By Karen DeVincent, Rebecca Gatesman, Meaghan McGrath and Ashley Waters
First let us say, congratulations! You did it! You have your degree, you’ve celebrated, and… and now what?
If you’re like so many grads, you’re still looking for what’s next now that you’ve completed your formal education (at least for now). You’ve heard that it’s difficult to break into the public relations agency world, but with a little elbow grease and a lot of determination, it's completely achievable. We at PAN Communications love to help students and young professionals, so we compiled this roadmap to getting your first job at a public relations agency – and keeping it!
Prepare Your Job Hunting Foundations:
Perfect your cover letter and resume
First and foremost, take the time to tailor each and every cover letter you write to the position and company you’re applying to, and make sure both your letter and resume are shorter than a page.
In your cover letter, explain how your skills match up with the job description and how you will contribute to the greater company vision – if you can cite a previous experience that shows your abilities, that’s even better! Try to avoid saying “I,” “me,” and “my” too much as well – remember this isn’t about you, it’s about what you can bring to the table.
Your resume should also be tailored to highlight your relevant skills and experience for the particular job you’re applying for, and it should highlight past jobs or internships that will clearly show how your experience lines up with the company’s need. For example, don’t include both your babysitting gig and your summer camp counselor experience – pick which one you think best shows off your ability to lead.
Make sure your social profiles are in tip-top shape
Connect and follow companies that you admire or aspire to work with on every channel – not just LinkedIn. You’ll be able to stay up to date on company news, from major press to when the HR manager is going on vacation, and you’ll be first to see job postings. Make sure you’re actively posting as well! You don’t need to make every tweet and update about the media industry, but make sure you mix some in along with what shows you’re excited to see that weekend.
While we know you’ve heard this often, we cannot emphasize this enough - please (please!) make sure there aren’t pictures of you doing kegstands on the Internet, or any other images or descriptions of you doing anything you wouldn’t want to talk about in an interview. Even if your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts are private, it only takes one person sharing your content for it to be distributed to the world. The rule of thumb is, assume everyone can see everything – you wouldn’t want to include a picture of yourself drunk as a skunk in your portfolio, so why is putting it on the Internet any different?
Prepare a portfolio – and keep it updated!
You never know when you’re going to land an interview, so save yourself the scramble – or embarrassment of showing up empty handed – and prepare a portfolio that’s easy to add to. Keep a few of your favorite samples of work ready, either printed and in a binder or in a nice folder. Items that would be great to show off in a public relations interview:
- the blog posts you wrote for class
- a newsletter you assembled during your summer internship
- a research report you scored exceptionally well on
While they may not read them in detail during an interview, taking the time to assemble a body of work shows you care. Have digital copies ready to send after the interview – they’ll likely request them so that they can review your work during their evaluation.
Continuously Improve Your Skills:
Become a great writer.
One of the biggest assets you can have as a public relations professional is being skilled at writing both short and long pieces. A huge part of your daily life will revolve around composing the perfect email to send to a reporter, but there will also be times where you’re asked to write full articles, and sometimes even e-books! Get an upper hand by blogging regularly about the industries you love, the communications field, and the world as a whole. Hone your persuasive skills.
If you want to get an extra head boost while you search for a permanent position, take contract work as you look for your next spot, or even while you’re still in school. Not only will you earn a few bucks and get honest feedback about your work, you’ll also improve your client relations skills in the process!
Become an expert in the topic(s) you love.
What industry do you dream of working with? Fashion? Software? Sports? Whatever it is, become an expert in it – take classes, learn the industry lingo, and learn what unique challenges companies in that space are facing. Not only are you more likely to impress your interviewer with your enthusiasm for the space, but you’ll also be more likely to be put on teams of companies that you enjoy.
Learn to navigate a networking event and banish your shyness.
