Career advice for my younger self: what I wish I knew when I was 20
BY LOUISA PAPACHRISTOU
Don’t worry if your first job isn’t where you want to be – the important thing is to start somewhere
As a fresh-faced graduate straight out of university, the prospect of finding my dream job seemed exciting and terrifying in equal measure. I’d worked hard, put in the hours and was now ready for work. The only problem was that I hadn’t quite figured out what it was that I wanted to do, let alone how to find my first job.
A decade on and I’ve built a career in an industry I love, as a PR specialist for creative and media agencies. As with most things in life, there are certain things that I really wish I’d known when I was starting out. Here are four pieces of advice that I would give my younger self.
Get as much work experience as possible
While summer holidays are great for relaxing, they’re also long enough to fit in some invaluable work experience. Looking back, I would have used this time more wisely and taken the opportunity to gain as much exposure to my preferred industries and the work environment as possible.
Not only does this show enthusiasm and commitment to potential employers but it also gives you the chance to test the water and see if the reality of a particular job lives up to your expectations. It’s also a way of making contacts and could even lead to your first job. With fierce competition for jobs, some employers will look for work experience as standard.
Keep an open mind when it comes to job hunting
During my final year of university I remember attending the careers fairs and milk rounds that took place each year and diligently applying for recruitment schemes. Despite this, I knew my heart wasn’t really in it.
It was almost two years after graduating that I got my break in PR and it came about in the most unexpected way. I was walking past my local newsagents and saw an advert for a part-time administration assistant at a boutique PR agency. It was only two days a week but it gave me a way into an industry that I’d been keen on for a while. It was here that I dipped my toe into the world of PR. Two days of admin soon became a full-time account executive role and I learned my trade on the job with some fantastic people.
This experience taught me to keep an open mind when job hunting and to look at alternative routes into a profession. Starting at the bottom and being prepared to work my way up helped me to get to grips with the industry and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t happen straight away
Armed with my degree in modern languages, I was naive to think that the perfect job where I could use my French and Spanish would fall into my lap. It didn’t, and it was only after six months of working at an international tour operator and a year struggling through the PGCE in modern languages that I decided to broaden my horizons and be more creative about how I’d use the communications skills that I’d learned over the years. I’d definitely advise my younger self not to be disheartened if her first job isn’t where she wants to be. It’s just the beginning of a long journey and the important thing is to make a start somewhere and build on that.
Stand out from the crowd
Having spent a number of years working in the creative industry, I’ve seen how important it is to stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs. Recruiters get hundreds of applications from candidates with similar qualifications and experience. It’s important to produce something a bit different to get noticed, especially if you’re after a job in advertising. Sending in a short film about yourself or engaging with potential employers on social media are good ways of standing out.
Build your network
As a young graduate the thought of networking seemed daunting. However, it’s definitely worth doing as it can open doors. If I was starting out again, I’d go to as many networking events as possible and talk to as many industry people as I could. Teaming up with friends and classmates can make it more bearable. It’s also worth approaching key speakers at the end of an event and following up with specific questions and feedback on email.
Today, I’m embarking on a new phase of my career with the launch of a small PR firm. In many ways I’m facing similar challenges to the ones I did when I was looking for my first job. Needless to say I’ll be reading lots of advice from successful entrepreneurs and picking out what works for me.