By Mario Vasilescu
There is one infuriating catch-22 that plagues both new grads and seasoned professionals looking to move up or laterally: your experience – or lack thereof – limits your options, but you need those options to get the right experience.
This is a challenge that doesn’t discriminate by profession. Yet there is only one profession that is so well positioned to beat this problem: PR professionals. You have an unmatched advantage in dealing with this paradox.
Why? Because to break through, and give yourself a fighting shot at that just-out-of-reach job, you need to create other signals of credibility that help bridge your experience gap. The internet has made it possible to do just that – but not every profession can take advantage of it. Engineers and Doctors can’t do much to bypass their credentials, by law.
PR professionals, on the other hand, can. Not only that, but by being in a profession that explicitly revolves around the management of personas and public information, there is absolutely no other corporate line of work that is better suited to using the internet as a mirror to your job-ready skills. All seamlessly fitting with your professional raison d’etre.
So let’s dive in. Here are 3 reality checks to change how you think about your situation, and a 4-step proven recipe to gain an advantage over other candidates, including a slew of tips and resources.
In the next 7 minutes, you’ll…
- See your resume for what it is
- See the internet for what it is
- Think like an employer
- How to build a leader’s information routine
- How to easily spread value with information
- How to interact with experts along the way
- How to make a presentable home for your information experience
Reality Check #1: Your resume is actually just a series of vague proxies
For the most part, nobody can actually see all the learning or work you’ve done in the past. They take your word for it in the universal language we all speak: the single lines on Linkedin, and on your resume, that state your degree or certificate, or professional role, and the institution that confirms it. These are proxies for your credibility and trustworthiness for the relevant work.
What if you could directly show your knowledge and work, instead? In a way that didn’t give you the same, undifferentiated label as tens of thousands of other people? Hold that thought.
Reality Check #2: The internet goes beyond proxies and lets you differentiate (if you use it right)
Up until very recently, there was no other realistic way to easily present everything you knew and had done, or put your unique stamp on it. What else would you show on your resume? Or point to during an interview when you hear “tell me about yourself / walk me through your resume in 3 minutes”? A few giant binders or boxes of materials? How would you easily analyze it or present it quickly, or show you are different despite an identical degree or work experience?
The internet, especially in the last 10 years, has shattered these limitations. Not only that, but it has completely eliminated the monopoly that formal education and work had on being able to show our relationship with information and how we apply it.
Reminder: the internet is a system of information, and your interactions with it are all very easily measured or presented – often by design. This is what your online presence is and, if done right, it is a different way to prove your credibility and trustworthiness on any subject. Trust in:
- Your knowledge
- Subject matter awareness
- Ability to learn
- Ability to apply that knowledge with others
You can blur the line between online presence and formal experience.
Some professions still demand only certified learning and experience, like medicine or engineering. PR isn’t one of them. This is an opportunity. By being a profession oriented around the management of public information, it is arguably the best suited to take advantage.
Reality Check #3: Employers are looking for new indicators (Think like a business owner)
The final piece in the puzzle? There are now more employers than not who are digitally savvy. This was debatable as recently as 5 years ago. Internet background checks are almost a given, and superior digital literacy is finally valued at a premium.
It’s against this backdrop that employers remain desperate to hire or promote people who can quickly add value. Put yourself in their shoes: the majority of hiring happens because people are overworked and/or need help ASAP. They don’t have time or energy to babysit, and they also can’t afford to wait long for you to ramp up. They will always err on the side of the person who they think can help them immediately.
What does that mean? They’re looking for somebody who:
- Shows they have actual industry knowledge, not textbook knowledge. They know what’s current and applied.
- They’re a self-starter.
- They’ll deliver quality with their output – things that don’t need significant re-work/polish to be usable.
- They can be trusted with clients.
Higher Education, while valuable as a foundation, does an especially poor job of checking these boxes. Narrow or unrelated experience is no help either. Employers are increasingly casting a wider net for helpful indicators. How can they find people who seem like they can check the above boxes? Hint: you’ll find them online.
Which brings me to the following 4-step recipe. It’s a proven way to build alternate forms of credibility and trust, using your relationship with information online. Consider this your opportunity for an unfair advantage over any other traditional candidate. It’s your foot in the door for a fighting chance.
