By Laura Hoover
If you don’t know what you want, go after what you admire. This advice was given to me by a successful reporter friend of mine more than 10 years ago, and it has served me well whenever I was feeling a little lost, especially when it came to work. I passed this, as well as a few other tips, on to a public relations intern recently, in the last few moments of my gainful employment.
I followed this advice six years ago when I became interested in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. I was walking with my boyfriend, now husband, past its headquarters at 20th and Arch streets in Center City, and told him, “I want to work there someday.” I had written an article about its vacant land program, which transformed derelict, trash-strewn lots into cleaned-up green spaces. Some went on to become neighborhood treasures. The before-and-after photos were profound. I said, and if I ever left journalism and went into public relations, it would have to be for a cause I truly cared about.
I interviewed for a publications position, didn’t get it, followed up six months later and had coffee with the editor. He contacted me a few months later when a job I was better suited for became available. And a few months after that, I got the job.
Now, five years later, as I stood with the intern and waited for an event to start, I rattled off a few things that have served me well over the course of my career. I suggested the intern look for a few public relations agencies near home, or better yet, campaigns she admired, and try and get a few informational interviews in the months before she graduates.
Measure your job search not by how many resumes you send out, but by how many people you can meet and learn from. You are in a great position to ask questions, and most people in the business are glad to help because they have been there. An informational interview is exactly that. You are not asking for a job, so there is no pressure and few expectations. In-person is better, but you can do this over e-mail if you have to.
Be good to people when you don’t need something from them. I learned that in journalism, but it was even more useful in public relations where partnerships, trades and envelope stuffing came up often. The intern networked at our media tent. Smart. She met another p.r. friend of mine, who has a lot of resources. Keep in touch with him every few months, even if you aren’t asking for something, I told her. He’ll remember you if something comes up.
The previous weekend, we had spent another few minutes together before and during our black-tie event. A reporter on deadline was getting grumpy and stressed out. I told him I was there to help and would do the best I could. I pointed out a few people he was looking for, was honest when I didn’t know the rest and just stayed near.
“Do you see what I’m doing right now?” I asked the intern.
“ Well, I’m really not doing anything, but I’m making myself available in case he does need something, and that’s making him feel better.” The reporter later lightened up, and I cracked a joke that made him smile. At the end of the night, in front of my boss, he told me I was wonderful.
Make yourself available. It’s that simple sometimes. I didn’t tell her the one other thing that I should have. Don’t talk about yourself, and ask for things that have nothing to do with what’s going on before an event. Events are stressful. Look around and see what needs to be done. And if you can’t do that, just be available, so when something pops up, as it always will, you are there to help.
She sent me an e-mail yesterday to thank me because she learned a lot from the time we spent together. What she doesn’t know is that I probably enjoyed it as much as she did.
What’s next? What do I want? A healthy and happy kid. To go back to the gym. To be on top of the family budget. To reach a new level of my profession. Mostly, time and more control over the little windows of time that I do have these days.
Laura Beitman Hoover worked as a reporter for almost 10 years in Baltimore, Md., and near Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and in Philadelphia before going into public relations at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. A new mother, she now works from home doing freelance writing and public relations. Originally from suburban Chicago, she lives in Chestnut Hill with her husband, son and dog. Her blog, “Home For A Year,” can be found at http://homeforayear.wordpress.com/