Uncategorized July 11, 2014

Using what you know: taking advantage of a non-traditional background

Using what you know: taking advantage of a non-traditional background

When I started my Master’s in English, I was very worried. Not only had I taken two years away from education to work as a teacher, but, as a philosophy and comparative literature major, I had also come from a non-English disciplinary background.

I was concerned that I could no longer research and write and I was even more concerned that I didn’t have the general knowledge that the majority of my colleagues possessed.

Considering that I survived (and loved!) my time as an English graduate student, you’d think things would have been different when I started at Citizen. Instead, I found those nerves bubbling up in me all over again. I was extremely enthusiastic about pursuing PR and very excited to learn from my colleagues, but I was nervous once again about my unusual background and especially about my lack of traditional PR training.

What I quickly learned in both cases is that having an unusual background can come in handy. While my English-major friends knew an awe-inspiring amount about Jane Austen and Shakespeare, my philosophy background gave me a critical perspective that allowed me to add something new to the dialogue. And while I quickly discovered that my colleagues with PR training were extremely savvy, my English education meant that I had a different set of analytical skills, which helped me find my own way into the conversation.

In fact, in my time at Citizen, I have learned that welcoming different perspectives is a huge part of what makes a public relations agency flourish. Citizen’s ideation approach, for example, depends for its success on open discussion and consideration of non-traditional tactics. PR is about understanding how people will interpret and respond to an issue; it is about reaching a wide variety of people with a wide variety of backgrounds; and it is about solving difficult problems in new and different ways. And how could we possibly do that if we all had the same point of view?

That said, here’s what I’ve learned about taking advantage of a diverse or atypical set of experiences:

Use what you know: Try to identify the abilities you have honed through other kinds of work, and explore how they can be used in new ways. You may have to learn to adapt, but it’s amazing which skills turn out to be transferrable.

Speak up: Just because something seems obvious to you, doesn’t mean it is obvious to everyone else. Remember that your unique experiences help you to see things differently, so don’t be afraid to share your ideas with others.

Pay attention: Your perspectives are valuable, but it’s important to understand a company’s customs and culture as well. Pay attention to your peers, so you can ensure that your perspective complements rather than clashes with what’s going on around you.

Ask questions: If you come from an unusual background, there will be some gaps you will have to fill. If you don’t know, ask – it’s the easiest way to learn.

It’s no secret that your experiences shape the way you see your world. It only makes sense to allow them to shape the way you see your work as well.

Hilary Sloan is an Intern at Citizen 

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