As graduation day nears, I have been thinking about this question. I am sure that many soon-to-be grads are thinking about it, too.
They had better be. School is literally out. It’s time to go to work.
Some of my most exemplary students are graduating. And weekly, I hear from graduates who are now successfully working but stay in touch. The question of what makes a practitioner successful applies to both groups.
I have earned a living in communication/PR/IMC since 1973. I have seen much and learned much. I have had the honor of working with some very accomplished people. And I have worked with some real aholes. Playing the bemused observer, I have seen some really successful practitioners in action. I have also seen some practitioners crash and burn in their careers.
So what made the difference in outcome? Many things, in my opinion. Here are my thoughts.
Phase One: College. First, you have to be prepared for a career. For most of us, this begins in college. We decide to major in communication/PR/IMC. Characteristics of students who are on their way to career success are:
- They learn to conduct themselves as successful working professionals by showing up on time and prepared at each class. They exhibit the discipline so necessary for success.
- They prepare their assignments and/or do their reading in advance.
- They listen and participate, engaging the instructor in meaningful discussion.
- They ask for advice both in and out of class.
- They get involved in professional activities like PRSSA or IABC student chapters. Even better, they take leadership positions.
- They get instructive, hands-on internships.
- They participate in various campus organizations in which they can build leadership skills.
- They work at real jobs, too, to earn money and build a work ethic that will impress potential employers later.
- Their Facebook and MySpace pages do not have endless numbers of drunken, narcissistic, and hedonistic photos. Their pages reflect a balanced and mature college student who is engaged in career development, skills-building activities, plus some tastefully depicted fun, too.
- They blog and read blogs. Their blogs may be required for classes or may be self-motivated, but they are active participants in the blogosphere. They read industry-related blogs and keep up with what is happening in the profession they seek to join.
Doing these things, students have much to highlight in a resume.
Phase Two: Early Career. Graduates must start somewhere in the job market, so take an entry-level job. This is a no-brainer, because that is all a new college graduate can expect to get anyway. Be humble, lose the ego, and start climbing your career ladder at the bottom rung like the rest of us did. On that entry-level job, do these things:
- Conduct yourself as a successful working professional by showing up on time and prepared each day. Exhibit the discipline so necessary for success. Anything less will not be tolerated in today’s competitive marketplace.
- Take on every assignment, not matter how small, with the highest of professionalism and diligence. Do each assigned task well, and more and better assignments will follow.
- Do more than is expected. Use every assignment to deliver more than the minimum. Demonstrate initiative and resourcefulness. It will be noticed, appreciated, and ultimately rewarded. Employers want problem-solvers.
- Do not whine or complain. Develop and keep a positive attitude.
- Find a mentor. A mentor is a wise and trusted teacher or counselor. There will be a seasoned professional who will gladly become your mentor. Learn from him or her. A mentor can teach you much about your profession — about how to succeed and how to stay out of trouble. A mentor can open doors for you, too, that will help you advance.
- Join IABC and/or PRSA. Get involved. Take committee assignments and seek elected leadership positions. Make this as much a part of your career as showing up at work every day.
- Attend IABC and/or PRSA meetings and conferences, listen and learn from professional development programs, then initiate new strategies and tactics into your work.
Phase Three: Mid-Career. Continue doing what is listed above in Phase Two: Early Career. But in this phase, you should concentrate on continuing professional development. You can do this in several ways:
- Pursue accreditation by IABC and/or PRSA. Successfully completing the accreditation process not only results in marketable career credentials, but the process is a wonderful professional development experience. Many employers advertise for jobs seeking candidates who are “IABC or PRSA accredited”.
- Consider going back to graduate school for your Master’s degree. Many employers have tuition reimbursement programs making the financial burden less onerous. Master’s in what, you ask? See my post “Grad school decision time: Master’s degree in communication or MBA or IMC?” posted February 29, 2008.
- If you have not already, consider changing jobs to enhance career growth. You may have done this more than once by now, either voluntarily or not, but it is important to not stagnate out of some false sense of security. Your only security is in your marketable skills.
- In every way possible, become a life-long learner. Learn, implement, evaluate, revise or refine, and repeat the process.
By Phase Three, you should be fairly well-established in your career. But there are unanswered questions. Apart from the title on your business card, what is the profile of a successful practitioner? Here’s my view of the successful practitioner:
- He/she has a responsible position of leadership with a reputable organization.
- He/she is a leader in IABC and/or PRSA.
- He/she is accredited by IABC and/or PRSA and/or may have earned a Master’s, too.
- He/she is mentoring one or a number of promising young practitioners.
- He/she continues to learn and grow professionally and personally.
- He/she has fought his/her professional and personal devils and emerged victorius, scarred but stronger and wiser.
- He/she does not get rattled by day-to-day events or crisis de jour, but is calm and capable under fire.
- His/her counsel is sought by others both in and outside his/her organization.
- He/she is happy, grounded, and balanced, with a joy for living.