This past week, another class of PR majors graduated from their respective colleges and are now doing their best to transition into the work force, or as their parents like to call it, “the real world.”
As has been the case for decades, regardless of generational label, some will do better than others. Millennial graduates who succeed will more than likely do the same things that successful Gen-X graduates and Baby Boomer graduates did.
On the other hand, some graduates will have relied only on their coursework to prepare them for a career in public relations, and if they did they are already behind. Unfortunately, too many still receive their diplomas without having had a PR internship, which is often the first way to get practical communications experience and exposure to the way things really get done.
Yes, they took all of the requisite communications courses (and probably not enough on journalistic writing). Yes, they took a semester in Europe. And yes, they are digital natives, meaning social media is second nature to them. Their resumes are filled with mentions of how they served on campus organization committees and dance marathons, but no matter how those experiences make the graduates feel about themselves and their public relations talents, those experiences more often than not did not teach undergraduates how to work within standing organizations and companies with their own protocols, processes and missions.
In short, what college did not teach these PR graduates is what it could not teach – the soft skills of PR. So what are they?
The Simple Things – Be on time for work, be early for every meeting, listen before speaking, and sometimes do not speak, especially when you disagree or think you know better. Wait for the right time and the right place. Know that when you call off or miss a meeting, you may miss an opportunity. Accept the consequences of your actions. Don’t be known as a complainer. Dress the part of who you want to be. Don’t stay after work for show, it’s obvious. Don’t leave important work unfinished at the end of the regular work day. That’s just as obvious.
Know that the Workplace is not a Democracy – Whether it’s a large company, PR agency, or a small nonprofit organization, management hierarchy requires a chain of command. This is for communication, decision-making and accountabilities. While various organizations and managers may have a wide range of styles, some more people-friendly than others, all adhere to the assumption that the boss’s decision (or the client’s decision) is final. There is no second-guessing the decision-maker once he or she has made that decision. Your only choice is whether you will meet those expectations or not.
Don’t Take Criticism Personally – One of the most difficult transitions new PR hires often make is taking criticism personally. In fact, the criticism you get may be very personal in every way but one – context. You may be told about your appearance, your energy level, your listening skills, your writing skills or your analytical skills. All are almost inseparable from your personal style, so for that reason, it can feel very personal. But the main thing is to know that all of it is coming your way in the context of how it affects your work. What you are really being told is that the basis for all criticism is to get you to modify your approach to be more effective as a professional and within the organization. Rather than take the criticism personally, embrace it as an opportunity for change and self-improvement. Once you do that, future criticism won’t have the same sting, and you’ll probably find you receive less of it.
Don’t Expect Anything – Once you join a company or PR firm as an employee, it’s not up to that organization to meet your expectations. It’s the other way around. It’s up to you to meet the expectations of your organization’s customers, donors, managers, other employees and other constituents. If you work in PR or in the communications function, you must be effective at media relations and other disciplines. Don’t expect recognition or praise. Don’t expect a promotion simply because you have a year’s more experience than the next person. The PR business is merit-based, meaning you have to earn praise, recognition and promotions. And even then, they may not come when you think you deserve them most. Learn how the organization works and follow the unsaid rules. Be persistent. Be patient. Be smart. Focus on delivering quality work and results. Put the client’s needs first. That’s how you’ll get what you want and what you think you deserve.