You got your degree, now get ready for the real world.
Congratulations on receiving your communications degree. At your commencement you probably had an impressive speaker who delivered some inspiring words with which to enter the professional world. That’s the job of commencement speakers.
But in their desire to inspire many such speakers deliver some unrealistic advice. If you don’t know it already, you’ll soon discover that the business world doesn’t operate on good feelings and best intentions.
So here I’ve laid out the best advice I have for recent communications grads and anyone who wants to put the ideals they learned in college into real-world practice.
1. There is no substitute for doing great work.
Having passion is wonderful. Having a broad network to keep abreast of changes in your field is valuable. Getting along with your boss is a nice bonus. Looking the part, talking the talk—these are all essential ingredients to being a creative professional.
But there is not now, nor will there ever be, a substitute for sitting down and doing the work. Too many people (of all ages, at all levels) define themselves by what they’re not good at, or don’t like to do, whether that’s answering the phone, writing anything more complex than a Tweet or having a difficult conversation with their client.
Certainly, you have gained new skills and experiences in your school life. Don’t let that stop on day one of your career. No one’s saying you have to do every task equally well, but you do have to try. The worst thing that will happen is you’ll end up a well-rounded employee, able to pinch hit in a number of different areas.
If you’re truly paralyzed by fear and insecurity, remember this handy acronym: SODOTO. See one. Do one. Teach one. In other words, ask for help but pay close enough attention that you’ll be able to do it on your own the next time and teach it to someone else after that.
Doing the work also means handling truly unglamorous tasks like making copies, transferring calls, organizing your calendar and keeping on top of your emails. These too are your responsibility, so don’t try to foist it off on someone else.
2. Don’t describe yourself as a “big ideas person.”
Creativity is everyone’s business.
As Elizabeth Gilbert so aptly points out in her book on creative living, “Big Magic,” human beings started making crude drawings on cave walls approximately 30,000 years before we figured out how to grow our own food.
In other words: expression, experimentation and invention are inherent to who we are as a species.
The urge toward creative expression has existed for thousands of years.
As a creative professional, you will be tasked with coming up with inventive ideas, day in and day out, as well as the roadmap to execute them. Doing one and not the other will greatly limit your success and career growth.
Figuring out the “how” is hard. You will overlook major obstacles. You will not have enough people to get the job done. You’ll struggle with monetary and time constraints. But these challenges are really opportunities to flex your creative muscles and problem solve. Doing it consistently will ensure you’re ready when the stakes are high.
Even if your employer is content to let you think on a macro level, don’t miss out on the opportunity to get your hands dirty. It’s this hard-won experience that will make you an incredible expert or manager in a few years’ time.
3. You don’t know everything. And that’s OK.
For one, no one likes a know-it-all. But more importantly, failing to ask questions and figure out how things work will only hurt you in the future. It’s a bit like advanced math: miss one key theorem and your knowledge is forever stalled.
This doesn’t give you permission to badger coworkers, managers, clients and contacts with every question you have, whenever you happen to have it. But one-on-one meetings with your supervisor, staff meetings and lunchtime or cocktail chats are great ways to build your knowledge base.
Read everything you can get your hands on, including things that are intrinsically linked to your job, like trade journals, and things that have nothing to do with it at all. Read high-brow and low-brow publications. Read your emails (all of them—except the blatant sales pitches—and read them to the end). Read the back of shampoo bottles and random Twitter feeds.
There is more information available to you now than at any point in human history. Don’t let it go to waste. Even if you don’t see the point today, you never know when an idea will come back around to you.
4. Avoid “Busy” Burnout.
Strike “I’m so busy” from your vocabulary.
Of course you’re busy! You’re figuring things out, nothing comes easy and most people see you as fresh blood to brainstorm with and an extra set of hands to carry out their projects.
But you also have more energy now than you’ll ever have again, so you might as well put it to use.
The great secret of senior executives is that they’re wildly busy too. Having a staff or an assistant doesn’t suddenly mean you have less of your own work to do. You just get better at juggling it.
Be disciplined with your time. Find productivity hacks that work for you. Know that your first draft will likely never (ever) be the final draft. Meet your deadlines. Honor your commitments.
And try to accommodate the requests that come to you. At the very least, take a breath and say “I’d be happy to work on that. Let me look at my other priorities and come back to you with an estimated deadline.”
Your bosses really will love you for that.
On the other hand, creative work is never done. There will never come a day when you reach inbox zero, your desk is cleared off and you can kick up your feet and “ideate.” If that day does come, it probably means you’re about to be let go.
You must find ways to step away from the onslaught of work and recharge. Create a routine that lets you wind down at the end of the day. Take all of your vacation days and really disconnect. Take a walk in the middle of a random Tuesday and give your brain a rest.
If you get nothing else from this advice, I hope you’ll remember this: Most of the people you meet really do want you to succeed. Be open to their feedback. Take care of yourself. And try to have fun while you’re at it.
Check out some of our favorite resources for recent grads to help make your post-collegiate life as rewarding as graduation day.
Remember, when you join a communications team, whether at an agency or in-house, you may be working with people across departments. This means different priorities and varying methods. Download our free guide to learn how to collaborate with key players.