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Q & A with Former Communications Majors
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Ben Miller is a self–employed photographer who will be entering the Foreign Service this year.
Ramatu Bangura is a graduate student in international educational development and has worked as an outreach and educational services director for various nonprofits, most recently for an organization that provides services to sexually exploited and trafficked youth.
Ryan Reczek works for the American Cancer Society in sales and educational services.
Seth Burleigh is a direct marketing assistant for the marketing and communications department of the UCLA Extension School.
Todd Evans is currently in graduate school. He was previously the manager of public relations and investor relations at a small software company.
What skills and information used in college do you find yourself making the most use of?
Ben: I learned how the mass media and advertising works, which has allowed me to be successful in planning advertising campaigns for my own business.
Ramatu: The ability to write and think critically.
Ryan: I get the most use out of what I learned in my public speaking courses. I find what I studied in those classes not only influenced my public speaking skills, but also made an impact on my daily interpersonal communication abilities.
Seth: Working with others (specifically adults), computer skills learned from doing course work, time–management skills, Spanish skills, being able to link current events/issues with sociological history or reasoning.
Todd: The ability to write clearly and quickly.
How did you decide which field to go into?
Ben: I chose to pursue photography, simply because I loved it. I did not know how I would make money, but I knew I would work it out.
Ramatu: Through internships I learned that I enjoyed nonprofit work. Through nonprofit work and starting my own organization, I learned that I wanted to work for nonprofits that focused on issues of gender and feminism.
Ryan: Working in the nonprofit cancer-related world was a direct result of an internship I had in school. I spent two and a half years after college with the organization that I interned with, and today I work for the American Cancer Society spreading preventative health information throughout the Philadelphia area.
Seth: I knew I wanted to go into business, but not the number-crunching side (I don't like math), so basically the thinking side of business, which is marketing (among other areas).
If you went straight into the workforce after receiving your bachelor's degree, do you wish you had attended graduate school first? If you went to grad school, do you wish you had worked first?
Ben: I want to get a MA someday, but I want to be really serious when I go back. I think that anyone who goes straight for their master's may be missing a lot of real-world experience, and may end up in a career that doesn't actually suit them well.
Ramatu: I believe very strongly that no one (with a few exceptions like law and medical school) should go on to graduate school immediately after receiving a BA. Adding more debt and a graduate degree on top of something you find out later you don't want to do can be very limiting and discouraging.
Ryan: I went straight into the workforce, and I wouldn't change that for anything. I wanted to make sure my field was for me by getting professional hands-on experience before I attended graduate school.
Seth: I don't wish I attended graduate school, because if I do go back to school it will be for my MBA, and I need to get some work experience before that.
Todd: I am in grad school now, and I worked for six years before I went back. People should definitely work before they go back; it's a waste of money and time to go back and have no reference for the real world (unless you want to be in academia forever).
What is the number-one bit of advice you wish you were given before you entered the job market?
Ben: Only go for jobs that you really want. If you go for jobs you don't want, the employers will see it written on your face, and you will not get them anyways. Even if you do get them, you will not be happy. So do what you love.
Ramatu: Before getting into the job market, look to get experience any way that you can (i.e., volunteer, intern, start your own [business]). Also, interview your prospective employers just as they are interviewing you. You will spend most of your waking hours there. Make sure it's where you want to be.
Ryan: Be patient. Sometimes the hiring process can take months, especially at larger companies.
Seth: It will take longer than you think—and even though you will get discouraged, something will come along.
What was your first job out of college?
Ben: I was a freelance photographer, and had a part-time job at a photo studio. The pay was not high, and I worked a ton, but I learned a lot about the business, and I had a lot of fun.
Ramatu: When I was a senior in college I started a girls' organization in DC and ran that program for two years after college.
Ryan: My immediate first job was working as the interim marketing manager at a boutique hotel. I was recommended to the owner of the hotel by his brother whom I interviewed with at another company.
Seth: The one I am at now, a direct marketing assistant at UCLA Extension School. I found it via Craigslist.
Todd: I was an account executive at a public relations agency; I had interned there for 18 months prior to graduation.
What do you like most about your current role?
Ben: I have absolute power and flexibility. If I want to go on a vacation for two months, I need only ask myself. The money is pretty good as well.
Ramatu: I love being a student again. I also feel passionate about issues of gender-based violence and love that my work allows me to fight the good fight everyday.
Seth: The laid-back academic environment—not tight and corporate. I'm learning about different things each day.
Todd: Being a resource and spokesperson.
What mistake do communications grads often make when applying for jobs?
Ben: Most employers know that communications is an easy major, so you need to have other experience to show that you can actually do the job for them.
Ramatu: Not paying attention to what story their resume tells. When you take a job or leave a job, make sure that the title and your tenure at the organization say what you want it to say. Moving around too much makes you look unreliable. Staying too long in the same position makes you look unambitious.
Ryan: As a person who hires employees, the biggest mistake I see is when a communications major doesn't specify what exactly they studied. Communications is an incredibly broad field, and you need to be able to tell a potential employer, "I studied public relations and public communication" or "I focused my efforts in the area of marketing and media studies."
Seth: I can't speak for all grads, but I know that I underestimated the job market and the ability to find a job.
Todd: Not having any quantitative skills. Even if you don't have a financial or quantitative job, it helps to understand finance and the markets.
What suggestions do you have for communications major entering the job market?
Ben: Theory is important, but so is practice. If you are in interested in a field, get some practical experience under your belt before graduation.
Ramatu: Use internships to explore your professional interests. You can save a lot of time if you can get some sense of where you would like to be professionally before you graduate.
Ryan: I always recommend taking a leadership role in a major student organization. Having leadership experience before you leave college will help improve your odds of getting a job befitting of your desires and skill. Then after college, find the job you want and go after it with gusto.
Seth: Be persistent when looking for a job. It may be easy, but it may also take a while.
Todd: Get in every day 30 or 60 minutes early and read. To get ahead, it helps to be the most knowledgeable.