This graduation season, I’m more aware than ever of the legions of freshly degreed young people hoping to break into PR or another communications field. This is due to the economic climate, but it’s also because of my recent experience with the New York Women in Communications Foundation. The Foundation distributes scholarship monies to deserving young women who plan a career in communications.
I was part of the group whose job it was to winnow the number of entries to the select few who would receive financial aid. Because there were so many outstanding and high-achieving applicants, the process was far more difficult than I dreamed it would be. And it made me think about what sets a candidate apart, especially in our business.
My conversations with a handful of the young women and my study of their entries and school records was a real lesson in what it takes to rise to the top in a very competitive year. Here are a few of the learnings that I feel also apply to landing that first job in public relations.
Stand out. Even if you have an excellent GPA, internships, and track record of accomplishments, you need to differentiate yourself. And if, like most students, you don’t have a perfect record, then display your creativity or initiative in other ways. Think about these and other attributes essential to success in communications and show how they apply to you.
Tell your story. PR is in many ways about storytelling. What influences shaped your outlook? What challenges have you met, and how did you deal with them? There was one candidate for the NYWICI scholarship whose application was very borderline on the GPA and other objective criteria, but her personal story was so impressive, and so well-articulated, that she made it through. A compelling narrative will take you far.
Be visual. This is about differentiating yourself within a sea of similar resumes, but it also fits with where PR is going, in its increasing use of multimedia to communicate a message or tell a story. Think about using video, infographics, or other means to express your personality and creativity.
Be entrepreneurial. Today’s crop of graduates are far more enterprising and risk-taking than in the past, and I think this appeals to creative services businesses like mine. Show how you organized the basketball halftime fundraiser, or created a PR campaign for your a capella group, or helped start a social movement on campus. It can make a difference.
Be social. Clearly, the digital natives have a leg up when it comes to understanding the power and uses of social media. But that’s not enough. Be a content creator and curator. Develop your own point of view about social media and where it’s going. You need to not only walk the walk, but understand the role of social media and how it fits into the communications mix.
Understand business. As a literature major, I was at a real disadvantage when I entered the business world, but I was lucky enough to be mentored by an agency owner who taught me the importance of knowing business fundamentals. Even in the creative services world, it’s crucial to understand how products get to market, how broader economic trends affect individual companies, and how communications is tied to business goals.
Be curious. When the competition is so close, curiosity can make the difference. Try to look at every interview or interaction in your job search as an opportunity to learn something. Never, ever sit down for an interview without a list of questions, and learn to think on your feet.
Be relentless. Success is often about timing. You can increase your odds of cracking an opportunity by making a spreadsheet of all your contacts and reaching out regularly – with a relevant tidbit, an update, or a simple question. People want to help, but you have to make it easy for them. And, showing determination always impresses a prospective employer, particularly one in the media relations business, where perseverance rules.
Be brief. Three brief updates beat one long-winded note that may never be read. Some of the most accomplished people in our business have perfected the art of being persistent without being annoying. You can showcase your writing skills and demonstrate your respect for an employer’s time with well-crafted communications that get to the point.