What I wish PW had taught me

Professional Writing taught me a lot. I am forever in gratitude to an incredible program, wonderful professors and fellow students, and internships that (mostly) prepared me for the workforce.

Regardless of how awesome PW is, there are a few things that I wish they had taught me. Some of them are related to the program, some would make good Writers’ Bloc workshops, and others simply I wish I had known beforehand.

Better technical writing
This might just relate to me—but the technical writing class I took was crap. I brushed it off and didn’t think it would affect me. But then I was given a writing project at work (back in January, you can read all about how I failed here). If I had had a better, more competent technical writing professor, I truly think that I would have done better with this project (though I still would have struggled). Technical writing is more important than I ever realized and students need to recognize the impact it might have on their future careers.

Analytics workshop/class
I am not the only one who has come across analytics in the workplace and been faced with a pretty big learning curve. We never spent time learning about analytics (the various tools, best practices, etc) in school, and now it’s something that just comes with the territory of my position. I’ve had to learn a lot about Google Analytics in a very short time (Facebook Insights and others included), and a workshop or at least practice compiling a social media analytics report would have been great as a student.

How age, privilege, and class affects us in the workplace
I truly did not realize how much my age would affect me in the workplace. I am young (24). When I started I was really young (22). I couldn’t understand why no one liked my ideas unless they came from someone else or why people seemed to brush me off as a silly little girl until my boyfriend said, with a shrug, “Well, you’re young.”

A heads up would have been nice. Some advice on how to deal with age discrimination and even class discrimination in the workplace would have been helpful. It’s something that I’ve struggled with navigating, especially as a—I hate this word—Millennial. I have grown up calling professors by their first name and chatting with bosses as if they were friends, but not all businesses work like that. I didn’t know that I need to tread lightly. I suppose that relates back to office etiquette, however—a potential workshop idea.


How to negotiate bonuses and raises
I learned how to negotiate salaries (sort of, and I have never actually done it IRL), but I definitely never learned about bonuses and raises. One of the most helpful things that PW did to prepare me for interviewing for jobs was to have a mock interview session. Something like that would be equally helpful for learning how to negotiate bonuses, raises, and all of that stuff. Something else to note here is that PW is largely made up of women. Negotiating can be especially hard for us ladies (which is bullshit, but it’s still true), so learning how to navigate that would have been really helpful. I still don’t have a grasp on negotiation and I probably won’t for a long time.

Being asked to do things that aren’t in your job description
How does one handle being asked to do things that aren’t in their job description? Do we just do it without complaint? Do we bring it up? Do we refuse? How do we tread lightly in this situation?

Social media workshop
Social media is ever changing, so a class might be difficult or even a little much. Regardless, some help in the social media area would have been appreciated. Workshops on best practices and strategy, and especially analytics, proving the value of a solid strategy (or ROI). Social media etiquette is also a good one.

Email etiquette
PLEASE—do not be that person who replies all to everyone in every email. I know this but not everyone does—something to consider when it comes to workshops? It would also be a good place to include discerning when to be formal/casual and more little nitpicky things about email. Do I say, “Hey Ali,” when I’m opening an email, or do I say, “Hi there,” or do I say, “Good afternoon”?

How to deal with colleagues who aren’t so nice
Group work fails in this capacity because at the end of the day the group is over and you can leave those suckers. Coworkers are forever (or until you quit/leave). And, let’s face it, there will always be crazies. You will always have to deal with people who do not like you, or who you do not like, or who try to make your life a little harder at your job. But—let’s say a coworker is harassing you and basically being an all out bitch—how do you handle it? Talk to her directly? Go to HR? Talk to your boss?

And I don’t mean the employee handbook way. I mean the stop-harassment, deal-with-the-problem way. I mean in the real-life way. Because life is not by the employee handbook.


Office politics
This is not really something that PW can teach us—but workshops can. Professors can. Internship advisers can. Bosses can. I never really got an introduction to office politics until I was out in the workplace and I was making mistakes left and right—of course, every office is different. But it’s something to consider.

No one was really harsh with me about my writing in school. Okay, so harsh might be a little much, but no one was really nitpicky with my writing. Now I am a big girl in the real world and people are not always nice about the failings in my writing. Expectations are high in the workplace and no one likes to be surprised with that shit—I definitely didn’t feel prepared for how much more difficult things can be in the workplace compared to how I was treated/graded in college.

To sum up this blog post, let me just say—a lot of what I felt blindsided by in the workplace is stuff that you just have to learn on your own. Professional Writing did a fantastic job training me for a full-time job and teaching me how to be a top notch employee.

MSUPW: What would you add the above list?

Vanessa is a digital media coordinator by day and a writer, novelist, and badass cook by night. She loves used bookstores, is way too serious about tea, and doesn’t give a damn if she wears the same outfit 2 days in a row. She totally wants to be your friend, so you should follow her on twitter & maybe check out her writing blog.

11 thoughts on “What I wish PW had taught me

  1. I love this! I would add project management skills to your list. Less than a year after graduating I was asked to lead an institutional web redesign. I managed to make it through the process, and I think I did a decent job, but I definitely had no idea what I was doing.

    • Kristen, I 100% agree with you. One of my major learning curves was having to lead a creation, design and implementation of brand new technology at my first job post-grad. It was daunting, having mostly been part of smaller projects at my internships. Welcome to the real world, now manage a $50,000 project! Talk about a learning curve.

  2. Yes. I haven’t taken professional writing courses, but yes. I wish that I had, and if I had, I would wish they had taught me these things. In particular? The nit-picking. I don’t love when people are cruel, but honesty is huge. I can’t improve if no one tells me what I need to improve on.

    Damn. I need to look up some new writing courses. Love the post, Vanessa! 🙂

    • Nit-picking is IMPORTANT. I really do wish that people had been harder on me. I think I would have learned more and would be better at what I do if professors had been a little more harsh.

      Thanks, Kim! 🙂 You’re the best.

  3. Love the conversation this has started (both here and on FB). I agree on either coursework or workshops that address technical writing and analytics better, especially as many communications and marketing jobs now lump those in with writing, editing, etc. But I’ve found that a lot of the interpersonal stuff is learn-as-you-go and shifts from workplace to workplace (so not just an issue for entry-level positions, but throughout one’s career). I’m not sure if the program could address that specifically, but perhaps just make students more aware of that as an aspect of being professional “chameleons”?

    The item on your list that resonated with me the most was age, and I would add gender (which also falls under privilege). It would be valuable to have conversations around this while students, perhaps using alums with personal experiences to share. They are factors that affect not only the job as you’re doing it, but the job search, negotiations, etc.

    • Angela, I agree that interpersonal stuff is very touch and go from workplace to workplace—regardless, I wish I had learned more in my internships at the very least about how things were going to be in the “real world.” Making students more aware would be a start—it isn’t exactly something that you can have a class on. I guess it’s just something I really wish I had learned more about in school.

      Gender definitely makes a huge difference as well, and most of PW is female. I fully agree that it’s something that needs to be addressed. Laura talked about having alumni create modules and talking to students about these things, and I think that something like that could be extremely valuable for students!

      Thanks for adding your thoughts to the mix 🙂

  4. Hello i think it is so amazing you majored in PW! That’s what i truly want to do rather than the computer/network administrator crap I do, BUT im overseas in the military so Im really limited to online courses. I was wondering if you know of any good online colleges/universities for PW?

      • Thank you! one more question, do you know what the difference between a BA/BS in Professional Writing Vs. a BA/BS in TECHNICAL writing is?

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