February 23, 2014 – How to Prepare Yourself for Life After College While You’re Still in College
Insight About How to Prepare Yourself for Life After College While You’re Still in College
This past week I had the pleasure of corresponding with Ms. Jessica Braunscheidel, the Corporate District Trainer of Sephora. Ms. Braunscheidel is a friend of mine. We attended Buffalo State College together where she first got me interested in taking PR on as a second major. Her job is a public relations position and is officially titled, “Beauty Educator for Corporate Sephora”. She received this started working for Sephora almost immediately after graduating and her current position could easily be considered one of my dream jobs. I decided to interview Ms. Braunschiedel so see what kind of steps need to be taken to achieve such an incredible position. I also wanted to find out to what degree she uses the communication and media skills we so often learn about in class and how she deals with controversial topics in the work place.
Ms. Braunscheidel’s day-to-day routine changes drastically on any given day. The position itself consists of overseeing the education and brand relations of ten different Sephora stores. She says she spends 50 percent of her time traveling and is officially based in Buffalo NY, supervising stores in Buffalo, Niagara, Upstate NY as well as parts of Pennsylvania. She is required to visit each of these ten specific stores monthly in addition to traveling quarterly to open new stores for the company and training new teams to prepare them for grand opening. Aside from traveling across the country, she travels internationally to maintain and develop brand relations. When new products are being created its part of her job to make sure the product has appropriate Sephora branding. She also plays an extensive role in deciding how the product will be represented in the stores.
Braunscheidel uses her public relations skills not just in representing the Sephora brand to the public but representing it to the staff of the company. She gave one example of a PR crisis in which Sephora’s partner J.C. Penny postponed the opening of twenty to thirty in-house Sephora stores due to financial obstacles. At this point all the employees for the stores had been hired and with no plan for when the stores were to open there was panic among the Sephora employees. Braunscheidel’s team worked quickly to reassign the employees to different existing stores until things were sorted out. Due to the volume of employees some were even temporarily assigned to departments they wouldn’t normally be. The partnership with J.C. Penny is still in its elementary years and people were afraid of losing their jobs when the stores failed to open on time. It was part of Braunscheidel’s responsibility to keep morale high and put an end to the rumors amongst the staff. Her PR team reminded them that J.C. Penny had been around for decades and wasn’t going anywhere. The also reminded the staff that Sephora was actually predicted to fail miserably and in a short 15 years they became the number one high fashion/high luxury company in the USA. They reminded the staff that economic fluctuation is normal in successful companies and they kept them focused on training for the store’s opening in the meantime.
Braunscheidel graduated from Buffalo State College with a degree in Public Communications in spring of 2012. While many may consider her young for such an established career in public relations, she worked very hard to get to where she is now. I learned a lot from talking with her. For instance it seems like a lot of the entry level work most people struggle to get after they finish their degree, was what she was already doing while she was in school. In addition to what Braunscheidel learned in her PR classes, she developed a strong background in graphic design, which played a role in many of her PR positions and internships.
Braunscheidel’s paid positions primarily consisted of being a successful freelance artist as well as the project manager at a marketing firm. She likely wouldn’t have the same skill set she does now if it wasn’t for her several internships. She worked at Buffalo State’s Weigel Health Promotions as a graphic designer and event coordinator. There, her job consisted of developing advertisements and content that would be presented at health promotion events and workshops. She was responsible for entire campaigns including successful initiatives such as: BSC Tobacco Free Initiative, Do Your Part, Take Back the Night, among many others. Her graphic design logos were used not only throughout Buffalo State but other colleges running the same programs. Notably the Tobacco Free logo she made was actually used for the entire CUNY Tobacco Free Initiative alongside the entire NYS College Tobacco Free Initiative logo that is now used state-wide on all tobacco free campuses.
She also interned at the American Cancer Society for three years in two different departments. Braunscheidel worked under the Director of Special Events for two years and then worked under the Director of Special Initiatives for one year where she did a lot of her work on the NYS Tobacco Free Initiative and the CUNY/SUNY Tobacco Free Initiative. In addition to these two internships she also interned at Roswell Park Cancer Institute under the Director of Marketing, where she worked on press and content for various campaigns. She also maintained a blog for cancer survivors. Once involved with blogging she then created a nutrition blog under her own initiative as an extension to the Roswell staff site. Braunscheidel said that all these experiences helped her prepare for the job she has now.
Braunscheidel draws inspiration from the projects she worked on while at her internships but she attributes the networking skills she obtained there to be what inspires her to be a strong go getter. While interning she was lucky enough to have bosses who believed in her potential. Braunscheidel says they went out of their way to make opportunities for her, “they took me away on conferences, to meetings and went out of their way to carry me to the next step”. She describes having an amazing female boss that lead her to having other amazing female bosses later on, “When I had maxed out my potential in one area they opened a door to something new for me”. This was a great example of how important networking is. I realized that had Jess not bonded with her initial boss she never would have had the opportunity to meet her boss’s colleagues who gave her even more opportunities.
