Accepting the Agency Rose: My Pandemic Job Search

Yes, I’m here for the right (PR)easons.

By Alyssa Damato

Long before starting my career in public relations, I heard *the* phrase for the first time.

A phrase that many people have mixed feelings towards. One that you can either label as cliche, or take advantage of to excel in your career.

The phrase?

“It’s all about who you know.”

It’s OK if you’re cringing … I am too. But hear me out.

Admittedly, I did question *the* phrase … for quite a while, actually. But when blindly applying for jobs just wasn’t cutting it, I started to network like my life (and livelihood) depended on it. Little did I know that my ability to network would someday get me out of one of the biggest setbacks of my career: 2020. *Cue intense, dreadful music*

From originally building a career in sports – arguably one of the most unpredictable, yet exhilarating industries – *the* phrase seemed to be the one piece of advice and “key to success” that was consistently on point.

All of the professionals who I admired both inside and outside of my industry emphasized the power of networking over any other means of attempting to get a job. In my case, it was both the ability to network and to pivot that helped me in the end. The past year has taught me that pivoting can not exist, or at least not thrive without networking.

Let’s rewind to November 2019. Just a few classes away from earning my master’s degree and wrapping up a graduate assistantship in athletic communications, I made the decision to change career paths. Long story short, I went back to school in 2018 solely to pursue my graduate assistantship and further my career in sports. At the time, I was more interested in the gig and less interested in what my second degree would be in.

I had no idea that I would quickly and completely fall in love with the master’s program that I chose on a whim: PR and advertising at DePaul University. However, I waited until the second-to-last quarter of my master’s program to act on it. But, being late is better than never showing up.

I figured that if I could network my way through the sports industry, getting into a PR agency would be a breeze. 

…MAN was I wrong. 

After applying for what felt like every PR internship in the Windy City, I got either ghosted or rejected by each. Speaking from experience, I prefer the latter.

One night in class, a peer of mine who works at Weber Shandwick mentioned that they were accepting candidates for their Spring 2020 intern class, and I immediately started working on application materials. In my cover letter, I connected the dots between my experiences in the sports industry and how they would transfer over seamlessly into the hustle and bustle of agency life.

Weeks went by and I hadn’t heard anything. It also turned out that I was a very late applicant, so I came to terms with the fact that the opportunity had passed.

I was wrong again.

The next week, I had the privilege of attending the Plank Center’s annual Milestones in Mentoring PR Gala held in Downtown Chicago for one of my graduate courses. Going into it, I knew I would be in a room with some of the top names in the industry. That’s when it hit me that the opportunity had *not* passed.

The night of the gala was incredible. One of my best – and last – memories of being in a crowded room. As the event began to wrap up, I knew it was now or never. It was time for my limo entrance moment (or a memorable first impression for those of you who aren’t familiar with #BachelorNation lingo).

I took a deep breath, gave myself an internal pep talk and worked up the courage to approach Rana Komar, president of the entire central region of Weber Shandwick.

Though I blacked out in the moment, I vaguely remember three things:

  1. Awkwardly introducing myself
  2. Telling her I was at the gala as a student guest for my master’s program
  3. Explaining to her that I applied for the Weber Shandwick internship and would love to be considered

She handed me her card and told me to email her, which you better believe is the first thing I did when I got home that night. The next day, I woke up to an email from HR wanting to interview me that same week. One could assume it’s because Rana appreciated me taking initiative and in turn, got my name in front of the right people.

This is when I had to blink three times and question if it was all a dream.

Spoiler alert: I got the internship and on just the first day of the job, I knew it was meant to be. I had never been so happy and fulfilled in a professional environment before. The work was challenging, but intriguing and I showed up each day more knowledgeable than the last.

My internship started in February 2020 and I had until June to show what I was made of in hopes of getting hired on at the end – also conveniently the same month I would be graduating with my master’s degree.

