On the Friday Forum “From College to Comms Pro,” I learned what it’s been like to shift from university life to a communications career in recent years. I heard how things have changed, and stayed the same, since I graduated.
In the panel on September 23 moderated by Caylee Tompkins – president of the San Jose State University (SJSU) chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) – three SJSU alumni talked through embarking on a career in communications after college:
- Alannah McDermott, a senior account executive at Lumina Communications and project management lead for PRSA Silicon Valley’s Media Predicts 2022,
- Sierra Fatlowitz, a corporate communications specialist at eBay who previously worked in local government as well as for a tech PR agency, and
- Jazmin Eusebio, who is a Senior Account Executive and Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Specialist at Highwire PR as well as a PRSA-SV board member.
How Things Have Changed
When I graduated in 2000, many things were different. I majored in English and Marketing as there was no Communications major available. I went to career fairs and handed out hard copy resumes to strangers. I mailed out cover letters, waiting for calls to a landline and an answering machine. There were no texts, apps or social networks.
Eight hundred miles and six months after graduating, I ultimately landed a job at a tech PR agency in San Francisco because they found my resume online – one of very few.
Listening to Caylee, Sierra, Jazmin, and Alannah, it struck me how different both being a student and breaking into the communications field are today compared to twenty years ago.
For one thing, communications is a highly sought-after field these days. And universities like San Jose State offer excellent degree programs taught by professors with real-world experience both in-house and in agencies. As Alannah McDermott put it on Friday Forum, “I’m very grateful for the PR program at San Jose State. It’s top notch.” I absolutely agree.
Unlike in 2000, today practically everyone has their resume online. That doesn’t take the frustration and fear out of job hunting though. And it can mean a lot more competition. But it does mean that help may be just one click away for anyone, anywhere.
“If you are struggling to find that first job… clearly you’re online, you’re on this call, there’s a huge community here who will help you,” emphasized Sierra Fatlowitz on Friday Forum.
The pandemic has precipitated tectonic shifts in how we network, recruit, and work. It sent shockwaves through people just starting out in their careers during the pandemic, as was the case with all three panelists. But there were some silver linings, even in that ongoing crisis.
As Jazmin Eusebio put it, “The pandemic was a career accelerator because I was now leading meetings from the comfort of my own home. I was able to really grow in my public speaking and my leadership development… And I think once I’m able to transition back into the office, I can take these skills and be a better public speaker.”
The rise of PR as a field and the subsequent availability of top notch education in the discipline, the shift from analog to digital networking, as well as the ripple effects of the pandemic, combine to make the transition from college to communications professional today seem very different from twenty years ago.
How Things Have Stayed the Same
In other ways though, after listening to this panel, it seems some things haven’t changed at all.
In college, my internships were with record labels and a radio station, not PR agencies. I spent the summer after graduation doing door-to-door sales for Stamps.com and waiting tables at the Olive Garden while I job hunted. I was surprised to find that my experience in music promotions, field sales, and food service made me stand out to employers. This still holds true.
As Jazmin explained, “At Highwire, we ask about leadership positions in school or previous volunteer experience. Don’t always feel like you need to have a formal PR internship. The work that you do at school really goes a long way… being involved and just raising your hand.”
I started working at a tech PR firm in San Francisco right as the Internet bubble was bursting. By mid-2001, I felt like everyone I knew was getting laid off, and I was next. All that stress and fear took its toll on my mental health. Ultimately, though, I didn’t get laid off. And even if I had, worrying about it wouldn’t have prevented it.
As Alannah said so well, “The most important thing you can do is trust that the opportunities will come… Don’t stress out, take care of yourself, first and foremost, and opportunities will flow.”
As I was gainfully employed for twenty two years straight thanks in large part to my network, I can second what Sierra underscored, “Build those relationships. Networking is really important.”
I also attribute my steady upwards career trajectory to expressing curiosity about every job. Which is why Alannah’s advice to “Go into every meeting, every opportunity, every conversation with an open mind and come armed with questions,” really struck a chord.
I’ve spent more than two decades working with incredible people working on everything from Apple and Google product launches to driving global communications programs for online education and climate tech pioneers. And the communications professionals on Friday Forum shared similar stories of gaining momentum as they advance in their careers with the support of mentors, advocates, and the network and skills they gained while in school, and after.
Today people are working while going to school or job hunting as I did. Graduates and new professionals are facing a downturn and economic uncertainty once again. Yet – if this Friday Forum panel is any indication – they remain optimistic, focused, and purposeful. And they certainly come to the table with far more skills and experience than I did as a college grad.
I was once told that communications is an apprenticeship business. One that requires those with experience to train those without it on the job. Today – with the availability of job-ready communications degrees from places like San Jose State University – I believe communications has become a mentorship business. One that flourishes through the exchange of ideas, experiences, and skills across generations and disciplines, rather than in top-down training.
After processing what I heard on Friday Forum from Alannah, Jazmin, Sierra, and Caylee, my commitment to mentorship in the communications field is genuinely renewed. I am so grateful for their time and energy in sharing their thoughts and experiences with our community.
With that in mind, I hope you’ll do one or more of the following, in the next few moments:
– Tune in to the replay of the “From College to Comms Pro” Friday Forum on LinkedIn, Spotify, Buzzsprout, Apple podcasts, or YouTube.
– Complete this 1-minute survey to sign up to be matched with a mentor or mentee through the PRSA Silicon Valley Mentorship program. All it takes is four hours a year.
– Reach out to me at jeannie.entin at gmail dot com if you’re interested in participating in an upcoming virtual career fair with SJSU students including Caylee.
Please don’t hesitate to let us know if there’s a topic you’d like us to cover on an upcoming Friday Forum. You can follow us on LinkedIn and subscribe to our newsletter for updates.
Jeannie Entin is a communications consultant for environmental and wellness solutions providers, and has served as the Mentorship Chair for PRSA Silicon Valley since 2018.