I wouldn’t assume for even a moment that Braunscheidel’s success was just luck with networking. It’s clear just from speaking with her that she has a thirst for bettering herself, and that quality is likely what her previous bosses saw in her. She has a lot of gratitude toward her various supervisors but I think it’s evident that the opportunities they created for her were put there because she made it clear she could accomplish them. Networking helps a great deal but nothing was ever handed to Jess without her own hard work playing a role. Her job at Sephora is a perfect example of this as she sought out the job on her own after finding an opening for the position on Linked In. She had to get herself that first interview without any ones help but the fact that she was active on Linked In the first place made the opportunity available to her. After she found the position she had four interviews before she received the job. When she confirmed her offer Sephora put her through a training process called “On Boarding”. She describes it as a crash course in all 500 plus of Sephora’s brands, artistry skill, skin care, fragrance elevation, and educational practices. Jess said this training gave her the foundation to do her job well and she constantly draws inspiration from it. Braunscheidel says she learns a lot from her team members in the store as many of them have a passion for cosmetics and the fashion industry. Sephora also has Braunscheidel spend a lot of time at Fashion Week in NYC to represent their runway brands, and she says that her time spent there inspires a lot of what she does in her stores.
This assignment was an incredible opportunity to get extensive feedback and advice about career options for young women. I have a personal relationship with Ms. Braunscheidel but I’ve never been able to hear her advice for success. She’s an incredible woman, and if you ever met her in person you’d know it almost instantly. She’s petite and friendly yet she exerts a certain kind of strength in the way she carries herself and in the things she says. Knowing this about her disposition, her advice came as no surprise to me. Braunscheidel says if you want to pursue a career like hers you need to be able to think outside the box. She says that in a career like PR, the more creative and innovative your ideas, the better they are. Lastly she advised, “don’t stop pounding doors, you have to really know you want what you want and not be afraid to ask for what you need”. Jess is strong and confident yet incredibly humble and thankful for where she is in life. She never has to vocalize that she is the best; she lets her work speak for itself.
After talking to Braunscheidel I felt a lot less intimidated about not being able to learn enough in four short years of school. It seems as though many companies such as Sephora find employees with raw talent and potential and teach you in-house everything you need to know about representing their specific brand and company identity. I found this aspect of our interview particularly interesting. I never fully understood that a company would train someone to be in a higher up position. I would of thought for instance that in order for someone to do Braunscheidel’s job, the individual would’ve needed extensive beauty school training prior to applying for the position. This concept that someone in public relations can be trained to understand and represent any kind of company without prior training, really opened my eyes to all sorts of PR jobs I would love to have. While I felt a sense of relief about the quality of my education, I also felt a sense of urgency about what else I should be doing while in college to network and prepare myself before I enter the job market. I will certainly seek out internships in my area after hearing Ms. Braunscheidel talk about how much it helped her with her career.
I’m relatively new to public communications as I took on the major half way through college. I’m actually first and foremost a film major, second I’m a writer, third I’m a comedian (standup/ school improv team) and now I’m a PR and advertising major. I chose it as a second major because I wanted an edge to help me get an internship at Comedy Central in digital promotions. It worked! While I was there I realized how many interns were on their 3rd and 4th internship and it became clear that these jobs aren’t exactly handed out just because you’re a go-getter. I’m not a rich New Yorker; I don’t have the funds to do that many internships just to get experience. I need something stable and reliable. When I came into this major I thought I would be writing witty commercials and advertising campaigns, what I found instead was a hidden gem. I learned about branding myself as a commodity. Which to me sounds like it has job security written all over it, unfortunately it’s something I don’t exactly know how to do. I figured I should ask someone from the major that’s done it successfully which is what inspired this entry.
This class is all about critical thinking and analyzing media messages. My generation’s ability to understand media on a deeper level is one of the few things that gets people like Ms. Braunscheidel a corporate level position at a billion dollar company her first year out of college. It’s not enough to just know what a hashtag is or what the popular memes are. I predict that some of the most applicable skills will come from knowing how people respond and absorb content. I’d even go a step further and say if you understand some of the media theories and critical frame works you can begin to take what makes television sensational and powerful and apply it to your everyday PR projects.
I have to say one thing I was not anticipating was how insanely talented Raunscheidel was to get that job. She did so many thing while in school to brand herself as a commodity it made me realize I was way far behind.
Trilogy: Information and Persuasion