Sep 27

You’re not too young to pay it forward

Three young business professionals talking

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the end of my college days and applying for my first full-time job. I remember these moments feeling surreal. Despite doing well in my communications and journalism classes, working several internships and making connections with professionals in the industry, I still didn’t feel I was quite ready. The idea of working full-time felt very adult. And at 22 years old, thinking of myself as an adult seemed strange.

My nostalgia was sparked by me joining the mentoring program through the West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations of America, also known as WMPRSA, and helping a PR student navigate this stage in his career. At the same time, a close relative earned her medical degree and asked for my advice as she began searching for her first full-time job.

During both conversations with these budding professionals, we discussed a variety of topics, from job-specific skills to broader career advice and philosophies on looking for jobs. While I initially felt more confident discussing navigating a career in PR, I was surprised – despite the contrast in the line of work – both conversations had more similarities than differences.

Through my conversations, I’ve learned you’re never too young to pay it forward. Career advice and mentors can come from a variety of people, including those considered young professionals, like myself, and folks in different fields. Career advice doesn’t always have to come from someone with decades of experience, although that certainly can help. Being a mentor or giving advice is about passing along lessons learned from teachable moments.

While I do not claim to know it all, I thought I’d share advice I’ve learned along the way that seemed to apply to both of my recent conversations:

  • Experience is key: Succeeding in school is important and should be a priority, but nothing beats on-the-job experience. Get as much of it as you can. Most interviews rarely discuss your schoolwork.
  • The grind is real: At some point, you’re going to hit a wall when applying for jobs and just want to be done. It’s ok to take a break.
  • Don’t settle: You may feel the push to lower your standards just to get hired. This is normal, but don’t let it divert from your goals. It’s important to be patient and wait for a position that is a good fit. You’ll be better off long-term, even if you don’t plan to stay there for an extended period of time.
  • Be a little picky: It’s ok to be a bit more selective when applying for full-time gigs versus an internship. This is a more permanent decision that will affect your daily life and should be considered carefully.
  • Consider your options: Keep your options open until you’re in a place where you can make the most informed decision on your career’s next chapter.

Having someone to talk to about your career and its next steps is invaluable. It’s likely you have or will soon have a mentor to help you navigate your career decisions. When you find yourself in a position to do so, be sure to pay it forward and be that same role model for someone else, even if you have doubts and think you’re too young. People don’t succeed alone, and everyone has relied on their “village” to get them to where they are today.

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