by Jonathan Margolis
As kids return to school this month it got me thinking. How do professionals (no matter the industry) educate themselves and stay ahead of the latest learnings and trends within their respective careers? Just because we aren’t boarding a yellow bus every morning doesn’t mean we should stop taking notes and pushing for growth. So, whether you’re a prospective graduate or a seasoned executive, I’ve outlined my top six resources for “getting schooled.”
Get an Internship
Not sure how many people reading this haven’t yet made the leap into the professional workforce, but chances are we all know someone who hasn’t yet, so for them I say this: while it may be tempting to be a counselor on that cross country teen tour, grabbing an internship will probably help you out more in the long run. Sure you may be trading sunsets for screen time, but when an employer is looking at resumes, you want to do whatever possible to stand out from the one they looked at five minutes earlier.
There are so many advantages to internships; think of it as dating before getting married. An internship grants you the opportunity to see the day to day of the job; how the team works together, what they’re tasked with, and how they handle those tasks. And if you’re lucky, you walk away with not only experience on your resume, but an opportunity to interview for a position once you graduate.
Get a Mentor
Similar to an athlete training with a more advanced player or coach, your professional career requires you to learn from others. Having the guidance, experience, and sheer friendship of someone who’s been in your shoes, who can help with tough decisions (“Do I take the job offer or not?”, “Do I tell my boss to f*&k off or realize they’re just doing their job?”). Having a mentor can be truly beneficial and shouldn’t cost you anything but time. Well spent time. Some agencies offer official mentorship programs, but if not, flip through your (digital) rolodex, hit up anyone you worked with over the summer you may have found impressive, or go through a list of family friends. Chances are there’s someone you know that’s perfect for the job.
Request an Informational Interview
I suppose this one could go either way – whether you’re looking for that first job or you’re a few years into it and still unsure what you want to do with your life (said no one ever). Bottom line, an informational interview can’t hurt, it can only help. These types of meetings can be in-person or over the phone, but the goal is to take a few minutes of the person’s time to get a true sense of what they do, how they do it, if they enjoy it, and is it right for you.
Read the Trades
Here’s another one that costs nothing but time. Trade publications can be an invaluable source of information for both entry level folks as well as old timers like me. You can learn everything from who’s working where, what agency won which account, and read a fellow colleague’s take on the latest trends and developments in the industry. Often times trades will offer free tidbits in case your company doesn’t cover the cost of the subscription (or you just don’t feel like paying for it). As we know, everything is pretty much online today so it’s usually something you can glance at on your commute or while taking a break from that proposal due way sooner than you’d like.
Attend a Conference
Ok, so this one costs both time and money, but as someone who has both produced conferences and attended them, I can speak to their value and benefit. There’s nothing like face to face interactions with others in the business. Hearing firsthand how people got where they are today, or seeing a client or vendor who you’ve only spoken with via phone, can go a long way in terms of establishing trust and further strengthening a working relationship.
This one should probably start from the beginning of school and run till the end of your career. No one knows everything, though we all know someone who thinks they do. So long as the question is asked properly, both in terms of time and place, no question is a stupid question.
In the end, I always tell those either entering the workforce or looking for their second (sometimes third) job, it’s often who you know that gets you in, but what you know that keeps you there. That said, by creating a rolodex, taking advantage of any connection someone’s willing to make for you, and staying ahead of the curve in your field, you should hopefully be armed with the necessary resources that helps you get in, and stay in.
Good luck, and as I used to say when signing off from a weekly radio show to promote Guerrilla Marketing for Dummies, “It’s a jungle out there, be a Guerrilla”.