We all have the same two goals while going through college: graduate and land a job. SMU CCPA alumnae, Karna Small, Alex Payne, and Caroline Curran recently accomplished both these goals, which are no small feat. Add in a global pandemic, and these alumnae surely deserve some kind of award, but perhaps their degrees and job offers do the trick. The CCPA family congratulates these outstanding graduates and shares their “Success After CCPA” stories, detailing what it’s like job hunting and starting a first job post-college graduation during a global pandemic.

Karna Small

Small graduated from SMU in May of 2020 with a B.A. in Public Relations and Strategic Communication and minors in Advertising and and English.

Karna Small, 2020 SMU CCPA graduate

Job Hunting During a Pandemic

Like many recent graduates, Karna applied for dozens of jobs online via LinkedIn, Handshake, Indeed, and other job sites. She heard back from three companies, all of which had either paused or canceled their hiring processes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I felt like I was wasting time,” Small said in regards to her job search post-graduation. She started getting antsy, bored, and realizing her need to make an income wasn’t going away.

At the end of May, Karna reached out to CCPA professors Steve Lee, APR, and Chris Coats. With their advice along with these wise words from Dr. Sandra Duhé, “Stop applying online. It’s a waste of your time. Your connections with the SMU and Dallas communities will land you a job,” Karna set out once again to land herself a job.

Karna talked to the SMU Parent Leadership Council and her and her parents, who are a part of the Council, helped pass along her resumé. After a long chain of events and strategizing with numerous alumni, a big fish finally latched onto Karna’s line.

Karna’s Success After CCPA

After two phone interviews and one interview with a team, Karna received and accepted her current position working for LDWW, a marketing, advertising, and communications agency in the heart of the Dallas Design District.

Her main client is in the travel industry, offering ample work for Karna in crisis communications. However, Karna’s role is not your average crisis job. After all, we’re still in the middle of the pandemic with no true end in sight. Karna is learning to navigate the public relations and travel (her client’s industry) industries amidst so many unknowns. Every day, she learns something new about how to guide a company through the pandemic.

For now, Karna is contributing to the crisis team in any way necessary. Her projects are mainly creativity-based, making graphics and flyers and communicating with companies impacted by travel.

“Even people with consistent job roles are experiencing major role changes,” Karna said. “It’s all-hands-on-deck! Your role may change from week to week, so she “learned to not get too comfortable with one project, client, or task.”

Karna expressed her experience as an “interesting time to be starting [her] first post-grad job.”

Karna’s Key Takeaways

Karna has been adjusting to her role as it shifts and changes each day. “I’m not good with change,” she says, “so I’ve had to adapt a lot this year.” After landing her first job post-grad during a pandemic, she learned a thing or two.

  • Be considerate of your coworkers’ comfort levels
    • Karna explained, “Choosing to go out to eat involves more than just me.” Karna works in the office every other day, to assist in social distancing efforts, and has to consider how her actions impact her coworkers.
  • Be posh and cautious
    • “It’s always important to be respectful in the workplace,” she expressed, “but you should be even more observational in the office now.”
  • Be adaptable and stay professional
    • Karna is on her way to mastering the art of being flexible, thanks to her starting a new job during a pandemic.
  • Be aware of the differences between an internship and a job
    • “I get [to work] and have a bunch of ongoing projects rather than quick to-dos,” she said. “Work on one project all day, pause, go home, then pick up where I left off the next day. One week may compare to a sprint and another week may be like a steady run.”
  • Be aware of the changing dynamics in the office
    • Karna explained that her office’s dress code pre-COVID was business-casual; now, it’s “COVID-casual,” or a little more relaxed. She expressed how important it is to always be professional and acknowledge the dos and don’ts of your workplace, even as they change.

Karna is an avid blogger, and you can follow her along her journey to success.

Congratulations on your recent graduation and new role, Karna! The CCPA family is excited to follow your success!

Alexandrea (Alex) Payne

Payne graduated from SMU in May of 2020 with a B.A. in Public Relations and Strategic Communication and minors in Women’s and Gender Studies and Business Administration.

Alex Payne, 2020 SMU CCPA graduate

The Job Search Mindset

Alex’s mindset for finding a job during a pandemic was to find the silver linings in the midst of so much uncertainty. The pandemic has taken a lot away from us all, but one thing Alex personally gained was time.

