Nontraditional path lands SOJC grad in the job of a lifetime

Laura Shepard

Laura Shepard, who graduated from the School of Journalism and Communication’s strategic communication master’s program in 2014, is the first to admit her path to global communications professional at Intel was neither straight nor standard.

But when you hear her tell the story of her career, it’s clear her success is the result of a series of deliberate, goal-oriented decisions.

“I grew up in a small mill town,” Shepard said. “It was a time when — I’ll be blunt — females weren’t really expected to do much except get married. But I knew I wanted to do something different.”

What that something would be was not obvious to Shepard when she graduated high school. She enrolled in community college to get her “feet under her” and initially found herself gravitating toward a career in academia.

That all changed when she landed a communication internship at the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. She knew she had found her calling.

The chamber’s director of communication mentored Shepard and provided a model for how she could grow professionally. Knowing that Shepard was preparing to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Washington State University, her boss called her into her office and gave Shepard the most important advice of her career.

“I guarantee you are going to learn what you need to learn on the job,” she said. “Here’s what you need to do: You need to know how to write and how to think critically. Other than that, go study what you want.”    

Taking that advice to heart, Shepard got a bachelor’s degree in English and set out to become a communication professional.

Good jobs didn’t come easily, and she took several that were not in her chosen field. At one point, she was answering phones at a consulting firm. Regardless of the position or the task at hand, however, she always found a way to develop her communication skills so she would be ready when the right opportunity presented itself.

Eventually, Shepard talked her way into her first marketing job, which led to a position in local government communication. She spent 15 years building her communication experience in the public sector before deciding to attempt a jump to the private sector.

Shepard set out to formalize and supplement her on-the-job knowledge by enrolling in the strategic communication master’s program in Portland. It was the missing piece that enabled her to land her dream job as global communication manager focusing on internal communication at Intel Corporation.

During a face-to-face interview, Shepard talked about what she does at Intel and how she got to where she is today.

What is your role at Intel?

I manage a group of six communications professionals who tell the story of what our business group does and what we offer to Intel employees. We use most of the traditional channels people use in external communications jobs, but we’re focusing on an internal audience. We create and lead strategic communication and marketing plans and campaigns for Intel employees globally about the array of services our business group is responsible for. Our group has such a large scope that each day is different. One day we could be working on site amenities and services, and on a different day, we could be focusing on workplace safety, the air shuttle, food service, sustainability or construction.

Coming from local government, how were you able to win over the hiring manager at Intel?

Local government is all about communicating change to a community, whether you’re changing their park or changing a law. What I needed to do at Intel was take people through changes in their work environment.

It was also advantageous that I knew a lot about infrastructure. The group I work with now is basically the infrastructure of Intel. We build and manage the buildings, make sure the employees are productive and the office environment is safe and clean, and create the type of workplace that enables Intel’s global workforce to develop the technology that transforms lives.

How did you stay on track when knew you weren’t in your ideal job?

I was always aware I wanted something more. With each successive job, I found some sort of communications angle to help me build my skills. The editor at the consulting firm took me under her wing and fed me documents to edit, so I would be building my skills as a copy editor while I was answering the phone. Eventually, when I applied for jobs in communication, I was able to talk about all the aspects people were looking for in a communicator.

Was there a time in your career that tested your resilience?

After I finished my degree at University of Oregon, I was fired up and couldn’t wait to make the next step. I saw a job for VP of communications and I thought, ‘This is great! This is the bridge between local government and where I want to go.’ So I just jumped.

There were several red flags I should have seen. Before the end of my first week, I knew I’d made a mistake. I made it work for six months and then we parted ways. It was, professionally, some of the hardest six months I ever logged.

You need to be deliberate about the roles you take and make sure it’s really what you want to do. I pursued a job because of the title and salary, and it was an unmitigated disaster. I learned a lot about how I don’t want to be in the workplace, the type of leader I want to be and the type of organization I want to work for.

What is your next career goal?

My manager asks me about that all the time. I tell him, ‘This was the long-term goal.’ I’m doing corporate communications on a global scale. I’ve got a great team. Quit trying to make me want something else, because you’re not!

What other key moments were pivotal to getting you where you are today?

During the recession, I was unemployed for about a year and a half. I applied for just about every job in town, and no bites. There was a job for communication director of the city of Gresham, and I wasn’t going to apply for it. I thought, why would they hire me? But on the last day that job was open, I applied. I had maybe six rounds of interviews with them. If you just looked at my resume, I had communications experience but not in a ‘traditional’ path one would expect to get that role. But I went for it anyway. I got the job, and it helped changed the course of my career.

You don’t have to take a traditional route, but you do have to explain why a nontraditional route makes you the best candidate for a given role. Your path doesn’t have to be linear, but it should be deliberate, persistent and purposeful.

—By Jeff Collet, School of Journalism and Communication