By Jen (Manougian) Zoller
2007 UCM Alum, Managing Supervisor, Healthcare PR, TogoRun (New York, NY)
If you’ve accepted an offer for your first PR job, congratulations and welcome to the real world of PR professionals! As much as it is exciting, it’s also a critical time to prove yourself to your new colleagues and managers. Below are a few tips to help you stay on top of your “A” game.
- Read your emails…and respond! You will be held accountable for reading and responding to your emails from the minute you start, including the emails that may have already populated your inbox before your first day. At first, you may not have anything that you need to respond to, but as you receive more responsibility, your colleagues will likely be communicating with you via email more than anything else, including face-to-face conversation. TIP – respond as soon as humanly possible. Even if it’s just to confirm that you are on it (e.g., Thanks for sharing Sue, I will be sure to read this over and let you know of any questions.) Also, take note of deadlines and be sure to reiterate them in your response (e.g., Thanks for sending Tom. Not a problem at all. I’ll be sure to get this to you by end of day, as per your request.) As a manager, my pet peeve is needing to follow up with someone to make sure they received my email and are able to deliver the project by the requested deadline. How am I to know that it will happen on time if they never confirm? And if they don’t have time to get it done, then I will need to plan my day so that I can complete the project.
- Proof, proof, proof! No, your professors were not over exaggerating when they harped on grammar and spelling. One small typo can hurt your credibility and make it hard for your managers and clients to trust you. And remember, this is PR, so we are supposed to be experts in this category. TIP – DO NOT show up to your first job without an updated version of the AP Style Guide. Consider it a graduation present to yourself. At my current agency, we do what’s called a “super proof,” which is when we print three copies of the document or email and someone reads aloud while two other people follow along. It takes time, but is a great way to eliminate errors in client-facing materials.
- Understand your role. Know your manager’s expectations of you and what it will take to get to the next level. Most of the time, you will be expected to master your level and be performing at the next level before you are promoted. If you don’t know what you’re striving for, the next level will be hard to attain. TIP – If you have questions about what your managers expect of you, set up time to touch base and talk through your current responsibilities and future goals. This will show initiative.
- Set yourself up for success. It’s hard to come by a manager who will give you all the information upfront for you to complete a project. If you are confused, I encourage you to jot down all of your questions ahead of time and then set up time to talk to your manager about them. TIP – Try to approach it in a “I just want to be sure that I’m giving you everything you need” kind of way, NOT in a “you gave me poor direction, so how are you expecting me to do this?!” kind of way. Get ahead of the situation, instead of waiting till your deadline passes to ask the important questions.
- Ask questions, but not dumb ones. As noted above, it’s ok to ask questions, but make sure that it’s not something that has already been provided to you, hence the dumb question. If it’s in an email buried in your inbox, dig it out and read it. The last thing that someone wants is to spend time writing an email to you to later find out that you never read it. TIP – use the search tool in your email to find old emails that may have the information you need.
- Write it down. Do not go anywhere (except maybe the bathroom!) without a notebook and pen. I’ve actually been in meetings where people are asked to leave to get a notebook and pen. I’ve also been in the position to ask someone why they aren’t writing stuff down. It comes off as unprepared and makes people think that you will miss something.
- Get organized. For me, this means organizing a to-do list that I update constantly. With every new assignment, I add it to the list and evaluate if and when I will have time to realistically cross it off my list.
- Be prepared. It may sound a little Boy Scout-ish, but being prepared is one of the best things you can do to succeed. Throughout the years, I’ve learned the importance of looking at my calendar at least one day in advance so that I understand how my day will look. If I have a meeting, there’s always something I need to do to prepare ahead. TIP – Avoid accepting a meeting invite and thinking you can roll into the conference room with no knowledge of what’s going on. I also like to look at who else was invited. If the president is coming, you better be on-point (e.g., read materials ahead of time, look professional, be sure to understand how you are expected to contribute to the conversation, etc.).
- Drink the company Kool-Aid…sort of. It sounds hokey, but now that you’re working at your new company, get into its groove. Take notice of your surroundings such as, what time people arrive in the morning and leave at night, how people dress, lunch breaks, how people interact with the senior leaders and if people are hanging out outside of work (go to happy hour, but avoid making a fool of yourself!) Don’t lose your sense of self and what makes you unique, but it’s a good idea to go with the flow of the office culture. I will never forget my first job when they told me I had an hour for lunch. I had just moved to New York City and my office was not too far from Central Park, so I decided to take that full hour and walk over to the park to eat my lunch. Never again. It wasn’t long before I heard chatter in the office about how I’d spent my “lunch hour.” Apparently, there was no lunch hour. Even though HR told me that this is something that happened, in reality, everyone stepped out for 10 minutes to grab their lunch and then came back to eat at their desks. Lesson learned! You definitely don’t want to stick out when it comes to stuff like this.
- Be flexible. There’s nothing worse than asking someone for help and having them turn me down because of plans they have after work (cough, cough…happy hour) or because they don’t have experience in that category. Be the person who is willing to stay late, figure it out, look into potential solutions, do some research and/or whatever it takes to pitch in. Also remember that PR is not a 9:00 – 5:00 job, especially at an agency. It’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job and it requires team work and flexibility.
- Have a good attitude. Regardless of what’s going on, remain positive. Even if someone gives you feedback that isn’t the best. Take it in, thank them for it and move on. No one likes to work with someone who is defensive or difficult. TIP – Sometimes I find that a walk around the block is the best and cheapest therapy. It allows you to digest the information, relax and walk back into the office as if nothing happened.
- In my book, the key to success is learning to work well with others. Avoid using “I” (e.g., I stayed late last night to get this done) and get onboard with “we” (e.g., we stayed late and together, got the job done). Get to know who’s who and learn to use these people as resources. This doesn’t mean that you find the digital team and ask them to create a whole social media campaign for your client, but it does mean that you set up 30 minutes of time to talk to the digital team about your ideas and get feedback before you go too far down a road.
Most importantly, have a good work ethic and hold yourself accountable. If you do, people will enjoy working with you and will invest their time to help you advance in your career. Taking on a new job, whether just out of college or transitioning after years of being in your career can be challenging, but know that you will be a better person and professional for it. Learning doesn’t stop after you graduate and if you find yourself in a situation where you are not learning or growing, find somewhere else to work asap!
Jen (Manougian) Zoller is a 2007 UCM Alum and is the managing supervisor, Healthcare PR, TogoRun (New York, NY)