advice for new college graduatesOne thing I’ve noted during my past 15 years of teaching undergraduate public relations courses at colleges in the Boston area has been that fleeting look of panic in students’ eyes as they step off the stage at Commencement with their freshly-earned diploma.

There’s a lot of bravado.

There’s more than a fair amount of “yippee, I did it!”

But, inevitably, there is that one “tell”…that one moment…when uncertainty takes over.

This, for me, is where the bond between the professor and the student comes into play.

Like so many others, I’ve been there myself.

And I invariably have a mental flashback to my favorite scene from “Gone with the Wind” where Scarlett O’Hara runs down the stairs to tearfully plead with Rhett Butler, “Where shall I go? What shall I do?”

Throughout the years, I have had an annoying tendency to remind my PR students at Curry College time and again:

Nearly 2,000 students graduate each May from colleges in the Boston area with a major, minor, or concentration in public relations.

What Will Make You Stand Out?

Then I pause dramatically, look intently at each student, and ask…

What have you done that will make you stand out in that crowd?

More often than not, I get a blank stare with an implied, “Well, if my college degree that I paid a ton of money for doesn’t count, what else do I have to have and how do I get it?”

Fair question that brings us back to the professor-student relationship again.

We, the professors, are supposed to be “tuned in” to the requirements/ needs/ wants/ demands of the profession about which we are (theoretically) knowledgeable and about which we are paid, through our students’ tuitions, to impart insights and wisdom.

For me, it’s public relations, and I, for one, am an active member of the Public Relations Society of America and the Boston Chapter PRSA, and I attend national, regional, and local meetings as often as possible.

In addition, I attend meetings of the Publicity Club of New England and the International Association of Business Communicators Yankee Chapter when they have a program of interest to me.

All this is so that I can:

  • Keep as current as possible on trends in the public relations industry that I can then pass on to my students; and
  • Keep my networking channels up-to-date so I can give my students viable leads for internship and job opportunities.

I also encourage my students to attend these meetings so that they, too, can benefit from the excellent programs and…network.

I feel it is part of my responsibilities as a PR professor to know what hiring managers are looking for in a new employee and who is looking for new employees.

And we should simultaneously be working with our students to help them acquire the skills, the knowledge…the connections…that they will need to have a fighting chance.

Advice for New College Graduates

In today’s world, this “chance” is more than just a diploma.

  • It’s hands-on experience gained through internships and work experience.
  • It’s professional connections gained through serious, focused networking.
  • And it’s a social media presence that “fills in the blanks” for a hiring manager by telling him or her a little bit more about the potential employee.

A somewhat more challenging trait that I’ve noticed in today’s new graduates, though, is a tendency to expect “instant gratification”…to have immediate success in a job search with the exact job in the exact organization at the exact pay level anticipated.

Cue the clanging “reality” gong!

Yes, I “reassure” my minions.

You keep hearing one classmate or another saying he or she already has secured the perfect job starting after graduation.

There Are Jobs Out There

And that’s a good thing…that means there are jobs out there.

But we’re talking about you and the type of job you have been preparing for.

We…you and I…are going to work together to help you get your start.

We’re going to work on your “elevator pitch” that will help you tell someone, in a neatly-constructed few sentences, who you are, what you have done, and what you can do.

We’re going to fine-tune your resume.

And we’re going to get you some solid job leads that will lead to interviews and ultimately to a job offer.

But Reality isn’t Always Rainbows and Unicorns

Here’s where “reality” come in, though.

This first offer may not be the “perfect” job that you’re convinced you deserve.

It may not be the “perfect” company…trust me, nothing’s “perfect!”

And it’s definitely not going to be the six-figure jackpot that you believe you’re worth.

But, with some diligent searching and networking…and reality-checking…you will find a job that will allow you to fine-tune your skills, zero in on your interests, and get your career on its way.

You’ll have an opportunity to show others what you’re capable of doing.

Yes, there will be bumps in the road along the way…it’s called “life.”

The underlying message here is that you, the newly-graduated student, are not being tossed into the sea to either sink or swim.

There is a support network…your professor(s), your school’s career services office and alumni affairs office, the professional organizations in your area…to which you can turn for advice, guidance, consolation, reassurance.

Reach out to them…to us.

That’s what we’re here for, unlike Rhett who, in response to Scarlett’s tearful pleas, said firmly and coldly, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Kirk Hazlett

Kirk, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk is co-chair of the PRSA College of Fellows Mentoring Committee and has held leadership positions with PRSA Educators Academy and PRSA Northeast District as well as with the Boston and Hawaii PRSA chapters.

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