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The 10 Most Surprising Things You'll Learn in Your First Job

Updated: Feb 24, 2019

Former UA PRSSA members Jacquie McMahon and Rachel Uniatowski visited the Chapter on Monday, April 11, to speak to public relations students about their experiences while interning and working in New York’s Ketchum office. Jacquie is an assistant account executive in the corporate practice, while Rachel is an account coordinator working in the brand practice on Pernod Ricard and Gillette Global accounts. Their presentation, “The 10 Most Surprising Things You’ll Learn in Your First Job,” highlighted 10 practical tips for navigating the professional public relations world, which they described as vastly different from college.

10. Thank you goes a long way. Everyone should value the art of the classic thank-you note. Writing personalized thank-you notes will get you farther than you would think in the public relations world. While thank-you notes after job interviews are important, both women emphasized the importance of always being thankful, even after you start working at a company. 

“A lot of public relations is just manners and being polite,” McMahon said.

9. What are agency roles? Before going into an interview or a new work environment, research what each department does and what the people do. Know where you want to be and who you will be working with.   Sometimes agency roles overlap, but going into an interview with knowledge of what is going on will help you immensely.

8. Planning for PESO. Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned—Knowing these important terms and what they mean will help you impress in an interview and gain a better understanding of the professional world quickly. For example, knowing that it is harder for brands to control their messages with earned media as opposed to paid media is a good way to impress your interviewers or co-workers.

7. Learn the real corporate culture. When you enter the public relations workforce, you will soon realize that your team culture matters more than the agency’s culture. In interviews, ask specific questions regarding the team you will be working with and what they are like.

6. (Team) size doesn’t matter. You will never know what size your team will be. Sometimes you may find yourself doing projects with dozens of people and others times you may work with one other person. Be prepared to make adjustments for any team size.

5. It’s a balancing act. The term “work/life balance” is a buzzword for a reason. Everyone is trying to figure it out, and both McMahon and Uniatowski stated that they were still trying to understand it. According to McMahon, one way to ensure balance in your life is to look at it in a broader way. Instead of focusing on what your day looks like, focus on how hard you are working one week and try to go easier on yourself the next.

4. Vacation is all I ever wanted. It may be hard to accept, but you can and should make use of all of your vacation days-- even at your entry -level job. According to McMahon, it is important to allow yourself time to “shut down, log out and put away distractions.” This will prevent you from getting burned out after your first year.

3. Think like a mathlete. Even though you will be working in public relations, you will have to use math. This is bBecause everything in public relations comes down to a budget, meaning that you must be budget-minded in order to succeed.

2. Beyond the grade. In college, you are accustomed to getting feedback in the form of grades. Feedback does exist in the real world, but you must ask good questions in order to get it. Seek feedback proactively in order to learn and to improve your work.

1. Think like a client. The biggest tip McMahon and Uniatowski had for students was to think 10 steps ahead of your client. If you answer all of the client’s questions before he or she even asks, you can have more productive meetings and really grasp what the client wants from you.

-by Emily Hillhouse, PRSSA General Member

Emily Hillhouse is a public relations and English double major and an Italian minor at The University of Alabama. She is currently a member of UA PRSSA and a writer for The Crimson White. Connect with her on LinkedIn or at


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