Step 1: Build a leader’s information routine.
This is the foundation you will build from. Set up a system that ensures you have the most well-rounded new information and analysis, the moment it’s available. You’ll need this for the remaining 3 steps.
In the past this would require an expensive premium subscription or bespoke service. The explosion of email newsletters, online journals, and information platforms has instead made it a matter of creating the right information routine for yourself, often on a shoestring budget.
The right subscriptions
Just like a university is a verified curator, so too are certain publishers and associations, all of which are online. A subscription to the Harvard Business Review is as much a quality learning source as it is a signal when sharing their content. It is another proxy, where the content is visible. Likewise for content from the right association. For example, if you’d like to move into a project management role, becoming a PMI member and subscribing to their content updates should be your first move.
Being able to add value is as much about foundational knowledge and experience as it is about having your finger on the pulse of the world right now. The right newsletter mix helps you do this. Some focused suggestions:
- Stay on top of the big news stories (including politics) with Next Draft by Dave Pell.
- See what’s next, think bigger, think differently with the Futurism, Aeon, and Big Think Daily or Weekly newsletters.
- Spot trending subjects and products as they emerge with the Exploding Topics newsletter and TrendWatching’s monthly Make Shift newsletter.
- Keep up with Internet culture and viral trends through Taylor Lorenz’s newsletter, and technology/ Internet news with Casey Newton’s Interface and Josh Constine’s Moving Product.
Keeping up with experts via Twitter lists
If you don’t have a Twitter account, make one. Find the top 10 thinkers who you admire in or adjacent to the PR profession. Create a Twitter list and add them to it. Use this list to keep up with their perspectives and shared content.
If you don’t have a Medium account, create one, choose your subjects of interest, and find another 10 professionally relevant leaders to follow. Each week Medium will send you a newsletter with their posts and other relevant trending pieces.
Make it a habit: set aside 30 minutes every day to read through what catches your eye from the above, making sure to give attention to a mix of the above sources over the course of your week. Set an alarm for 1 hour later, it’s easy to go down the internet rabbit hole. It’s critical the above routine remains productive, not a distraction. Conversely, don’t beat yourself up: there is far too much great information out there to ever fully keep up with – but this habit is an important, impactful start.
– Consider also scheduling a dedicated 30 minutes once a week to browse a book summary to catch up on important non-fiction classics, particularly those that are foundational in explaining society and business. Make your life easier by using a service like ShortForm. In my experience, it’s more detailed than Blinkist and others.
– You can also sign up to the Readocracy private beta to stay organized and streamline your newsletter mix into a single email without hurting each publisher’s numbers. Mention the Culpwrit blog when you join the waitlist. You can also try a service like Stoop, which keeps all your newsletters in a dedicated inbox, but if you do, it’s essential you stick to your dedicated time, as it’s easy to forget to open the app.
Step 2: Spread your information consistently and with added value.
Now that you have a solid routine for sourcing quality information, start showing it.
One simple habit for Linkedin and Twitter: every time you read a sentence or paragraph that is thought-provoking, copy it, and paste it, alternatingly, on Twitter and Linkedin, with the source link included. When possible, add your one sentence summary, or a big question you have. On Twitter, it can be anything you read from your routine in Step 1. On LinkedIn, try to keep it a little more focused.
Bonus option: If you’re willing to commit an extra hour each week, pick the 5 most interesting professionally-relevant articles you found that week, and put them together in a new “Weekly Recap” post on Linkedin, with a quick summary for each and why it matters for your profession. Don’t over-engineer it.
The key to doing this right: you shouldn’t be posting just for the sake of it, but instead sharing content you deem good quality and genuinely interesting or informative. You can also use a service like Buffer to save content as you come across it, and have them shared at intervals later.
One of the biggest criticisms of online posturing is that it is more noise than signal. Don’t add more noise. Add some value when you share, some customization – an insight, a key quote – and you will immediately stand out from everyone blindly sharing with automated preview text.
Step 3: Interact with experts, help them shine, ask for feedback.
Here’s a win-win for you: once you’ve completed Steps 1 and 2, you can start interacting with experts, which will not only allow you to showcase your learning in the context of trusted leaders, but can lead to invaluable career connections.
