This is a great career path. Now what?

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With the continued steady growth of the public relations industry – up 11% in 2013 according to The World Report and anticipated to grow 12% over the next 8 years by the US Department of Labor – this is a great time to be a PR professional.  But just because companies are spending more time and resources on their reputations, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be the one reaping the benefits.

Just as you wouldn’t want a dentist with bad teeth or an unfit personal trainer, your clients won’t feel comfortable with you if you don’t have a clear brand of your own.  While early in your career, your goal may be to gain as much broad-based experience as possible, as you mature, you probably want to narrow your focus and become The Go To Person for something.

Pinpoint your value.  Identify exactly what it is that sets you apart as an expert in the field:  Do you serve a certain type of client?  Do you know how to cater to specific demographics?  Do you offer a depth of knowledge regarding a given industry?  Are you known for helping startups define their place in the market or for helping established organizations revamp their images?

Make a name for yourself.  In addition to whatever bio your employer maintains on you and having a strong presence on LinkedIn, you should have a place where potential clients can get a feel for who you are.  A website with your own blog, digital portfolio, and clear contact information is key.  Be sure your online footprint reflects your PR style and speaks to your target audience.  (A WordPress site isn’t going to impress major multinational corporations; a complex site with an ultra-sleek feel isn’t going to put small locally focused organizations at ease.)

Be careful to separate your work and your personal life.   It’s not simply a matter of making sure your clients don’t find those less-than-professional pictures you couldn’t help but post of inappropriately hilarious things your kids have done – it’s also a matter of being able to dedicate yourself to the task at hand.  If you never disconnect from work, you’re much more likely to burn out on both fronts.  With the increasing expectation of connectivity and the blurring of personal/professional, it’s more important than ever to set boundaries for yourself.

Manage your calendar.  Just as you wouldn’t send out an email blast or slap together a press release on a whim for a client, you shouldn’t let the pacing of your career go with the flow or be another item on your to-do list.  This works on both the micro and the macro levels.  Defining clear blocks of time each week as “personal” and “professional” can help enforce those boundaries.  Setting bigger picture career milestones or checkpoints for yourself can help you stay on track when you get caught up in the whirlwind of your home or your office.  Literally – pick a date to take stock of your career and mark it on your calendar.

Maintain your resume and your portfolio.  Add this to your calendar, too.  Even if you absolutely positively love what you’re doing right now, make a date to review your own marketing collateral at least once a year.  You never know when some amazing opportunity is going to pop up (or, some unanticipated disaster), but if/when it does, you’ll be ready to tackle it.

Continually expand your horizons.  Take advantage of networking and career development opportunities – PPRA has regular programming geared specifically towards industry professionals, and there are plenty of other exciting events throughout the region all the time.  Set a goal for yourself – plan on attending one extra event or volunteering your time for a cause at least one extra time each month.   Add events to your calendar to make sure you actually go!  Do this right now.  Seriously, open a new window in your browser and just do it.  You’re much more likely to go if it’s on your agenda.

Become a leader*.  Mentor junior-level personnel – you’ll need someone to fill your shoes as you move up to the next step in your career.  Take charge of a project at work.  Find ways to contribute to the community through volunteering or participating in special initiatives.  Use your career objectives and value propositions as markers to help you find ways to align your endeavors with your goals.  Feel free to add these experiences to your resume as appropriate.  *Ask for help as needed and look to learn from colleagues – this only makes you a better leader.

Above all, treat yourself as you would a client.  Your image, your messaging, and your visibility as an independent professional is your career.

Certified Career Coach Rita Friedman  –  PhillyCareerCoach.com –  helps clients plan their careers, conduct effective job searches, give great interviews, and grow professionally.  She provides one-on-one coaching, leads small group workshops, and writes a career advice column for Philly.com.  Subscribe to her blog or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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