Life Before Public Relations: How First Jobs Make an Impact

By Julianna Sheridan

When your parents tell you to get a job at 16 years old, the last thing you’re usually thinking about is how this will affect your career after college. But it’s those first positions that set the stage for experiences that will shape your career – though not necessarily how you’d expect.

I got my first job while I was in high school as a receptionist at a retirement community. While answering phones and being at residents’ beck and call didn’t appear to have much value at the time, this experience gave me confidence in managing people of all ages, phone communication skills (yes, we still need those in PR), and the patience needed to navigate challenging personalities and situations.

After speaking with a few of my colleagues here at Matter, it’s clear that our first jobs played a major role in shaping us into the PR pros we are today. While there are many skills you can learn in a job, here are a few that stood out.


Providing Service

As PR pros, we’re constantly looking for ways to serve our clients. From accommodating unusual requests to providing counsel at a moment’s notice, we’re there to provide a service. We work hard to make sure that our clients have what they need to be successful. Though putting others before yourself can be difficult at times, being put in that position early on in your career can only help as you move forward.

“My first job was at a movie theater. My biggest takeaway from working there was customer service – it was the first time I had to consistently accommodate others in order to do my job correctly, and well.” – Emily B.

“My first PR internship was for a major national circus. I drove around one of their clowns to do community service presentations in the schools about the importance of reading. The best skills I learned from that job were work ethic and humility.” – Anne T.


Communicating Effectively

At heart, we’re communicators. However, those skills do not always come naturally. Sometimes this involves being pulled out of our comfort zone to get our message across. It’s no surprise that many Matter-ites found their first jobs to be the best opportunity for them to shape their communication skills.

“I was an admin/HR assistant for a telecommunications company, and I learned the value of getting up and walking over to speak to someone directly, face to face, instead of passively reaching out via email or voicemail.” – Vanessa B.

“I was a customer service rep at a granite showroom and importer in high school. It taught me how to think on my feet, communicate effectively and listen to customer/client needs. I also learned to troubleshoot if a customer wasn’t happy with their finished product, and pay attention to detail in communications with third party organizations involved in the process.” – Kelsey W.

“My first job was caddying at a local Country Club. I was able to learn a lot of communication skills in this role. I was working in my early teens but had to regularly communicate with golfers much older than me. I also had a new boss (golfer) with each job so I had to adapt to many different personalities and communication styles.” – Tim H.

“My first task as an account and copywriting intern at a mid-size advertising agency in Wisconsin was a 30-second radio spot, set to air during Green Bay Packer games. As a flowery writer, I struggled to fit my thoughts into 65 words, so I started with 100. Our head copywriter would ask, “can you say more in fewer words?” and “is that really the best word for the job?” Many revisions later, I had my spot – ‘Cheesehead’ – and a valuable lesson in straight-talk.” – McKenzie M.


Time Management

One of the best things about working at an agency is the ability to work with a variety of clients. However, this does mean that our time management skills need to be top-notch. While there are many jobs that can teach you good prioritization, there’s nothing quite like being on a wait staff.

“Throughout college I worked at a restaurant both in the kitchen and at the bar. Working in a busy restaurant is high-pressure, requiring you to be organized, communicative and thinking a few steps ahead. You’re basically on deadline from the moment dinner service starts till closing time, which preps you quite well for dealing with high-pressure situations and editorial deadlines.” – Nick B.

So whether you’re carting around circus clowns or mixing drinks, the skills you learn can go a long way in shaping your career in PR. Every experience is valuable, and amazingly, can give you an added edge that others will never see coming.


What was your first job before you landed in PR? We’d like to hear about it.