When imagining what getting my first real job out of college would be like, this wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
2020 has been a year of challenges, social unrest, anxiety, high political tensions, frustration and fear. It’s also been a year of connection, change and growth. We’ve slowed down to realize what’s important in life and what needs correction in our world. This year is unlike any other we have experienced in our lifetime. I believe this year is pushing us and forcing our country to have uncomfortable, important discussions. I’m hopeful that change is coming. Our old normal is gone, instead we’re building a future that is innovative and inclusive for all. Being a young adult at this time is exciting; I know I can be a part of shaping this future. I just have to find my role and get to work. Getting to work… that’s the hard part.
I graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in May 2020. Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, I was forced to move out of my university housing in March and move home for the remainder of my senior year and the then-foreseeable future. I left Charlotte and returned to my small hometown outside of Asheville, NC. Little did I know I would be home for nearly five months.
In college I was heavily involved in extracurriculars, Greek life and leadership development programs. I maintained a high GPA throughout my 4 years and I completed four internships prior to graduation. The job search was challenging as I’m sure it always is, and with a pandemic added into the mix it was anything but ordinary. Many companies went through periods of frozen recruitment and hiring efforts during quarantine. The companies that were able to hire were moving forward slowly. Many of my friends who were also recent graduates were in the same boat as me; living at home, submitting applications into a void on the internet, following up in the weeks after and waiting for something to work out. Some weeks were frustrating, others exciting.
I’d take a few days off from searching every so often to relax, reassess what I wanted to do and spend time with family. I was quarantining at home with my parents and naturally, I forced them to watch all 9 seasons of The Office. We definitely watched Kevin spill his chili pot multiple times when we reached the Casual Friday episode. I spent my days with my chocolate lab, Vegas, who weighs more than some humans and thinks he’s a lap dog. We started a weekly Zoom call with my grandparents, brother, aunt, uncle and cousins to catch up with one another. Even if it took my grandparents a solid 45 minutes to successfully hop on the call every Tuesday, it was time well spent. I cooked meals with my family, played card games and slowed down to enjoy the small things. While I hate the circumstances of me being home, I’ll always be thankful for this time. I didn’t realize how much I needed to slow down, as it felt like my entire college career was a marathon sprint.
In all honesty, the job hunting process was long but I believe it was worthwhile. As a communications major, I knew the field I was entering was broad and I could pursue many different careers with my degree. The work was there. However, I wanted to find a job that excited me, bosses that believe in me and inspire me and work that is fulfilling. Culture is important to me. I held out for the right opportunity; something that combined my passions of creativity, strategic thinking and media in an inclusive and fun environment. Then one day in late July, I received a LinkedIn message and email from Nicole Peternel, Co-founder and CEO of Rein Communications.
We exchanged emails, I sent over my resume and portfolio and interviewed via Zoom with her and Co-founder Britt Conway. We talked about the job, the company, my goals, feminism, social distancing; all of the important things. We just clicked. The whole process flew by, and within days I had an offer! I took my time to evaluate it in its entirety and happily accepted it. I could not be more excited to be in this position and doing this work!
I moved back to Charlotte 6 days after accepting my offer. My family and I endured a sweaty, long trip to IKEA and set up my new place in one weekend. The following Monday, my first day of work, I hopped on a plane with Nicole and flew to meet a client. Face masks/shields and all (I felt like a stormtrooper).
Of all places to travel to in a pandemic, I felt safe traveling to our client, John Knox Village, in Pompano Beach, Florida. They are a senior living facility, a large one at that. We had to be screened and get our temperatures checked daily to enter, and we practiced social distancing and wore face masks for the duration of our trip. Their commitment to safety eased our anxieties.
While I was slightly nervous to travel at this time, I was excited to jump into my job headfirst. I attended meetings with the client’s leadership and other staff members, attended photo shoots, interviewed residents and more. When we returned to Charlotte our work began, only after my car died in a Starbucks parking lot on the way to my first day in the office. Nicole came to sit with me and we worked from her car until AAA got to us, tightened a wire and sent me on my merry way. Nicole and I created a new social media strategy for the client rooted in their organizational goals and missions. I designed graphics and wrote copy, two things I love doing. I’m lucky to have gone to Florida to meet the client in person before beginning their work, the trip acquainted me with who they are and all they offer to their residents!
In other weeks, I’ve completed a variety of projects and tasks. I’ve copy edited, designed a new company logo, created new deck templates for Rein, worked on social media and graphics for other clients, sat in on meetings and most recently attended Rein’s video communications training with InVue in Charlotte. I love the variety of work that comes with this position. It keeps me on my feet, thinking critically and making new connections.
I also love the small agency work culture Rein has. We work in the office once or twice a week, the rest of the week is done from home. Our dress code is casual, with the exception of dressing professionally for client meetings. We listen to music while we work. We shamelessly ate a jar of Reid’s cookies for lunch one day. Nicole is an empathetic, creative and understanding boss. She’s explained to me how she wants to give me exposure to different clients and types of work. Knowing she believes in my professional and personal growth is empowering. She has made me feel like family and welcomed me into her own. She trusted me to babysit her two boys overnight on my second week of work; we made a cake, played hockey in the backyard and made forts. Even though they woke me up at the crack of dawn on a Thursday morning, I had a great time. She also had me run her house key to her husband and boys during our lunch break at a video communications training when they locked themselves out. Never a dull moment.
This work is rewarding to me because it’s strategic, goal-oriented and ever-changing. Our work matters. It’s creative. It’s fun. It’s exactly what I was looking for.
One month has already flown by and I’ve learned more than I can articulate in one blog post. I’m happy to be back in the city I love, doing a job I love with people I love. My hard work in college has most definitely paid off; it set me up for an extraordinary opportunity like this one. To say I am thankful is an understatement.
I have a lot to look forward to in my career here, especially in the next few months. We have a three-day crisis communications training with a client in November. I am excited to see Nicole and Britt together in action as well as assist with this presentation. We’re crafting thought leadership pieces for executives, which requires digging into their passions and expertise. We’re continuing to hold video communication trainings for companies and individuals to refine and polish presentation skills for online communications during COVID and beyond. I’ll also begin working on media relations and pitching, something I’ve never done before but am eager to jump into.
I didn’t go through an intensive training or onboarding program before this job began, I just dove into the waters head-first. I learn better this way; through real experience. Through doing. In this job, that just so happened to mean traveling to meet a client on day one. I cannot wait to see all that is to come.
For any recent graduates in their job search, here are 3 pieces of advice that helped me greatly.
Update your LinkedIn profile, resume and online portfolio (if you need one in your industry). These are crucial to employers learning about you, your experience and your interests!
Conduct informational interviews with people who have jobs that interest you or who work at a company you admire. Ask them questions about their career path, the company culture, what they enjoy about their role, challenges they face, etc.. People are more willing to help you than you’d think! Reach out via LinkedIn or email. Always offer to help them however they need in the future as well. Make it a mutually beneficial conversation.
Keep learning. Get online certifications like Google Analytics or HubSpot. Teach yourself the ins and outs of a new software. Take the initiative to keep growing your skills during this time, it will only make you more marketable and knowledgeable.
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