Once you’ve been active with Steps 1 and 2, and feel you can reach out intelligently, start reaching out to a different business leader or two each week, with one meaningful question you have to get their perspective. Keep it short, specific, and thoughtful. Don’t ask for the sake of asking.
You can ask them by @ direct tweeting them, or sending them a message on LinkedIn. On LinkedIn, it helps to mention you’re passionate about the subject and looking to learn from experts. You know they’re busy, you’re not even asking for a coffee – just their quick take if they can share it with you.
For those that get back to you (not everyone will, that’s okay) with something useful, make sure to work it into one of your upcoming posts, and tag them with something like “thanks @[username] for the extra insight.”
-If you start the weekly reading digest from Step 2, include these experts in your weekly digest and tag them when you post it. Make sure to paraphrase and put it in the context of your notes, so it doesn’t seem like you’re just copy-pasting free perspectives. This not only shows your sincerity, but also gives them a little boost in visibility, which they will always appreciate.
-You can also browse experts and their answers on Quora and work them into your weekly digest or posts, tagging them when you do in the same way as above.
-Once you’ve kept these steps going for at least 1 month, consider writing a short blog post once a month, by chipping away at it or putting down ideas for half a day each week. Within a year you can already have a solid foundation of posts that themselves prove your commitment, understanding, and critical thinking.
-Every quarter, try your hand at creating a brief industry report in the area of focus you’re aiming for, based on all of your reading.
Step 4: Make a presentable home for your information.
You need your own website. This shows a level of professionalism and seriousness that immediately sets it apart. However, to complete the value of the previous 3 steps, this website needs to showcase your relationship to information i.e. show what you know and how you apply it. It should have your tweets, the reading digests you’ve been creating, and all the articles and content you’ve consumed that you’re comfortable making public. It should act as an intellectual portfolio that dramatically amplifies the proxies of education and work experience. Coming full circle, it will help demonstrate your:
- Subject matter awareness
- Ability to learn
- Ability to apply that knowledge with others
As well as helping suggest you have what employers need now:
- Shows you have actual industry knowledge, not just textbook knowledge. You know what’s current and applied.
- You’re a self-starter and don’t need to be babysat.
- You’ll deliver quality with your output – things that don’t need significant re-work/polish to be usable.
- You can be trusted with clients (based on your interaction with experts).
There are a few ways to do this.
-You can set up your own website from scratch, using a paid service like Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress (you don’t want the free tier that will fill your site with ads), or even set up a free page on Tumblr, which has many well-designed templates. You can then use an IFTTT recipe to have your tweets or Linkedin posts be automatically posted to it as well.
-You can use my team’s platform, Readocracy, which acts as a personal website for your mind, to showcase all the content you consume and create, in a verified, quantified, shareable way, with minimal extra work involved. If you’d like early access, mention the Culpwrit blog in your waitlist entry.
Important cautionary note: there are services that allow you to automate your online presence, finding interesting articles and sharing them for you, without you having even seen them. I don’t recommend this, as the entire point of this 4-step strategy is to present an authentic, added-value relationship with information, that you can lean on and point to.
Outcomes and how to put it all together
I have seen this strategy work with multiple friends and contacts in my network in various forms, particularly when the job they wanted felt just out of reach, at both small firms and Fortune 500 as well. In a world full of hucksters and identical applicants, this is a way to prove yourself with substance, go beyond the generic qualifications, and get a shot at the jobs that might otherwise seem unattainable.
The real question, though, as PR professionals, is why not start now? This is a natural playbook for your profession, a natural advantage and opportunity.
Next time you apply for that job that seems just out of reach, if you’ve done all of the above, you should be including your personal website, and your Twitter, in your resume. You should be mentioning your weekly industry digests (or “reports” if you’ve really spruced some of them up), and some of the experts and companies you’ve interacted with.
In your cover letter and interviews you should now be able to confidently say: “I may not have as much formal experience as your other candidates, but I can guarantee, and prove, that I am more committed, informed, and up to date on the industry’s latest knowledge, best practices, and the trends that are disrupting the market, than any other candidate. Here is a link to my knowledge portfolio; I would love to answer questions you have about any of it.”