3 Insights from Grad School Improved My Career

Graduate degree sky

By John Shoemaker


As I began grad school, I discovered that space is the key ingredient I need to live my best, achievable career. No, I don’t mean alone in some abandoned cave but rather, being intentionally and fully engaged to think clearly, listen authentically, and focus wholly—no matter where I am. Making the conscious decision to be mindfully present throughout the entire experience allowed me to consider: What I was learning, why it’s important, and ultimately how to implement these findings into my work.

As a result of my grad experience, here are three insights that continue to direct and enhance my career and professional focus: 

Words directly impact ROI

The role of communications is changing at a rapid rate. No longer is the profession solely

focused on how to say it or even what to say. Chief Communications Officers are now responsible for advising and leading enterprises on what to do. This is profound.

Consider the recent public fallout with Wells Fargo, United Airlines, and Pepsi. Communicating with multi-stakeholders for long-term engagement directly affects the business like never before. My realization of this, thanks to professors Judith Mühlberg and Bruce Harrison, has directly impacted my career as I consider roles and opportunities that previously seemed out of reach. With the blurring of lines between communications, marketing, branding, investor relations, competitive intelligence, and public relations, it’s critical that I’m both a generalist as well as a specialist.

Prioritize values

Meeting with and learning from some of the world’s top communications and business leaders gave me firsthand experience in understanding the lives they lead, both professionally and personally. Some I really connected with. Others, not so much. Just like any corporation, non-profit, and or government entity seeks to recognize and establish shared value with its customers, clients, investors, and employees, so it is from one professional to another. Not every company or person is for you. This is a good thing!

Learning from these leaders challenged me to prioritize my own values by begging the question: What is most important to me? In what order do I prioritize these areas of life:

  • Financial success
  • Industry learning and professional development
  • Family and friends
  • Spiritual life
  • Physical and mental health

Become a trusted advisor

As an investor of people, one of my greatest joys is experiencing the growth of others firsthand.

Still, while reading David Maister’s The Trusted Advisor during my capstone course, I realized how often and how easy it is for me to try and immediately solve for the problem instead of intentionally listening to the person. In his book, Maister says: “place a higher value on the client relationship than the outcomes of the current transaction.”

This was precisely my outlook as I became a trusted advisor to FINEO Investor Relations Advisors—a global firm I partnered with in my final course to provide strategic marketing communications for a business development project.

Remember: If you do not value the relationship as your top priority, you have not earned the opportunity to solve the problem.

I carry this mindset into every career opportunity and conversation I now have. Whether facing a global PR crisis or leveraging influencer marketing, trust will make or break your business. From clients to executive management to employees, the single greatest thing you and I can do is earn their trust.  

JohnShoemakerProfessional John Shoemaker, EMPS, completed his executive master’s in Global Strategic Communications from Georgetown University in August 2017. He currently advises in the areas of executive communications, branding, and fundraising and is open to new, full-time opportunities.      

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