How exciting is that time of year when freshly minted college graduates accept their first job offers! We thought we’d go back in time and find out what the team members at Martell did at their first job whether it was in PR, journalism, law, science or social media.
My first job was as a PR associate with National Semiconductor right out of college. It was a perfect job to learn the ropes. We had a 10 person PR department and I was at the bottom! I was given a product group to do PR for—the linear analog group that included speech processing chips, A to D converters and other linear integrated circuits. I learned so much!
I had my first press conference for the car audio group in Chicago at the SAE conference (where I also ate sushi for the first time!). I started the contributed article program for National and built it up so that we had 10 writers preparing articles and getting paid $1,000 for each published article. I developed relationships with editors as I announced new product after new product. I learned how to pitch TV stations when two assembly line employees held a wedding at the company. I participated in organizing the process to lay off workers in one of the downturns of the chip industry. I worked with engineers who left National and went on to found numerous startup companies (for example, Joe Costello who founded Cadence, etc.) I spent over 2 years there and it was the perfect job to build up my PR skills and knowledge of the tech world.
When I teach PR classes at SJSU, we often talk about the students’ first job, whatever that may be. I find myself thinking back to my first job often. Will my students be prepared for their job? Will they go into a tech job? Or will they find the perfect dream job such as being a travel writer, working for a sports team or being in the entertainment business?
My first job was right out of law school working for a banking law firm in downtown Los Angeles. We were in the same building that the TV show “LA Law” pretended to be in, so every episode began with the camera panning up the side of “my” building.
This was in the late 80’s just as the savings & loan crisis was starting to boil over. My department within the firm specialized in S&L and banking law, so when federal agencies started threatening multi-million dollar fines, I went from drafting Reg Z Truth in Lending disclosures to being sent out into the field to interview S&L executives and Board members all around the LA area.
I’d have to drive to a place like Fontana, show up in my skirt suit, and sit in fancy conference rooms asking questions of mostly older men, gathering information so that I could write a coherent response document that would be read by a civil servant sitting in Washington D.C.
I used to think it was odd that both my sisters and my mom had gone into PR, and I was the outlier as the attorney. But what I’ve discovered, starting with interviewing gruff old guys deep in the jargon of their industry, is that, for me, being an attorney is about learning how to ask questions in order to tell a story that makes sense to others. In the end, practicing law and PR/communications build off that same skill set.
My first job after college was as a research lab assistant in a developmental neurobiology lab at UC San Diego. I’d just earned my BA degree in biology (heavy in molecular and cell biology) with a minor in philosophy (emphasizing philosophy of language) and figured I’d get a PhD and become a biology researcher. But I’d never worked in a lab, so I decided to try it out — and take a break from schooling — before I applied to PhD programs.
My duties included standard lab assistant stuff for a biology research lab studying early neural development using embryos from African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis): doing microdissections of frog embryos to prep experiments for the principal investigator who ran the lab, taking care of the frogs, ordering supplies, supervising the lab’s dishwasher, etc. But I also got to do my own research project in conjunction with the principal investigator’s wife and co-researcher in the lab, which involved not only more microdissections of frog embryos, but also autoradiography, photomicroscopy (taking photos through a microscope), B&W photo processing and printing, and working with all kinds of fun reagents and equipment. I also got to see what the grad students and post-docs in the lab were doing, as well as interact with people in nearby labs.
At some point, people started asking me to edit academic papers they were writing, or their applications for grants or post-doc positions, or book chapters they were working on. After nearly two years in the lab, I had some important realizations. The first was that I loved the whole research environment, but I got just as excited about what others in the lab or down the hall were doing. I didn’t need to perform the experiments to get a rush. Also, doing biology lab research required focused specialization, and I realized I’m much more of a generalist. I would rather take a bunch of different bits of knowledge and think about how they all fit together. Finally, I decided I’d rather write about science and research than do it myself. I told that to a friend who was a grad student in the lab, and she casually mentioned that she knew someone taking a graduate course in science writing.
That bit of information led to my getting a graduate degree in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and embarking on a career in writing about science and technology — first for a university news bureau and next as a writer for Regis McKenna Inc. in the mid-’80s, when RMI was the epicenter of high-tech PR. That was the beginning of my shift from life sciences to broader high-tech realms, and from universities to more corporate clients.
After graduating with a BA in English and journalism, my first professional job was typesetter and reporter on the Aurora Sun, a suburban Denver weekly.
You can tell from that job description that it was a VERY small paper with a very small staff. When I wasn’t typing copy into the Compugraphic machine and helping the editor/owner proof and layout the paper, I was culling noteworthy transgressions from the police blotter, attending weekly school board meetings, interviewing candidates for local office, or writing features about shops and social service agencies.
Occasionally, I’d coordinate my coverage with local PR people. Some of them represented organizations I admired, and I was attracted to the idea of using my communication skills in a similar way. (Other than once hearing a presentation from our University information officer, I’d previously known nothing about the profession.)
After a year with the paper, I decided to seek a job on the “other side of the desk.” That’s where I’ve been ever since.
My first job after graduating college was as the Marketing and Social Media Manager for a UK film distribution company in their North American office. It had been newly established, and a co-worker from an internship I did in high school was putting together the team. He remembered that I had skills in social media, so he asked me to join, relieving my stress about never finding a job after graduating.
This was my first time needing to be very disciplined with my use of Excel, since it was necessary to keep meticulous track of all the exhibitors and film titles we were working on. As our sales guy breezed through tutorials of pivot tables and such, I tried my best to commit to memory all the little nuances of organizing data and formulas without short circuiting my brain.
Luckily, the other half of my job was entirely creative, and I couldn’t have been happier to work with my Director of Marketing as a dynamic duo of ladies handling all of the marketing for our titles across the United States and Canada. With her guidance and hands-off approach, I felt free and encouraged to brainstorm ideas for how to make the exhibitors’ lives easier in order to sell tickets to the alternative content we distributed. This included live broadcasts and recordings of fine arts performances filmed in London, ranging from ballet, plays, opera, and more. I packaged together social media posts, one sheets and graphics that I edited in Photoshop, materials for targeted campaigns, and other relevant media to share on a weekly basis, so we could give the domestic market a better understanding and excitement for the fine arts phenomenon taking place in international cinemas.
It was a great experience to learn how to balance and coordinate with multiple teams, especially across multinational territories, and since there were so few of us, I learned quickly how to wear many hats and take on various challenges myself because there was no one else able to tackle them like I could.