Need Work? Roll Up Your Sleeves and Volunteer

By Julie Knight

Erika currently serves as co-chairmoose of Digital Moose Lounge, a business networking organization for Canadians currently living in the Bay Area.

Erika Wah credits a complimentary IABC student membership she received as an IABC Canada Conference volunteer in 1993 for helping to launch her early communication career.

Fresh out of university, she started volunteering at IABC events and joined IABC British Columbia’s (BC’s) first Technology Committee. “Early in my career, every project referral came through that IABC network,” she says.

Opening a Door to Full-Time Employment

Her work co-directing the Technology Committee and, later, the chapter’s Student Services Committee led to her first full-time communications job at Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Center. “After three years of freelancing, I was thrilled to enjoy the trappings of an office. I had a boss, a team and a singular purpose: storytelling from the inside out.”

Erika served as editor of an employee newsletter distributed to 10,000 hospital employees, ran events and open houses for hospital initiatives, supported the hospital’s Foundation, and handled executive communication and media relations.

She continued volunteering on the IABC board and eventually became president of IABC BC, as well as IABC Canada Western Region secretary.

Taking a Risk

After three years at Vancouver Hospital, Erika was ready for a change. Through IABC, she discovered a passion for helping communication students find work experience before they graduated. “I was very active in building my leadership skills within IABC, and through this work, I found another opportunity.”

This time, it was a risk, but one she never regrets. “I left my secure job to take a three-month contract at Simon Fraser University to help develop their co-op education program for communication students looking for an internship before they graduated.”

She served as an educator, helping students understand the role of a communication professional and the skills they would need to secure a position. She also promoted the program to companies across Canada.

That temporary job led to a full-time position she enjoyed for 11 years. Erika estimates that she helped about 3,000 students before moving to San Francisco five years ago.

Connecting Canadian Students to SF Internships

Since moving to San Francisco, she’s continued her work promoting students from two Canadian universities for technology internships here in the Bay Area. She’s also helped companies develop case studies for MBA students to tackle. “I’ve learned there are Canadians everywhere.”

Now active in our SF IABC chapter, Erika was pleased to win a door prize at our holiday event last December. “I won a three-day admission to the Advanced Learning Institute’s Conference on employee engagement in January. It inspired me to focus my talents on employee success and talent development.”

She also recently served on IABC’s Blue Ribbon Panel of judges for this year’s Gold Quill Awards. “It was a privilege working alongside talented communicators and seeing some of the best communication work produced around the world.” 

Her Favorite Networking Tip

Erika Wah says her IABC membership played a big role in helping to build her career.

As for one of her favorite tips she often shares with students, she says, “Keep track of your professional network. Draw a picture of it. Know it well. Always thank those who helped along the way.”

Don’t underestimate the power of rolling up your sleeves and getting involved as a volunteer, she says. “Think of IABC as your career development resource. Use your membership to develop your skills, leadership ability and connect to other leaders.”

Most of all, she emphasizes, “Have fun. I’m happy to tell you that the friends I found at the start of my career are still my friends today, thanks to IABC and our continued involvement in this great tribe.”

 

March is IABC Member Month. Save 10 percent on your membership by renewing this month. Refer your peers to IABC, and you’ll be entered to win a U.S. $250 Visa gift card for each new member who joins during March. Refer five new or lapsed members to IABC during March and receive a free year of membership. 

Learn more about volunteer opportunities with our chapter. For more information, contact Kamna Narrain.

Julie Knight is an award-winning, accredited business communicator. Her clients have included The Walt Disney Company, Starbucks, Cisco Systems, Genentech, McKesson Corporation and Hewlett-Packard, to name a few. Connect with Julie on LinkedIn or missionpossible.strikingly.com.

 

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