WINDHOEK-Starting a career is daunting. Stepping out of the classroom is intimidating. This is especially true when you have no job offers lined up. Wondering where and how to start is perfectly normal, and it is a question that many people struggle to answer. They are left with no option but to navigate their career path blind and without guidance.
Start by preparing for what the market is looking for by thinking about these 10 steps:
Do your homework. If you do not know what the market is looking for, how can you identify where you will fit in? You need to speak to professionals in different industries and at different hierarchical levels to discover what they look for in recent graduates. Ask them what their ideal PR employee would be like and what skills they would have. Find out what challenges they are facing too. All these give you a head-start on other graduates.
Do a self-assessment. You must be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Some PR Practitioners are excellent writers or speakers, whereas others are brilliant at stakeholder engagement, strategy development or digital PR. With any luck, your studies will have taught you where your strengths lie. If you are still in doubt, talk to your lecturers, or, if you have had an internship opportunity, ask your host company for a fair critique of your strengths and the areas which need work.
Identify your passion. Think about it – if you cannot demonstrate genuine passion for whatever area of PR you choose to progress in, why would you expect to spark passion in anyone else? At the beginning of your PR career, you will have to perform a range of PR tasks, but it is at this point that you can assess where your passion lies. Beyond this, your career development plan may include specialising in a particular area, perhaps digital PR or writing services.
Identify your goals and career objectives. Start off with your short- to medium-term goals and ask yourself some serious questions. What do you want to achieve in the next 1-3 years? What type of industry and company do you want to work for? You have to think about the culture you will be entering and the type of brand you will fit into. Every company is searching for synergy between their employees and their brand, and it is important that you know yourself what you are looking for in your career.
Get involved. Join a professional association and network. This also links back to your career plan – you should focus on the individuals and institutions that will help you achieve your short and long term goals. Professional bodies such as the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa and the Public Speakers Association of Namibia are excellent platforms to network and offer practical courses in PR, communication and public speaking that can enhance your skills further. Ultimately, your networking should be tailored to your own career development.
Build a brand for yourself. The first brand you need to sell is yourself. You are the premier product, the one thing companies cannot do without. To get them to take a chance on you, you are going to have to convince them of that. Start by asking yourself what message you want to project to other professions and, in turn, work out what you would like to hear them saying about you. It all begins with your authentic personal brand.
Build an online presence. Social media, especially platforms such as LinkedIn, have become very powerful networking tools over recent years. They allow you to not only connect with fellow PR professionals, but also to keep up to date with what is happening in the industry. You need to build a professional online presence for yourself, and on the more social front, manage your online reputation on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. A note of caution – remember that you are a professional and be mindful of the pictures you share and content you post or comment on. Never compromise your online presence and any hopes of employment by trying to please social media followers who have no vested interest in your career growth.
Count the cost. Everything that you want to achieve in life will cost you. It might not always cost you financially, but it will certainly cost you your time. You need to ask yourself what sacrifices you are willing to make to take yourself one step closer to your goal. Be committed and it will pay dividends in the long run.
Enhance your knowledge skills. The frustrating fact is that organisations are not lining up to give away jobs for free. That means you need to get the edge on your competitors, and you start by being proactive. Be willing to learn, read or watch content that will aid your knowledge of the local and international industry. PR is a proactive profession so put yourself out there and attend industry events. You can even try and find yourself a willing mentor to get you through the first hesitant steps of your career.
Volunteer: Volunteering is a great way of experimenting with your skills. You can identify the things you are good at and acquire new skills that you would never have been given the opportunity to do in a normal corporate set up. Approach non-governmental organisation and identify whether they need assistance with any PR functions in their organisations. This can also assist you in understanding how the employment culture operates and how other employees conduct themselves.
Talitha Jario is a Public Relations Consultant providing PR and strategic communication consultancy services to businesses. She also holds an Honours Degree in Journalism and Communication Technology from the Namibia University of Science & Technology. She has worked extensively as a communications practitioner across various institutions and also has experience in the broadcasting industry.