I remember the week after I graduated from Penn State back in May of 1999. I was pacing my mom’s house in a complete panic. The excitement of graduation had faded and I was hyper-focused on the fact that I didn’t have a job yet — AGH!
I had all the right experience — internships, leadership in collegiate clubs/organizations and some great professional recommendations. And while I knew that in public relations many companies hire based on need, especially agencies, I was frustrated that I didn’t go right from class work to client work. I was ready to get my career started.
Ultimately what helped me land my first job was a combination of preparation and diligence. I’ll save that for another blog post, but let’s just say it involved a post-graduation internship in New England landed through a Penn State connection where I stayed on a blueberry farm for the summer. But I digress…
When I speak with students or recent graduates, I share five tips for landing that first job in public relations:
Make sure your resume is on point and have a couple versions ready
Your resume should be clear, organized and error free. This is critical because most recruiters or HR team members will only spend six seconds reviewing a resume. Make sure to also be specific about your experiences. If you are a PR grad, I’ll expect that you created some media lists and helped with research and coverage. What I want is to be able to envision you at our agency. What kinds of industries or companies did you work with? You should have several versions as well that pull out various aspects of your experience in more detail so it can be targeted to the company.
Work your network
Whether it’s fellow college alumni or family friends, you have more people in your circle that want to help you than you may realize. Don’t just ask a former intern coordinator to serve as a reference, ask them if they would be willing to do a mock interview with you. See if they know of any potential positions or if they can set you up to speak with connections of theirs for advice. More often than not you’ll find your first job from a networking connection.
Research, research, research
Hone in on the city or area where you would like to work and have a comprehensive list of your top companies. Now really dig in — check out their website, Glassdoor ratings, social channels, blogs, news. It’s critical that you aren’t just sending out your resume blindly. You want to know as much about the organizations you are applying to as possible. Which leads me to tip #4….
Everyone has an ego — so feed it!
Now that you’ve done your research, apply it. Did you go to the same school as someone at the company you are interested in? Do you have similar interests? Do you admire an award the person or company has won? Are you impressed with a campaign that they executed? Tell them! Include that in your email or cover letter. Everyone likes to be seen, heard and appreciated. This very small, personal touch goes a LONG way in making a connection that could land you an in-person interview.
Be responsive and professional in all interactions
Yay — you got a response — now what? It’s important to be buttoned up in all communications when applying for a job. Now is your time to shine and really impress so that you land that job. Be courteous, professional and most importantly responsive. Often you are judged not only on your experience, but also your interactions with anyone you work with during the interview process. So, make sure that you promptly call or email back and show them the kind of employee you would be if you joined their team.
It’s like Dory taught us in Finding Nemo. Keep moving, keep growing. Utilize your PR / communications skills to help promote your family’s business, or volunteer to do media outreach or social media engagement for a local non-profit while you keep searching for your first PR job. With diligence and focus, before you know it, your career will have begun!
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