Advice for PR and Journalism Students

I recently heard from an old friend (a former CMO) who is now a lecturer at a university in British Columbia. She dropped me a line to let me know she was happy to see I was blogging again because she thinks my posts are relevant for her students. I believe they had to take a quiz about one of my recent posts. Nothing makes me want to write more than hearing somebody learn something from one of my posts. For that, I thank all of you.

Over the course of the past couple of years, I’ve heard from a dozen or so other professors who have done the same thing – encouraged their students to read Journalistics. That’s nothing short of awesome in my book. Since my friend reminded me of this all-too-important audience segment, I figured it only fitting to write a post just for you (the college student reading this post right now).

Here’s a list of the things I wish somebody had told me when I was studying in college (or not studying if you want to know the truth). The list also includes some new additions – things I wish people would tell students today, that weren’t necessarily relevant when I was in school (but are more appropriate for this generation). Finally, there are some things on this list that I was probably told, but didn’t listen to at the time. If you suspect you fit into this last category, I encourage you to pay attention this one time to what you are reading.

Life During College (The Fun Stuff)

  • College is supposed to be fun – have fun while you are there, but not at the expense of your education (or your parents if you’re fortunate enough to have somebody paying for school)
  • Get involved in groups and associations – groups and association involvement supplement your learning experience at school – don’t buy into the BS that some organization is for “nerds” or that you’re going to be made fun of. Write for the school newspaper, sign up to DJ for your college radio station, or join the PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America). This experience will come in handy in your professional career (and it looks good on a resume)
  • Play sports – even if it’s intramural sports, you should be part of a team. Team sports teach you discipline, teamwork, competitiveness, and the importance of fitness for your mental and physical health.
  • Meet people – don’t lock yourself in your room or limit your friendships to a few. You’re probably pretty awesome and the world will be a better place if more people know you. Get out there and meet people – you’ll be learning a lifelong skill that will serve you in all aspects of your life.
  • Don’t spend all your money – it sounds like boring parent advice, but if you just save 10% of the money you make in part-time jobs during your college years, you’ll probably be able to afford an apartment while you spend months looking for that first job. Better yet, you get hired right away and won’t have to live paycheck-to-paycheck right off the bat. Trust me, I didn’t do this and easily could have.
  • Avoid drugs – you don’t need drugs to have fun or to stay up all night studying. I know many of you will disregard this advice, but hopefully one or two of you will take it to heart. Nothing bad happened to me sober in college – the only bad stuff happened when I was doing something I probably shouldn’t have been doing. Don’t worry, the rest of the advice isn’t so lame.

Life During College (The Learning Stuff)

  • Learn Stuff – your professors aren’t paid for their good looks, they’re paid to teach you something. Take advantage of that high-priced education and pay attention. The more you learn now, the less you’ll have to learn later. You don’t need to be a straight-A student to learn – just pay attention, do your assignments in a timely manner, and take advantage of office hours (that time professors set aside to help you outside of class).
  • Teach Stuff – as you advance in school, take advantage of student-teacher opportunities. You’ll spend a good part of your professional career teaching people what you know – whether consulting for a client or managing a junior employee. You might as well start doing it now.
  • Intern – it’s never too early to get an internship. Internships help you home in on what you really want to do with your education after school – and they’re often the ticket to your first job. Work your family and college connections for internship leads – better yet, volunteer for a non-profit that needs PR, social media, or writing help.
  • Writing – learn to write well. Pick up a copy of The Elements of Style and read it. Pay attention to those writing-related classes. Consider starting a blog where you can write about topics that interest you (this can separate you from the pack of applicants when you’re trying to get your first job too). More importantly, being able to write well is one of the most valuable skills you can bring into the workforce. All employers look for writing skills – particularly across all marketing disciplines.
  • Don’t Skip Class – half of college is showing up. Take a full load of classes and go to them. You’ll get out of college faster and you’ll learn 10 times more than your roommate that stays in bed all day.
  • Meet Alumni – most colleges bring in guest speakers and alumni over the course of the school year. Meet them! Introduce yourself and tell them what you’re interested in doing. Ask them about the employment opportunities or internships for graduates – this is the most effective path to finding either one. I can’t emphasize this point enough. And once you meet them, connect with them on LinkedIn or follow them on social media. Keep in touch over the course of your college career – they might be your ticket to your dream job.
  • Build a Portfolio – you’ll do all kinds of mock assignments in school and in your internships. Hold onto that stuff. Potential employers will want to see writing samples, social media post samples, and other things that YOU have created. That’s the stuff that helps us decide whether or not you’ll be good in that entry-level position. Don’t just talk about it, show what you’ve done.
  • Speak – whether you sign up for a public speaking class, take a class where you do a bunch of presentations, or simply give presentations through one of the groups or associations you’re involved with, take advantage of that experience. You’ll need to be able to create and deliver compelling presentations in your job, no matter what you do. Get that experience now – it will save you time and effort later on. You should know how to use PowerPoint like a ninja before you leave school.
  • Be Smart About Social Media – don’t post anything to any social media account you wouldn’t want your parents to see. The same goes for a prospective employer. We all Google potential employees these days. We look at your social media accounts. No matter how smart you think you are at managing your privacy settings, those embarrassing party pictures will get found. I’m not trying to be a buzz kill here, but trust me, I’ve passed on dozens of candidates based on what I found with a simple Google search. A couple of real-life examples from this past year: a student complaining about what a jerk her employer was during an internship, a student with a mugshot from a DUI, and yet another student with some incredible party pics from the VIP at the club in Miami (she wasn’t even 21). Now maybe your resume and portfolio are so good that an employer will overlook these things, but why risk it? And yes, this goes for those Snapchat pictures too.
  • Experiment With New Stuff – guess what? You probably know more about the latest social media apps than your future boss. Learn those platforms inside and out – and use them in responsible ways. When a potential employee comes in and shows me his/her Tumblr, YouTube Channel, Vine account, or Twitter account with a long history and creative content, I hire them on the spot. The same can be said for solid graphic design skills. If you can create sharp graphics on the fly or cut up a video into a 6-second masterpiece, that’s some cool stuff. Bonus points if you can code a little and know what SEO is.
  • Ask A Lot of Questions – don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know the answer. There are 10 other students in that class too afraid to ask the question. You’ll learn more and will probably be one of your professor’s favorite students (hint: you’ll get higher grades if you ask questions in class). Just don’t be a wise ass like I was – it can backfire sometimes.
  • Set a Goal – you may not know what you want to be when you grow up. You may have no idea what you want to do for a living, or where you want to live. That’s okay, but try to think about it once in a while. Maybe it’s easier for you to make a list of the things you don’t want to do. Get into the habit of setting goals for yourself. Be as specific as you can, and limit yourself to no more than 3 goals at a time. Set a deadline to achieve those goals, and see how you do over time. You’ll have to do this when you’re out in the real world. Even if it’s a small goal like “go to class every day this week,” you’ll gradually work your way up to more meaningful goals and achievements you can be proud of.

