As rising public relations professionals, we are always looking to continue our professional development and further enhance our brand. This year the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major disruption for many, and our industry is no exception. Many students have seen internships canceled and recent graduates are facing the tall task of finding a secure job during the worst economic downturn since World War II.
What should we do if our dream internship was canceled? How can we define our personal brand amid a pandemic? To answer these questions and more, I recently chatted with Carly Rogers, a recent University of Florida graduate, and Linda Evans, a strengths-based career coach. Below are some highlights of our conversation:
Edelman Intern – Canceled
Carly Rogers was well on her way to becoming the newest intern for Edelman, a highly sought-after global communications firm. After successfully interning for BCW last summer and graduating in May 2020, she was looking forward to launching her career at a world-famous firm. Unfortunately for Rogers, things wouldn’t turn out as planned due to unforeseen circumstances surrounding COVID-19.
“I got the internship and it got canceled the same day,” Rogers said. “I was first of all proud of myself, but I was also disappointed and had to go through stages of grief at the loss of an internship that would have skyrocketed my career right out of college.”
Rogers didn’t let this bump in the road slow her down, though, as she quickly went to LinkedIn to announce her accomplishment and following cancellation. She spent the next few weeks applying to all the jobs that she could.
Rogers used an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of her job search, listing things such as application status, talking points for interviews and more.
“What was more important to me was keeping in contact with my connections,” Rogers said. Rogers would go on to schedule calls with a number of mentors and connections alike. This led to her landing an internship with the Diversity Action Alliance.
Even though her original plan was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic, Rogers was still able to advance her career thanks to scrappy networking and personal branding.
Establishing Your Unique Personal Brand
Personal branding is something every public relations professional may consider at some point in their career. For students trying to stand out in a crowded job market, personal branding may be just the thing that sets them apart from their peers.
Linda Evans has spent the better part of the last decade developing strategies for students to define their personal brands and launch their careers. Many students don’t know where to start when it comes to establishing a personal brand. According to Evans, it is a process, not a one-time action.
“A personal brand is always evolving, it is a part of who you are,” said Evans. “We are always changing based on new experiences, and our brand evolves with us.”
Evans shared some of her personal branding myths in our conversation. They are as follows:
- You only need a personal brand if you are in business. This is false because everyone forms their personal brand by the way they choose to present themselves.
- If you have a personal brand, you are not a team player. This is false as well. When you know what strengths you bring to the table, you become a better team player. Think how well a team would operate if everyone was innately in tune with their personal strengths?
A great first step in establishing a personal brand is taking a personal inventory. You need to understand yourself before you can understand how you can present yourself externally to others.
A second step, according to Evans, is establishing how you can present yourself to others. Evans describes four fronts to achieve this. They are as follows:
- In person: how you dress, how you interact with others, how you speak.
- In writing: things such as resumes, cover letters and emails.
- Online: social media, bios, pictures, personal websites.
- In memory: how people remember you after an interaction.
A key to personal branding is combining your positions and skills with your personality, goals and interests. Evans warns students to not dive too deeply into their personal brand when they present themselves professionally, though, as it may come off as distracting.
Looking Forward – The COVID-19 Job/Internship Search
At times it feels like the current pandemic will never end, but Evans and Rogers both agree that it is crucial for students and young professionals alike to keep moving forward during this time.
“Network like crazy,” Evans said, noting that students should expand their LinkedIn networks through thoughtful connections to continue learning through other people. Being there for your connections goes a long way as well, as we are all navigating careers through this pandemic together and many may share similar concerns.
“Everyone’s journey is their own journey,” Rogers said, noting that students should not get down on themselves by comparing their successes to others. As long as students are continuing their professional development, they are well on their way.
There are many activities students can do to continue their professional development during this time. Rogers offered the following as some activities to start with:
- Take certification courses such as Muck Rack Academy.
- Start a personal blog (check out Carly’s here).
- Volunteer to do social media for a nonprofit.
As students continue to navigate their careers during this time, remaining positive and continuing to move forward will be crucial. We are living in uncertain times, but everyone is on their own unique journey.
Rogers summed up our conversation by saying this: “Your journey is what you make of it.”
Your journey is what you make it, so make it great!
Zach Ferenchak, 2020–2021 vice president of brand engagement, is a senior at Capital University, a private university in Columbus, Ohio. He is majoring in emerging media with an emphasis in public relations and minors in journalism and marketing. In his free time, Ferenchak can be found obsessing over the latest gadget or video game, exploring a coffee shop with friends, or going on a trail run. He hopes to elevate the voices of all PRSSA members through the organization’s various brand platforms. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.