10 things I gained from my networking experience

10 things I gained from my networking experience

August 20, 2021
Editor’s Note: The reflection below was written by third-year Public Relations major Peyton Dennis, who created her own internship experience this past summer. Below, she shares her biggest lessons learned.

I ended my sophomore year in May feeling stuck and uncertain about my post-graduation plans. After a year of cancellations and empty promises of “normalcy soon,” I decided this summer to stop letting the pandemic disrupt my professional goals, and I built a network of connections across the country consisting of over 20 PR professionals.

I am coming back to Athens with a deeper understanding of how valuable my education and involvement is during this formative time as an undergrad. It felt liberating to shift my focus to the things I can control, as opposed to the things I’m currently unable to do. Here are 10 intangible gifts that my mentors gave to me.

1. Professional confidence

I got into the routine of holding at least two informational interviews a week. Each call felt easier and I was able to open up fairly quickly to these strangers. 

Takeaway: Confidence and a willingness to listen and learn mean everything. Each successful Zoom call built my confidence as I expanded my network.

2. Interviewing skills

Before my first few calls, I would spend time overthinking my appearance and how I presented myself. This experience gave me constant practice in no-pressure environments, allowing me to grow as a communicator and focus on the bigger picture.

Takeaway: I learned to stop putting too much emphasis on the impression I made on the connection, but to truly focus on what I could learn from them.    

3. Exposure to different opinions

My plan was to cover each PR sector: corporate, agency and nonprofit, and within those categories speak with someone at the senior and junior level. I’ve always felt drawn to nonprofit PR and hoped that my networking would carry me straight there after covering all of the bases. Many people I spoke with suggested that agency work would give me a range of exposure so valuable that I would learn skills necessary to become very successful in my profession, whether I continued down the agency track or pivoted to corporate or nonprofit PR.

Takeaway: Hearing about so many career paths that led people to fulfilling jobs reminded me to keep an open mind.

4. Reassurance

Some of my best advice came from recent UGA graduates. I learned about virtual application processes, networking on LinkedIn versus email, and what organizations were worth getting involved in. It felt refreshing to speak with people from my generation in my desired field because I could ask them the questions I wasn’t comfortable asking older professionals. They promised that if I took advantage of Grady’s resources, I would graduate in an excellent position.

Takeaway: Young alumni helped me think about how to bridge the gaps between where I am and where I want to be when I graduate.

5. A sense of direction

I’ve always struggled to visualize what came before and after my dream job of managing the PR for a nonprofit. Speaking with people between their 20s and 50s helped me get excited for my career path in its entirety. I used to feel overwhelmed by the number of post-grad routes I can take, but now I view my options as exciting opportunities. 

Takeaway: There is no perfect, straight-lined career path that I am expected to follow.

6. Realistic steps toward my goals

Last semester I was lucky to have my JOUR3190 class fully in person with Professor Lori Johnston – I was so appreciative of her advice, encouragement and genuine want for all of her students to succeed beyond the classroom. This summer she encouraged me to look into the UGA mentorship program and apply to the Paw Print Agency, along with sharing the contact information of seven people she knew for me to reach out to. 

Takeaway: The pandemic is no longer a valid excuse to remain uninvolved – most organizations have zoom options!

7. Reliable resources 

I feel comfortable reaching out to the people I connected with, whether to ask them a question about an application, ask for a connection, or ask for another pair of eyes on my portfolio. It is empowering to know that people see potential in my efforts to learn and grow more.

Takeaway: A huge benefit was connecting with people who truly wanted to stay in touch after  our 30-minute Zoom call.

8. Insight on the strengths of each PR sector

I associated the agency lifestyle as overwhelming, but people working with agencies explained that they don’t feel bored and love the range of their projects. I assumed corporate PR would feel restricted, but those in this category appreciated their room to grow within their large company and potentially work their way up to senior-level positions. People in nonprofit work claimed that prior experience in a profitable environment prepared them better for their current roles.

Takeaway: Because I spoke with people in each sector of public relations, I identified positive attributes from agency, corporate and nonprofit work.

9. An extensive list of “dream jobs”

     After many of my calls, I would lose track of time scrolling through LinkedIn searching internship possibilities and picturing my exciting next chapter after graduation. Thankfully, there are PR opportunities everywhere, and I don’t feel restricted when thinking of a dream job.

Takeway: One piece of advice that stuck with me was to think of a city or area I love, and go from there.

10. Motivation

The conversations I had with PR professionals over the past three months inspired new ideas and plans for my future. I’m so grateful for their advice; now I’m ready to take action! I feel so motivated to become more knowledgeable about my field, and I realize that at this point, experience will supplement the lessons that textbooks and mentors aren’t able to provide. I cannot wait to apply the wisdom that has been so graciously passed along to me to my classwork and beyond this upcoming year.

Takeaway: This fall, I will invest my time in resources that will help me learn more about myself as a communicator and team member.