Published in PRSA Tactics in August 2006.
In April, Tactics published an article of mine titled “Packing a PR Punch in Your 20s: How to get serious about turning that first job into a promising career.” We counted on it resonating with readers. We didn’t count on the number of young professionals who wrote, claiming we’d torn a page out of the story of their lives.
The e-mails came pouring in from across the country. Almost all of them were penned by young grads who’d landed that first PR job and were suddenly left wondering, “Now what?”
These weren’t just a couple of random e-mails from discontented 23-year-olds. Trying to decipher why the story hit so close to home for so many, we talked with many young PR practitioners, trying to find out why they chose the profession, whether it was living up to their expectations and whether it was engaging enough to keep them in the profession over the long term.
If you’re a seasoned professional hiring and mentoring these rising stars, their answers should be required reading. (Editor’s note: Several of the young professionals we spoke with asked that their names not be used.) If you’re not taking notes, there’s a great likelihood you’ll read some of these comments again anyway — in letters of resignation as up-and-coming talent goes on to bigger and better jobs.
1. The grad you just hired didn’t have a hard time finding a job.
Almost everyone we talked to landed a job immediately after graduation. In fact, many had jobs waiting for them the day they walked across the stage to receive their diploma. For most, that meant taking something in the nonprofit world where organizations are willing to trade a lack of experience for a low salary.
2. They know they’re underpaid, and they won’t put up with it longer than they have to.
Emily Hoskins, 24, a graduate of Central Missouri State University and the marketing and communications coordinator for the Independence Chamber of Commerce in Independence, Mo., voices the same plans almost every grad expressed: “Eventually, I see myself looking into the corporate side of public relations because that’s where the [larger] salaries are going to come from.”
“I don’t feel like I’m compensated financially,” says a recent graduate working in nonprofit. “I’m getting the two to three years of experience everyone’s asking for.”
3. It’s not taking them long to grow bored.
Most grads we talked to won’t trash their résumés if they only stay at their first jobs for a short time. Within a year, most of them have either started looking elsewhere or approached their employers about beefing up their job descriptions.
Billy Fischer, 24, a corporate sales representative with the Columbus Zoo and a graduate of Ohio Northern University, admits he hoped his job would change from the beginning. “I’ve already taken steps to try to shift the emphasis of my job from sales to public relations.”
4. Even when they’re happy, they’re looking for another job.
Grads entering the work force today know their grandparents were the last generation to enjoy a 30-year career with one company. They’re not expecting to stay with companies long enough to take their bosses’ jobs, though they want to keep their options open. What was once a predictable climb up the corporate ladder has become something more akin to Milton Bradley’s Chutes and Ladders.
5. Their bosses aren’t their mentors.
These grads are often staffs of one, especially in nonprofits. Their organizations are smart enough to know they need public relations, but too small to dedicate more than one salary to a communications position. New grads are getting lots of experience, but they’re learning through trial and error. The closest most of them will come to finding a mentor is a supervisor with marketing experience, but many report to someone not in the communications field.
Alicia Dilley, 22, a communications coordinator for a nonprofit in a small town in Indiana and a graduate of Valparaiso University, puts it best when she says, “I am the department — development, marketing, special events.”
6. Getting thrown into the work force is turning them into experienced pros before their time.
When Hoskins graduated in 2004, she immediately assumed an array of responsibilities including serving as her organization’s Web designer, newsletter editor, graphic designer, media buyer, copywriter, photographer, event planner and media liaison.
7. Some don’t feel their universities prepared them for the blending of public relations and marketing in the workplace.
Almost everyone we talked to tried to add marketing into the mix while they were studying public relations as an undergrad. For many, that wasn’t easy since public relations and marketing were often housed in different colleges. Now that they’re working, they’ve found their jobs include more marketing than they’d counted on. They’re not complaining — most of them like marketing. They just feel like they’re not fully prepared.
Fischer knows that no matter how much he enjoys public relations in the short term, he’s going to need to pump up his marketing background by the time he’s ready for a director-level position further along in his career. “It’s the first thing I told our local PRSSA Chapter when I spoke to them recently — take more marketing classes.”
8. They’re looking to find a balance between work and their personal lives.
“I’d like to see a story on how to turn it off and just have a life,” Hoskins says. “I want to know where to find my peace. With blogs and all [of the new media], all you see every day is messages, messages, messages, so you’re constantly thinking about how they relate to your company.”
9. Many of them would love to become independent practitioners or start their own firms one day.
Lots of recent grads would like to see how they could turn their experience into a profitable PR/marketing business of their own. They’re attracted to the idea of setting their own schedules and working as little or as much as they’d like. And they feel confident they’ll have the skills when they’re ready to make the leap because of the breadth of work they’re doing now.
10. They think they’ll stay in the communications profession, but not necessarily in public relations.
“I feel like I’m searching for this one piece that’s missing. I don’t want to give up on finding it,” says Dilley. “I had a honeymoon period where I was completely euphoric to have found a job, but then things settle down and you start to question what will make you happy. I see myself staying in the communications profession, but I don’t know about staying strictly in public relations.”
Nicole Singer, 22, a May graduate from Marquette University, had a job waiting for her at Bottom Line Marketing in Milwaukee. While she’s pleased with the position, Singer isn’t sure there’s just one job for her.
“I don’t necessarily see there being one position or company I’d like to stay with for 20 years,” she says. “I’d like to stay in public relations because it overlaps with so many different things — writing, graphics, marketing, strategic planning. I’d like to try it all.”