When people hear “Wedding Planner,” I think the first thing that comes to mind is glamour and crafting. My sorority sisters probably imagine I’ve been playing professional sorority girl for the past five months down here in the Caribbean.
Although my creativity and love for anything DIY definitely helped me excel in my position as a destination wedding planning intern, there was so much more to the experience. The job title that shows on my resume might be “Wedding Planner,” but the professional skill set the experience has given me can be carried over into many different professional paths.
I’ve compiled a list of five skills I’ve acquired that I will take, with pleasure, into the big bad real world (and yes, please feel free to request my resume if you’re incredibly impressed – I graduated from Temple University a few weeks ago):
- Achieving balance between professionalism and personality.
Being in an industry where we deal with people, the client relations skills I’ve learned in such a short time are beyond what I could have imagined. In the wedding planning business, you really have to be self-aware, and be able to balance professionalism and your personality.
We got to build a relationship with many couples through the planning process, and being part of their emotional wedding weekend, you have to be genuine and personable. At the same time, you also have to remember they are paying clients. A line must be drawn dividing professionalism and personality. While a certain level of professionalism is expected, it is important to not lose sight of your personality in the process. You want to the clients to have fun, and you want to enjoy doing your job. It’s a delicate balance. You’re not there to be their best friend, although some of Sandy’s clients become besties with her after their big day was complete. Until then, they’re clients first and foremost.
- Maintaining a professional relationship with friends.
I had the opportunity to work with some really amazing vendors. Living on a small island, and spending time with vendors socially outside of work, many of them become friends. Maintaining a professional relationship while at work with friends is a skill that I will definitely carry over to my future career.
If a vendor is not holding up on their part of the contract, something has to be done – even if they’re your friend. It goes both ways, too. We worked with different venues and different caterers and if they were unhappy with the way we were affecting their business, the problem had to be addressed despite the friendships we had formed.
Additionally, Sandy was a mentor and boss to me and Kayla for five months. Being in a situation where we spend so much time with each other, we became like family. We didn’t have a ton of free time, but we chose to spend some of it together, going to the beach and out to dinner, and we shared several holidays. Sometimes, we were just hanging out at the boss’s house. But at the end of the day, Weddings in Vieques is a business and we had to be open to professional criticism in the office if we messed something up. We were there to learn from her first and foremost.
- Making small talk, and conversing with strangers.
I’ll be the first to admit, I am not a fan of small talk. The first thing Sandy compared chatting with wedding guests to was sorority recruitment – she’s lucky I didn’t flee the island! In fact, I was VP of Recruitment for Panhellenic so that I didn’t have to participate in sorority recruitment but could plan it instead, only to find out later that the position involved giving presentations to hundreds of girls.
Much to my surprise, interacting with the clients and wedding guests ended up being one of my favorite parts of wedding planning! Especially for destination weddings, where most of the guests are very close to each other and we spent extended periods of time around them. As wedding planners, we were involved in executing every activity and were welcomed with open arms by so many of our clients and their families.
The trick was keeping our own personal lives private when we chatted. There’s so much to say about the island, or the particular event taking place during a conversation, that there’s no need to reveal too much about ourselves. Where we go to school and where we’re from is fine, but they don’t need to know if we have boyfriends or go out partying on our off-weekends. That sort of small talk is unprofessional.
- Understanding how everything relates in a timeline of events.
Weddings in Vieques is involved in every activity related to the wedding weekend. We brought in our setup and teardown crews, contracted caterers, assisted in venue selection, managed the rentals, and so much more. We knew every vendor who was involved with each wedding, so I truly got an understanding of how one thing affects the next, which is important to always be considerate of in the event planning industry.
We give out a vendor schedule a week before each event, and vendors confirm the times and show up when they’re supposed to be there. Likewise, they expect us to keep things running on schedule or, in the event of a time shift, keep them in the loop.
Some venues staff according to our schedule, for example, and even something as small as the cake cutting being late can really affect their performance. If we schedule the cake cutting at 9 o’clock but the bride and groom want to push it back to 10, chances are service will be affected if the kitchen and service staff were scheduled to be finished by then. We constantly have to keep in mind the ripple affect schedule changes have on all the vendors working at an event. You can’t just add an hour when the folks working for you have babysitters waiting at home and other commitments.
- Business doesn’t stop when the office day is done.
Everyone around me is alarmed (pun intended) when my full-volume, totally obnoxious alarm goes off for a single text message. Our rule at Weddings in Vieques is that we are available 24/7 when clients are on the island. The clients and wedding guests respect that we do have to sleep at some point; however, in case of emergency, our phones were always on and set to a volume that would wake us up. And a couple of times, we did have legitimate emergencies blow us out of bed in the wee hours. It only took me a couple of months to figure out how to put my group text with my 12 college roommates on “do not disturb.”
We also didn’t drink while clients were on the island, Sandy expected us to be on top of our game at all hours of the day and night. None of the planning staff drinks while clients or guests are still here. Although, in the real world, businesses might not go to this extent to provide service, the experience taught me the importance and appreciation people have when you go above and beyond. The few times we were needed at odd hours, I was grateful for the policy.
Everything I learned, and the experience I gained, working as a wedding planner in Vieques, Puerto Rico, is more than I can fit into a blog, or onto my resume. Even when I’m talking about the experience with my friends and family, I sometimes forget about half of the things we learned because there were so many.
For the record, I did not craft for five months, or always look prim and proper (especially with my hair in the Caribbean humidity) like you see on wedding planners on TV and in movies. I gained real business skills.
Maybe the best way to prepare yourself for the real world is to remove yourself from what you think it is first. Once you’ve actually walked a mile in the career-shoes you’ve chosen, you’ll have an entirely different perspective.
And seriously, if you want my resume, email Sandy at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m looking for a wedding planning/event planning job in the mid-Atlantic region, and Sandy promised me a fabulous reference!
Devon Gorson, most recently an Intern at Weddings in Vieques