a career path less travelled

It's a common tale - not knowing what career path to choose. And its useful to remember that not everyone has go down the tried and tested path.

by Jenny Baird

I didn’t come to communications in a ‘traditional’ way. I’m not a ex-journalist, a prolific blogger, or an influential tweeter. I don’t have a degree in marketing or PR.

Like many others out there, I finished university and thought – what now?

After years of seemingly endless exams and receiving my degree in English Literature I somewhat naively assumed I would know the answer. But I didn’t. I didn’t have a clue. So I decided to leave the country.

Six months later, I landed in a cold and windy Manchester after an adventure that saw me teach primary school children in South Africa, meet the King of Swaziland, drive a 4x4 along a perfect Australian beach and jump out of a plane at 12,000 feet. I also found Nemo.

But what I didn’t find was the answer.

I did need a job though. Travelling debts were now a stark reality and I knew living back home with the parents wasn’t an ideal situation – for me or them. I took the first job I found, working in HR for the NHS. Eighteen months later, I was still there, and my feet were starting to itch. The ambition and drive in me, previously presumed dormant, had awakened.

I wanted to be creative, tell stories, make people laugh, make them sit up and listen. I volunteered to write a feature for the in house magazine about the recent staff survey results. Without realising it, that one story set me on a new journey. When a job for an Internal Communications Officer popped up on the vacancies board, I seized the opportunity.

Two years later, I’m communicating with GPs, nurses, physiotherapists, and podiatrists, to name a few. I also connect with fellow NHS communicators on NHS Comms Link, which I help to run. I interview NHS leaders, write news items, create features and have learned InDesign and Photoshop to bring my work to life. I can now see a career stretching out in front of me – one I feel determined, excited and just a little nervous about.

There is a wealth of information out there for the modern communicator, and it can be overwhelming. When I started thinking seriously about this as a profession, I read about the skills that were required and started to panic. Bar one week’s work experience at a local daily newspaper, I have no media experience. I’ve never written a press release or arranged a photo call. I haven’t worked on a campaign, nor do I know anything about digital marketing techniques. How do you write a communications strategy? Should I already know?

But, what I have come to realise that for anyone embarking on a career in communications, there is never one route in. Don’t be put off by what you think is missing from your CV. Sometimes the opportunities just aren’t there – it’s about making the most of the ones you have right now. I took a same-level secondment to broaden my experience. And, while social media doesn’t play a huge part in my role, I’m finding ways to ensure it does in the future. I may know nothing about digital marketing now, but I’m hoping two days spent shadowing our marketing team will help.

If I don’t get to write as much as I want, I write elsewhere. I tweet everything I’m interested in, or aggrieved about. For every question I have about communications, I can usually find a helpful blog or news article.

What I have learned in this relatively short time is that a career in communications doesn’t begin and end in the workplace. We now live in a world where all experience counts, and there are so many places to show off what we can do.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was 18. Or 21. Only at 25 did I start getting warmer. I wrote one story and it’s taken me to a place I didn’t even know I wanted to go.

Oh, and I did pay off those debts, and move out. Eventually.

Jenny Baird is a Communications Officer at the Department of Health and also writes a music blog

You can follow her on Twitter here

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