What I Wish I Knew Before I Fell Into My PR Career

College and career

The following Culpwrit post appears in the current issue of PRSSA’s FORUM magazine.

First of all, I wish PRSSA existed when I was in college. Being involved in PRSSA likely would have jump started my public relations career. Instead, it took a few years of other jobs before I discovered this amazing profession.

OK, becoming a member of PRSSA is obvious considering this audience. But I truly believe it is a game changer in helping launch successful careers. However, that’s not the only thing on my If-I-could-do-it-again wish list. So, here are the top 10 things I wish I knew or learned while in college:

  1. Business Essentials. Instead of avoiding courses that exercised the left side of my brain, I wish I had taken more business courses. Understanding how organizations organize and manage operations is more interesting than I feared when I avoided courses that might negatively affect my GPA. This point was firmly on my mind when my colleague Matt Ragas and I decided to write a book on the subject, Business Essentials for Strategic Communicators. I think we captured all the key points I wish I had known before landing in the corporate world.
  2. Don’t worry about the GPA. Well, don’t entirely forget about the GPA. Strive to keep it above 3.0. But take courses that challenge you and make you smarter.
  3. Get to know all your professors. Not just the few you especially like. I avoided certain instructors who I felt were intimidating. Later in life, I got to know some of them and realized they, indeed, were interested in my success—even if one of them gave me a well-deserved C- in English literature. Others opened many doors and vouched for me during initial job interviews.
  4. Study abroad. This often is the most economical time in your life to travel and study other cultures. Not only does the experience provide a differentiator on your resume, you will become a better global citizen. I didn’t make my first trip to Europe until several years following graduation, and doing so was life changing.
  5. Get involved. Join more than one campus activity—not just PRSSA. (Actually, I was overly involved in extra-curricular activities as evidenced by my lackluster GPA. Besides being active in my fraternity, I was president of my residence hall, editor of the student newspaper, on the convocations board, president of a statewide student political organization and a part-time reporting job at the local newspaper.
  6. Become a better listener. In college, we are often asked “what do you think?” We’re so busy worrying about our own answers that we forget to hear what others are saying.
  7. Practice at being a team player. It’s not easy, especially when you think you have the answers. Most leaders today trace their success to great teaming experience in college and during the early days of their careers. By the way, the best leaders have mastered the art of engaged listening.
  8. Positive attitude. This is essential, even if you got a worse grade than expected. Professors are eager to help students who are actively engaged in class and project interest in the subject. No one wants to spend time with negative thinkers.
  9. Create trust. Be a positive role model with friends and classmates. True leaders not only exude confidence, they generate followership by gaining trust of others.
  10. Exceed expectations. Don’t just be satisfied by completing an assignment on time. If it is due Friday, turn it in on Wednesday. Carrying this habit over into your eventual workplace will make you the turn-to staffer in any organization.

I loved college so much that I stayed for an extra semester, so I don’t list this last piece of advice as something I wish I did: Have fun. Take my word for it, this is one of the best times of your life. Enjoy every moment while building relevant experiences and networks that will help launch your career.  -Ron Culp

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