Michelle Nguyen is a Digital & Social Strategist based in Toronto, Ontario. While studying at Humber College, she started her own consulting firm.
How did you break into the communications industry, and how did you advance to where you are today?
I went to Ryerson for two years for English straight out of high school, didn’t like it, dropped out, saved up money and came back to school for Humber PR. In my first year, I decided to really take it seriously and start looking for internships before the third-year work term, so I could build up experience before then.
I managed to get an internship as a PR intern at Republic and was given a contract to work through my second year of school. I’ve been at the agency ever since! During my internship, two people had left for other opportunities which conveniently for me, carved out a spot that I could fill. That paired with my incessant need to touch as many projects as I could during those four months and I knew that they needed me as I needed them.
What skills does one need to survive in the communications industry?
Especially as a young professional entering an office for the first time, you need to know that everything is business. Taking things personally was one of my biggest faults and it really bred self-doubt in my ability for a long time. You need to have the drive to do it all, the guts to say you need help and the time-management skills to keep yourself sane.
What do you most enjoy about working in communications?
I love that there are so many facets to it. It’s not just press releases or community management; it’s photography, creative ideas, strategy building, graphic design or building a brand voice. At small-shops in particular, we don’t live in silos. This means that I’m not just doing PR—if new work came in that was marketing and I really wanted to work on it, all I’d have to do is ask to be put on it. The marketing person can also be the designer and the copywriter at the same time. It really never gets boring.
What are you looking for when hiring an entry-level professional?
Enthusiasm. I was that entry-level professional who walked in with no industry experience but a whole lot of excitement for the job. I believe in the tenacity of people because I think that’s not something you can teach. Even with no experience, I know that enthusiasm because I’ve felt it; that candidate will do anything and is open to learning, doing and becoming great.
What are some important lessons you learned while job hunting?
Do your research. I went overboard and pretty much stalked my interviewers. Went to my college? Worked at a brand I really love? Recently got a dog? Vacation to an island? Anything that I could weave into the conversation, I did.
Sure, it might have taken them by surprise, but it also showed I took every resource I had in order to get to know them and therefore, maybe they should get to know me by giving me a chance.
What has been your approach to networking?
I used to get very intimidated when approaching people to network, especially as a student with nothing to offer. A lot of our industry is based on finding people to connect with. Once I properly got into the industry, I realized that everyone I meet is either in my shoes, reflects who I used to be or reflects who I want to be.
When you think about people that way, that they’re just versions of who you are, it’s less terrifying to go up to them and ask about that cool campaign they did and how you love it. We all get it, so don’t be nervous!
What is something a PR newbie can do to bulk up their resume?
Find something you enjoy and build that. For me, I didn’t have anything to show on my resume because I was a first-year student, so I started a blog for all my creative writing. I always loved to write and share stories and decided to house it all on one blog to show my ability to drive traffic and create my brand while still doing something I was passionate about.
While yours may not manifest in a blog, it can also be an Instagram account, a Twitter handle dedicated to one topic, anything! It shows that you have the drive to build something, even if you don’t have a million qualifications on your resume.
Describe a typical day of work for you. What are your key responsibilities?
I’m a community manager on a number of clients’ social accounts. I’m following the content calendars I built earlier in the quarter, posting content, monitoring for any in-the-moment sharing opportunities and building the creative assets for the next day.
I manage five social brands across five platforms, so that’s a lot of my day. I’m always busy and I’m always on my phone. My favourite thing is when the day is done and I can finally tuck my phone away.
What advice do you have for a new graduate who is having difficulty finding stable employment?
My peers send out resumes and are discouraged when they hear nothing back, so they stop. They come up to me and ask, “How did you get so lucky to land a job in your first year?” and it stings. My experience was the opposite of lucky; it was a culmination of months of trying and frustration. I know this disappointment because I lived it 48 times before I got my contract.
I spent months sending out resumes and personalized cover letters to 48 agencies, brands, big or small—and hearing only radio silence. I understand that it is extremely disheartening to hear nothing back, but you really need the guts to try again. Get someone to read your cover letter. Ask your professors what they think of your resume. Find volunteer opportunities. Build a blog. Eventually, it all works out. Just get up and keep going.