If you’ve been studying for three years (or more) at university and you’re wondering how to get your foot in the door of the industry, how should you go about it? Here are my top ten tips for making the first steps.
- Keep on top of the news agenda. A good knowledge of current affairs and trends is an essential part of being an effective PR practitioner. The digital arena means that breaking news can now be seen first on social media channels so make sure you are following the key journalists and media outlets on Twitter. Don’t ignore traditional journals; start with a couple of different newspapers (and pick one up in print occasionally; it’s fine to read online but it’s useful to know something about how a paper is structured in print). Vary your reading between broadsheets and tabloids and try to mix it up with both left and right leaning publications so that you understand a variety of views and publishing styles. Watch different news channels to get a grasp of what kind of stories make the news.
- Network endlessly. You’re incredibly lucky that you’re living in a digital age with CEOs and PR recruiters at your fingertips on social networks. Follow the movers and shakers in the industry in Twitter and on LinkedIn and, where possible, go along in person to industry events. The PRCA and CIPR often run free networking and conference events so keep an eye out for those. You are far, far more likely to be offered work experience or an entry-level job by someone who already knows you than from a cold application so getting out there and making yourself known in the industry is an important first step.
- Write. Strong writing skills and good attention to detail are often cited as top requirements for junior PR roles so proving that you have that ability is crucial. Start building a writing portfolio to show to prospective employers. The easiest way to do that is to start a blog, but you can also write for your university publications and local newspapers will sometimes take story submissions if they’re well written. You could also offer to guest blog for other industry bloggers – which can be an excellent way to raise your profile in the industry and drive traffic to your own blog.
- Understand the industry. Read the industry news publications and blogs; PR Week, PR Moment, PR Examples, Communicate Magazine, Corporate Comms Magazine and Comms2point0 are all good starting points. It’s important that you have a grasp of what’s going on in the communication industry. At job interviews it’s likely you’ll be asked which PR campaigns have impressed you and what you think the trends in the industry might be so being well read on industry info is an easy way to form an opinion.
- Get experience. Any PR experience on your CV is going to be a big bonus so use your holidays during university and your time immediately after graduation wisely. Those of you who have a year in industry placement as part of your degree may have an advantage as employers value experience above anything else at entry level – it’s worth getting a chunk of work on your CV.
- Learn from others. Ask your lecturers if they can introduce you to alumni who can talk you through how they got into the industry and what their first job was like. While on work experience, soak up all the knowledge you can and ask your colleagues about their careers – most people love to talk about themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask – the worst that can happen is that somebody will say no.
- Think creatively. Some PR agencies are particularly keen on applicants being able to demonstrate they are creative so while it’s important to have a well written CV, have a think about how else you might sell yourself.
- Have a passion. The most interesting people are passionate about something. It doesn’t have to be PR related, just something that shows you are well rounded and have the ability to be an expert in something – that might be anything from salsa dancing to 16th century history. It’ll also give interviewers something to ask about other than your degree.
- Consider the different PR industries. There are a range of different industries out there that rely on PR. Often graduates looking at B2C agencies only later consider B2B industries such as corporate or technology. These industries often offer much more creativity and opportunity than might be realized, and should be explored as an option from the beginning.
- Read. There are plenty of PR books out there and although you will have read the set texts for your course, you should look beyond those to see what else the industry has to offer. It’ll help you build a view on the market and, hopefully, inspire your own professional development
Sarah Stimson is the Programme Director at Taylor Bennett Foundation, a charity dedicated to addressing the lack of diversity in PR with traineeships for BAME graduates. She is also the founder of the careers advice website PRcareers.co.uk, runs Facebook’s largest PR recruitment group PR Job Watch and is the author of How to get a job in PR.