Ashley Incardone is our new intern and a soon-to-be graduate of ASU with a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Walter Cronkite School. At just 22 years of age, she has an impressive list of accomplishments under her belt: she’s completed internships with The State Press and AZ Big Media, worked for companies such as Apple, Dish Network, and Serenity Hospice, and currently manages her own media and business consultation firm, A.N.I. Concierge, where she develops websites, brands and social media accounts. Her work has been featured in multiple publications, including The Arizona Republic, The State Press, AZ Business Magazine, Experience AZ, Scottsdale Living, AZRE Magazine. In other words, we’re excited she’s part of the IrisPR team – and we wanted to share her advice as part of our Young PR Pro series.

Nowadays it isn't realistic to drop off a resumé, show some face and kiss up to a C-level executive to land the public relations job you want. Heck - most of the time having a college degree isn't even enough. Let’s be honest, it’s also unrealistic to walk into a newsroom, find a reporter and hand off a pitch. Or walk into an agency and expect to be hired based off education and good ideas.

Why? One answer: you are Google-able.

If a company is looking to hire someone to write press releases, and they Google your name and find no results for press releases you wrote, they most likely won’t be interested. If a company is in search of a groundbreaking photographer, they will most likely run a Google search of candidates’ samples. If you have no pictures online you won’t be considered. If you are lucky enough to get an interview because the company is one in a thousand that doesn't do research, the first thing you will be asked for when you sit across the desk from your new potential boss is for a portfolio of previous work and a resumé with your experience.

Honestly, the situation is a lot like the chicken and egg. Being a young professional today is difficult, and the PR industry can be even more challenging because it is based on relationships. I mean, how are you supposed to get experience if everyone will only hire you if you already have experience?

Don’t panic, though, this ending isn't a tragedy. I found the solution to my problem. It came in an eight-word sentence that followed closely behind a sappy quote, from my overwhelmingly aggressive, foul-mouthed yet incredibly smart academic guidance counselor in my sophomore orientation meeting:

“As Tony Gaskins once said, ‘If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to help build theirs.’ So you do whatever it takes to build your dream. Don’t be afraid of working for free, damn it!”

Yes, that’s right… working for free. Putting time and effort into something with no monetary payback can be very unappealing, especially if you are going thousands of dollars into debt for an education. But it truly is beyond the value that comes in little green paper rectangles.

Whether it be an internship, a pro-bono client, or work for trade - just say yes! While your wallet doesn’t immediately expand, your experience, portfolio and resume do. At 22 years old, I’ve held different positions in the industry and have a fast-developing portfolio beyond most PR pros my age, because I started off proving my quality of work by offering my services to a small group of high-impact influencers for free.

On the private, consulting side of things, I chose companies in need of my services with a large physical and social following. I offered my time and skills in exchange for recommendations and publicity. When I took on my first client, I struck a trade deal. They were a start-up salon in need of a website, and I was in need of a “glam squad” so I traded services. They got a website and while I didn't get a check, I do still get free haircuts and colors, as well as great exposure. In fact, from this client, I received two more clients via recommendation - and those clients did come on as paid.

Internships

Even now that I have clients who pay me, I still actively take internships, because saying no to an opportunity to learn and get exposure is something a young PR pro can’t afford to do.

When choosing internships I look for companies that have a big name in the marketplace, have room for market improvement, and a place that allows me the space I need to grow within the company. When I began my very first internship, I was unpaid and worked over 20 hours a week. However, because of my commitment to my job, my high quality of service, and my dedication to the brand, I was promoted to a paid position.

Since the beginning of my career, four years ago, I have been able to continue moving up in my industry. I have graduated from offering free services to charging rates that can support my spending habits, and I am certain that as my experience continues to grow my hourly rate will increase as well.

Taking this advice from my advisor, to work for free, wasn't easy because it didn't offer an immediate reward. At times I felt very discouraged and underappreciated. But as I look back over the past several years, listening to her is the best decision I made while in college.

So I lend this advice to you, in hopes that I can help you break the chicken-vs-egg-themed “loop of experience.” Now is the time to check your ego, say yes to learning and build your resume, and experience a growth in your blossoming career like never before. If you don’t act while you are young? You may eventually find yourself behind a counter taking orders from people who are living out your dream.

Topics: Careers Relationships Young PR Pros