Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Pivotal Time

Yesterday marked a pivotal time in my career.

After months of soul searching (and later job searching), I put in my two week notice with my current employer. Working here has given me so much more experience and opportunity than I ever expected when I applied for the job.

If I can recall correctly, the job listing titled “Corporate Communications Coordinator” for this packaging, paperboard and merchandising display company seemed very support oriented, not that I was going to complain about that. After all, I was applying just before graduation and I had been looking for a job for the entire semester. The monster.com job description mentioned helping with the employee magazine, assisting with vendor research and generally supporting a Corporate Communications Manager.

This all sounded great to me for several reasons. First and foremost, it was a “real” job versus an internship. So many of my friends who were graduating from The University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism either had to take internships post-graduation or decided to work outside of their areas of academic studies. I personally, at times, wished I had gotten the memo that jobs in journalism and communications were few and far between, not to mention relatively low-paying compared to other fields out there.

Secondly, there was irony in the company’s core businesses. My dad works for a major packaging and paperboard company and has for 30-plus years. Who would have guessed that I would follow in his footsteps, as well as my mother’s (she did corporate communications for a major supplemental insurance provider), and work for one of his company’s competitors? I’d joked and made fun of him for years for being a “pulp and paper engineer.” But there I was, going to work for a company that made boxes, cartons, protective packaging and the like. I would imagine that my knowing a little more about the business than the average bear helped me get the job.

Thirdly, deep down inside, I didn’t want to do public relations, the degree my diploma reads. I would have studied corporate communications if UGA had offered it. This was an opportunity to get my foot in the door doing corporate communications and some marketing.

So I started on June 6, 2005, with my supervisor leaving for a great opportunity only four months into my employment. Her, what I thought was an untimely departure, ended up opening quite a few doors and windows. I was trusted to do projects that I never would have expected and her position was never rehired.

And it’s been a neat nearly three years. My time here has dabbled in internal announcements, the employee magazine, marketing literature, videos, meeting planning, presentations, annual reports, corporate citizenship, human resources communications and more.

As I reflect on the last few years, I have some tinges of guilt. Our employee magazine seems to mean so much to the company’s hard working, blue collar employees. Many of these people don’t have access to e-mail, the intranet or so many of the modern technologies we office dwelling employees have. The magazine has been their chance to be recognized individually or collectively as factories for volunteerism, safety achievements, production records, excellence in customer service, health and wellness, inventions and more. I know everyone is replaceable; regardless, I somewhat feel like I am letting down some of these employees.

I have a letter from one of our retirees that I plan to carry with me from job to job. This particular retiree asked to be on the mailing list despite his being retired for many years from a paper mill in Minnesota. He sent me a Christmas letter last year that read,

“Thanks for remembering us retirees. Some of the last to retire, I can still remember their first date of hire. Nice to hear what is going on in our other plants. […] my clock keeps ticking—hope to be around for many more years to come. The snow here is 22 inches plus five more tonight. I don’t shovel, just watch it snow. Nice to be retired this time of year. Sincerely, MG”

This note reminds me that there is meaningful work out there, even doing work for a corporation. To this gentleman, seeing updates on his former colleagues and seeing the company grow has brought joy.

Another fond memory of working on the magazine was a cover art contest we held about two years ago. Many people entered, though one person called regularly to see if we had judged the contest yet. When we finally pulled together a cross-divisional team of people from many functional areas, the committee actually chose this guy's art. He was a production worker with a passion for design. When I called him and told him that he'd won, he told me that it was the best day of his life. When I went on to say that he would also be receiving a monogrammed company jacket and a framed copy of his magazine cover, he said that was all just a bonus.

Now I am on to the next chapter in my working life, a chapter I am excited and eager to begin. I will be an account manager at a highly renown design and strategy agency located here in Atlanta. I am beyond flattered to have been extended an invitation to work among the firm’s creative minds. The scope of work includes mostly annual reports and corporate communications, two types of work I’ve truly enjoyed. I will also be helping, through discovery and a fantastic collaborative approach, companies find out how they want to be perceived by employees, brought to market and seen by Wall Street. I already know I'll be able to learn a lot from this smart, witty and interesting team of communicators and designers. I also hope I don't disappoint.

Thanks to all for supporting my growth, forgiving my mistakes, allowing me to work on high level projects and understanding my need to move on.

– Katy

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