What that first job is really like

It's graduation season and college seniors heading to the work world often ask: what's that first job really like?

It's graduation season and college seniors heading to the work world often ask: what's that first job really like? Last week I posed that question to seven former PR students who landed their first job one year ago. Their answers were enlightening. Here's what they said.

Biggest surprise? Five said the “unrelenting and overwhelming workload” was the biggest surprise. The former students said they were well prepared to meet the practical skills requirements of their tasks, but the pace and volume of work were difficult to negotiate and sometimes included “many nights and weekend hours.” 

On the other hand, most were delighted to discover highly collaborative and supportive work cultures. One said his agency is “a firm firm,” a one-for-all and all-for-one workplace. Two mentioned a strong, daily focus on ethics and integrity in their agencies. In addition, all confirmed the importance of excellent writing skills. “I heard that mantra in every class I took,” one said, “but it's real in the workplace.”

Biggest need not realized in education or internships? Four former students wished they'd learned more about business, finance, and especially budgeting. “You need to be a people person and a numbers person,” one commented.

Confident self-expression to those in power was another need. “I wish I'd learned more about professionally expressing my ideas and opinions to superiors,” one lamented.

A third issue was the lack of specific training in conflict management and negotiation skills that would help deal with difficult clients who “sometimes make unbelievable and impossible demands.”  

Unexpected benefits? A positive work culture and a powerful learning environment were mentioned most often. However, four said the best unexpected benefit was the strong support their employers provide for continuous learning and development through continuing education programs, professional association memberships, and community engagement activities.

So for these seven, that first job was like this: loads of work and long hours accompanied by copious learning, high employer expectations, daily energy and excitement in a positive and supportive culture, and new relationships with a great work family. And by the way, they love their jobs.    

Bruce Berger, Ph.D. is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama and a member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at berger@apr.ua.edu.

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