A student in communications asked the following question: What strategy would you recommend for someone trying to break into the communications industry? Communications is a broad field, so I certainly do not have all the answers. Instead, I suggested thinking through key questions.
1. Does “service” underscore your attitude?
Communications is a service industry. Therefore, you need to embrace two fundamentals:
- It’s not about you; it’s about “them” (for example, employers, clients, customers, and potential customers).
- Listening is the most powerful tool in communications.
2. Do you have a marketable skill range?
A generation ago, roles tended to niche. For example, when I accepted my first position with a magazine, solid walls existed among three areas: advertising, circulation, and editorial. Employees rarely breached the walls; they tended to stick to a specialty role (for example, writer, editor, copyeditor, graphic designer, art director, or production editor). However, today it’s common to come across jobs requiring multiple skills—such as producing content for print, video, and social media and as well as understanding content management systems and search engine optimization/marketing. Often a knowledge of graphic design and photography comes into play.
However, few people excel at everything. Focus on developing marketable talents that are true to your passion while cultivating practical skills beyond your primary focus. Experiential learning opportunities will expose you to this reality of the business.
3. How do you take advantage of resources available at your school and beyond? Here are some questions to jumpstart action.
- Have you connected to your school’s career counseling center and its services, such as career fairs, development of your resume and cover letters, lists of interview questions, and mock interview sessions?
- Do you belong to student groups affiliated with national organizations in your field?
- Have you prepared a resume that follows current practices and uses data to prove your points?
- Does your professional summary appear fresh and original—or seem like a cut-and-paste job from a website peddling formulaic resumes?
- Do you know how to submit an unformatted resume online?
- How do recruiters in your field seek employees in real time and online?
- How can you network with willing experts and set up informational interviews?
- Do you keep up with shifts in real-world practices?
- Do you follow and interact with influencers in your areas of interest?
- Are you willing to keep up with technological changes in tools?
- Are you aware of the professions that artificial intelligence might replace?
4. Do you actively research the field?
Even if you are a freshman, it pays to track job postings and internships through sites such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and LinkedIn (those are the tip of the iceberg). Explore the “careers” section of companies that interest you. Adjust searches as your career plans evolve or as industry trends change. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Department of Labor) provides an annual edition of The Occupational Outlook Handbook. It offers detailed job descriptions and projects future hiring rates.
5. Do you regularly check professional resources?
Professors and mentors can offer direction. Here’s a sampling of publications, thought leaders, and sites that I follow: Advertising Age, Folio, Entrepreneur, Inc., Fast Company, Wired, Forbes, Business Insider, Contently (Shane Snow), Marketing Profs (Ann Handley), Content Marketing Institute (Neil Patel), TechCrunch, Social Sprout, Simply Measured, International Association of Business Communicators, Public Relations Society of America, American Marketing Association, and news organizations that practice journalistic integrity. Their postings and updates frequently appear on Twitter and LinkedIn.
6. What do the phrases “core principles” and “professional ethics” mean to you?
With the explosion of social media and technology, consumers’ opinions resonate in the culture. Driven by skepticism, many customers seek authenticity, indeed transparency. What’s more, if consumers unite in a powerful voice, they can make or break a brand. A blog post by MDG Advertising nicely summarizes the eight principles of advertising ethics.
7. Is it possible to “check your ego at the door”?
Teams, not individuals, drive most projects. You can draw energy from your creative passion while practicing a certain detachment—aware that sometimes your concepts will take center stage in a project. However, at other times, they may quickly disappear if other team members offer stronger ideas. At the end of the day, a trusting team shares ownership regardless of the conceptual source. What’s more, if a project does not meet every expectation of your management or client, detachment will serve you well. You will objectively accept critique, respond to questions deliberately and logically, and seek constructive solutions. Charged emotions never solve a problem.
8. What does self-awareness mean to you?
Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Why is an ancient geezer’s thinking relevant to business? Personal branding is a hot phrase. Here’s a recent take from Entrepreneur: “8 Tips for Building Your Brand in 2017.” The publication also offers suggestions on how to achieve this: “5 Steps to Build Your Personal Brand.”
Authentic personal branding may deepen your self-awareness. It’s a tool to draw upon when an interviewer says, “So tell me about yourself.” Armed with self-knowledge, you’ll think about how your personality and skill sets contour to the needs, expectations, and corporate style of potential employers.
Interestingly, a different point of view recently surfaced. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, thinks personal branding is overblown, as expressed in an interview with Entrepreneur: “Don’t package yourself. Just speak and speak honestly, with some data behind you.”
Whatever the approach, strive for self-knowledge throughout your personal and professional life. We all grow and change, so a little dose of Socrates goes a long way in leading a quality life.
9. Are you a master of “soft skills”?
Many employers value “people skills” such as emotional intelligence, common sense, humor, logic, empathy, collaboration, cohesive expression, and oral communication sensitive to the setting or context of a situation. How skilled are you at working harmoniously in a multigenerational workplace?
Why should you care? There is a concern that a rising number of employees do not practice soft skills. In fact, HR professionals often reference this trend. In 2016, the Society for Human Resource Management posted this piece: “HR’s Hard Challenge: When Employees Lack Soft Skills.”
10. How well do you adapt?
Stephen Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” This quote by the brilliant theoretical physicist, mathematician, and author gives the rest of us something to think about. In fact, it’s common sense for any professional in communications. For example, my career began in technical writing but expanded to jobs in advertising and publishing. I felt shy about creating a blog until popping open WordPress. Its intuitive nature hooked me, opening the door to a virtual playground and certification in social media marketing.
At the same time, it’s imperative that anyone who produces quality work retain these constants that predate the Internet:
- Creativity, which demands curiosity and a willingness to expand knowledge (for example, awareness of current events and culture, history, philosophy, economics, technology, and business trends)
- Sensitivity to details
- Sound judgment
- Clear, logical reasoning
- Strong language skills, which marry style, tone, and voice with a firm command of grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, and mechanics
All said, this post just begins to scratch the surface.
Soul deep storyteller, poet, copywriter, and editor with a passion for wordplay, gardens, literature, and the South