By Jena Patterson
Before accepting a position at RunSwitch PR—the largest PR firm in Kentucky and one of the fastest growing in the country—I was lucky to enough to hold a full-time position on the reelection campaign for Mitch McConnell, now the Senate Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate.
During my time on Senator McConnell’s campaign, I quickly learned how to navigate the political and professional world around me. Working as a political staffer on the most targeted campaign in the country in 2014, I operated in an environment where every move and every word was open to scrutiny by the media and our opponents. Luckily, I was part of a fantastic team of professionals who knew the lay of the political landscape, and I quickly learned from their examples what
I should (or shouldn’t) do.
Here are a few key lessons that I gained during my time in the intricate world of campaign politics, which are applicable to any young person starting a professional career.
Anything you say (and post) can and will be used against you.
As young people, we rarely think about how our social media posts—especially on hot-button issues—will affect us in the long run. Whether you work for a political campaign, a corporation, a non-profit, or small business—what you do, say, or post reflects back on you. Controversial social media content could sway a potential employer’s decision to hire you, or it could land you in hot water with your current employer. I highly recommend downloading your Facebook and Twitter archives and taking a weekend to review them and remove any content that could be questionable.
You’re not special.
A resume and a good GPA are great but aren’t enough to make you stand out from the crowd. Luckily, there are ways you can distinguish yourself. First, dress for the part. Present yourself as the professional you want to be in every way. Second, work hard. Really hard. Don’t ever consider any task too menial. People notice when you give a project your all, and if you show responsibility and attention to smaller projects, your superiors will be more likely to trust you with bigger projects down the road. Third, leave your ego at the door. Even if you have some experience under your belt, you’re still starting out. Accept constructive criticism, be humble and learn from those who have more experience than you.
(Successfully) hold a leadership position.
A leadership title is a great addition to any resume: but actually being able to demonstrate that you were effective in that role is a different ball game. Don’t be afraid to step up to the plate, accept a leadership position and effect change in the organization(s) you give your time to. The length of your email signature does not speak to your success; what an organization accomplished under your leadership does.
Get out and meet people. Volunteer with a local organization or political campaign. Go to events for young professionals. At first, it can be tough to break the ice and meet new people, but you’ll soon begin to recognize familiar faces. Networking is a great way to build professional relationships that can last throughout your career and even find career opportunities. You just have to be willing to take the time to do it!
Hold Yourself Accountable.
Be honest in everything you do. This is probably the most important skill a young professional can develop. Instead of denying mistakes or blaming others for a problem you created, own up to it. Don’t be afraid to admit you need help—most employers would much rather you ask for assistance than turn in sloppy work. Your honesty and trustworthiness will play a huge role in determining how your career path progresses and how quickly you are able to assume additional responsibilities.