By Alex Parks, Guest Blogger
Spring semester only means one thing for college seniors: time to find a job! I remember the feeling all too well, and had a vivid reminder of what it was like being four months away from graduating without a clear next step when I visited my alma mater, Brandeis University, to speak with students at last month’s communications career event.
More than 300 undergraduate and graduate students showed up to a Brandeis function hall (which I remembered most fondly from awkward freshman year dances), all of them filled with questions about what it’s like working in PR and how they might land their first jobs. Our conversations focused on four questions, and I hope the responses below provide some help to any student about to make the jump from college grad to communications pro.
How did you get your first job in PR?
After graduating college without a job, in the spring of 2010 I decided to take full advantage of the Brandeis Alumni LinkedIn Group. I sent out brief personalized messages to more than 30 Boston-area alumni working in marketing or PR, explaining in less than 150 words who I was and why I wanted to speak with them, and asking if they’d be willing to take a quick phone call or meet for coffee.
The response was overwhelming! I set up more than 20 phone calls and coffees with alumni, and many offered to help me find a job. In the end, Chuck Tanowitz ’92 asked me to join the PR firm he had recently started.
How can I stand out from the crowd of recent college grads and land an entry-level communications position?
I wish I started setting up phone calls and coffees with marketing and PR professionals while I was still in college. Particularly for college seniors, try arranging at least ten phone calls or meetings with alumni involved in the field you want to work in before you graduate. During these meetings, come prepared to discuss what you’re looking for in your first job, and ask questions about what they do on a daily basis and what they like most and least about their work. At the end of the conversation, don’t be afraid to ask if you can connect on LinkedIn or if their company is hiring.
Also, it’s never too early to start attending professional events. For instance, if you want to work in Boston go to a few Pub Club events, which give you exposure to PR people working in the area who could eventually offer you your first job. The Pub Club March 4 WBUR Tour and March 25 Spring Mixer and Game Night events are right around the corner!
Once I’m working in PR, how can I be successful?
Most people working in PR could write a book answering this question, but the one piece of advice that’s helped me most is this: Show improvement from one week to the next. There will be a lot to learn when you start a job in PR, from building media lists to interacting with reporters, helping with social media programs and drafting all sorts of content (bylines, press releases, speaking proposals, pitches, etc.). When you get something wrong, own up to it, understand why you got it wrong and make every effort to do it better next time.
Speaking of books, many PR pros have written books about how to succeed at your first job that are worth reading. I’m a particularly big fan of Ed Zitron’s “This is How You Pitch: How to Kick Ass In Your First Years of PR.”
What do you like most about your work?
Senior year of college, I was terrified of taking a job where I would die from boredom. Even during college’s rare dull moments, I could rest assured that every 15 weeks the semester would end and I’d soon have a bunch of new classes to keep me busy. I worried that going to the same job day after day would cause a state of depression where I would listen to Working For The Weekend on repeat while pushing papers from 9-5.
There is never a dull moment in PR, particularly when you’re working with three or more companies at a time in an agency environment. For college seniors that enjoy a good challenge and are looking for a career where they will always have plenty to keep their minds occupied, PR might not be a bad bet.
I’m always happy to get coffee with college students to talk more about what it’s like working in PR. Please feel free to reach out!
Alex Parks (@a_park5) is part of the PR team at Davies Murphy Group, a Lewis PR company. Alex won the 2013 Publicity Club of New England Striker Award for Young PR Professional of the Year.
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