A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads

[Updated September 2014]

 “When should I start applying for that internship?”

“Where do I start with my job search?”

“Do I need to be sending my resumes out now?”

There’s a point of recognition where the senior public relations major realizes that yes, barring any major gaffes, chances are good that they’re going to graduate and need to find a job. And then the panic sets in.

Senior year both flies by in a blink and seems to drag on forever at the same time.  Benchmarking a few key activities may help you create your own plan for prepping for graduation.

A quick note: University of Oregon is on the quarter system – we start the last Monday of September and finish mid-June, so this calendar may vary based on your University.

Continue reading “A Year-Long Plan for Senior PR Undergrads”

Asking for a LinkedIn Introduction


LinkedIn is such a valuable tool for any job seeker, but for undergrads looking for informational interviews, networking connections or to research a potential company or interviewer, it really can’t be beat.

But using it well (and not annoying your connections) takes a little know how and some LinkedIn etiquette. I think no where is this more true that in asking for introductions.

LinkedIn allows you to reach out to people directly to make a connection (I always recommend adding a personal message about why you want to connect). However, using the “Get Introduced” feature, can help facilitate a connection and give you an edge.

So how does it work?

Start by finding someone you want to make a connection with. You can do this is many ways, but my two favorite (and most basic) are to a) search the connections of one of your contacts. If you’re connected to me, you have access to my 1500+ connections. You can sort by city (say you want to move to Los Angeles) or by company or a few other filters or b) search LinkedIn directly by name or company.

Look for second degree connections. That means just one person exists between you and them.

Recently, I did a company search for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. A lot of our grads work at WaggEd and it’s the largest PR firm in the northwest. In doing that search, I found an account director to whom I had a second degree connection. I found her profile interesting because we have so many students with an interest in event planning — and that’s what she does for WaggEd clients. Neat.

So say I want to get connected to Megan. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Click on the arrow next to “Send InMail” to get the drop down options. The first says “Get introduced.” Choose that option.

linkedin-intro-screenshot 2. The next screen will show you all the people who you and the desired contact have in common. Turns out Megan and I have several mutual connections. Choose the one that you think would be most willing to “put in a good word” for you. I chose my friend, Erica, also an account director at WaggEd. She and I did our undergrad work together in the SOJC and I know she’d be willing to facilitate this connection for me.

I started with a note to Erica about why I wanted to connect with Megan.

Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 9.09.44 AM

 

3. The final part is the most important. To make it easy breezy for Erica to forward my connection request with her own note, I finish the request with a note directly to Megan. Consider a mini cover letter. Why do you want to be introduced?

Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 9.15.24 AM

 

That’s it! Take a read through, do a final edit and hit “Send Request.”

Erica will get a notice in her inbox that I’ve requested an introduction with the option to forward or decline.

Have you used this feature of LinkedIn before? Any tips beyond what I’ve offered here?

Setting Yourself Apart: A Job in PR is Possible

It’s scary to be a university senior right now. In just 6 months, the market will flood with recent graduates clamoring for what could be fewer entry level jobs than we saw in the last few years. I don’t think it matters much what your major is, this is likely to be the reality for a lot of folks.

But you’re interested in PR, so does that mean you should forget about working in public relations? After all, the media is dying (say some) and PR departments are downsizing.

Well, if your dream is to do traditional media relations in an old school model of public relations… um, yes. Yes, you should forget about PR.

However, based on my own experience with a wide variety of clients, as well as watching my students’ careers, I say that if you can come to the table prepared for the PR career of the future, you’ll be in demand. That doesn’t mean it won’t take hard work. It will take tons of work. Work beyond your classes. You have to set yourself apart in a sea of recent graduates.

What does that mean?

A “smile and dial” (aka telemarketing) approach to traditional media relations is out. To succeed, it’ll take the ability to be strategic and provide good counsel (even at a junior level), a broad skill set and the ability to measure and show results. Let’s break it down…

Be a Strategic Counselor
I find myself telling students that they need to be “strategic thinkers.” Let me explain.

The are a dizzying array of communication channels available. Being able to do meaningful audience research, think and then make smart recommendations for what tools to use to get the results you seek is crucial. Katie Payne suggested recently that this crush of options means that you need to make decisions based on data. I agree. You can’t just trust your gut instincts. The audiences are too complex, the media too fractured and the landscape changing too quickly.

With some audiences, traditional media is still the gateway to their mind, but for many, that is far from the truth. How will a company, cause or organization know the best strategy? By relying on a smart communication team (and “by relying,” I mean hiring and paying a salary).

