There are many critical steps that college PR students can take to maximize their ability to find jobs in our industry upon graduation. Here are my top 12:
1) Get as much real world experience as you can during your college years. Take advantage of your school’s internship program. Don’t worry if it doesn’t pay: the key is getting hands-on experience in the field. If your college doesn’t have a formal internship program, get experience with the school’s PR club—some function as actual PR firms—do publicity for a campus-based organization, or get experience in media.
2) Be A Sponge: Absorb everything you can about public relations, marketing, business, and the type of PR you believe you wish to enter. Take advantage of the tremendous amount of information available to you online.
3) Become a Digital Expert: People of your generation are expected to both understand and live in the digital age. That means not only being active on Facebook or Myspace, but understanding how PR firms, corporate communications departments, government organizations, and non-profit groups are leveraging digital social media channels to enhance relationships, encourage brand zealots, manage crisis and influence the conversation.
4) Act Like A PR Pro: You’re eventually going to make the jump from college student to PR professional. Start acting like one today, by getting uber-organized, setting specific, measurable goals for yourself, and exceeding others’ expectations of you.
5) Use PR QuickStart: This online training program, a joint venture of PRSA’s Counselors Academy and the Council of PR Firms, provides a valuable introduction for those breaking into the field. www.prquickstart.org
6) Improve Your Writing!: While our field has gone through tremendous changes over the past few years, one thing remains an absolute constant: to succeed as a PR practitioner, you must be able to write succinctly and persuasively, with accuracy, brevity and clarity. Take every PR and business writing course you can, edit yourself ruthlessly, take advantage of on-campus writing centers or coaches, and dedicate yourself to improving your writing.
7) Take Leadership Role in a Campus Club or Organization: PR is a field of leaders, and now’s the time to spread your leadership wings. Join the campus group about which you feel passionate, and volunteer to play a leadership role. This will help your resume stand out from others and give you priceless experience.
8) Learn Everything You Can About Business: One of clients’ oft-repeated complaints is that their PR agencies don’t fully understand their business or the world of business in general. Avoid this situation by learning everything you can about business before you graduate. Take business courses, join your school’s marketing club, and listen to business leaders when they speak on campus.
9) Develop an Elevator Speech: You get on the elevator with the CEO of the company where you’re just dying to work. You introduce yourself to said CEO who says “So tell me something about yourself.” You’ve got a few floors and perhaps fifteen seconds to make an impression. What do you say? That’s your elevator speech. Write, edit, tape, and practice it now–in front of a mirror–so you can deliver it smoothly when the opportunity arises.
10) Clean Up Your Online Image: I read recently that some hiring executives won’t review a candidate’s resume without first learning everything they can about that candidate online. So if your Facebook page has photos which you wouldn’t want to show during an interview, online rants about a previous employer, or “TMI” about your last relationship, clean it up now.
11) Develop Professional Relationships With Your Professors: Many PR professors have current contacts in the PR world, are a valuable source of career guidance, and are willing to assist students who stand out from the pack. So choose one or two professors whose classes you particularly admire, demonstrate your willingness to go above-and-beyond in your assignments and in classroom participation, and create a real dialogue with them. You’d be amazed at the help many professors are willing to give students who’ve displayed these traits.
12) Go Over the Top in Follow-Up and Thanks: When you’ve been helped by your professors, mentors, or other PR professionals, it’s critical that you thank them and keep them apprised of your job search progress. So if a professor writes you a letter of recommendation, take the time to hand-write a thank-you note, on the best stationery you can afford, within 48 hours of getting that letter. If a mentor arranges an informational interview for you, not only send them a thank you when they arrange it, but follow up with an email letting them know how it went. Apply the same rules should their efforts help you land a job. Remember, when it comes to thank-yous, there simply is no such thing as “too many.”
This post is based on a presentation I made to the PRSSA chapter of the Fashion Institute of Technology earlier this year.
Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, LLC, which helps organizations grow business and develop staff through its coaching, consulting and training programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.