Alumni Interview: Advice for a Soon-to-Be-Graduate

I went to college at the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk) and it was during my summer study abroad trip in 2012 that I fell in love with London. About a year later, I took an International Careers course, which brought me back for a week during my spring break to meet with international companies to learn more about what it’s like to work abroad. Part of my course work was to interview someone who’s career I was interested in and to learn more about how they got to where they are now.

For the past couple years, that class had continued to make the leap across the pond every Spring Break and I meet up with the group of students every March to talk all about international careers. It’s something that I really look forward to every year because it brings back some really great memories and it’s really fun to hear what the students are interested in doing. I’ve been interviewed by journalism students the last couple years but this year’s interview particularly resonated with me as all the questions this student was asking me were questions I wish I had asked when I was that age. They are also questions I frequently get asked by a lot of people I meet so I thought I’d do the Q&A on here in the hope to help (even a tiny bit) other soon-to-be-graduates or kids that want to travel or live in a different country one day.

Q: How did you move to London? Was it through your work?

A: I didn’t move to London for a work placement or sponsorship, I came here to be with my fiancé who is British. We met through my study abroad trip in 2012 (which is an entirely different story altogether!)

Q: When did you move to London?
A: December 2014.

Q: What do you do for work?

A: I work in PR. I have developed a real passion for food and I am fortunate enough that I get to work with fantastic and interesting restaurants and talented chefs daily. I also blog on the side, where I write all about new restaurant discoveries, life in London and travel experiences.

Q: What’s your favourite part about your job?

A: Getting my clients great exposure in publications, getting them recognized for their passions and talents and seeing them happy!

Q: What’s the least favourite part of your job?

A: There is a great deal of pressure in PR to perform and hit those monthly coverage targets. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do the best job that I can, which probably causes me a lot of unnecessary stress, but that’s just the type of person I am. (I am working on ways to de-stress more at the moment).

Q: What does an average day in your life look like?

A: Every day is a little bit different. I wake up, start my day with a cup of coffee, kick off with answering emails, check for coverage, send out coverage to clients, book journalists in to review, pitch my clients for relevant stories in various publications, send out press releases, plan parties, the list goes on and on. After work, I usually go out to eat or come home and relax with a glass of wine, blog or unwind with my fiancé and watch a TV show together. (Lately, we are really in to Iron Fist, Riverdale, and I’ve got him watching Top Chef).

Q: What did you do before you moved to London?

A: I worked in restaurant and bar PR in Kansas and loved it. I worked at Page Communications, one of the best PR companies in Kansas City. It’s where I further developed my love and appreciation for food.

Q: What’s the biggest difference between visiting London and living in London?

A: The biggest difference is you don’t have to worry about working and earning a living. When I visited here in 2012, it was PURE fun. I had money, not a lot of it, but I didn’t have to really worry about making money at that point and I just enjoyed myself. When I moved here, the struggle was real. I moved here in December – the depths of winter (Winter isn’t fun here – it feels like there is about 3 hours of sunlight). It took me nearly five months to get a job, which at that point, I had nearly run out of my savings, we didn’t have a place of our own to live (we  lived with my fiance’s parents for over a year). We had to save half of our pay checks every month and the daily grind of getting up, travelling over an hour to get to work (both ways!) and dealing with the daily pressures of work was VERY exhausting. There were times I really wanted to raise the white flag and go back to the US, but I am really glad I stuck it out because it all turned around and clicked in to place. The biggest difference is, there are a lot of responsibilities that come with actually LIVING in a big city like London – you need to really think about money, how it’s going to affect your quality of life and how you’re going to make it.

Q: What’s the biggest difference between working in London and working in the US?

A: Your colleagues will ask you if you’d like a tea or coffee every hour. You will drink a coffee or a tea every hour. There is also much more of a pub culture over here – people will hit the pub for a pint or glass of wine after work to unwind, which is really nice! In my experience, bosses are a lot more understanding of illness or needing days off. The PTO is MUCH better – the legal amount of paid time off is 20 days + 8 bank holidays. At some companies, it’s 25. Much better than in the US.

Q: What advice would you give to a soon-to-be-graduate looking for a job?

A: Don’t get too stressed out. This is the best time of your life – you are in your final semester of your senior year and above all, you should enjoy every last minute because this is one of the only times in your life you can truly be care free. Go to the bars with your friends, watch all the basketball games, be silly – ENJOY! Career advice would be to (and I know you’ve heard this time and time again) but NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK! As much as you probably don’t want to, go  to the career fairs and talk to the companies that you may be interested in working for. You never know, you could end up talking to your future boss if you really hit it off. Spruce up your resume and bring it with you.

Q: What interview advice do you have?

A: Always bring your resume/CV with you (extra copies) along with a notebook and pen. Put it all in a nice portfolio (I got mine from Etsy, but Staples/Office Max have some really nice ones too). Do your research on the company – look at their clients, have some general knowledge abut the campaigns they are currently working on, etc. Come with a few questions to ask as the end of the interview. Smile and be confident and enthusiastic. Have some strengths and weaknesses in mind and have a reason as to why you think you’d be a good fit for the company. ALWAYS send a follow up note or email after the interview, thanking the interviewers for their time, what you enjoyed about the interview and why you think you’d be a good fit for the role. A handwritten note is always nice, but email is absolutely fine too.

Q: What would you look for if you were hiring someone?

A: I’ve never had to hire anybody, but if I did, I would look for enthusiasm, a willingness to learn, ambition and a positive attitude.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants an international career?

A: Depends on what country you want to live in. Do some research on visas and sponsorships in the country you want to work in. In some countries, you can go work on a two year visa. You could also look into going back to school at an international university. You can also try to get a job at a global company with offices in cities that you’d like to live in and ask about international opportunities and sponsorship. One of my close friends from London got sent to New York City after a few years working in the head office in London. Just remember, nothing is impossible. If you want something badly enough, you’ll make it happen. Have patience. It won’t come overnight.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to work in PR?

A: Have a tough skin, cultivate good relationships with the media, always go into work with a positive attitude (just general advice for any job there), and have a willingness to learn. It’s a really tough industry and there’s a lot of nasty people in it who will not be nice to you. With that said, the company I work at now is phenomenal. I have fun every day at work and love everyone I work with. I have great mentors and people I look up to. Another piece of advice is to always have a mentor – someone you can learn from and confide in.

Q: Other general career advice?

A: Make sure the company culture is right. Don’t be afraid to ask what the work environment is like on an interview. Figure out what’s important to you before you go into the job i.e. Will you care if you have to work from 6am to 8pm? Will it bother you having to go to evening events every night of the week? Do you want to be friends with your colleagues? Is it important to you to only work a 9am-5pm job? Do you care if you work in a cut throat environment or would you prefer a slower pace way of working? Do you care if you get thrown in at the deep end? Take all these things into consideration when you are researching a company and don’t be scared to ask. The worst thing is ending up at a company where the culture is horrendous. It’s happened to me in the past and it’s happened to a lot of my friends and believe me, it’s not pleasant so just make sure it’s right for YOU! And if you take a job and realise it’s not for you – start looking again and leave. Life is too short. There’s a lot of really fun companies out there where you will be much happier!

Good luck! For any other general career advice, feel free to drop me a line at colleen@blondeacrossthepond.com.