If you find that you’re shy in groups, with strangers, or with people that are in superior professional positions to you, never fear! There is an easy fix – networking events. Professional mixers are great places to put yourself out there in a safe space, which means you can get over your jitters before the big interview. So order some business cards, put on your favorite professional outfit, and show up! You’ll find that the more often you walk up to strangers and introduce yourself, the easier it gets. You may even find yourself with some valuable new connections.
Putting it all together - use every connection you have
Keep in touch with people you knew in college – classmates, teachers, advisors and coworkers. Offer to help in different departments in any job, even if it’s not a part of your position, to get to know people you might not work with otherwise. Go to networking events and ask people you know to introduce you to people you haven’t met before. Engage with people on Twitter that you follow and respect. Reach out constantly and let it be known that you’re looking for a position. You never know who is going to have what relationship, and there’s only one way to find out. Don’t be embarrassed to utilize every connection you have to speak with people you want to build a relationship with. It’s more common than you think, and it’s the only way to truly build your network.
You’re Hired! Now It’s Time To Wow Your Employers:
Your voice matters
Whether it is striking up a conversation with a senior executive in the office kitchen or voicing your opinion in a team meeting, having a voice and expressing your thoughts are truly invaluable in the PR industry. As a young professional entering the workplace, knowing when to learn from others’ experience and leadership is key, but any time you can add value to a conversation, brainstorm session or team meeting, speak up! Also, always know that no question is too small to ask. People like questions; it shows that you are willing to learn and excited about improving.
Don’t take the easy way out
Maybe you landed an internship or a position post-graduation that isn’t your dream job. Don’t fret! Always strive towards your goals and take ownership of your responsibilities. For example, if one of your daily duties is answering the company’s main line, use that to your advantage! Being confident on the phone is a simple skill that can lead to a world of opportunity in the industry. Fine-tuning basic phone skills can help in almost any situation, from picking up the phone to call a reporter to communicating with a client. Learn to find the learning opportunity in ever situation.
Have a positive attitude
As a new graduate entering the workforce, you will be responsible for many less than glamorous duties that come with the industry. However, perform these duties with a smile on your face! People will notice your positive attitude and willingness to take any task that is given to you. Better yet, begin to anticipate tasks that will be asked of you and really stand out from your peers. Anticipation and intuition are key skills in the public relations industry, and if you start early with these skills, they will come naturally down the road. Remember, every one of your coworkers was, at one point, entry level – it’s not a punishment, it’s an opportunity to show your worth.
Try new areas
You may go into your PR career convinced consumer is the right area for you – or certain that you will hate anything technology related. But having that kind of closed-minded attitude will only hurt yourself in the end. If you’re lucky enough to be a part of an agency that has a variety of areas of expertise, then be open to joining any team. Maybe deep tech isn’t right for you, but ad tech is a niche that works great with your interests and skillset. If you are interested in consumer, then healthcare PR might be right for you if it has a B2C focus. Even if you are a part of a team that isn’t the perfect fit, figuring out what you aren’t interested in or right for is just as important as figuring out what you do what to focus on in your career. Don’t be afraid to try an area you may not be completely in love with – because you never know what might change as your career progresses.
Find a mentor
When entering a new job after graduation, you will be working with many new colleagues, most of them in positions above you. Take advantage of this wealth of knowledge and enlist one of them to be your mentor. Many companies have a mentorship program in place, but don’t be afraid to reach out on your own if they do not. If you have a good working relationship with someone on your team, you respect their style and think you can learn a lot from them, ask them if they would mentor you. Chances are they will be thrilled you asked and happy to pass on their knowledge. It’s the fastest way to continue to build relationships, learn in a one-on-one environment, and have someone you trust that you can ask questions to when you’re unsure about best practices.
These tips are for anyone with a Bachelors (be it in Public Relations, Communications, Marketing, or any other specialty!) looking to join an agency, whether you just graduated this week or if you’ve been out of the industry for a few years. We’d like to close with the reminder that public relations agencies ARE hiring, so don’t get discouraged. Also, make sure to send your resume over to PAN Communications, the best place for recent grads and seasoned vets alike.