There was a time when public relations positions used to be available for almost anybody who wanted them. Few people were sure exactly what public relations was and standards weren’t high. Today, the situation is far different. As public relations has become more enticing to liberal arts students, lawyers, journalists and others, positions have become more competitive
Today when an employer reviews candidates, he or she is thinking about whether or not the applicant can add value every hour, every day; can the candidate add more value than another applicant? Additionally, the employer wants someone who not only can do the job today, but also will be able to reinvent the job, and himself or herself, tomorrow. Will the applicant be able to adapt to changes easily, so the company can grow by exporting its products and services to the fastest-growing markets? In today’s hyper-connected world, more and more employers will take a pass on people who don’t fulfill those criteria.
Beyond that, what’s important to employers? Internships are critical. In many cases, organizations hire recent graduates who interned with them. According to the PR Week article, “PR Technique: Working with Interns – Jump-starting the Juniors,” one of the world’s largest public relations firms, Hill & Knowlton, views internships as “the cheapest and most effective recruiting tool available.”
You may work for no pay and receive assignments others don’t want, but internships are very important in the communications industry. A student who has experience as an intern and a good academic record possesses an important advantage when seeking permanent employment. More and more, communications students learn that internships are a required part of their education.
Large firms, here and abroad, routinely pay interns. The best way to secure the type of internship that will impress potential employers is to start networking in college. Begin during your freshman year. Make friends and keep them. Go to business gatherings and mingle appropriately.
Many unpaid opportunities are available at local public relations firms, businesses and nonprofit agencies. It is important, though, that the organization has at least one experienced public relations professional who can mentor you. This is not always the case at the local level.
Organization for an internship or full-time employment is key. Formulate a plan and update it frequently. A spread sheet can be a useful tool for this. Thoroughly research a potential employer before applying. Keep a file on public relations firms and companies you would like to work for. Follow them on social media to get company news, such as who is leaving and moving up the ladder.
Tap into your network to see if an associate might suggest a name at one of your target organizations. If that fails, search or call the organization for the contact’s name and title. Write a letter to the contact requesting an informational interview. The note should have an explanation of who you are, why you’re targeting this organization, and why you’re interested in speaking to the addressee. The letter should also show your writing skills, strategic thinking, and media savvy. The letter should be error-free and personalized to each potential employer.
Brian Gottesman is an experienced public relations executive. He has a public relations blog www.imseopr.com.