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I’ve often thought that if Dante had spent more time in the Inferno, he would’ve found another circle where people are forced to read financial statements and write budgets. For me, creating budgets or calculating the depreciation for long-term assets used to sound like a punishment (maybe the latter still is). When I heard the phrase “let’s talk about the budget,” I looked like a deer in headlights. But as much as I didn’t like accounting or the general idea of numbers, I also didn’t like that I had no clue what was happening with the money at my organization. Will we be able to pay our bills next year? Is there room to ask for money to start a project I want to work on? As a communicator, I take pride in my ability to reach audiences, but it was incredibly frustrating that I didn’t know how to talk to my own finance team. And the worst part was I didn’t even know where to begin. All I could think was that I just had to avoid saying something stupid so I wouldn’t get “caught” for being financially illiterate and thrown in financial jail by the financial police. How could anyone take me seriously when I didn’t understand my budget or know how we were performing financially? I don’t have an MBA and I use my calculator for more basic math than I should. I was stuck in my Inferno. I was trying to avoid the reality that if you want to have a seat at the executive table and be a key-decision maker of an organization, you have to understand the financial statements. 

Thanks to the business and financial skills I learned at George Washington University’s business and financial boot camp, I now have the confidence to sit at the table where decisions are made and contribute value to those conversations. When it’s time to discuss the budget or review financial statements, it’s no longer a punishment. It’s an opportunity for me to demonstrate to leaders of my organization that I understand the obstacles they face and that I know our business.

The business and financial boot camp was presented by George Washington University and Ragan Communications. Industry leaders taught me how to read financial statements, develop and plan budgets, and use financial tools to evaluate organizational trends. The camp was taught in a non-threatening way where I felt safe to ask questions about finance reports I didn’t understand. The presenters patiently explained key business tools to me and how those tools impact organizational decisions. Lots of people can tell you what an income statement is or how to advocate for more budget, but these presenters live their teachings in the communications world. They are all seasoned industry leaders and had been in my shoes before. The caliber and diverse range of presenters included Ragan Communications CEO Diane Schwartz, to professors from George Washington University’s Strategic Public Relations program- Director Larry Parnell, Marie Lerch, and Karen Vahouny. They showed us how to read financial statements, how to deal with business obstacles, and how to apply financial and business tools in strategic plans. Porter Novelli’s Joe Farren shared global business trends with us and how to communicate sensitive business issues with internal and external publics. And we even heard from Michelle Russo, Chief Communications Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Robert Lee, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the American Society of Association Executives. Russo and Lee shared their knowledge and experience earning a seat at the executive table as communicators. Their experiences overcoming obstacles taught us how to influence and gain the trust of leadership at organizations and how to offer leadership solutions to business problems. This all-star lineup of presenters knows what it’s like in the real world fighting for a communication budget. They have all mastered the ability to create strategic plans that deliver profit and demonstrate value to executives. The boot camp provided me the opportunity to ask them questions and receive honest answers that will help me grow professionally and personally.

During the camp, we broke into teams where we applied the presentations in a real communications plan. We were responsible for creating strategies, goals, tactics, and budgets in the plan. Practicing this process with help from the experts in the room sharpened my talents in a way nothing else can. The teams were also a great way to build relationships with other attendees. I met professionals who work across the country and formed some professional relationships I never would have if I didn’t attend the boot camp. 

Because of the boot camp, I’m trained for the business and financial problems that communication professionals face. I’m prepared to walk into a boardroom, look at an income statement, understand what’s on it, and ask the right questions. I’m confident that I can apply the business tactics I practiced and make good decisions. I’m ready for the next time I’m given a budget and told that I need to find a way to save $250,000 in our forecast and the budget is due in two hours. I’m equipped to present a new project to executives with accurate financials, increasing the likelihood my project is approved. The boot camp empowered me to speak C-suite, so I not only have a seat at the table but thrive there. With a seat at the table and the trust of the board, I can communicate the needs and wants of my department and be trusted to understand how my actions impact the whole organization. 

The world is more connected than ever before and it’s essential to know the basics of business and finance to succeed in this environment. The boot camp is a great opportunity for communications professionals, at any level, to build or refresh their confidence as a decision maker. Perhaps you know more about finances and are better at discussing business than I am, but for me, the boot camp was valuable for my growth and confidence. I still don’t find working on a budget or income statement an exciting way to spend my time, but because of the boot camp, I can understand financial statements and know what I’m talking about. I’m prepared to sit at the executive table.

David Overy is a GSPM Student Ambassador currently in the Strategic Public Relations master's program. He is a manager of state advocacy and government affairs at the American Academy of Opthamology.

Many career experts report that January and February are the best months to find new jobs. So, what should you do to get ready to job search in the New Year? Job searching can be treated like a diet. Make a New Year’s resolution to get ready and put your best foot forward. Just as dieters often have the most success when they keep a “diet journal”, job seekers should keep a “job search journal” and jot down all of the things they are doing to find a job. Breaking down the steps one takes in looking for a new job will make things easier.

  1. Use an online or hardcover journal to keep track of your job search.
  2. Dust off your resume – make sure to have a few different resume drafts for the different types of jobs you are going to be applying to. Have resume drafts handy on your computer and also make sure to have some version of your work history on Linkedin. It may sound simplistic or obvious, but work to ensure the resumes you store on your computer/phone match the information you list on your Linkedin profile.
  3. Prepare cover letter drafts and make sure to personalize each and every cover letter for the various job openings you apply to.
  4. Update your list of contacts and reach out to them for informational meetings.
  5. Utilize career resources available to you at your university and library.
  6. Buy some thank you cards and stamps to ensure you send out “hard copy” thank you notes to everyone you meet. Yes, email thank you messages are fine, but if you want to stand out, write a thank you on a card or notepaper.
  7. Take suits/clothes into the dry cleaner for mending/cleaning and ensure you have nice/clean shoes.
  8. Focus on updating your grooming – hair, shoes, makeup, etc.
  9. Practice interviewing with friends/professors/job search experts
  10. Exercise, eat healthy foods and try to enjoy at least one thing during your day
  11. Let everyone in your circle know you are looking for a job. You never know who might be helpful!
  12. Keep going until you find success.
  13. Good luck to you!

There is a thin line between success and failure. Too many people give up just as they are “getting into gear” with their job searches. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and make sure to give help to others who are looking as well. Job searching is hard work. Prepare for it as though you are preparing for a marathon or the fight of your life. Keep going and going until you yield results.

Margaret “Mag” Gottlieb is the Career Director at the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University. Connect with Mag on LinkedIn or via email at mag@gwu.edu.

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