“During my undergrad, I was heavily involved and jumped at the chance to create positive change on campus,” she said. “Time was a hot commodity! Over the past six months, I’ve had a copious amount of time to focus on my professional goals and working toward my desired career.”

Alex saw her job search during a pandemic as a “luxury,” getting to search for a job with limited distractions.

Alex’s 3 Tips for Job-Hunting During a Pandemic

Alex integrated these 3 tips into her job hunt, helping her land her first full-time job post-grad during a pandemic.

  1. Utilize and build your network
    • “I made it a personal goal of mine to chat with two professionals every week. Each conversation, whether resulting in a job or words of advice, offered valuable insight and grew my network simultaneously. SMU and CCPA have outstanding connections, and it would have been a shame not to utilize them. Once upon a time, alumni sat in the same seats we did just as uncertain about their futures. So, I decided to tap into that network for the next steps.”
  2. Invest in your continued education and use this time to learn
    • “I have become a webinar fanatic! There are unlimited educational tools and resources online free of charge. I’ve probably logged upwards of 50 hours learning about public relations, DE&I, sports, and other topics. Most recently, I completed my PR Council Agency-Ready Certificate. I’m not saying you need to spend that much time watching webinars, but I do recommend finding quality learning opportunities.”
  3. Lean on the CCPA family
    • “Our faculty, staff, and fellow classmates are wonderful support systems and resources. Always remember that our roots are in CCPA and that the CCPA family will always be there to help. Utilize this community as idea generators, sounding boards, and proofreaders. Create peer groups with classmates now. In the future, you can continue to share career updates, industry news, and job opportunities.”

Alex’s Success After CCPA

Alex began her first full-time job at FleishmanHillard, a global public relations and digital marketing agency. She is eager to use her skills and talents to craft narratives that impact the minds of audiences and clients.

So between now and when you land that first job, Alex leaves you with this: “I believe as public relations and communications professionals, we have a responsibility and the opportunity to evoke positive change in the world through our work. That has been my driving force and silver lining. So, please know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and once you find your silver lining, you too will be on your way!”

Congratulations on your recent graduation and new role, Alex! The CCPA family is excited to follow your success!

Caroline Curran

Curran graduated from SMU in May of 2019 with a B.A. in Corporate Communications and Public Affairs and a minor in Law and Legal Reasoning.

Caroline Curran, 2019 SMU CCPA graduate

Post-Grad Endeavors

After Caroline graduated from SMU, she took a job with a fundraising and marketing agency. There, she learned a lot about the expectations of a full-time position, attention to detail, project management, and “managing up.”

Ultimately, that position didn’t feel right for Caroline, and she started reaching out to her SMU network for insight. Because of the connections between Hill+Knowlton (H+K) and SMU, with the Dallas office’s managing partner being a proud SMU alum and member of the CCPA Advisory Board, she heard about the firm’s open fellowship position.

When submitting her application, her CCPA professors offered guidance and counsel that she was perfect for the role.

The position originally intended to last six months, with the possibility of a promotion at the end. Unfortunately, COVID-19 delayed the hiring timeline, which was “discouraging at times,” Caroline said. She constantly reminded herself that she was doing what she loved and things would work out. She continued to gain experience throughout the pandemic, working on crisis efforts as clients adapted their business models in the wake of COVID-19. 

Caroline’s Success After CCPA

Working toward that promotion, she continued to work hard, showing her managers the value she was bringing to their clients. She tracked her “wins” to update her bosses of the success she helped create for H+K.

Happily, Hill+Knowlton rewarded Caroline with a full-time position as an Assistant Account Executive. “I have learned so much already in the last 10 months of working at H+K,” Caroline expressed. “I am thrilled to continue bringing my clients value and growing under my colleagues’ mentorships.”

Caroline used the skills she learned while in the CCPA program every day at her job. “There’ve been countless times when I’ve referenced an old textbook or assignment when I got a new project,” she said.

“SMU CCPA prepared me for the work and challenges I’ve faced, and I look forward to seeing how else my education will serve me in the future,” Caroline ended.

Congratulations on your recent success and promotion, Caroline! The CCPA family is excited to follow your success!