Last Friday, I was invited to participate in a PRSSA alumni panel with other Communications graduates from Liberty University. Since many of our Aetuts+ readers are high school and college students, I thought I would share some of my responses to questions asked by current students. I’ve expanded a bit in explaining the short responses I shared.
They say it's all about who you know. Do you have any networking tips?
Networking does not consist of small talk about your personal life. When you walk into a room, instead of passing out business cards and trying to “sell” people on “why they need to hire you,” try to find out what the needs of others are to see if either you or someone you know can meet some of those needs. Perhaps you know Person A who can meet Person B’s needs better than you can. By connecting them, you look good to both parties and they’ll likely consider you when they need your areas of expertise. Networking is not as much about making personal “friends” but making “connections” and understanding the needs of potential clients and the skills of fellow professionals.
If you could go back and do anything different regarding your time in school, what would it be?
When I was in school, I was always “wishing my life away” waiting for the day when I could go into the “real world.” But “real world” work is a lot like school. Instead of trying to impress a professor, you’re trying to please a client. Instead of getting a good grade, you get paid.... which is, of course, a MUCH better motivator in my book. :) You have deadlines. Sometimes you have great professors (and later clients) where you’ll feel they’re being demanding or unreasonable. Sometimes your partner on a class project might not be the one you would have chosen and that project becomes a real challenge. The same thing happens on the job. There are many times we have to work with people who are difficult to work with. Use your school years to develop your interpersonal skills and build good work ethic.
Do you feel like you've arrived, or do you still have big goals that you're heading toward?
Don’t just dwell in the “good old days” of the past (nostalgia) or long for the imaginary days of the future (dreaming) but seize the best opportunities you have in each stage of life as you pass through it. Make the most of each day and each experience. Life is meant to be lived moment by moment and with every “stage of life” you find yourself in. Right now, I’m still a newlywed with no children, building my career. During high school and college, I learned as much outside the classroom being involved in extracurricular activities and working on personal projects as I did for class assignments. I first learned Photoshop (which would become my introduction to Adobe and After Affects) by editing the photos and graphics for our school’s yearbook. Be involved in extracurricular activities. Bring your camera with you and make a documentary of that spring break road trip or write, shoot, and direct a short film for the upcoming campus talent show.
Was it hard to jump right into a job? Was there a big learning curve from what you were taught in school?
Be a lifelong learner. Keep honing your craft. You can never have too much experience or knowledge. You never know when you might apply something you learn today to a project tomorrow. I didn’t mention this to the group, but I call this “sharpening your ax” (developing skills) and “deepening your well” (adding knowledge). If you had to cut down a forest, you’d actually save time by stopping periodically to sharper your ax. If you “deepen your well,” you can reach down and pull out knowledge you acquired earlier when you’re in the crunch time of a deadline and don’t have time to do research today. My father is a librarian and he always encouraged me to read, read, read. You are the person you were a year ago other than the people you meet, the books you read, and the media you take in. Don’t “settle” -- because in our technology-driven world, you’re either getting ahead or you’re getting behind. You can’t just stand still.
We’re in the communication business, whether that be visual or written communication. Videographers tend to be more interested in visual communication. But we all need to be able to communicate our thoughts clearly in writing. Use your school time to write and have your writing evaluated by others. In these days of texting and tweeting, understand the conventions of good grammar, spelling, and punctuation. In motion graphics, a misspelled word or the wrong form of a plural will stand out to educated people like a sore thumb and make you seem unprofessional.
Has anyone in the panel ever been looked down upon because they attended a Christian university?
Have strong values, a good work ethic and character. I have never had a client ask me where I went to school beyond small talk. They don’t care. They want to know that you are good at what you do and that you can deliver it on time. Just in general, if you are an honest person of character, that will shine through to others as you work with them.
How has social media effected your job?
Use social media in your business wisely and professionally. Be careful what you tweet or put on Facebook, because that reflects on you personally and speaks about your professionalism. The Aetuts+ Facebook page has over 15,000 followers... They don’t care whether I had waffles for breakfast and I don’t care if someone else has waffles for breakfast. If I started sharing that type of trivia, I’d lose followers. But if there is a new plug-in or a new technique that can help me do my job better, I want to know about it.
Any other thoughts to share?
If you take a position as an intern, make yourself indispensable to the company where you’re doing an internship. Work harder, longer, and better than others so that they can’t imagine doing the job without you. I just hired an intern like that. After several months of working for us as an unpaid intern to gain experience, he was so deeply imbedded in the projects we were doing we had no choice but to hire him.
Stay balanced between life and work. Many companies are getting rid of older workers with higher salaries who want to work weekdays from 9 to 5 pm. They’re replacing them with younger workers who will work 12 hour days (because they want to) and will accept less money. Don’t give in to the temptation to become a workaholic, even if you’re doing something you love. By the way, there always are some parts of any job that are your least favorite. But if you don’t genuinely like the majority of what you’re doing, then realize that life is too short to keep doing that and modify your direction. If you’re still in school, you might want to change your major. While you’re in school, take time for a social life. When you’re working full-time, don’t neglect your family or your faith. Have priorities and stick by them.