Info Interview

As part of my Intro to Interdisciplinary Studies class I was required to interview someone with a job similar to what I am seeking. I was resisting doing this project but am glad it was required for the class… Otherwise I may have never reached out! Tim Beery works as a public Information Officer in Northern Utah and was such a willing and kind person. I made some very valuable connections because of him! Below is the email text from my informational interview beginning with my questions… 

Hi Tim, 

Thank-you so much for your willingness to be “interviewed” about your job! 

I am at the beginning of my path towards Public Communication and really appreciate you helping me out personally, and for this project. 

The questions I have are below, please feel free to write as much or as little as you like!

  • How you get into Public Communication? 
  • What kind of entry-level positions could help get a “foot in the door” of this field?
  • What kind of education, training, or background does your job require?
  • What is a typical day like for you?
  • What do you like most about your work?
  • How does your job affect your lifestyle?
  • What skills/abilities/attributes are essential for success in your job?
  • What should I be doing during my graduate studies to prepare for a position in this field?

I really appreciate you!
Shannon Eberhard

No problem. I have been in your shoes before, as a grad student trying to interview folks. I’m glad to help.

  1. I got into Public Communication originally through the military. In 2008 I enlisted in the Utah Army National Guard as a public affairs specialist. When I first went to college in 2002, I attended SUU and actually failed out of school. I was pretty young and liked the ‘college experience’ more than I actually liked college. After two semesters, I was deemed academically ineligible. This led to me dropping from school. It also led to some discovery. I decided I wanted to change majors and go into journalism. Over the next few years I looked into viable options to pursue journalism and the military became very appealing to me. Following my enlistment, I was able to write stories abroad, and act as a public communicator for an infantry brigade during a deployment in Afghanistan. I loved it and when I returned from deployment I went back to SUU and finished my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree. Since that time I have worked for the Spectrum and Daily News in Cedar City, Intermountain Healthcare, The Utah Department of Transporation (UDOT), NATO Special Operations Command in Afghanistan, and now Cottonwood Heights City. I very much enjoy journalism, however I found it didn’t pay the bills. So working in public information allows me to keep the journalism skills while earning a little bit more money than I did in my reporter days.
  2. As far as entry-level positions, many places in Utah have entry level jobs in this field. I took an entry level position with Intermountain Healthcare following my bachelor’s degree, and I hired an entry-level position during my time at UDOT. It depends on the organization, really, as far as how they structure their team. If I were an aspiring graduate student, I would join the Utah Public Information Officer association mailing list. This group sends out Public Information job openings in the state as they are posted. They have an email list and a Facebook group where many of us collaborate regularly. It is a pretty tight-knit group and we take care of one-another.
    1. For me, personally, joining the National Guard was the single best decision I ever made professionally. It provided skilled training, an entry-level position, and immediate credibility when I was interviewing for positions.  I still serve in the National Guard and it continues to enrich my life professionally by affording me opportunities that I would not get otherwise.
  3. My job requires a firm grasp of writing, reading comprehension, and sound judgement. Obviously my college degree helped me land the job, however I do not think a qualified person necessarily needs to have a degree in communication to work in this field, it just requires the aforementioned traits.
    1. I’ve heard many journalists say this, and I will echo it: I did not learn a thing in journalism school! In our field we learn by doing things and experiencing situations! We learn through experiences and we take what we learned and craft our approach in future situations.
  4. Lately a typical day is anything but typical. The coronavirus pandemic has challenged the idea of typical. However prior to the crisis, a typical day would consist of meeting with the city manager, determining what type of information we are messaging for the day, crafting and delivering information. In my capacity I serve as the city spokesperson. So sometimes that means addressing the media, doing interviews, both on camera and off, and helping city leaders craft messages and quotes. I write a lot of press releases and public information pieces. I also administer the website and social media pages. Facebook and Twitter occupy a lot of time, and they never stop. I’m always monitoring them. In Cottonwood Heights we have a smaller following than some other cities, however they are vocal. I spend a lot of time dealing and working with a few vocal residents.
  5. I enjoy the flexibility my job affords me. I am able to change hours if I need to, and I am not always nailed down to my desk. I also like the type of work I do. I love photography and videography, and my job allows me to keep those skills in practice. I also like writing, and as I mentioned I do a lot of it. I like that city officials have placed their trust in me to provide quotes and serve as a spokesperson. That is a responsibility I don’t take lightly and I like that I am able to do it. 
  6. My job affects my lifestyle by keeping me engaged day and night. I’m always on call. I don’t often have things I have to do at night, but I have to maintain that flexibility to respond anytime of day. The flexibility works two ways though. If I have to respond at night, then I am able to make up that time off during other hours.
  7. The essential skills are reading comprehension, writing expertise, and sound judgement. You must be able to look at challenges with a clear head and not allow yourself to be influenced. As a PIO, your job is to represent the organization in the best light. In order to do that, you must be able to accept criticism when it is given, but you also must not let excessive praise influence how you do business. We can’t let ourselves become disingenuous, and we also must not let ourselves become derelict. 
  8. During graduate studies, I would pick the brains of people who work in the field, much like you have with me. I would also look at the type of organizations you want to work for and figure out what they need in an applicant. I would also study laws and codes and other important information so that you at least have a basic understanding of how they work – that way when you are hired by an organization you can step in immediately. A lot of our business is reading people, like I mentioned before, but you must read people and have a knowledge of how the organization is supposed to operate. Then you can make sound decisions. I would also interview people on the other side of the ledger, reporters and first responders. These are the people you will work with the most. You help reporters develop the news and first responders are the actual newsmakers.

A tremendous person to interview would be John Gleason – Public Information Officer with UDOT. I actually interviewed him during grad school. He is a great guy and is always very helpful. Some other names to consider too are Joe Daugherty, Lally Laksbergs, Eileen Barron, and Joseph Walker. They can all be found in the Utah PIO association Facebook group. 

Thank-you so much Tim! 

It is so cool how you overcame difficulties with college and found your own path to success! I have been a bit slow finding my own way but hope to combine my skills in design, communication and experiences working with the federal government into seasonal or permanent work as a Public Information Officer. 

I really appreciate you putting the time in (especially with things being so crazy lately!) I will take your advice to heart and hope to see you out in the real world sometime.

Shannon Eberhard

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