As promised, I’m posting a re-cap of Caryn Alagno’s jam-packed presentation from the Corporate Communicators Conference I attended earlier this month. I had the pleasure of listening and meeting Caryn, a 28-year old master communicator, who is VP of Edelman Public Relations in Washington D.C. Caryn was kind enough to share her notes and presentation with me. As I mentioned to Caryn after her presentation, it’s so important for these tips to be communicated to all young professionals. That’s why I’m bringing this to all of you. Here’s Caryn’s top ten list to prove your worth:
#10 Do your homework
This seems obvious, right? But Caryn says, “when you’re the youngest person in the room, you don’t have the luxury of being unprepared or under prepared for a meeting.” So true. After all, if you can’t be trusted with the small things; how can you be trusted with anything larger? Do your homework and be prepared.
#9 Use technology to your advantage
We young “bucks” are more familiar with technology, so we’re more apt to use it to our advantage in a business setting. It’s more than Facebook, Twitter and those other user-generated sites; it’s about recognizing the opportunity to use that knowledge in a business setting. For example, the corporate world is starting to wean its way into social media. You’re familiar—get in there and tell the upper hand’s in your office what it’s all about. Chances are they’ll look at you as an expert. That’s your opportunity to shine!
But not too boastful folks. There’s a danger in being technically-savvy and boasting about it. Caryn mentioned a 25-year-old whiz kid who got a little too comfortable in her role as the office “tech guru” and began poking fun¾in a nice way¾at her older colleagues. She got a little too carried away and was told to tone it down.
#8 Everyone’s in your network
I’m a HUGE advocate for this tip and I base all my business off of this concept. It’s not what you know people, it’s who know you. Who you know and who can get you access to the information you need is key as well. Take advantage of people who know a lot about what you know NOTHING about. Show your boss and upper level management that you’re connected; it shows that you’re aware that you don’t and can’t know everything…. But you can get the answer for them. Remember: networking happens all the time; especially when you’re looking for the right opportunities.
#7 Bell well-read
Remember this always: It IS part of your job to read the papers every day¾and not just articles that mention your company or your industry. I tend to do this a lot (I’m working on it.) Caryn suggests reading opinion pieces, editorials, books and blogs. When you’re young, people think you’re arrogant and they think you’re uninformed. Caryn says to not feed into that stereotype.
#6 Have an opinion
Caryn gave a great example: When your CEO (or anyone in upper management) asks you what you think about Chrysler filing for Chapter 11, what will you say? If all you can say is, “Yeah, that really stinks,” you’ve missed an opportunity to demonstrate that you are an asset to your company. Caryn reiterated that in our communications roles, we are hired to think. We are not worker bees; we are thinkers. Anyone can pump out a press release or a speech, but it’s what makes it good is the thinking behind what we’re saying; how we’re using those tools and when we draw upon them. This idea of having opinions—of doing really solid thinking—this is what gets us to the next level in our careers. Worker bees are a dime a dozen; thinkers are leaders. And leaders are rare.
#5 Say “I don’t know”
If you think you do, you’re feeding into that notion of young arrogance. You can look extremely smart by saying, “I don’t know…” By saying, “I don’t know,” from time to time, people will know that when you do speak up, it’s grounded in something. And don’t forget: You can say “I don’t know” without the conversation ending there—say, “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you.” If you don’t know something ask questions. Ask good questions that show you’re thinking. And listen to the answers. When starting a new project, asking questions will also help you slow down the process and think about what you’re being asked to do and why.
#4 See the opportunity
“Sometimes being low on the totem pole stinks. But only if you let yourself think about your position in that way,” Caryn says with a smile. To bring this home in the session, Caryn referenced to an example that really connected with me and is one of the big reasons why I’ve moved up in my company. Caryn remembered a time when an intern worked all the way to the top by seeing the opportunity. Consider this:
An advertising agency gets a lead on a big account. They ask an intern to sit in on several brainstorming sessions and to take notes. She’d get them coffee when they needed it; she’d run out and get lunch when they couldn’t be interrupted. She’d compile the memos, the briefing documents, etc. When the team finally won the account, she—all of the sudden—became the most knowledgeable staffer on the account. She was immediately hired on full time; and she helped get other team members up to speed on the strategy and the thinking behind it. She saw the opportunity folks. She did the grunt work and she realized the potential payoff in the end. Remember to REALLY see the opportunity.
#3 Avoid being negative
Leadership is the ability to keep your head when everyone around you is losing theirs. And it’s true in a corporate world as well. If you can stay positive even when people around you aren’t—you will set yourself apart. Caryn said, “worker bees are a dime a dozen, but leaders are what make companies successful.” Remember that young people! Also know that people, at work and in life, will build teams/friendships with people who are enjoyable to be around. Caryn mentioned over and over again to not lose sight of the optimism and fresh perspective us young people bring to an organization. Be positive; concentrate on the task at hand; say thank you; and stay positive despite the fact that you might actually have a bad boss or two during your career.
#2 Make mistakes … recover
It is what it is. If you make a mistake, LEARN from it.
#1 Remember the good days
Sometimes when we really need to recover, one of the best ways of doing it is reminding ourselves why we’re in the positions we’re in. Caryn keeps a file of complimentary, good-job emails. GREAT IDEA. I started one as soon as I got back. She keeps a running list of big projects, clients or executives she’s worked with to remind herself that she is capable of doing good work. It can also come in handy at raise and review time!
Caryn’s presentation really emphasized the struggles of being the “young” person in the room. But it also emphasized the empowerment of being young actually has over the rest of the workforce. I loved her last (and to me) her most important tip: Just do it! Caryn says that when you take a risk; you seek out a new opportunity or experience; or otherwise let yourself be challenged outside your comfort zone¾GREAT ADVICE!
I’ve had friends and colleagues who have moved to other states; even across the world for job assignments. And Caryn agrees when I say, almost no one regrets it. When I came home from Spain I came back feeling exhilarated and full of insight on life and the way I wanted my professional career to go.
She closed with this statement, “Now is the time for you to take risks in your career; to take advantage of every opportunity before you.” I take this advice to heart because when I look back on my life, I don’t want to regret the things I haven’t done more than the things I have done.