But as we’ve seen on ABC, only one person can get the final rose. Or in this case, no one.

In April my intern class learned the unfortunate news that the program was going to be terminated by the end of the month due to the ongoing pandemic. After we got off the call, I was devastated. I felt like everything I had worked so hard to achieve was ripped away in the blink of an eye.

I cried. I had my moment of distress. But me being me (an anxious 20-something), I knew I needed to pivot and immediately figure out what was next. I wiped away my tears and, you guessed it, tapped into my network.

I reached out to everyone I could think of, and that is no exaggeration. From professors, to peers who worked at agencies, to connections I had met at job fairs years prior, I explained my situation and asked if they knew of any opportunities. Had I waited any longer, I’m not confident I would have found work to get me through the summer.

After a couple weeks of bumming it out from my parent’s basement, I ended up accepting not one, but two internships for the summer. And with no time to waste, as they both started shortly after my time at Weber Shandwick came to an end. Even though I felt extremely fortunate to have found work, I naturally kept wondering what was next. What happens beyond this summer when my internships end and I’m done with grad school?

As much as I searched the deep depths of the LinkedIn job board, my mind kept referring back to Weber Shandwick, which did not surprise me given the amazing experience I had there. What I did not see coming, however, was that 2020 was the first time in my life I’ve considered moving out of state and starting over. Maybe it was the fact that I was sick of working from an extremely overpriced shoe-box of an apartment in Chicago or maybe the pandemic just made me realize that life is short and there’s never a better time than the present to step out of your comfort zone.

Throughout the summer, I stayed in touch with my HR contacts from Weber Shandwick as well as my former team members. I made it known that I wished to be kept top of mind when opportunities were to become available again within the company.

Six months later with no end to the pandemic in sight and my industry still seemingly being caught up in a hiring freeze, I saw that Weber Shandwick had posted an entry-level role at their Dallas office. For a few days, the possibilities weighed in my mind. Dallas is far away from home, yet warm and full of adventure. Definitely not Chicago, but an amazing city with endless opportunities in the PR industry. It overall seemed like a great place for a fresh start after what was a very testing year. I decided to go for it.

I emailed my HR contact and was sad to hear that they were already weeks into the interviewing process for the role. This time, I didn’t just assume that the opportunity passed, I knew it had.

I was wrong. Again.  

And I’ve never been so happy to be wrong in my life. The next week, I received an unexpected email from my HR contact stating that something had changed with the role and she wanted to set up a phone call with me. After discussing the position and being virtually interviewed by the team at Weber Shandwick in Dallas, I had a feeling that can only be described as fate. When Weber Shandwick got down on one metaphorical knee, I said “yes” without hesitation. A million times yes.

As if 2020 coming full circle and leading me back to the job I’m passionate about wasn’t enough, I realized that my official start date was the same day as the premiere of Matt James’ season of The Bachelor. If *that* isn’t a sign from the universe, I honestly don’t know what is. I knew I needed to have some fun with my job announcement and use it to rekindle my creative enthusiasm.

Now as I prepare to hang up the parka and put on the cowgirl boots, I can’t help but look back on the roller-coaster of 2020 in complete awe.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned it’s this: If you don’t get the final rose, don’t let it discourage you. It could be leading you to (Bachelor in) Paradise.

One thought on “Accepting the Agency Rose: My Pandemic Job Search

  1. This post was such a truthful and relatable depiction of getting a job in public relations. Being an undergraduate student studying PR, I can say that I’ve heard *the* phrase quite a few times, but it has never proven itself to be false. I agree that putting yourself out there and displaying your talent to future jobs is the best way to get recognized. “The Bachelor” twist that you used emphasizes the uncertainty that many job applicants feel, much like women on the reality TV show. However, if an applicant is genuinely there for the right reasons, they could be the perfect fit. As you said, pivoting can not exist without networking. -Caroline Robinson, writer/editor for Platform Magazine

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