Guest Post: Lessons Learned

Today we have a guest post from Payal Shukla who shares her 20-something perspective on starting the next chapter of her life as she jumps into the real world. 

After countless resume edits, dozens of cover letter drafts and endless hours of job applications and interviews, I recently was offered and accepted a full-time position at a Chicago communications firm. It was in that moment that I finally realized: I am about to graduate college! I am (almost) a “real” adult!

When did that happen? And what does that really mean? Now that I can stop to breathe a sigh of relief, I can begin to reflect on these last four years, and the lessons I have learned along the way on school, work and becoming an adult:


-On College-
1. Always say yes – The opportunities are boundless. Qualify for an award? Apply. Club needs a new leader? Nominate yourself. Professor asks for a class discussion leader? Speak up. Every opportunity to say yes is an opportunity to be challenged, to grow and to learn your strengths.
2. Try something out of the ordinary – Never again will you have the chance to study Shakespeare, learn to ice skate and solve differential equations all in one week. You might be surprised at how those unusual courses or extracurricular activities relate back to your long-term goals and career.
3. Be proud – Balancing school and a part-time job, an extracurricular activity and a social life is hard. I’ve been told the greatest pitch you can make (as a PR professional or otherwise) is for yourself. Maintaining a healthy dose of pride in your success is the foundation for being passionate about life and work.

IN SHORT: Take risks. College is the place to practice taking risks, and recognizing the risks worth taking.


-On the Job Search-
1. Start early – Reach out to senior staff and HR managers early. Starting your search early not only helps narrow your focus, but it allows more time to build relationships and stand out to employers long before they are bombarded with spring applicants.
2. Make it personal – Demonstrate that you are not just interested in landing the position. Balance the professional with the personal – discuss shared interests, Alma maters or hobbies. It’s one more way to stand out among the crowd, and learn whether you could really fit in and be happy at a company.
3. Follow up – It’s the little things that go a long way. Thank you cards, email messages, Twitter shout-outs… all are easy forms of follow-ups that (again) build relationships and help you stay in the minds of potential employers.

IN SHORT: Change perspective. Think of the job search as relationship-building and learning from successful people.


-On Adulthood-
1. Be kind to everyone – The closer you get to entering the “real world,” the more you realize how small that world is. Take the high road and show kindness to others. Maintain professionalism when dealing with difficult people, because you never know when your paths will cross again.
2. It is okay to be afraid – Everyone experiences fear or doubt when transitioning into adulthood. Some never stop being afraid. Use that fear or uncertainty as your driving force to work hard, succeed and reap the rewards of your dedication. You are not the only one struggling to “figure it all out.”
3. Never stop being a student – My mentor Stephanie told me early in our mentor-mentee relationship that she takes the perspective of “student always.” Every day is a day to learn something new and everyone has the power to teach you something new. Keep an open mind and always grow.

IN SHORT: Expect the unexpected. Life is full of surprises and mistakes. It is how you respond that defines you as an adult.


Payal Shukla is a recent Communications graduate from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. While there she was desk editor for her college newspaper The Daily Illini, founding executive board member of the Illinois chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, intern to the university’s Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs, and an Assistant Account Executive for a PR agency based in the North Shore. Payal will soon begin a full-time position at a communications firm in Chicago. Find her on Twitter @payalshukla.

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