Running start

Drawing on years of working with top communicators, executive recruiting veteran Don Spetner helps industry newcomers get off on the right foot.

Drawing on years of working with top communicators, executive recruiting veteran Don Spetner helps industry newcomers get off on the right foot.

Because I work for one of the biggest executive recruiting firms in the world, Korn/Ferry International, I spend a lot of time talking to young people who want to build their careers in communications. I see people at all stages, including recent college grads trying to get their first job, 20-somethings who want to move up, even established professionals who want to change careers.

The most fundamental insight I can offer is that you've got to love what you do. It's actually one of the greatest challenges in life, but it's the true key to success. If you're passionate about your work and excited to get up every day and do your job, then you're going to be noticed, hired, and promoted.

Having said that, in today's employment market, you've also got to work every angle you can in order to get noticed, to get past the initial filter, the barrage of interviews, and across the finish line. So here are four guidelines to help with your journey.

1. Drive to succeed. 
Work harder and be smarter than your competition. Basic but true, it's the best way to get noticed. I have interviewed dozens of the senior-most CCOs in the world, and they have one thing in common: drive. They didn't all go to the best universities or earn advanced degrees, but they've all worked incredibly hard and have been focused and driven.

2. Build your network. 
If you're trying to make a career in communications, you've got to connect with other people in the business. If you meet someone at a conference who seems smart and professional, hand over your card and follow up in the next two days to set up coffee, lunch, or drinks. Reach out. Engage. Your personal network is the greatest asset in finding your next job. Don't neglect it.

3. Do favors.
There's an old adage about making deposits in the "favor bank," and it's a powerful analogy. When you do nice things for others, they will want to do nice things for you. Find ways to be helpful wherever and whenever you can. And by the way, one of the most valuable favors you can grant is to connect someone to your network of contacts.

4. Do right by your biggest client – you.
If you're seeking a career in PR, your number-one client is the person in the mirror. Find ways to build your reputation. Join industry organizations, attend the meetings, and volunteer for committees. Publish something on a blog, an industry site, or a trade magazine. Tweet something interesting. Apply your promotional skills on yourself. But beware: If you're obnoxious about it, this can backfire on you.

If you truly want to advance, it's not enough simply to be good at what you do. You've got to put in place the building blocks of your career. Start by excelling at your current job and standing out as someone who's indispensable. Expand your personal network and nurture it. Along the way, help people above you, below you, and beside you, because you never know who might be in a position to help you one day. And finally, don't be shy about sharing some of your wisdom every now and then – you'd be surprised how many people will notice.

Don Spetner, EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International, pens the "Last" column in each monthly issue of PRWeek.

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