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Six Tips for Transitioning from Student to New Professional

In Professional/Networking by Emily Mata

It’s that time of the year again. Students all over are graduating and looking for gainful employment. It’s been a year since I graduated from Michigan State University, but I still vividly remember the excitement and nervous energy of being a recent college graduate. Reflecting back on my first year as a new professional, I’ve compiled all the advice I wish I would have received — or did receive — while heading into the “real world” and my first full-time position.

Be a sponge

Curiosity is a prerequisite for a career in public relations. Always be inquisitive, and take everything in, all the time. I am fortunate to work with some incredibly talented people at Martin Waymire, and, from the principals to the student practitioners, there is something I can learn from each and every one of them. If you expect to learn from people by being sat down and shown the ropes, you’ll likely be sorely disappointed. Learning happens through listening. Listen, ask great questions and learn as much as you can about the company you work for and the people you work with.

Get uncomfortable

I hesitated even putting this one on the list because every self-help book and bullshit, inspirational Pinterest quote will encourage you to ‘take risks’ or ‘be bold.’  Let’s be real — no one likes to be uncomfortable. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – being uncomfortable is paramount for growth, both as a person and as a professional. If you only stay in situations where you’re comfortable, you’ll remain stagnant. The last thing you want as a new professional is to stunt your growth and potential because you’re too afraid to step outside your comfort zone. If you’re like me, someone who truly hates being uncomfortable, I’ve learned that bringing a buddy along can help soften the blow. I recently attended my first Grand River Connections networking event, and having a friend by my side made an otherwise intimidating situation much more bearable. If you’re struggling to get started, remember: showing up is half the battle.

Grow your network

 Creating and fostering a network is arguably one of the most important things a new professional can do. Let me be honest: networking is not my forte. As an introvert, the thought of meeting and mingling with hordes of people is overwhelming and instantaneously zaps me of my energy. A common misconception about introverts is that we’re shy or antisocial — but that’s not true. I love people and I love socializing. I just find that being around too many people for too long is draining — almost like a social hangover. For me, the key to networking is doing it in a way that plays to my strengths and interests. In the last year I have forced myself to be more social (see above) and I’ve grown both personally and professionally because of it. It turns out, meeting like-minded people, people from the Lansing area, and/or other new professionals can be fun and rewarding, both from a personal and business prospective.

Develop a personal brand

We all know that good branding is vital to the success of a company. Equally important? Your personal brand. Soon after starting my new position at Martin Waymire, it dawned on me that I could be anyone that I wanted to be. What do you want to be known for? What kind of professional do you want to be? Building a unique brand around yourself as an individual, regardless of what your company brand is, is helpful in ensuring success and defining your values and code of conduct. My advice is to decide what you want your reputation in the workplace to be, and let your actions define you.

Keep learning

Just because you’ve graduated and landed your first full-time job does not, by any means, mean that you’re done learning. I’ve always learned best by doing, and with that in mind, I’ve arguably learned more in the year I’ve been out of school than I did during the four years I was in school. Public relations is constantly evolving – and with it, PR professionals must be, too. The team at Martin Waymire embraces this wholeheartedly, so much so that continuous education is baked into our company values. Staff members are encouraged to attend lunch and learns, training sessions and seminars to stay up-to-date on industry trends. In the short amount of time I’ve been here, I’ve already benefitted greatly the numerous trainings I’ve attended and I’m able to better serve our clients because of it. 

Be yourself

Corny, cliché, and over-done but true nonetheless. Soon after I began my first PR internship, I began to worry if I was actually cut out for the field. I wondered if, as a quiet, thoughtful and conscientious person, my voice and opinions would be drowned out by the louder, bolder PR professionals. I’m thankful for the mentors I’ve had along the way that supported me and reassured me that my opinions are valuable, and shouting the loudest doesn’t always necessarily equate to having the best ideas. I now view my thoughtfulness as a strength rather than a weakness, and think that it brings an important element to the Martin Waymire team – a yin and yang, if you will. Some people thrive and derive their energy from social situations. I am not one of them — and that’s okay. I’ve learned that I can love people and my job — and be good at it — while not being the center of attention.