Life After College (How to Get a Job)

  • Advice Followed – if you followed the advice above, getting your first job should be a cakewalk.
  • Work the Social Channels – LinkedIn and Twitter are your friends. Reach out to your connections through LinkedIn to get informational interviews (less formal interviews where you get to meet potential employers and see what their organization is all about). Build your network through this process and always ask, “Who else should I reach out to?” before you leave the meeting.
  • Take the First Job – jobs are hard to get. If you get offered one related to your career interests, you should take it. I know some people will disagree with me here, but the experience is the most important asset you have to get that next job you really, really want. You can do anything for a year. Most junior employees get the biggest bump in salary going from their first job to their second. The sooner you start your first job, the sooner you’ll be able to earn more money.
  • Work Hard – you’re never going to have the freedom to work as hard as you can as you do in your first job. You’ll have very little going on outside of work when you get out of college, despite how packed your social calendar may be. Take advantage of this in the early years of your career. This is the time you want to put in the long hours and pay your dues. Attend networking events around town – honestly, you should go to an event a day if you can. I did this early in my career and now rely on a strong network of peers for just about everything I do. The friends you make in your first year of work are the future VPs and C-level executives. Again, trust me on this.
  • We Don’t Owe You Anything – this is new to our current generation, but I see tons of kids come out of school acting like they’re Mark Zuckerberg (no offense Mark). They act like they should be a manager right out of college. I like this confidence to a certain degree, but you don’t really know as much as you think you do in your 20s. Channel that confidence into killing it in your first job. Prove yourself by doing the hard work – nothing will be handed to you. On the other hand, if you are a genius and are capable of spinning up apps that millions of people want to use or pay for, don’t look for a job. Start your own business and see where it goes (but you’ll still want to follow some of the advice above – you can’t do it alone and will need help along the way).
  • Say “Please” and “Thank You” – this one will sound stupid to some of you, but manners matter in business. If somebody takes the time to meet with you or give you advice, thank them promptly (a handwritten note is a lost art form). If you want something from somebody, you’ll be amazed how far a “please” will go. I learned this when I was nine years old – it still works more than three decades later.
  • Think Big – as a final piece of advice, don’t be afraid to think big. You can really do just about anything you put your mind to. Granted, some goals are more realistic than others. You could be President for example, but that’s a lot harder to do than starting a software company or moving to a big city. That doesn’t mean you should limit yourself.
  • One Last Thing – I’m not the world’s leading expert on career advice. The tips I’m providing here are based on my personal experiences, and I honestly believe they’ll help you along the way. Only you know what advice is best for YOU. My high school guidance counselor told me I shouldn’t go to college (my grades weren’t great during my junior year). She told me I should consider being a mechanic – perhaps taking an apprenticeship at a local garage. I didn’t listen to her, and now I get to write long-ass blog posts for college students. I’ll take it.

That’s it for my soapbox essay on all the things you should probably know at this stage of the game. I hope I haven’t overwhelmed or stressed any of you out. It may sound like a lot, but it’s really pretty easy to follow the advice in this post. Remember, “A Journey of 1,000 Miles Starts With One Step.” You don’t have to do all of this today. Do things one step at a time and you’ll get where you want to get.

Now it’s your turn to talk. Want me to elaborate on any of the points above? Have a question you want to be answered? Want to call bullshit on any of this? That’s what the comments section below is for. And remember, I want to know who you are. If you’re a college student or professor reading this, let me know in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading Journalistics. I hope you don’t have to take a quiz on this one too.

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