Earlier this week we had the opportunity to interview a current employee of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Tom Schuman is the Senior Vice President of Communications and Operations for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. We asked him about his previous work experiences and how it prepared him for his career.
Indiana INTERNnet: What is your current position and what do you do?
Tom Schuman: I’m the Senior VP of Communications and Operations. I know it sounds like an intense title, but it isn’t! Communications is broad because there are many things you do. When I started (at the Chamber in 1998) most communications was print and newsletters whereas now it’s more diverse with electronic, social media, video, and some print. Much of the communications work is communicating with members and stakeholders. On the operations side of things, it is more of the business things like office renovation and lease agreements.
INN: When did you decide to start looking for career related experiences?
TS: Talk about early work experiences, I was in high school when I started writing for the county newspaper covering the sports of my high school teams. I had interest in writing and a lifelong love for sports; they worked hand in hand. I started as a sophomore in high school writing stories about the basketball, football, and baseball games in my county. I fell in love with it! I knew I wanted to purse a degree in journalism after that experience.
INN: What would you say was the most valuable thing you gained from your work experience?
TS: Both that practical experience at a young age in high school and the on-job training. There was no training. It was more like figure out how to do the job and do it well on your own without any direction. I was going to games keeping statistics, interviewing coaches and putting together a story. I was able to do that at the college level as well when I attended Ball State and wrote for the Ball State Daily News newspaper. Classes are valuable and put you on the right track but it’s not the same as the work experience because of the skills you gain. You are in a real-world atmosphere.
INN: What career advice would you recommend to students searching for an internship?
TS: There’s almost as much value in finding out what you don’t like to do. For me, early on I knew what I wanted to do but it’s not the same for everybody. I see today that the value seems to be, to experience a lot of different things. Because again you might find out you wanted to pursue a certain career but once you get that practical experience, you find out at an early stage “maybe that wasn’t the right thing for me.” I see a lot of graduates go into careers different from what their majors are and there’s nothing wrong with it. Colleges give you foundational skills, but an internship or work experience will help you learn if you’re cut out or not for that job.
INN: How did you separate yourself among candidates when applying for jobs?
TS: In the journalism world, it is good to have a portfolio to be able to showcase articles you wrote and the stories you were telling. For me I had a writing background, so I was able to show my work and display my writing skills from my publications. Besides writing skills in this field, you need to have communication skills whether it’s in person, over the phone, or webcam. You need to know how to present yourself in those settings. It is very important to be able to communicate with others; that is critical!
INN: How did your previous work experience or internship prepare you for your career?
TS: It prepared me in the sense that it was my first professional job, like what I did while in high school and college. The work and day to day tasks were similar so there wasn’t a huge learning gap. I always look back on early experiences as really setting the stage because of the experience I gained as well as skills.
INN: What’s one thing you wish somebody would have told before going into this field?
TS: It would have been good to know the variety of opportunities open in journalism (Laughing). I had tunnel vision because I was getting into journalism and going to do one thing. The dream at an early age was to be a reporter for a professional sports team whether it was an NBA, MLB, or NFL team. That seemed to be the path that was there. I didn’t know at that time that it could lead to so many other career paths. With the Chamber it’s a hybrid of journalism, pr, video, podcast, and some print. There are many directions you can take with the skills you get through writing.
INN: What skills would someone have to possess when looking into this profession?
TS: Listening is critical! I tell writers at the Chamber one of the best things you can do as you are interviewing a person, is showing them how attentively you are listening. A story is only as good as the interviews you can achieve. The very best interviews are when the person you are talking to is very comfortable with you and wants to open up. You can only achieve that as the interviewer by being engaged emotionally, reacting, and becoming part of their story. Listen, listen, listen, listen!
INN: What can help someone be successful in this career path?
TS: Being curious is certainly important because there are many opportunities to develop your own stories. You’re not going to be told here is what you need to do today, or this is the story you need to write. You have to be inquisitive. It’s certainly helpful to have an outgoing personality, not just in journalism but in any profession. People here probably wouldn’t know that I’m pretty shy and quiet. But when it comes to interviewing people for a story, I’m very confident and I’m comfortable because I have done my homework and came prepared. You have to do your homework, be prepared, be curious, and be comfortable!