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How To Get A Job in PR: Advice (and Hope) for Millennials

It’s graduation season, when advice is plentiful, but jobs are scarce.

Firms like mine are blitzed with resumes from freshly degreed communications grads eager to make their mark in PR. A tough economy isn’t the only obstacle. Those entering the workforce now are tagged as Millennials and stereotyped as indulged, overpraised, and entitled. 

Here’s my contribution to the advice flurry, based on my own experience as an employer, and some field research among entry-level agency staff. I’ve read some advice for millennials looking to break into PR. For the record, I couldn’t care less about thank you notes, and most people in my position don’t expect most new hires to stay five years. In my view, agency life is not “supposed to suck.” But, it does help if you know what you’re getting into.

First, learn to write. (I know, I know.) Long-form journalism may be dying, but writing still matters. It’s how most prospective employers will first meet you. Learn to write for brevity, rather than for term-paper word counts. Be punchy. Be bold. But please be brief.

Get real. Experience, that is. When I co-taught a graduate-level PR course at NYU, I was struck by what the students knew that I didn’t. Cool stuff, like persuasion theory and cognition. But, very few could write a solid client recommendation memo with a budget, let alone a PR program. If your school doesn’t require an internship, get it on your own. It’s at the top of employers’ lists, and it will give you a taste of the basic agency or corporate PR functions.

Become an expert. On something. The best way to persuade an employer that you can help a client stand out is to do it for yourself. One way is to develop a special interest or expertise in a relevant area, like location-based social media, marketing to moms, or making technology attributes accessible. An informed POV will impress a prospective boss. 

Have a mind of your own. 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 Cool Client Brand team, you have ideas or opinions about Client Brand or a competitor. If an employer asks you what you think of her agency’s website, blog, philosophy, or culture, be prepared with a thoughtful answer, not flattery. If she doesn’t ask, volunteer it. PR people are recommenders. Be one. 

Package yourself. Have the elevator speech ready. Do a SWOT analysis on yourself and play up what works. One of my worst interviews occurred when a recruiter said to me as I walked in the room, “Tell us about Dorothy Crenshaw.” Overwhelmed, I babbled a life chronology rather than controlling the interview and focusing on relevant strengths. The open-ended questions can be the hardest. Have your brand identity and key messages in your mind.

Use the media. When the going is tough, the tough get on YouTube. And Facebook. Use that  Millennial creativity and connectedness. Make us laugh, or at least smile. Look at Eric Romer, who late last year launched a one-man Facebook, Twitter, and PR push to land a job at Headblade, a company that markets a scalp shaving product for men, and one that he personally uses and loves. Eric’s smooth social media moves and bald relentlessness grew into hundreds of blog posts, links, and mentions, massive Facebook attention, and even traditional media coverage. He also got the job. The best new example of digital media smarts – and pure creativity – is that of Alec Brownstein. He bought the names of prominent ad agency creative directors on Google adwords to get their attention when they googled themselves. He got it, and a copywriting job, for a total investment of six dollars.   

Recently I was one of several PR firm owners targeted by Auburn University senior Amanda Pinto, who’s determined to fulfill her dream of working in PR in New York. Amanda launched a getAmandatoNY blog and personal marketing campaign with a little help from her friends. Her video is funny, original, and social – attributes that typify the Millennial generation. She’ll get there. And, with persistence and a little innovation, so will you.

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Comments

  1. AngieB

    Thanks for a great post! I nailed my “dream job” a couple of years ago, but I wish I’d read this then. I particularly agree with your point about writing for brevity. And a little encouragement – like a little creativity – goes a long way.

  2. Karl

    I took a more old school approach when I was looking for a job and literally went door-to-door with resumes in hand. Kids today and their technology!

    Seriously though, packaging and selling yourself is key, not matter what medium you use to deliver that sales pitch.

  3. Liz

    I would add, pay attention to what you wear to an interview. It’s not your mother’s job interview experience, where a navy suit and heels were mandatory, but it’s not an interview for a job at a gym, either. Showing up in too-casual clothes, or too-suggestive clothes, can form the wrong sort of impression before you even sit down. It’s still important to dress to impress.

  4. Andrew

    The Eric Romer and Amanda Pinto examples are really outstanding and creative. I wouldn’t expect most kids out of school to follow in their footsteps and really go that extra mile, but candidates should at least make an effort to separate themselves from the competition. Even if it’s just a cover letter that demonstrates that they really took the time to research the company and why they are the right fit goes a long way.

  5. Kristen

    Great advice! I like to also think of it as a new business pitch. If you were trying to win a new client at your PR firm, you would spend hours researching and learning the client and also have a clear understanding on how your business can help them achieve better results. These same methods should be applied when going for an interview – be prepared.

  6. Amanda Walsh

    Thank you so much for the advice in this article. As a Millennial gearing up for the job search after two years in Madrid, I appreciate all the articles with tips and advice from those working in the industry. Thank you!

  7. Kevin Gaydosh, APR

    I would add: Be a consumer of media. You can’t work in the PR field without a broad awareness of ALL the types of communications media out there. Is “print” dead to you? Sure, it’s shrinking, but it’s still important for a huge part of the population. Read newspapers. Watch TV news. Visit major blogs. And yes, interact online and socially.

  8. Dorothy Crenshaw

    I couldn’t agree more. I always ask candidates what they read, on and offline. Being a student of all types of media teaches you how to think like a blogger, reporter, or producer, and that’s invaluable. It’s also essential to bo beyond your own areas of interest. It’s fine to be addicted to people.com but not as impressive as a range of daily subscriptions and feeds.

  9. Dorothy Crenshaw

    Yes, you nailed it, Kristen. In fact, in an earlier version of this post, I tried to sync each item to an aspect of a new business pitch. It ended up being too long (brevity, again) but you’re right, they’re very similar.

  10. Hank Leedy

    Hi, I stumbled upon this site from Yahoo and just wanted to take some time to say thank you for your marketing strategy.

  11. Steve

    I would add: Be a consumer of media. You can’t work in the PR field without a broad awareness of ALL the types of communications media out there. Is “print” dead to you? Sure, it’s shrinking, but it’s still important for a huge part of the population. Read newspapers. Watch TV news. Visit major blogs. And yes, interact online and socially.

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