The earlier you can start on the job search, the better. And it doesn’t mean that you need to start sending resumes and going on interviews during your freshman year of college. In fact, you would be irrelevant at that point, since you wouldn’t be able to start in a new position for a few years, but you can start preparing for your future job search as early as your freshman year with the tips we will give you in this post.
Today, nearly everyone is entering the job market with a degree, especially those in the field of public relations. It is almost impossible to find an entry-level PR job that doesn’t require a PR or communications-related degree. That piece of paper is just not enough these days. You will not stand out from the hundreds of other recent graduates in your job hunt with a college degree anymore.
So at any point in your college career (again, the sooner, the better), you should follow these 5 steps to remain competitive in your future PR job search.
1. Write As Much As You Can
Much of what PR professionals do (especially in entry-level positions) involves writing. Hone your skills now. As with everything in the world, practice makes perfect. If your college requires elective classes, take as many writing-related courses that you can to get the practice – even if it is creative writing or something that seems completely unrelated. Also, consider taking a news writing course because some of the same writing tactics for writing news articles can be useful for writing press releases or similar material. Sometimes PR writers are asked to ghost write feature articles and opinion/editorial (op-ed) pieces, and a news writing background can help with this. If you have time, write for your school newspaper. PR goes hand-in-hand with journalism, so it is great to know what goes into a news story, since you may be pitching news to the media later.
2. Learn Useful Software Programs
Obviously, it is important to become efficient in all Microsoft software, including Excel and Publisher. Excel is a great tool for organizing and analyzing information, and Publisher will be useful in creating design materials (flyers, brochures, etc.) In addition to these, learning any web design programs and research software (like SPSS) will make you more desirable to employees. Research is important when it comes to creating a campaign, so being knowledgeable on how to use software to analyze the data will be a huge bonus for your future employer.
3. Intern, Intern, and Intern Some More!
Many job listings today require 1 to 3 years of experience for an entry-level position. This often puzzles the new graduate because how can you gain 1 to 3 years of experience if no one will hire you for an entry-level position without this experience? It’s simple – your internships count as this experience! Internships are a great way to gain real, hands-on experience in the job world. It’s also a great way to find out exactly what type of PR work you would like to do (writing, creative, or research) and for what kind of company (a corporation, a large agency, sports, entertainment, lifestyle, technology, medical, etc.) If you excel at your internships, you should have several letters of recommendation to bring to the table at your future job interviews. Also, one of your favorite internships may turn into a full-time job post graduation.
4. Build A Portfolio
If you come to an interview with nothing more than a piece of paper that lists what you can do, you are forcing your employer to believe that you didn’t just spruce up your resume, and that you can actually do these things. Add some assurance by bringing a portfolio with you. This is where steps #1 and #3 come into place again. You can put all of your writing samples and internship work in your portfolio – press releases, feature articles, brochures, radio/television copy, etc. Anything that shows that you can actually write well, and you can do the things that your employer will be asking you to do will be great to add to your portfolio. It doesn’t matter if these samples came from course work you did in college or your internships, the more quality material you can add to your portfolio, the better off you will be.
Networking involves professional networking and social networking via social media. Stay on the good side of your professors, they often know tons of people in the industry (since they usually are still currently or have been working in the industry previously). Do this also with your internship managers and others who work for the companies you intern for. Attend professional networking events (PRSA, Women In PR, and several other professional organizations often have monthly events where students/professionals can meet each other) – speaking events at your school with industry professionals, meet & greets, dinners, etc., and talk to as many people and take as many business cards as you can. With all of the people you keep in touch with (professors, internship managers, professionals from events, etc.), be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Send them emails and cards to thank them for the time they mentored you, taught you, or offered you valuable advice at an event. Send them holiday cards. It might sound like you are just “sucking up” to everyone, but you just want to genuinely keep in touch with them. Taking a business card means nothing if no action is done on your part. While you don’t want to harrass them with emails every week, it does not hurt to send something like, “Hello, I wanted to thank you again for the advice that you gave me at the Powerful PR Women Luncheon last October. I hope you have a great holiday season and a wonderful new year.” That way you stay fresh in their mind, and you never know when a new opportunity will arise. Many job positions are filled based on knowing someone of importance. In addition to this kind of networking, be sure to follow PR agencies and companies that you may want to work for in the future on Twitter and Facebook and engage in conversation with them via social media. Again, many jobs will be posted on these websites, and if you have already made yourself known to these companies, your resume may be moved to the top of the stack because they are already familiar with you.
We hope these 5 steps will help you stay competitive in the job search. What other tips do you have to land your first PR job?