Develop Broad Skills
Would YOU hire someone who only brought traditional media relations skills to the table? If that were my own skill set, I’d starve. This is a snapshot of skills that I need to have on any given project:

  • Web sites: navigation and site maps, Web copy, design recommendations, basic HTML and updating (I don’t do the design).
  • Marketing collateral: copywriting for all sorts of things, design & format recommendations
  • Social media: blog writing and editing, blogger outreach, research, social networking
  • Research: focus groups, survey construction
  • Planning
  • New business development & pitches
  • Presentations
  • Media literacy: read, understand, distill information from varied sources
  • Traditional media relations: press releases, media lists, pitching

Traditional media relations is still part of the mix. Most recent graduates work in agencies where they focus on this aspect of public relations. But to be valuable for the long term, you need a broader base. Having even rudimentary design skills, for example, can really save the day.

Measure & Be Accountable
This should probably be first on the list. If you can’t prove that what you’re doing is contributing positively to the organization’s bottom line (either contributing to revenue or saving costs), then you should be worried about your job (your budget, your career, etc.).

There are lots of smart people talking about measurement. I highly recommend reading Katie Payne and Don Bartholomew, for example. Both have blogs. You can also check out the Institute for Public Relations, where you can find lots of research on measurement and evaluation.

What Now?

The job market will probably be tight this year. It may take longer to get a job. You may be slinging lattes for a bit while you find a PR gig. But if you work to set yourself apart from the average graduate, you’ll still be able to find a good job in public relations. It’s just not likely to look like the jobs of the past.

I would love to hear what you think.

Photo via Flickr by AtomicJeep

Jobs, Internships & Opportunities Delivered Fresh

Came across a few opportunities on the WWW this week that I thought you might be interested in:

Public Relations Coordinator: DaVita, Inc. (El Segundo, CA)
Why it’s interesting: an entry level position with a pretty broad list of projects in which the new coordinator will participate including copywriting, research, powerpoint presentation development and project coordination.

Junior Publicist: CNN (Atlanta, GA)
Why you might want to take a look: an interesting entry-level opportunity in one of the fastest growing cities in America. Primarily media relations work.

Marketing Coordinator: Stern Elkind Curray & Alterman (Denver, CO)
Why it’s interesting: Marketing and PR at an entry-level for an immigration law firm.

Public Relations Assistant: Jakks Pacific, Inc. (Malibu, CA)
Why it’s interesting: Jakks Pacific makes Blue’s Clues toys! This would be a huge hit in our house. Includes working with media, too. And it’s in Malibu.

Internship – Public Relations: Apple (Cupertino, CA)
Why it’s interesting: it’s with APPLE! Oh, and it looks like you’d get to participate in a meaningful way with the PR team.

Public Relations AssociateHalldin PR (Sacramento, CA)
Why it’s interesting: Sacramento-based PR agency with a variety of clients. Decent entry-level pay ($30K). I have a friend that works for Governor Schwartzenegger’s office and is often telling me that student’s would be surprised at the opportunities for PR in Sacramento. Here’s one example.

Getting Ready for the Portland Paddle: Episode 1 – The Resume

A paddle (or paddling): group of ducks.
Portland Paddle: a group of PR Ducks who travel to Portland for informational/mock interviews with professionals in agency, corporate and nonprofit public relations work.

In the spirit of preparing for Portland Paddle, this is the first in a series of posts to help my students, specifically, prepare for the Portland Paddle. But to provide tips for anyone getting ready for a job search.
First up… the resume. Five tips:

1. Start with the basics. There are basic rules that everyone needs to follow. Former Slacker offers these mind blowing tips like: proof-read and follow basic resume formatting guidelines. Some of the author’s tips are personal preference (for example, some firewalls will block unsolicited attachments), but the point is really that you need to know what your resume-receiver prefers.

The Washington Post also had a great article this week, specifically for communication jobs. Maryann Haggarty offers tips like editing (sensing a theme, here?) and watching your verbs. Don’t use gerunds – remember those? tricky little nouns that look like verbs. Rather use the verb form. Ex: rather than “providing,” say “provided.” And don’t be wordy! Phrases like, “I was also responsible for…” take up valuable resume real estate. Using “power words” gets the reader’s attention and help you make your point.

Need more basic tips? Try here, here or here.

