Hopefully, anyone reading this blog knows this already, but for the younger PR-lings in the crowd, here’s the best career advice you’ll ever get:
You only have one reputation, and it’s yours to ruin.
If someone gives you an opportunity, use it. Make that opportunity count. Work harder than you can. If nobody gives you an opportunity, make your own. Volunteer, intern, blog – do anything to build your skills, and build your reputation for being good at what you do.
You’re going to be paid next to nothing coming out of school. Perform like you’re making six figures. Stay late, don’t waste time, and overperform. That’s the only way you’re going to move up in the world of advertising or PR. Don’t like it? Work for the government.
More importantly, once you start to grow a reputation, don’t throw it away by disappointing someone, by overcommitting, overpromising or by trying to be an expert at something you don’t know anything about. This is the best way to ruin everything you’ve worked for.
When you have a good reputation, doors are easier to open. People are willing to recommend you, to stick their neck out for you. In some cases, if your reputation is very good, they’ve even heard of you before they meet you. The converse is equally true. A bad reputation can spread just as quickly – often moreso. Most people have a list of people they’ll never work with again, and in most cases, they’re not afraid to share it. Keep your reputation, and you stay off this list.
I’ve mentioned many times that the reason I am where I am is because I worked my ass off for nothing when I was still in school to develop a professional reputation. It wasn’t all successes, but it was drilled into my head very early that my reputation was going to be all I had once I graduated. Fancy letters after my name were a bonus, but worth nothing in comparison. I may not have gotten paid, but that time spent was the best investment I’ve ever made.
These are words to live by at any point in your career, but it’s much easier to ruin yourself early, before you’ve built up “reputation insurance.” Keep that in mind the next time you overpromise and underdeliver.