Dorothy Crenshaw May 4, 2012 | 06:24:21

How To Get A Job In A PR Firm

It’s that time again, when an army of newly minted graduates hits the streets (or, more literally, their laptops) to land that first job. It may be the tightest employment market in years, but the challenge of finding work is probably good preparation for what’s to come! If you’re determined to break into PR, here’s my best advice.

Use every connection you have

Neighbor’s son-in-law’s friend works at a PR agency? Ask for an introduction. Share a hometown, hobby, or favorite sports team with an employer? Let her know. Be polite, but be persistent, and don’t be shy. This is not a career for the faint of heart.

Ask for advice, not a job

Of course your goal is to be hired, but you may get further if you ask a senior executive for ten minutes of her time to get her best advice about breaking in. It’s a bit harder to turn that down, and your strategy should be to get on the radar.

Perfect your writing

In a competitive job market, a grammar error, tortured phrase, or typo will eliminate you, plain and simple. (Marijane’s post about resume gaffes is just the tip of the iceberg!) Learn to write for brevity, rather than for term-paper-like word counts. Be punchy. Be bold. But for your own sake, be brief.

Don’t spam

It’s amazing how many emails I get with another agency’s name in the body, or with telltale font changes or other signs of an e-blast. A mass email tells an employer that you’re not serious. And never, ever, start a note with “To Whom It May Concern.” Prospecting for a job is a lot like pitching media; the personal approach is time-consuming, but it’s the only way to do it.

Be social

As in following prospects on Twitter, engaging them on Facebook, and participating in industry or company LinkedIn groups. Consider Facebook ads, an introductory video of yourself, a career-themed Pinterest board. Show that you understand the medium and how to use it.

Get real

Experience, that is. Most agencies require at least one internship. Interviewing PR pros about their daily routines, studying the media and developing knowledge in a niche area or vertical category is also helpful. When I co-taught a graduate-level PR course, I was impressed by what the students knew that I didn’t. Cool stuff, like persuasion theory. But, very few had enough practical knowledge to write a solid client recommendation memo. The more practical experience you have, the better.

Have opinions

The best way to persuade an employer that you can help a client stand out is to do it for yourself. In an interview or short cover letter, offer some independent thinking. It’s more impressive if, instead of saying how much you’d die to work on their newest client, you have thoughts or ideas about the client’s business, the category, or a competitor. If an employer asks what you think of her agency’s website, be prepared with a thoughtful answer, not empty flattery. If she doesn’t ask, volunteer it. PR people are recommenders. Be one.

Package yourself

Make your strengths relevant. Be a storyteller, but prepare your narrative in advance. One of my worst interviews occurred when a recruiter asked me to tell her about myself. I babbled a life chronology rather than controlling the interview and focusing on relevant strengths. The open-ended questions can be the hardest, so have your “key messages” ready.

Show, don’t tell

In telling your story, illustrate your strengths with anecdotes and examples. Don’t just brag about your best qualities. Rather than saying, “I’m really determined,” try something like, “When I didn’t make the team, I practiced five times a week for three months to have a better shot in the second try-out.” That tells me more about your character, and it’s more memorable.

Be a media junkie

Nothing warms a PR executive’s heart like a true student of the media. Drop names, visualize stories, show that you’ve not only done your homework, but that you consume a broad diet of traditional and social media on your personal time and take an interest in PR industry and business topics and developments. You are what you read or watch.

Be curious

Always ask questions. Even if you’re speaking with six executives in a row and have heard the corporate spiel from each of them, ask them something. Even if you know the answer. If you’re stuck, ask them how they broke into PR, or what their best advice is for someone starting out. Your job is to show engagement.

In short, be memorable, useful, and persistent, and you will get there.

11 thoughts on “How To Get A Job In A PR Firm

  1. Thanks for the tips! I’d also add that you should build a strong digital media profile, while being careful not to leave footprints or posts that would deter a prospective employer.

  2. Dorothy, this is a great post and very informative. I graduated three years ago this summer but have only just started making head way getting in: thanks for the focus and the good advice.

  3. Thanks for the tips. I have struggled for the last 5 years since receiving my BA in Communications to find a job. The tips you have included has helped and motivated me to think about my approach.

  4. As I went down the check list, I realized that I had been doing most of these things right. Thanks for the advice on how to refine my approach. Keep the advice coming 🙂

  5. When I got my job in accounting it was not from applying to an online application. Everyone gets a job from who they know not what they know. People need to stop applying to random online jobs bc thats all you are to the company.. A random resume. Some companies like provide contacts and a method to contact these accounting professionals to land a job. Check it out and best of luck.

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