By Kristen Gonzalez
Dr. Jessica Nerren shares her expertise on how students can navigate through the post-pandemic job market with a communication degree.
Dr. Nerren is both CSUSB faculty and an alumna having completed her doctoral degree in educational leadership studying public relations for the purposes of inclusion in 2021.
Q: Do you feel students need to prepare differently entering the workforce because of COVID-19?
A: The hiring economy is so good right now for new employees. If you go to a retail environment there are now hiring signs everywhere. We talk about COVID as a hardship because it is, and people have experienced loss and trauma and that rightfully needs to be acknowledged. In terms of hiring and being a new professional there has never been a better time to be entering the workforce. Know how to use zoom, practice using zoom before then, blur your background if you have to give your interview in your bedroom, just levels of professionalism. With hardship comes opportunity too. They’re going to consider us more right now because they’re looking for people and it’s an employee’s market not an employer’s market.
Q: As the president of your own public relations firm, if you were hiring what would you look for from new graduates that are communication majors?
A: For communication majors, I look for different things. I look for things that I can’t train. Does that person have enthusiasm? I can’t train enthusiasm; I can train skill. The more life experience you have, the more professional experience that you have. I have students that have taken classes with me, and go on to work at these interesting places like the Library of Congress or NASA. They come back and talk with me, and say there’s certain things I did in your class that happened when I got to Library of Congress or when I got to NASA, and I felt comfortable and capable to do those things because I already did them. That’s my favorite compliment. We almost silo ourselves in these industry sectors, like communication is the communication sector and nowhere else. No, communication is in every sector. Every single sector needs us, every single sector is doing communication so it’s not necessarily as siloed as it might seem.
Q: Are there certain resources you would recommend for undergraduate students to take advantage of right now?
A: The Career Center is the best. They had mock interviews where they would run an interview with me and record it and then play it back to me. It sounds horrifying, but it’s better to do it with a trusted career counselor than to do that for the first time with the dream job interview. They have a professional wardrobe, they’ll revise your resume, but none of these things are a one-shot deal. If you’re using the Career Center you need to keep going back, develop a relationship with someone. Same with advising, go see your faculty advisor all the time. Check your concentration. It’s just a matter of going that extra mile early and often because there’s so much good stuff here.
Q: What advice do you have for students entering the field of communication?
A: I would recommend trying anything and everything. There are so many amazing avenues to pursue in communication and some we don’t even know exist until we find ourselves in them. Sometimes we dream of doing something and find out we don’t like it as much as we anticipated. For myself, I started in journalism and ventured out of communication and did some things in the world of marketing and found myself in PR. I wouldn’t have known what a good fit that was for me if I hadn’t tried lots of things. Every little step in the direction toward anything communication is a step in the forward direction for yourself.
Q: Do you feel your degree in communication assisted you in where you are currently?
A: As soon as I completed my undergraduate degree and even before that I was already working in communication. I’ve worked in comm for over a decade without having a degree in comm. Eventually that catches up with you and professionally you have a lot of experience but academically you don’t have the degree and the scholarly knowledge to back up moving into that strategy level, that higher pay level. I wanted to seek a higher degree that way I could operate on both the strategy and execution levels. I was happy with the outcome, it got me out of some of the work I didn’t want to be doing anymore and it got me into the work I envisioned myself doing moving forward.