Maxine McDonald; ; Toronto
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?
I work in public relations at , helping brands gain maximum exposure—whether it’s in traditional print media, online, TV or via influencers.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I started my undergrad at the University of Ottawa and finished at York University. I studied international politics and development, thinking I would go to law school and maybe work for an NGO. But after working at a few law offices, I changed my mind. I went on to get a post-grad certificate in corporate communications and public relations at Centennial College.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
I was pretty fortunate to land a great full-time gig after finishing my PR program. I started at Langton Communications covering a mat leave. I thought I would be there for a year, but ended up staying for over nine.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
I was alerted to the Langton Communications job posting by a professor from Centennial. She kept tabs on recent grads to see where they landed and who was still looking.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
It probably would have been about six months in at Langton when I got to know the staff, clients and work environment, that I realized I could learn a lot and would like to stay on. When my boss let me know she wanted me to continue after my contract was up, it all came together.
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
My biggest shortcoming would be not fully appreciating connections. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of phenomenal people through my work; often they’ve been clients. Looking back I wish I had been proactive in keeping in touch with certain people for some informal mentorship.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
Don’t burn bridges—you’ll see them again.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
Sometimes when you’re nice, people just think you’re stupid.
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
Unlike a lot of fields, PR is dominated by women, especially in the agency world. I can’t say I can think of many barriers that I’ve faced because of my gender. As a black woman, however, I felt pressure early in my career to manipulate my hair texture so that I looked more “polished” or “professional.” No one ever directly told me to change my hair, but the reactions I received depending on how I wore my hair pushed me to wear it straight. My hair is super curly and has lots of volume but it’s not a statement and I’m not trying to be edgy. This is just the way my hair grows and I love it.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
I am making a fair income. It can be hard having a side hustle working in PR, because it’s not a 9-5 job, but I have a couple of side projects (working as the marketing director for [an influencer marketing agency], launching a line of hats for curly girls called Preserve and helping to create a network for black PR professionals) though they weren’t birthed from the desire to make some side cash.
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
A lot of people say that millennials expect things to be handed to them right away. I think there is some truth to the fact that millennials have a different outlook on work and advancement than earlier generations—but I don’t think that’s necessarily bad.