Lately, I’ve been participating in LinkedIn’s Career Advice feature, where people who want to work in communications can message me to ask for suggestions on what they should study, finding a job, what employers look for in a candidate, etc. It’s a rewarding experience that not only helps an eager student but also gives me an opportunity to reflect on what “worked” for me when I was starting out.
Last night I gave some general advice to a student in a master’s program who wants to increase the likelihood of getting a job immediately upon graduating. The advice I gave felt obvious to me…now. But I can’t recall anyone explicitly laying out these three simple points of career advice when I was in school, so here’s what I said…
Focus on building a strong portfolio of your skills. Employers want to see that you can *do* things. In fact, there’s a certain approach to make your portfolio stand out from your peers. As much as you can, do pro bono or discounted work for local charities or small businesses. Student projects are fine, but having items in your portfolio that resulted from work will *real* clients under *real* circumstances that helped them achieve *real* goals will give you a portfolio that employers can’t ignore. Most charities and small businesses are in desperate need of help with communications and are more than happy to work with students. An added benefit of doing work for real clients is that it can also lead to word-of-mouth recommendations for jobs.
If there’s a specific field you want to work in, find ways to meet people in that field. Attend happy hours, meetups, conferences, seminars, etc. Get involved with professional groups like the Society for Technical Communication, the Social Media Association, the Public Relations Society of America, etc. These groups often have big discounts for students. Ask members about their work and tell them you’re interested in working in their field.
Constantly add to your skill set. Lots of communications jobs now are a mixture of social marketing, paid advertising, writing, graphic design, etc. You can add to your value in the marketplace by being able to do a little bit of everything. Even if you’re not an expert, having a broad skill set will help you intelligently evaluate the work of contractors or direct reports. Don’t rely on your classes to hone your talents. Make it a habit that you learn something new—or a new aspect of a current skill—every quarter. (I still practice this habit almost ten years out of school.) And don’t neglect to learn timeless principles like classical rhetoric, of course. 🙂
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That’s it. Simple, perhaps obvious, career advice that helped me after graduation. What advice would you give to eager students? Tweet @DanielTRichards and let me know.