PR is one of the top career choices for graduates, but getting started is the first hurdle. The business environment is tougher now than ever and competition for limited vacancies is intense. Those who follow these tips stand a better chance of kick starting a successful career in public relations.
Ten Things You Should Do:
- Understand what you are getting into. It pays to have a couple of common sense definitions burned in memory and to be able to talk intelligently about what they mean. That way, when the interviewer asks, “What do you think PR is all about?” you can give a confident answer and get the interview off to a good start.
- Get to know the business. There has never been so much information about PR, for example, take a look at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) web site (www.cipr.co.uk). Look at company sites, read the periodicals, get a good primer and look at case studies.
- Join the CIPR and become an active student member. This shows you are serious. It also means you can gain entry to group meetings, meet people who work in the industry, start to network and gain a real-life perspective. Avoid being pushy, but have your pitch ready when you attend meetings. Carry a couple of envelopes with your CV so you can give it to interested parties, or ask if someone would be kind enough to pass on for you. Most people want to be helpful and will feel flattered if you ask them to do this. See point 8 below.
- Communication skills are everything. Whatever the branch of the PR industry you are aiming for, high-level communication skills are essential. This isn’t just about presentation. You have to be able to show that you can research a subject, analyse and interpret complex information, understand the issues and present them in writing and face to face.
- Get experience. Get involved with the college newspaper, write to the papers, see if you can sell articles into relevant journals, get a work placement during the vacation, write a blog and use social media intelligently to build professional profile. All this enables you to prepare a portfolio for the interview to show you have a track record in print, web or broadcast and to have web collateral when a potential employer searches for you on-line.
- Get personal. How do you feel when someone gets your name wrong, or fails to acknowledge you by name at all? Whether you are writing speculatively or replying to an advertisement, address your correspondence to a named individual, by their proper title. Little details count. Don’t upset HR professionals, but if you can find and approach other people in the organisation this can sometimes be to your advantage – especially in gathering insider knowledge.
- Research potential employers. PR shops tend to specialise. Fusion Media is predominantly a business-to-business (B2B) PR agency with clients in areas like sportsturf, amenity, motorsport, construction, engineering and technology. We need people who are excited by technology and can convey that enthusiasm for our clients. Know what your potential employer does, who their clients are, what campaigns they are running and be ready to explain how you can contribute.
- Sell yourself. You must think of yourself as a product. What is your unique selling point (USP)? What special skills, abilities or experience do you have? One of the core tasks in PR is to promote products, if you cannot promote yourself effectively then how is an employer going to trust you to promote her/his clients?
- Be confident. Remember the ABC of success – ability, breaks, confidence. Be professional. Believe in yourself, if you have the ability and confidence, the breaks will eventually come. Some people say the real skill is in recognising them.
- Be persistent and be creative. Keep your options. It is very unlikely that you will fall into the perfect job straight away, so think about building your experience and skill sets. This may involve roles that are not directly related to your goal. Providing PR to a charity, club or society for example provides an opportunity to hone your skills and build a portfolio.
Five Things You Should Not Do:
- Don’t let anyone tell you that degree in PR is the only route into the business. Degrees provide a grounding and some of the skills required. These skills can also be acquired on the job. For many branches of public relations a mature understanding business, or specific experience or technical knowledge can be more important than a degree.
- Don’t spam potential employers. Not by letter, fax or e-mail. If you don’t know why, then read tips 2, 6 and 7 again. Spam is known by professional marketers as interruption marketing. Research, target and personalise your applications and you are more likely to win recognition as a real professional and get on that short list.
- Don’t rely on job agencies exclusively. They have their place, but they cannot market you better than you can. Keep in regular contact with your agencies; let them know what you are doing now. Tell them what you want – and what you don’t, make sure they have your e-mail and mobile number, drop in a new CV every time you do an update.
- Don’t blow the interview. If you have done the homework you will feel confident, so relax, smile and treat the interview as a discussion with a professional colleague. Imagine yourself in that environment, with those people, working on those accounts. This is a good way to put yourself in the right frame of mind to think creatively about exactly how you can contribute.
- Don’t just fall into internship. Some schemes are sound, well run and offer genuine opportunities for newcomers to develop and demonstrate their skills prior to entering full time employment. Others, sadly, are not. If this option is offered to you then question carefully. Who will you work with? What will you work on? How long will the internship last? When will it become a permanent position and at what grade/salary? Ask if you can speak to current staff members who have been through this scheme. If the potential employer will not answer these questions freely and comprehensively, or you do not feel happy with the answers – walk away – you have lost nothing and have saved yourself a lot of time and grief.