Everything I ever read or heard in college did nothing to prepare me for succeeding in the PR business.

Does that sound dramatic? My textbooks grew my vocabulary and my professors ignited my awareness, however, much of which I learned about running a successful public relations agency was through hands-on experience with clients, employees and fellow entrepreneurs.

Recently, I was asked to participate in a career development networking event for my alma mater, Mount Holyoke College. It was essentially speed dating for career insights with women from all different fields for young alumnae. I was one of 11 women who shared their insider industry career experiences. Some other speakers were leaders at prestigious companies like The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., Merrill Lynch and StoryCorps.

Many of the recent graduates I spoke with asked questions such as what is the right path to take to reach my career goals? I remembered having the same feelings at the beginning of my career, and when I decided to start RED PR. The truth is, there’s no right or obvious path. It’s about making smart choices and having confidence in yourself that you have the intelligence and skills to learn from every career opportunity presented to you, even if it’s not your dream job. Much like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s sermon to “lean in,” the tips I shared to the young, ambitious twenty-year-olds emphasized them to “sit up.” Here are my tips:

  1. S – Suffer the workload.
    When you are just starting out, your work load may seem heavy, even tedious, but it’s not unimportant. There’s no sugarcoating it – you will be stressed, putting in long hours along with some blood, sweat and tears. Just know that you are a valuable member of the team, learning as you go, and it all pays off one day.
  2. I – Invest in a decent wardrobe.
    I have a sticky note on my computer at work that reminds me to “dress how you want to be addressed.” No matter what level your job is, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, dress for the job above you, the job you want.
  1. T- Take advantage of networking events.
    There are many industry-related events that PRSA organizes. Probably your alma mater does too. These events are a great place to meet contacts, find mentors, get inspired, and learn more about the industry to see if it’s what you’re really passionate about.
  2. U – Understand all that is going on.
    The first few years of your career, you are usually trying to figure out what to do next. Since you’re starting at the bottom of the totem pole, it is your responsibility to pay attention to everything and soak it all in. When you come across a challenge, do not get discouraged, as there will be many! Rather, offer a solution to help overcome the obstacle instead of expecting your boss to fix it.
  3. P – Practice gratitude.
    Always remember to thank the people that help you along the way. And do what you can to help others, it comes back in spades. It’s not only about the work you do but the relationships you build while working. Be thankful for the friends you make throughout your career. If you’re lucky, some will last throughout your whole life.
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Julia celebrating 15 years in business with her father, one of her greatest career mentors