure to pursue it.”

Noonan described her first job as an extension of her education, and because of that, she reminds students to never stop learning.

“Approach everything as a learning experience,” Noonan said. “Just keep in mind that your career is up to you and take those opportunities to take a step back and make sure you’re doing what you want and heading in the right direction.”

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