By Sarah Dougherty
It felt like it was time for a new challenge. I had checked all the boxes, written the thank-you notes and done what I thought was the best I could do to have a fulfilling college experience. The summer internships, the PRSSA activities and conferences, and professional development opportunities had led me to graduation and the dream job: a global agency in New York City. So why did everything seem so difficult?
Because it was all new! The post-grad transition from student to professional, PRSSA to PRSA and from Alabama to New York was overwhelmingly full of unfamiliar territory. It, like everything in life, takes time and a keen sense of purpose. As I head into my third month in the “real world,” here are a few things I wish I had known, learned the hard way, and think are simply helpful to know.
Whether you live in one of the most expensive cities in the world or your hometown, the ability to budget and save money will enable you to make the most out of this transition, and alleviate an abundance of stress along the way. Getting settled in comes at a cost — the furniture, the groceries, batteries for the smoke detectors, security deposits, monthly subway passes, first day of work outfit (just me?) — that adds up. Credit card debt doesn’t mix well with an entry-level position income, and it is better to begin as disciplined as possible than go off the deep end and have to regroup later. Little things like packing your lunch and making coffee at work instead of buying it will pay off more than you think. PNC Virtual Wallet and Mint offer helpful budgeting trackers.
Ask all the questions
Time is money, and time moves quickly. If you are unclear of an assignment or what media coverage you are monitoring for, speak up. It is better to ping, call or discuss with the project manager as questions arise than to submit something way off track, leaving minimal time until the deadline for edits. Asking questions is also a strong way to show that you are engaged with the client, media plan or task at hand — even if you’re ordering a team lunch, knowing about food allergies, set-up time, etc., beforehand can show your attention to detail.
The first few weeks adjusting to full-time work schedules, a new city and lack of “homework” are surprisingly difficult. Each Friday as I leave work, I sit in the park by the office and think about professional and personal “wins” and challenges from the week. It helps me gain peace of mind, gauge progress and determine mini-goals for the upcoming week. In college, we live by semesters and syllabi — in the real world, we have control of our days, weeks and months, and it’s important to not let them get away from you.
Keep in touch
Mentors from college and previous internships didn’t expire when you put on your cap and gown. If anything, they are able to be even more helpful to you now than before. They’ve been in your shoes — they will have tips for you as you become acclimated to your office culture and role responsibilities, they will have insight into how you can continue growing professionally, and they may even have recipes, sightseeing spots and other more “life”-type recommendations to share with you, too. Don’t forget about them during this time, because they want to be there for you and help make this transition as smooth as possible. It’s also a relationship you’re maintaining — mentorship shouldn’t end the minute your LinkedIn bio gets updated with “hired.”
Spend wisely, ask questions, reflect weekly and keep in touch with your mentors. These are simple things that have made all the difference, and help keep me on track to establishing a routine and adapting to my new role as “professional adult.” Hopefully they will help you, too.
Sarah Dougherty, Client Staff Assistant at Burson-Marsteller, is a recent graduate from The University of Alabama’s College of Communication & Information Sciences. She is a former PRSSA National Committee member and current PRSA New Pro.