I recently wrote an article in PR Tactics discussing some general “next step” stategies for students who have graduated in PR but have not been able to find a PR job. In the article, I encouraged students to consider taking additional internships, getting volunteer experience, networking, acquiring more skills and publishing.
I wrote the article knowing that many PR students are already doing all these things and are nevertheless struggling to find jobs. If this is happening to you, the biggest question you probably have right now is, “Well, then, what else can I do?”
Understanding the Time Factor
The answer is not necessarily what we want to hear, but it’s true: Be patient. Ride it out, persevere, keep on doing all the good things you are doing to gain experience and stay relevant…and then wait. In other words, you must understand and accept the time factor.
If you think back to your high school or college physics classes, you may recall that space is recognized as having three dimensions—length, width and depth.
Eventually, a fourth dimension, time, was added to the list. This dimension is a little less like the others. It enters in a different way and is a little more nonintuitive. In fact, Einstein’s theory of relativity states that time may not pass the same way under different conditions—it is relative.
With apologies to Einstein and physicists everywhere, let me apply this principle to PR job searches. The job search process has three dimensions that I’ve already discussed: 1) gaining experience, 2) staying relevant and current in the profession, and 3) networking and gaining visibility. However, as in Einstein’s model, the fourth dimension of time still kicks in and introduces a highly relative component—things vary depending on the external environment.
Right now, I am observing and hearing from other PR professionals that things are indeed varying in this external environment—and that PR job searches may take significantly longer than they did a few years ago. One senior professional I spoke with the other day estimates that, in his market, the 8-12 month job search cycle once typical for PR graduates has now approximately doubled.
Use Your Time Wisely
The problem with the time factor is that, unlike the other three dimensions of your job search process, you don’t have much control over it. But don’t become discouraged–or inactive. The way you spend your job search time–however long that may be—is critical. Here are two suggestions for how to use it wisely:
1. Gain as much business skill and knowledge as you can. In today’s market, the slower hiring cycle for many PR graduates is complicated by the fact that the pool of some kinds of PR jobs appears to be shrinking. If this is true, then not only are PR jobs taking longer to fill, but in some cases there are fewer of them to fill.
I don’t have data to support this, but I’ve observed that some jobs traditionally held by PR professionals are now being occupied by marketing, HR, or even legal professionals. I believe this sometimes happens because, for many managers, business knowledge trumps other expertise—and managers may not view PR professionals as the best source of business knowledge. Although this usually occurs at more senior levels, it still affects you as a recent graduate because more experienced professionals may find themselves back in the mid- or even entry-level jobs that you might ordinarily fill.
Be sure you don’t give anyone a reason to pass you over because of concerns about your business acumen. Know your target employers’ business thoroughly. Research them painstakingly; read their annual reports, company literature and related articles. Attend industry trade shows. To increase your general business knowledge, consider taking business classes or getting additional business experience through volunteer work.
2. If you need to get another job while you are looking for the PR job of your dreams, try to get something in a related field. Marketing, event management, and customer service jobs, for instance, all involve skills essential in PR. If you can’t find a related job but need to bring in a paycheck, you will simply need to work extra hard to demonstrate down the road that you have remained—and grown as—a qualified PR professional even while you are working at something else. So, don’t let up on the other three dimensions of volunteer experience, relevancy, and visibility.
(Susan Balcom Walton is associate professor of public relations and associate chair of the Department of Communications at Brigham Young University. She has also held communications management positions at various Fortune 500 companies. Email: Susan_walton@byu.edu).