I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak to a group of students today as part of the Georgetown University Alumni Lunch and Learn Program. The event combined a speed-dating format with a question and answer session as a handful of marketing, advertising and public relations professionals moved around a room full of students.
I came away impressed with the interest expressed by the students and their motivation to learn more about how to get their individual starts. While I did my best to meet their requests for the “Best Career Advice Ever,” I found the following few points came up in conversation after conversation.
First, many wanted to know the one skill to master in order to succeed in marketing and communications. Hands down the answer is writing skills. No matter whether you are an intern or a senior staffer, being unafraid to write and being able to write well are by far the most important attributes. You cannot survive without writing talent.
Second, develop a gut instinct and bring new ideas to the table. That’s what sets you apart. This might mean relating something you have read, heard, or done to what is going on at work. How does what is going on in the world apply to what you are doing and how can you do it better? Becoming a strategist is the ultimate goal of any communications expert but you can start bringing insights right from day one.
Third, do the job that you want, not the job you have. In this economy, you might be asked to start as an intern and this may include answering the phone or assembling reports. I’ve done all of these mundane things and more. The important thing is to look to the position you want and simply act as if you already have it. Pay attention to what others in positions you hope to grow into are doing and bring an added value to them that may not be required of you.
Finally, never be afraid to ask. I started in advertising by writing a blind letter to a pioneer in the field and simply asking for the opportunity to learn from him. It was the best thing I could have done to start my career. Don’t wait for opportunity to come your way, make your own.