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Life After College: UA Alumnae on First Jobs, Life in Big Cities and Tips for Success

Credit to Olivia Ortiz

Published on April 17, 2020, at 6:58 p.m.
by Hannah Taylor

You can read hundreds of articles on LinkedIn, attend numerous networking events, and spend hours upon hours updating your résumé and portfolio, but nothing can truly prepare you for the experience of starting your first job out of college. However, practicing these professional development tactics will help make the plunge into the “real world” slightly less daunting.

For a glimpse into the realities of life after college, read the insights below on being a young professional in the PR industry, shared by University of Alabama alumnae Jada Culver, Sarah Dougherty, Katie Gatti and Olivia Ortiz.

Jada Culver, AVP, wealth management communication generalist at Regions bank
If you would have told Culver that three years after graduating college, she would leave her role with Brunswick Group in New York City for a different position in Birmingham, Alabama, she would have thought you were joking.

“I’m just someone who always thought I wanted to be a big city girl,” Culver said.

While Culver enjoyed her experience in NYC, she said she eventually knew that it was time for a change of pace and decided to move on to something different.

“I understand I should wake up and go work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but this job didn’t really have time barriers,” Culver said. “After two years of that, I got really burnt out.”

With the intention of moving to a smaller city, Culver set her sights on Alabama. She then landed her current role with Regions bank after one of her contacts connected her with an employee at the company. Culver said the transition was not difficult, but she quickly noticed distinct differences between the two cultures.

“(In Birmingham) people are much more understanding about your personal life and wanting to make sure that your work shouldn’t infringe on that,” Culver said.

During her time at UA, Culver was heavily involved in PRSSA and Capstone Agency. She credits her career trajectory with the opportunities she received, and the people she met, through these organizations.

“You shouldn’t expect to just meet people by happenstance,” Culver said. “Join something that has any national level. Since PRSSA was nationally tied and recognized, I met so many more people that I could add to my network.”

Sarah Dougherty, senior associate, external communications, at New York Life Insurance Company
Dougherty started her career at public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller (now Burson Cohn & Wolfe), a company she interned with the summer before graduating from UA.

“This was the best possible start for me,” Dougherty said. “I learned the foundational skills of today’s public relations landscape (media relations, research, monitoring, etc.) by working with major clients and was fortunate to have colleagues that became mentors and great friends.”

Moving to New York City right after graduation, Dougherty became fully immersed in a new environment that was quite different from the small, college town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Culver and Dougherty were roommates their first year in NYC — they weathered the culture shift together.

“It requires some grit – it’s not a transition without some growing pains, but is really eye-opening and exciting,” Dougherty said. “There’s a reason they say, if you can make it here (in NYC), you can make it anywhere.”

After her time with Burson-Marsteller, Dougherty stepped into her current role. She was “the only junior member of her team, making it a great learning opportunity,” and readily admits that when she started, Dougherty “initially knew nothing about life insurance or any financial product.” She stated the importance of having a transferable skill set.

“If you can write, build relationships, and think strategically, you can adapt and embrace any sector (of PR),” Dougherty said.

Credit to Olivia Ortiz

Katie Gatti, Agile Marketing UX writer at Southwest Airlines
After interning with Southwest Airlines the summer before her senior year, Gatti knew she wanted to join the company for another internship post-graduation, with the hopes of it leading to a job offer.

“I was hired full-time in marketing on the very last day of the internship,” Gatti said. “They made me wait; it was very suspenseful.”

Gatti spent the first year of her career writing copy for, as well as for other promotional placements and emails.

“It was definitely more of a marketing and advertising role, so it was a bit of a departure from what I had studied in school,” Gatti said. “I ended up moving to a pilot (test) team in marketing. It’s a team testing whether you can find efficiency and optimization by combining people with different skill sets onto the same team. We try to make the booking process on as seamless as possible.”

In addition to her role at Southwest, Gatti works as a Cycle45 instructor and as a personal finance consultant for the company she co-founded, Matriarch Financial LLC. Her secret to balancing it all? Not watching TV during the workweek.

“When it’s workweek time for me, Monday through Friday, I’m pretty much working all the time,” Gatti said of devoting time to her passion projects. “It’s really not that hard to balance if you’re willing to spend a little time with time management and realistically look at how it can all fit together.”

Olivia Ortiz, marketing coordinator for Legends
Instead of entering the workforce directly upon graduating, Ortiz spent her first 11 months out of college in the University of South Florida Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management Program, where she earned her MBA with a concentration in sports business. During her time in Tampa, Florida, Ortiz gained experience as a graduate assistant, a Tampa Bay Lightning intern and resident. She also participated in several other experiential learning opportunities.

“The grad program played a pivotal role in my career path, as it provided an incredible network to assist with helping me earn my first role in the sports industry at Legends,” Ortiz said.

A lifelong athlete, Ortiz decided her sophomore year of college that she wanted to pursue a career in the sports industry. After completing her MBA, Ortiz moved to Dallas to start her full-time role at Legends.

“As a marketing coordinator for Legends, I assist with marketing and creative needs across all clients, as we deliver holistic solutions for some of the most legendary professional and collegiate teams and attractions in the world,” Ortiz said, noting that her favorite part of her job “is working alongside these iconic brands across the sports industry with a fantastic team.”

Ortiz’s advice for students studying PR? Take advantage of the opportunities provided by your school and find a mentor.

“Join a student organization, raise your hand, and get involved. The (UA) A+PR Department has established the best of the best student-led organizations that offer tremendous experience in addition to your classroom learnings,” she noted.

While Culver, Dougherty, Gatti and Ortiz have all had vastly different experiences and roles post-college, each stressed the impact that being involved in student organizations had on their successes.

So, if you’re on the fence about joining that club, taking on a new project or applying for a leadership role, this is a nudge to take the leap and do it. Although you can never be completely prepared for the challenges of life after college, learning from those who came before you and developing your skills and network while still in school will get you one step closer.

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