Congratulations to all the college graduates who will be entering the public relations field! Last year, U.S. News listed “public relations specialist” as one of the top jobs for 2011. That can be good and bad: competition will be fierce. So here are some tips for soon-to-be graduates to stand above the competition and build a solid foundation for a long, successful career in public relations.
1) Don’t be afraid to take an internship, fellowship or other non-full-time option. Fellow PR professional Kerry O’Neill and I share this sentiment (check out her recent Ragan.com article on advice for PR grads and job interviews). Yes, you had several internships during college. That’s excellent, and there’s nothing wrong with continuing that for right now! Especially if a) you land a paying internship before you land that job, b) you aren’t sure what area of PR you want to be in (non-profit, higher ed, corporate, etc.), and c) you can land an internship in the city you want to be in.
I have a friend whose internship at a non-profit turned into a full-time position a year later. I also have a friend who interned at a major magazine right out of college. Her experience sharpened her skills and portfolio for her current marketing position.
2) Clean up your social media. If you’re applying to a position for which I’m making the hiring decision, I’m going to look you up on the three major social networking sites. Tidy up your Facebook wall and photo albums or make it private so I can’t access your information. Don’t let a Twitter account lie dormant: If you haven’t Tweeted in three weeks, start now, and make them semi-interesting (I guiltily admit that I need to work on this one myself). And make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated with as much impressive (and true) information as possible.
Considering a person’s social media activity within the context of a job interview is a touchy topic. The reason it’s important to me is because social media is a growing part of the marketing field. I’m sorry, did I say growing? I meant essential and undeniable. So if you can’t manage your own social media presence, then I’m going to assume you can’t manage my company’s or client’s.
3) Continue to learn. Just because you’re finished with college doesn’t mean it’s time to put the books down. If you really want to be a public relations professional, you’re going to have to research who the experts are, read their work, and consider them critically. Reach out to them on Twitter or on their blogs. When you’re interviewing for a position, put on your résumé and work into conversation the fact you follow certain marketing professionals. Professional and personal development is crucial to success in this ever-changing field. If I’m interviewing you, and you drop the name of an author or marketer that I’ve studied, too, it’s going to get you a gold star.
4) Start a blog. Blogging—in any field or topic, not just public relations—is a heavily saturated practice, just like the public relations field in general. But that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t create a blog to showcase, explore and expand your own knowledge and experience. That’s what I’ve done with this blog. Make sure to include blog entries as writing samples and link to your blog from your résumé and all social media accounts. There are tons of apps that’ll automatically post your blog entries to all of your social media accounts.
The Internet has changed the PR field in that it’s created a learning and networking environment that’s conducive to career growth. It’s a really, really great time to be in public relations. Begin a blog, be thoughtful and intentional with your posts, and most important, don’t leave it dormant. (Some tips from my first year as a blogger might be helpful for newbies.)
5) Create your own opportunities. Ok, you’re 22, you have a degree, and you know how to write a press release and engage people in conversation. Excellent. Why don’t you head down to your local humane society or that vintage boutique that you love or that band at that bar on Friday night and ask them if they’d like help with their advertising and publicity. Chances are, they’ll say yes, and you’ll say great, I’ll do it for free. Why? Because it’s experience that you need. You’re creating your legacy, building your career path and experience, and you’re making friends that can turn into references and clients. True PR professionals don’t work 9-5. They live PR, which is very lucky for their clients.
6) Stop taking yourself so seriously! Your dream job will come. Right now, I promise, you’re too young to know what your dream job is. In the meantime, if you’re serious about being a PR professional, take in as much as you can from everywhere you can. Not sure if PR is the right field for you? Let me know what questions you have, and I’d be glad to help you sort it out. I started college as a pre-med major, then veered off to English and journalism, attended grad school for an M.S. in book publishing: it wasn’t until later that I decided PR was where I belonged.
Congratulations, and good luck!