By Kia Jarmon
Although public relations is a projected to grow in the coming years, finding a good job in the industry after college can be a frustrating endeavor.
Here are six tips for those looking to launch their PR career—advice that your PR professors may have left out of their lesson plans:
1. Understand that PR is more than press releases and parties
A common misconception among many young people aiming to join the public relations industry is that the profession is all about party planning, or writing press releases, or talking to the media.
While these activities can certainly be a part of the job, they don’t comprise the entirety of a public relations career.
For instance, working in PR is as much about listening as it is talking and communicating to the client’s audience—and that audience isn’t just the media (not everyone pays attention to the news). And it’s more than just posting to Facebook or Twitter—after all, social media is a tool and not the only solution.
To prepare yourself for a job in PR, start learn about search engine optimization, strategic plans, the meaning of true community engagement, the importance of internal communications, and so on.
2. Perfect your first pitch
If you want an entry-level job, and you lack professional experience, make the hiring manager interested in you. How? Let’s start with your résumé.
Do you only have retail and customer service experience? Be sure to highlight client/customer engagement, risk management, customer service skills, management, or supervisory skills in which you flexed your communication skills.
Next, let’s talk abut your cover letter. A lot of what we do is communicate with others: media, community leaders, clients, and so forth. So, why would you send the same letter to 15 people with the standard, “I attend this college, held these previous jobs, and would love to work for you.” Individualize the pitch for the company, highlight what you like about them, and tell them why you would be a great addition to the team.
Lastly, send examples of your work in a portfolio or at least share writing samples.
3. Plan ahead
If you want someone to make an investment by hiring you, don’t wait until the last minute to build a relationship. Instead, start planning for your career in your sophomore or junior year by attending local Public Relations Society of America events, joining your Public Relations Students Society of America or local PR club/group, and networking with other university clubs.
I also strongly encourage informational interviews with those in the PR industry. I was able to jump into PR by listening to seasoned professionals who candidly shared their experience with me. You will find that people are very compassionate and helpful before graduation—but not so much after.
4. Research, research, research
Become a sponge and learn as much as you can. One of the most disappointing parts about hiring someone with limited experience is finding they know nothing about the industry.
If you want a career in PR, and not just a job, you will need to invest in reading, listening, and becoming a part of the culture of PR. Start reading publications, websites, and blogs devoted to the industry. Follow related Twitter accounts.
You will need to devote a good deal of time off the clock reading these sites— consider it an investment in your career.
How cool would it be if a potential employer asked you a question about something PR related and you said, “While I have never done XYZ, I have been following this trend closely via this website and in my opinion…”
Depending on what follows the “in my opinion,” an answer such as that could impress me, because it shows you’re following the trend, have an opinion, and can articulate it.
5. Volunteer for more experience
Of course, you need to do more than just read. Put that theory into practice—it will help your career possibilities immensely.
Do you belong to a local organization? Join (or even chair) the PR committee. Volunteer with a local non-profit, or consider working with an emerging business to help get its brand off the ground.
Know everything about your dream PR company and their areas of specialty. Then provide services in your volunteer position that will make you a more attractive hiring candidate.
6. Find a mentor
Refer to No. 3—“Plan ahead”—and cultivate a relationship with someone who can assist you in your career goals. Ask plenty of questions, share your goals with them, and allow them to make personalized introductions to key members of the PR community. Remember, be a good listener and remain humble.
Kia Jarmon is a brand strategist and PR coach with boutique public relations firm, The MEPR Agency. She speaks, blogs, mentors, and is soon to be author. You can find more information at her personal brand site,www.KiaJarmon.com.