Landing a PR Agency Job

I was pleased to write the following article for the new issue of PRSSA Forum which is online this week: 

Agency recruiting tables were mobbed at last fall’s PRSSA National Conference Career Exhibition in Washington, D.C.  I jumped in to help Ketchum human resources colleague Melinda Adamsas she answered a host of questions and collected résumés from soon-to-graduate seniors.

After talking with a couple dozen job seekers, I reviewed the deep stack of résumés we received and was impressed with the quality of the future public relations agency job pool.  However, getting from a résumé in-hand to an actual job can be a daunting challenge.

When to begin?  As eager as you might be to sew up a job, do not start your search too early.  Few major agencies, if any, are hiring today for jobs that may or may not exist in June.  If you graduate in May, lay your groundwork now but don’t begin an aggressive search until late March or April.  Positions are filled as billable client work comes into the agency, not in anticipation of possible client assignments. 

Where will I likely start?  Most graduates should expect to enter agencies via internships, not full-time positions. Most internships last from three to six months after which a full-time position is offered or you must move on. Federal laws prohibit agencies from extending internships beyond six months.

Paid vs. Unpaid?  Most reputable agencies pay interns, normally between $12-15 an hour.  If you work on billable client assignments, you should be paid.  If an agency is doing you a favor to help dress up your resume, then a short-term unpaid internship often occurs.  Unpaid internships also are more common with non-profit organizations.

Who do you know?  Yes, the adage is true — “It’s who you know.”  So, network, network, network.  Matt Shaw, senior vice president of the Council of PR Firmsand an occasional Culpwrit contributor, offers three suggestions that will be helpful in landing an agency job: 

1.  (Relevant) Internships.  In such a competitive marketplace, this is pretty much the cost of entry; so unless your parents play tennis with the firm’s CFO and his wife, you should have some work experiences on your resume that show people you know something about the public relations agency culture (in general), would be a good fit and will be ready to go on day one.

 2.  Be Politely Aggressive.  It is okay to remind the HR/recruiter about your resume and/or your candidacy/existence.  Just don’t push too hard.  It’s a relatively tight-knit community, so the ones who leave favorable impressions during the process will enjoy good word of mouth.  Those who make a bad impression don’t have their resumes forwarded very often.

 3.  Attitude.  Have the right one. Have it throughout your internships, during the interview process and especially after you’ve landed your first job.  Of all the things you need to worry about, this is the easiest one to control; yet, it is the fatal flaw that I hear about most often.  There’s nothing more frustrating than watching promising young talent shrink when the going gets tough.  Hours are long and unpredictable, and the work can range from the exhilarating to the mundane — you should embrace all of it with equal passion.  Be present.  Be interested.

Finally, Melinda Adams, my partner at the PRSSA networking table, noted that most of the questions she received were seeking suggestions on how to set resumes apart from the rest of the pack.  Public relations experiences and volunteer activities are key ingredients of a successful resume, but she offers these additional suggestions:

Become digitally savvy. In a world that is becoming more and more digital, you must educate yourself on different public relations programs such as Factiva, Cision, Profnet, etc. Developing a basic knowledge of these programs gives you an advantage over the competition.

Your resume should scream public relations.  We want you to live, sleep, eat this exciting career, therefore, intern, intern, intern. If you find you do not have experience with media pitching or creating media lists, go offer your services to a non-profit. Not only can you gain beneficial experience in this exciting career, but also feel good about helping others in the process.

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