Published on September 29, 2016, at 4:30 p.m.
By Kennedy Studdard
We all remember a time when friends, family and even people we didn’t know would ask us where we would attend college. And for those that applied for higher education, I’m sure you also remember the competitive nature that was every college entrance exam and application ever.
Word on the 2013 street was that students preparing for college experienced higher levels of anxiety, and since then, the times haven’t changed.
Looking back, I truly believe those were some of the most stressful times of my educational career, more so than trying to become the next public relations “super student.”
The next what?
The next PR super student, or the next generation of future interns and employees who go above and beyond in their undergraduate collegiate degree to stand out among the hundreds and thousands of employee applications. They are the entire package, from being a great public speaker dripping in confidence as they give their unique elevator pitch to having summer internship experience, amazing writing skills and more.
Although the super student might not actually exist, I’ve seen a number of my friends and peers achieving these high standards to stand out among other students. If you haven’t started planning ahead, consider completing these tips over summer (hello, future super students).
Here are several qualifications that I believe make up the ideal PR super student:
The super résumé
Also known as the most detailed, most important, one-page document that spans a PR student’s life in four years. This document must accurately reflect any and all collegiate involvement – the more involved the better, especially if it’s related to the field – without being wordy or running onto a second page. But it should also be selective according to the internships and jobs the student is applying for, which means there will probably be dozens of documents reflecting the student’s progress.
Additionally, there’s probably a file of the student’s “overflow involvement,” or the involvement that still is important but doesn’t fit the current student’s needs. The best résumé will have the perfect mix of involvement related to the field and additional extracurricular involvement.
Plus, if your résumé doesn’t fit everything you’ve done, there’s always an opportunity to discuss other significant projects and programs during your interview. Of course the résumé highlights what you believe is most important, but bringing up additional accomplishments that aren’t on your super résumé will help you stand out.
Also, interviewers and employers know that a résumé can help or hurt someone’s chances into advancing to the next round. So if there are words misspelled or the bullet points are too long, chances are the important details can get overlooked. The super résumé must be concise and to the point, and the best super students know to list skills that they are certain of. Even if their skill set isn’t a huge list, the more involved students know that there’s always an opportunity to learn what you don’t know through practical experience.
The ultimate experience
This super student category comes from having a summer or seasonal internship, or internships, or maybe participating in a study-abroad program. The problem with studying abroad is that not everyone has the time or resources to make it happen (can anyone say graduate in four?). Additionally students shouldn’t turn down jobs or internships that aren’t PR-related.
Employers are also looking for great writers, so there has to be a variety of writing samples. These samples can come from college courses or contributing publications, but no matter the source, the super student is gaining credible writing experience. And no, you don’t have to be the next New York Times best-selling author, but the super student is definitely someone who’s well-versed in the art of AP style and can turn out beautifully written articles. Remember that if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it, and that’s true for great writing and mastering AP style.
The dream portfolio
This compilation of documents is all of the best writing and/or creative samples ever produced by the student. Most PR or advertising students will house their pieces on a personal website, but be cautious of those employers who still want old-fashioned, printed copies of your work.
Additionally, the dream portfolio must showcase that the student is social media-friendly, meaning that all of their platforms — LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, etc. — must be cleaned up from the party college social life, but honestly reflect their hobbies and interests.
The networking guru
The super student must be an amazing communicator on all levels, whether that’s on their social media, or in front of an individual for an interview or a large group for a presentation. Additionally the networking guru is someone who’s trendy, in the sense that they always know the latest trends and current events taking place around the world.
The networking guru has also connected with a mentor, or several mentors, because knowledge is power, and learning about the industry from a professional is a great way to get ahead.
But the main driving force behind the networking guru comes from their own peers. Super students know that their friends and classmates can help motivate them to get more involved and become the next PR opinion leader. Alongside their peers, the super student also networks – to a point of forming a personal relationship – with their professors and faculty.
Being friends with your teacher? But why should students interact with their teachers outside of class?
Because, believe it or not, the faculty and staff are there for students to utilize their skills, knowledge and epic advice (no really, they do have some great advice).
A super student knows to never underestimate the abilities and connections their professors have because it could lead to the next big internship or the perfect letter of recommendation. And when in doubt, a professor can help a student reach their full potential.
The student’s personal brand
This category ranges from creating your own website to making personalized business cards. Pretty much there’s a uniform look about the super student’s overall appearance and how they want employers to perceive them. This can also be said for their wardrobe; the super student has a closet full of appropriate dress-to-impress attire always on the ready. If the student has to ask if the outfit is considered business professional or business casual, just remember this rule of thumb: It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed.
There are dozens more qualifications and reasons behind what makes the super student great, but why did this ideal even become a thing?
As professionals age in the digital era, the skill set needed from students has adapted to maintain traditional PR skills but also has evolved to include more creative and unique characteristics for the individual to stand out.
“So what’s next?” That’s the question any college senior will be asked repeatedly by friends and family after entering their fourth year. Some students already know what’s next: graduate school, obtaining a Ph.D., or another route that requires more time being buried behind textbooks. But for those who won’t continue in higher academia, the next step is the work field. But what should we do to get there?
As a public relations student, I — along with many of my peers — am determined to graduate and get a job or internship, with no plans to return to higher education unless I decide otherwise (hello, mid-life crisis). And yes, the job market is more competitive than ever, but with everyone trying to achieve super-student levels, one can only wonder what the next generation of super students might look like.