Youth is served

From self evaluation to how colleagues view you, Nicole Zerillo seeks answers to questions many young PR pros ask

From self evaluation to how colleagues view you, Nicole Zerillo seeks answers to questions many young PR pros ask

While experience in a given field ultimately indicates whether a successful choice was made, younger employees also must evaluate early on how their workplace culture, sector, and even quality of life measures up to their expectations. And definitive answers may not come for several years.

Millennials (or Gen Y) have different career expectations than previous generations. The young pros that make up this group (which, by most definitions, refers to those born in the '80s and early '90s), bring to the workforce a unique set of priorities and skill sets.

"Work often means long hours and uncertain long-term prospects for most, and Millennials are struggling with the conflict between their expectations of easy money and the reality of entry-level jobs circa 2008," states Intelligent Dialogues: Millennials, a 40-page study by Porter Novelli which looks at this young generation and its impact on the work landscape.

According to the study, Millennials often have difficulty reconciling tasks that could be seen as paying their dues because of expectations created by young entrepreneurs, such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook or Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who rocketed past tedious entry-level tasks.

Gut instincts are always key, but for younger staffers the qualities that differentiate them may not be the best mechanism for ensuring professional happiness.

Networking with peers through professional organizations, like PRSA, can also serve to put in context rote tasks, the degree of conflict they experience, or even whether the hours required for success in an entry-level position are on par or excessive.

Seeking advice
Entry-level tasks are often a matter of course, but to know how those activities matter in the larger scheme or how they've helped shape careers, picking experienced colleagues' brains can help, says Jillian Froehlich, senior associate at Carmichael Lynch Spong.

"One thing I found helpful was vicariously learning through my colleagues' experiences," she adds. "This also goes to drive and initiative. Taking senior-level associates out to lunch and asking how they started [is important]. It doesn't hurt to ask high-ranking executives. You might be surprised by who says 'yes.'"

Mentorship can clarify a lot of questions and raise issues that might not have been apparent, as a super-visor or adviser can often see several steps down a path you're just starting, says Aaron Uhrmacher, global lead for Text 100 peer media.

Of course, the more senior-level the mentor, the greater the constraints on their time. Well, thanks to the digital age, young pros can now get that coveted career advice without a face-to-face meeting.

A handful of industry veterans have taken to the blogosphere to offer their advice to young PR pros. Among them is Ketchum Midwest MD and partner Ron Culp, who recently launched CulpWrit, a blog devoted to "guiding the career in public relations."

At the same time, evaluations can provide the most direct feedback on work performance.

If a company or agency does not provide these tools or requesting them does not go well with the grain of the culture, Richard Goldblatt, SVP at M Booth & Associates, recommends assessing the kind of meetings you're invited to, the amount of client contact, and increasing work responsibility.

"If there are a few people at the same level, when a project comes down, [the issue becomes who] gets a nod more than others or is called in to handle more assignments," Goldblatt says. "If your phone is not ringing as much, maybe you're not as valuable."

Of course, failing to stand out in one arena doesn't mean a young PR pro is incapable of succeeding.

"This is why internships are extremely important," says Matt Harris, SVP of media relations at Allison & Partners. "If young people think they want to work for an agency, do an internship. Agency life isn't for everyone. It's longer hours [than corporate], and may not fit in with [a person's criteria for] work-life balance."

Also, by taking on projects in different sectors, from consumer to healthcare, an employee "becomes more valuable by being able to play all positions," he adds.

It's good to be flexible
Career experts project Millennials to try out several careers during their 20s, and they should certainly apply this generational quality to a fluid field like PR.

In particular, transferring from different sectors helps a young staffer identify his or her niche and create a chance to shine, says Kirsten Helgeson, SAE at CKPR.

In addition, young PR practitioners should take advantage of their fluency with social media, something many senior level executives may not have.

"This is one of the best times to be in communications because social media is changing the way [PR pros] work," Uhrmacher says. "People who grew up with these tools have a lot of knowledge to share."

A good way for young pros to shine is to not only clearly identify a client's standards, but to exceed them and add value to the project, says Helgeson.

Knowing when to pitch or add ideas to a project depends on the organization, but taking the initiative is the key to moving forward.

"You can't wait to be recognized. Always look for a good opportunity," advises Uhrmacher. "Two years ago, I had the chance to work with [our] CEO on a presentation because [new media] was something I was passionate about. From that, I was able to get more opportunities. Now, I lead a practice."

What to look for in today's youth
Gary Stockman, Porter Novelli CEO, looks at the issues he deems most important in gauging young PR pros' potential success.

PRWeek: What advice do you wish a senior PR exec had given you when you first began?

Gary Stockman: The advice someone would have given me [totally differs from the advice] I'd give someone now, as the challenges [have changed]. In recently speaking to our interns, I said, "Recognize that you have skills, opinions, and insights that are in demand today." Millennials have grown up in a world that's on the Internet. Now, all PR programs have strong social media components. That aptitude can be of [great] value to firms and their clients.

PRWeek: What qualities are sought in lower-level PR pros?

Stockman: One thing we always look for is passion. If [young PR pros] are looking for the right place to be and succeed, they must find a place where they can indulge those passions. If [you're] not passionate about what you do, perhaps you need to [reevaluate].

Also, in [evaluating] what people would want to be good at are the fundamental understandings of PR: What stakeholder groups matter to your client or organization; how to reach, influence, and determine whether you've had an effect; and how to engage in conversation and dialogue [with target demographics].

PRWeek: How long would a young PR pro need to be at your agency before you realize he/she may not be in the right area or, perhaps, just isn't a good fit for your firm?

Stockman: Finding the right fit starts before someone takes a new job. We strongly en-courage people to really get to know the culture of the agency they're considering and to ask themselves whether it's a place they can grow and do great work. An organization's culture is what it is - it's not going to change to suit an individual - so that makes it crucial to find the right fit from the beginning.

Presuming you get the cultural fit right, it can still take a period of fine-tuning for someone to get adjusted to their role or for the firm to identify and align a person's strengths with the right opportunity. Generally, you know if it's working within six months or so.

PRWeek: What are some red flags senior staffers look for that show a young PR person isn't quite fitting into the agency or might even rethink entering the field of PR?

Certain skills are critical for success in most entry-level posts, but perhaps even more so in PR, as the profession tends to be very collaborative and fast-moving:

Ability to multitask. Young pros often have to juggle multiple clients and need to prioritize. Millennials are better and savvier at this from a technological standpoint.

Balancing priorities. Young pros must understand what's most vital, as things can be overwhelming when they're first starting out.

Collaboration. It's essential for a young PR pro to learn how to communicate and collaborate across teams and specialty areas.

Resourcefulness. Young pros must be able to quickly assess how best to solve a problem - with the team or on their own.

Meeting deadlines. Critical, of course, as is the ability to work under pressure.

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