Looking Back: Some Advice for Our Industry's Next Generation

01/24/2017 04:30 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2018

Today, I was honored as one of PR News' Top Women in PR; a recognition that highlights some amazing women doing great work and who are making bold advances to reshape the marketing and communications industry.

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I must admit that this honor is both humbling and empowering. In retrospect, I believe awards such as these are not only ways to celebrate creativity, innovation and leadership but they are also an implicit avenue of accountability and responsibility because we, as leaders, are entrusted with helping the next generation to succeed -- empowering them, sharing our experiences, and carrying our values of diversity, community and social responsibility into the future.

This acknowledgment has also given me the opportunity to reflect and think about what advice I would give to a 22 year old "Jennifer Risi" who was just starting out. I think some of my experiences and learnings would hold true to anyone that is embarking on a new career in an industry that they hopefully love. First, I would say learn your craft and learn it well. Get smart on as much as you can -- and develop a wide range of knowledge. From there develop an expertise. Do something no one else can and you will always be valuable. Along the way, it will be important to develop relationships. It is the people that will help you the most along your journey. And, lastly, have fun. Love what you do and people will want to work with you.

Below is a brief list of some other key learnings that have helped me most along my "career" journey.

Get a sponsor. Always seek out mentors but sponsors are the ones that will truly help you along your career path. It takes more than hard work and dedication to land your dream job. The influencers, decision-makers and contacts you make along the way are equally important. These are the people that need to know who you are, what you offer and how you are different.

In locating sponsors, seek well positioned executives and yes, you need more than one. It's important to find those who have the influence to appoint future leaders. Look for a sponsor who will provide critical feedback, will take time to develop you professionally, and is willing to advocate on your behalf when you are not in the room.

Take the hard job -- challenge yourself and absorb all you can. Today's job market is more competitive, unpredictable and integrated than ever before. Every day you are not learning something new from your job, it is a day wasted. Make time to learn more skills outside of your day-to-day job, take advantage of online platforms to keep learning, and also join networking groups to connect and absorb from those you aspire to be.

Build your own brand and define your narrative. Millennials are widely acknowledged to be the most socially conscious generation ever -- use your wants and beliefs to effectively tell your story. Most of us contribute to a growing portrait of who we are online so why not build upon that by using your voice. There are many spaces to publish your thoughts such as industry association blogs or trade-specific publications. By adding your voice in places that are highly visited, you can build your personal brand and obtain incredible visibility which builds your reputation.

Plan your career. I have always said, your career is a marathon, not a sprint. One of the most important aspects of one's career is building a strong reputation. It takes time to build your reputation and it is especially difficult if you're busy chasing the next job opportunity without giving the present one a fair chance.

Dedicate yourself to a job for at least two years, in order to gain the necessary skills that will prepare you for the next level. Do not let small pay raises distract you from pursuing meaningful experiences early in your career.

So younger generations -- get out there and make it happen! My hope is that awards like these can inspire all nominees and communicators today to hire, retain and mentor highly skilled younger generations to increase diversity, innovation and transformation across our industry.

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