Is the Title “Public Relations” Hurting Your Job Search?

Stock photo of a person in a meeting

The ability to explain your worth and the worth of your PR education to a company is essential in landing a job in any industry. Courtesy of Tim Gouw

From walking out the doors of your last class, across the stage at graduation and into your long list of job interviews, you come to the workforce with unique skills, fresh perspective, and excitement to hit the ground running with your hard-earned public relations degree.

Until you find out it isn’t worth anything.

Before you get your feelings too hurt, let me reassure you – your degree IS worth something. But your potential employers might think differently.

According to the Public Relations and Communications Association, 43% of agency executives say that a PR-specific degree makes no difference when hiring and 34% even say it hurts a candidate’s chances of being picked.

Ouch.

Employers know there are advantages to earning a specialized degree – they just might not recognize what those specific benefits are when you’re asking for a job. To properly pitch yourself and prove you’re the perfect fit, here are a couple things to consider when framing your public relations education and experience.

The PR Industry is Misunderstood

In his online article published by Forbes, perhaps PR agency owner Robert Wynne phrased it best when he said, “The public relations industry does a terrible job of public relations.”

For an industry that has been around for roughly a century, very few people understand what public relations is all about. Not only that – with such a rapidly changing digital climate and evolving practices in the industry, some are stuck with outdated ideas about what a PR professional should do and be.

Assume your employers won’t automatically understand what skills you have when you say you studied PR. Make sure you can explain how your background in public relations qualifies you for the job you’re applying for. This is especially important if the job listing is for a position that isn’t explicitly labeled as “public relations” and is in a similar field such as marketing or advertising. You might even be overqualified, but recruiters will never know if you don’t explain how.

The PR Industry is Broad

For those who are familiar with the PR industry, they know it’s an umbrella that covers an almost endless array of media, relationships and more. This means that every PR graduate comes not only with a different educational background, but with different strengths and industry interests.

Some apprehension in the hiring process comes from an uncertainty of what skills you specifically offer as a job candidate. “PR is not brain surgery,” says Gerry Hopkinson, co-founder of Unity PR, describing the fact that there is no exact science to the industry. Hard work and experience are the main difference between success and failure, making other candidates just as eligible for positions.

Instead of being vague, show specific examples of how your past work will benefit the company. Although the field is wide, many responsibilities are formed from the same core skills that are easily transferred to other areas and positions.

The ability to market your specific experience in relation to the job you want is important in assuring your future employer that you’re an asset – not a liability.

The PR Industry is Ever-changing

Look back only 10 years (or even less) and it’s plain to see that PR is a dynamic field that is constantly evolving to meet new demands and incorporate new innovations in technology.

One of employers’ biggest fears about formal public relations education is that the industry will have changed and moved on by the time students graduate. Julia Hobsbawm, a PR professor at the London College of Communications, said, “If you do not have work experience, no amount of academic qualifications can help…PR cannot be a dry academic discipline.”

To offer value to a company, you need your skill set and portfolio to be:

  1. Up-to-Date
  2. Diversified

Stay updated on industry news, policy, best practices and new techniques. Network and establish meaningful relationships early on in your education and career. Diversify your resumé and portfolio by learning new, marketable skills such as video, SEO, public speaking, etc.

One of the most attractive skills an applicant can have is the desire to learn. The more skills you have (and the more relevant they are to your dream job), the more you will stand out compared to other candidates come interview time.

The PR Industry is Yours

Take pride in what you’ve accomplished and the skills you have!

In true public relations fashion, a greater understanding of our audience allows us to better craft our intended message and increase understanding. Specific, concrete explanations on how we can benefit a company will lead to better job search success and equal expectations.

The perception of PR education and experience is in our hands – the way we talk about it, treat it and nurture it in our interactions with co-workers and employers will set the new precedent for generations of professionals to come.

Question: With non-PR-specific positions, should you avoid using the title “public relations” on an application, replacing it with something more position-specific and generally understood (e.g. marketing, advertising, etc.)? How do you ensure your employer understands your skill set and how you will fit in their company?


Ikaika Kamimoto is a senior studying public relations at Brigham Young University and a member of PRSSA. He is also studying Spanish, localization, and global Business. His interests include music, photography, volleyball, dogs, procrastinating and eating just about everything.

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