2. Organizing your resume. Be strategic about what to include in your resume. For example, according to the ResumePower Blog, if you want to highlight your education, put it before your experience. My personal biases on this topics are many. Yes, you should be proud of your degree, but everyone has a degree. I mean really. A unique double-major might help you stand out. But I still think that unless you really have NO professional experience (shame on you!), there’s no reason put your education at the top. I’m also not a fan of the objective. Duh… of course you want “an entry-level job in public relations that utilizes your education and … blah, blah, blah.”
I do however, like a skills summary section. Highlighting the tangible skills that the employer is looking for in a few bullet points (4 – 6 maximum) at the very top of your resume is very user friendly. The hiring manager can glance at your resume and, in a few seconds, and decide if you deserve further consideration for the job. Back to ResumePower Blog – this is author Kim Isaacs suggestion:

Include an “Expertise” or “Key Skills” section in your resume, and add skills that would be important in the new position. A brief, keyword-rich list of your related skills will help the hiring manager see that you have the skills to do the job.

2. Include all your work experience. Your resume is a snapshot of all your work experience; not just related work experience. I cannot think of a single part-time, hospitality, retail, construction or summer job that would not be appropriate to include. Why on earth would you include that you worked at JCPenney’s, or as a banquet server, a drywall framer or even bucking hay while you went to school? Think about it. As an employer, I’d be interested that you were able to hold a job, show up on time and do a good job. As a side effect, your work history might also tell me that you work well under pressure, are customer (aka client) focused and have the ability to multi-task.

If you’re a recent (or soon-to-be) grad, include your work history during college. As you add public relations experience to the top line, the seemingly unrelated experience will drop off the other end.

3. Be results-oriented. What does that mean? Companies are results-oriented. Showing that you understand the business environment shows that you’re more likely to be a good fit in an organization.

Example:
BEFORE – “Wrote, edit and distributed media kit material”
AFTER – “Created media kit material for event and pitched story to local media, resulting in coverage on all local network television stations”

Sometimes it’s difficult to focus on results. But think about how to position your responsibilities as accomplishments and your tasks as results. Use verbs to convey the quality and quantity of your work. How many people attended the event? What was the quality of news coverage? How many speakers bureau presentations did you arrange?

4. What to do about your GPA. If you don’t have over a 3.0, don’t put it on your resume. End of tip. Move along.

5. Does size matter? So the rule of thumb is that your resume should be no more than one page. I think that the quantity and quality of internships and “pre-professional” experiences that students get can mean that you need a two-pager to include everything that’s relevant. As an undergrad, I held six different internships and each was in a different industry. All were short-term, so in addition to my “relevant” experience, I included my other work history – two long-term retail management positions (thank you VoiceStream and Sam Goody).

I always say it’s more important that your resume is easy to read than it is for it to be just one page. I’ll take a 12-point font, clean bulleted listed, plenty of white space resume over a 1/2″ margin, 10-point font version anyday.

So, I think, like most answers in public relations… it depends. It depends on your experiences, it depends on the type of job you’re applying for.

What is the best tip you’ve heard?

Next up, episode 2 – the portfolio.

Career Links for Soon-to-be Grads

It’s usually about this time of the year that seniors start panicking, er, I mean, thinking about their future after graduation.

I’ve come across a couple of good posts today for students figuring out where they want to go with their career (and how):

Forward 10: Ways to Effortlessly Network for Business and Pleasure
The new professionals at Forward offer some great tips for networking – a necessary part of not only the job search, but a public relations career.

Informational Interviews…Should you ask for one?
I’ve always encouraged students to set up informational interviews (sorry, Heather!). I really appreciate this perspective and think that it really adds more value to events that the University of Oregon School of Journalism sponsors like the Portland Paddle (structured informational interviews for advertising and PR students). And the portfolio reviews with professionals that I arrange at the end of the PR Campaigns class.

How to get a job in PR

I was updating my blogroll and cruising around some new PR-related blogs this evening and came across this post. It’s an “oldie,” but a goodie – and worth bookmarking.

From Morgan McClintic at LEWIS (current employer of Sharon Howell, UO ’06) talks about what he looks for in a new hire. He has some great tips.

A highlight is his description of the type and number of internships you should have. When students ask, I’m always reluctant to be specific, so I will let Morgan do it for me:

Internships – the definition of internship varies by country – in some it’s just a few weeks, in others months. Regardless of the length, get at least two different internships before applying for your final role. This will help you decide if PR is really for you – it’s not all champagne and parties. It’ll also give you a feel for the tasks you’ll be charged with, whether you like agency or in-house, and which industry you like. You’ll also learn more about which firms are the good ones to work with when it comes to applying for positions.

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