Well it is about that time, isn’t it? It is now May and there are a lot of new graduates looking for full-time job opportunities. Congratulations to all of our new grads out there. That is a huge (Donald Trump voice) accomplishment.
Since I work at a large PR firm I have seen so many new graduates that want to break into the PR industry that do not get the chance. It is not an easy task. Large PR firms, especially global firms, have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to screening candidates. I decided to write an article with tips to help out anyone trying to figure out how to use their communications degree to become a PR professional. Below are 5 tips to help you gain access to the industry.
1. Networking. Utilize your networks. Don’t think you have networks? Well, I am here to tell you that you do. We ALL have networks. If you know at least one person, you have a network. Who do you know and who they know? Think about your communications/PR professors. You will be surprised that many professors have worked or are currently working at a PR firm. Most professors will have firms reach out directly to get recommendations for entry level jobs and internships. I am hoping that you have worked your butt off while in college and have a list of professors ready to refer you. You do have this, right? (Please say yes or get to writing out that list!) Stay in touch with these professors and tell them the agencies you are applying to. Ask about any contacts they have.
Other people in your network might include family, friends, neighbors, volunteer groups, etc. Find out if anyone you know is working at a PR firm. It does not matter if the person works in the accounting department or if they are an intern in the IT department, as long as they are willing to personally send your resume and refer you to the hiring team, your resume has a better chance of getting reviewed. Recruiter.com states that referral candidates are 3-4 times more likely to be hired than non-referral candidates. Yes, read that one again. I can also say from my experiences recruiting, that if someone sends a referral, at the minimum I would review the resume and typically I would have a courtesy phone conversation. That is a really big advantage over other applicants. The other thing to consider is to continue building relationships. Building relationships with clients, team members, and other stakeholders will be a large part of your job. Networking is a skill that will help you in gaining this skill.
2. Resume. Get that resume right! Now that we have a plan to get your resume in front of the hiring team, we need to be sure the resume leads to an interview. How do we do that? We need to present a well-developed resume. There are a few things to focus on when writing the resume. Primarily, you want a resume that is clear, easy to read, relevant and up-to-date. Lastly, there should absolutely be NO spelling, grammar or formatting errors. Seriously, not even one. You are being judged for your writing. Check out my blog post on resume writing if you'd like more tips.
3. Communication. Display strong writing skills. To get that PR job, you need to be an exceptional writer. That’s obvious, right? That’s a minimum requirement. Remember that communication include both oral and written. First let’s discuss writing. You can demonstrate your writing ability before even showing samples or taking a writing test (which will come later in the selection process, of course). The resume, cover letter and application will demonstrate your writing so be sure to carefully complete these materials. You should also have strong writing samples prepared and be prepared to take a timed writing test. Your writing skills should encompass creativity and style.
The hiring team will want to also see that you have knowledge of AP style writing, which you’ve gained from your courses. Experience writing press releases is a huge skill PR teams look for in junior level talent as well. Along with writing, the hiring team will want to see that you actually enjoy writing, so if you happen to have a blog or you write content on a website, ghostwrite or something related, talk about it! Don’t be shy. The other end of the communication spectrum is speaking. The ability to speak with confidence and intelligence is a must. Your communication should be polished, professional while also personal. This may sound obvious, but I’ve spoken with plenty of strong candidates that had a stellar resume and near perfect writing samples, but had mediocre speaking abilities. Most often this does not work in the PR world. A good tip to improve speaking is to practice. Develop an elevator speech and get comfortable with speaking in a professional manner.
4. Dynamic skills. Display knowledge of social, digital, design and/or development. Most large PR firms are developing integrated communications campaigns. This means that instead of clients going to multiple specialty firms to get their communications needs, one agency will manage multiple needs. PR teams need employees with diverse skills and flexibility to work across teams. You may work with marketing, creative & design, marketing research, digital and much more. In particular, most firms look to junior talent to have knowledge of social platforms and tools they can use to navigate/develop opportunities for clients.
5. Interview well. You absolutely must WOW during the interview. You should dress for a successful interview. Check out the blog post here if you’d like some ideas on dressing for the interview. Another thing you will want to do is bring writing samples/portfolio and copies of your resume. Do research on the firm, including its’ clients and capabilities. Showcase your experience and interests through excellent communication skills. Please also send a thank you note to the interview team.
So there you have it! 5 tips for you young PR professionals to use that well-deserved degree to get the agency gig you’ve been dreaming about for the past 4 years.