Just Starting Out? Tips for Entering the World of PR and Government Affairs

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Summertime. Here at Open Door Media it means breathing a little sigh of relief as New Jersey’s budget passes and Delaware’s legislative session comes to a close.

It also begins the season of internship applications, requests for references from former interns and inquiries about open positions. For those just graduating (or about to graduate) from college, navigating the first job or landing a fabulous internship can be difficult. Here’s a list of useful tips I’ve accrued over the years—from starting out myself to watching our own interns flourish.

Dress appropriately. I spent over 12 years in Catholic school. While, as a student, I focused heavily on breaking my school’s dress code rules, I now find them to be a good guideline for appropriate professional attire. If, like me, you’ve spent a good deal of time in the Catholic school system, these rules are most likely ingrained in your psyche. For others, here’s a list of the rules that apply in the professional setting:

    • If a nun…would kick you out of a school dance for what you are wearing, do not wear it to work. That means short skirts, bare midriffs, exposed skin and offensive attire. If you aren’t sure if your chosen outfit meets this requirement, then change.

 

    • Tuck in the shirttail. In our industry, we are regularly meeting with elected officials, cabinet members, business executives and heads of national organizations. In these cases, you should not look like you just ran a marathon or were robbed in the parking lot. Tuck in the shirt. Immediately untuck once you get in the car (at least that’s what I did for 13 years). If you show up to your first day and everyone is dressed casually, then you can follow their lead, but it’s always better to be dressed more professionally than necessary when first starting out.

 

    • Tattoos and Piercings. With the exception of ears, I generally recommend making sure all piercings and tattoos are hidden. You might be able to get away with a flash of a tattoo later in your career when you are established (or if you are starting a job in a creative industry), but for most offices, hide the tattoos and piercings until you can better gauge the office environment.

 

Rely on the skills you DO have, not the ones you don’t. Whenever I am hiring for an entry-level position, I specifically look for someone with experience in the food service industry. Good waiters are master multitaskers, know how to be friendly even to the rudest of people, and realize working as a team will result in larger tips. Multitasking abilities, professional demeanor and teamwork are all skills I am looking for when I’m hiring. Were you a camp counselor last summer? Corralling 20 elementary school students requires the same skills that project managers must possess—patience, creativity and the ability to get along with all sorts of personalities. Think back to your most recent jobs and relate those experiences to the position you are applying for—I promise, it helps!

Go above and beyond. Yes, I know every blog probably says this, but it’s true. Recently, I worked with a great intern who helped me draft thank you notes to members of a new grassroots coalition we were helping manage. While I gave him background information on the coalition, I mentioned that we are still continuing to grow its membership. After drafting the thank you notes, this intern researched other potential stakeholders that might be interested in joining the coalition and delivered a list with contact information to me. That went a long way. It showed interest in the work, thoughtfulness in his approach and willingness to go beyond what was asked. I would certainly write a stellar recommendation for him and consider him for any future openings at our firm.

Keep your car clean! Ok, this one is a personal tip from me to you. About two days into my first job, I was asked to drop off a member of the then-Governor’s Cabinet at the airport. Items in my car included a waitressing uniform, a wet suit, and workout gear; along with about 40 gallons of sand. As we walked to the parking lot, I remember wishing I had time to frantically shove everything in my trunk. To this day, I’m still embarrassed about that 45 minute car ride. (And I refuse to identify this particular person in hopes that he doesn’t remember that the fresh-faced messy car owner from many years ago was, in fact, a professional he now sees fairly often in meetings and around the Statehouse.)

I’m sure many others could add endless amounts of tips to this list! At the end of the day, it comes down to working hard and trying your best. Good luck as you search for the right job or internship for you!

Danielle Van Drew-Dick serves as Vice President of Mid-Atlantic Operations for Open Door Media and additionally serves as the Director of Public Affairs for ODM’s affiliated firm, Capital Impact Group.

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