Advice to PR Grads at UNT

It seems I am becoming slightly famous around the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT. More and more people are starting to recognize me as “that PR student who used to be a teacher.” Yes, it’s true that I am closer to my professor’s age than my classmates are and it is true that I was a teacher.
For nine years, I considered myself a professional educator. The first eight of those were spent as a full-time English teacher and cheerleading coach and I taught every grade from 6-12 at some point in my career. My ninth year was spent as a substitute teacher after state and district budget cuts cost me my job. I was upset at first, especially when school started and most of my friends were posting on Facebook about the first day of school and I was sitting at home eating cereal in my pajamas and searching for a last minute teaching job. Soon enough though, I began to see that this could be a blessing in disguise because unlike most of the 100,000 unemployed teachers in Texas right now, I have a degree in public relations.
Before I was a teacher, I was a PR student/graduate focused on a career in professional sports. I had interned with a minor league hockey team and turned it into a paid position. I was a writer for the University Daily. Upon graduation from Texas Tech University, I accepted my first real job as a marketing assistant for Southwest Sports Group, the parent company of the Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers and Mesquite Championship Rodeo. I felt I was on my way to the top. It took only one year for me to realize how little I knew about surviving in the “real world.”
Now here I am, 11 years later in a senior level PR communications class catching up on a decade’s worth of industry developments as I prepare to enter graduate school. The PR side of me is ecstatic to be back in the game and doing what I loved all those years ago, but the teacher side of me wants to help all of the 22-year-old students around me. With that, I began thinking about what I wish I had known all those years ago and I made a little list of my top advice from one old PR student to another.
  1. Experience is key. If you are still in school, then I can’t say it enough. Start interning as early as you can, like in your sophomore or junior year, to build as much experience as possible. Work for an agency, a sports team, a non-profit and corporation if possible. That way when you graduate, you will have a strong idea of what you want to do and for whom you want to work. Work for free or minimum wage if necessary so you won’t have to do it after you graduate. After graduation is not the time to be interning and figuring that out. For those going out into the work force, take a reasonable entry-level position and give it your best effort. You probably won’t stay there long-term but you don’t want to burn bridges either. Use it as a learning experience and do great things.
  2. Say yes, but learn when to say no. In the beginning stages of your career, it is important to just say yes and do what your boss asks of you (within reason, of course). Sometimes that may be a real test of your patience, as they will ask you to do some pretty crazy things that may not make sense. The key is to make sure that you aren’t being taken advantage of. This is where you need to learn to say no when it is appropriate.
  3. Stand up for yourself, but know your place! This can be a tricky one to navigate, especially when you feel taken advantage of. In my first job with Southwest Sports Group, I was terrified of standing up for myself for fear of losing my job any day because my boss had a terrible temper. But my intern, who had nothing to lose, didn’t hesitate to stand up for herself. The result was that she got what she wanted and got the respect she deserved. I ended up having to do what she felt was beneath her, even though I was her supervisor.
  4. Your co-workers are not your friends. These new graduates are too young to realize this but it is a lesson that comes with time and experience. No matter how many happy hours you go to, no matter how many weddings and showers you attend, your co-workers are friendly colleagues and nothing more. Be careful what you say and how much of your personal life you give them access to because it can, and will, come back to haunt you at some point. The real test of these relationships can really only be tested when you no longer work with them. That is when you find out who was truly a friend and who was just your foxhole friend.
  5. Respect the chain of command. One of the general stereotypes of Millennials in the work force is that they have no respect for their elders or those with seniority. Some have even been known to march in the office of the CEO or VP to make demands or file complaints. It is important that when you are dissatisfied, that you speak to your supervisor first. Be honest. Be direct. Be reasonable. If you aren’t satisfied, then take it to the next person up in the chain of command. Be prepared to defend yourself and offer solutions. Don’t whine, yell or argue. Just state your peace, offer a solution and remain calm.
  6. Be your own PR rep. With all of the training we have received on how to manage reputations, it is still shocking how often we forget to do that for ourselves. Think before you post on social media. Carefully guard the pictures you post online. It is more than just a cautionary tale. People lose their jobs every day over a stupid tweet or a picture on Facebook. Remember WWYBT? What Would Your Boss Think if they were to see this? And remember #4 – you never know when one of your work-friends will turn against you. What would they have to say that could be damaging?

 For all of the graduates going forth, I just want to wish them all good luck in their future careers. I have come to know them as classmates and have seen how bright they are. Now it is time for them to go out into the world and shine. 
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