How to Stand Out: Entry-Level Job Edition

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Published on November 6, 2017, at 9:01 a.m.
by Lexi McKenzie.

As the end of semester approaches too quickly for comfort, so does the anxiety about making summer internship plans or finding a full-time, entry-level job.

There are specific things one should do when applying for jobs and other things that should be avoided when completing the process.

It is important to talk to seasoned professionals and do some research to distinguish yourself from other applicants and to get a head start.

While applying
Jane Dvorak, APR, Fellow PRSA, 2017 PRSA national chair and owner of JKD & Co, said one of the most important ways public relations students can stand out is by understanding that applying for a job position is not about them, but about the company that is looking to hire.

“The employer cares about how you’re going to make their team better, how you’re going to be an asset to the group, and they want to know how you’re going to help drive initiatives and elevate their communication and PR activities,” said Dvorak.

Skillsets are fairly consistent across the board, and, according to Dvorak, applicants set themselves apart by their work ethic and character. Almost everyone applying for a communications job can write a press release, but the ability to think and problem solve is what employers are really looking for, she said.

John Kyte

John Kyte, managing director at Burson-Marsteller for 17 years and owner of Kyte Consulting, said the single, most-important skill is writing. If you cannot write, you cannot be successful working in PR or communication fields.

“Writing is not easy work. A lot of people think they are good writers and they are not,” said Kyte. “If you work at it, you can teach yourself to become a good writer.”

PR practitioners and students need to be meticulous with their writing if they want to get better. Kyte said they need to read good writing and get better writers to edit their work if they expect to improve.

Another skill that can set one apart is knowing how to utilize social media. “You don’t have to be a full-on expert, but you need to know how to use and produce content,” said Kyte. “You should be knowledgeable and be able to speak the language.”

Before applying for a job, it is crucial to understand how that company does business and how it makes money. To fully understand the company, applicants need to know its competitors and any issues it is currently addressing.

“The skillsets are what get you in the door,” said Dvorak. “What gets you the job is how you fit and if you understand how the company does business.”

Jane Dvorak

While interviewing
There are many things to avoid when interviewing, but there are some oversights seasoned PR professionals say are immediate turn-offs for interviewers.

“A common mistake is they don’t understand that the interview is a conversation between two people,” said Dvorak.

A seemingly obvious mistake interviewees tend to make is not answering a question thoroughly.

“I like to ask are you more of a writer, a planner or a creative,” said Dvorak. “If they tell me, ‘Well, I like to write and I’m a good planner,’ they aren’t answering my question.”

Employers prefer their questions answered directly, so they can know exactly who they are hiring and how they would fit into the company’s dynamic.

Kyte advised that after the background research is finished, it is helpful to come up with a few “smart” questions to use if there is a lull in the conversation or if the employer asks for any questions at the end of the interview.

“Be ready to deliver your ‘A’ game but be careful from sounding like you are entitled,” said Kyte. Interviewees need to sound confident when they speak but a sense of entitlement is something that most interviewers will not appreciate.

While still in college
All of this talk about applying and interviewing for jobs and internships can get overwhelming. It can be difficult even knowing where to begin. Here are some tips experienced PR practitioners have to offer to make oneself more marketable in college:

“You can always volunteer,” said Dvorak. “Do what you love, be on the communications committee for a nonprofit or plan an event for an animal shelter.”

Dvorak said students can make their own opportunities when looking for more PR experience. “Ask to observe a strategic planning meeting for a nonprofit you think is cool or ditch a day of school to go to a professional luncheon.”

She said when students skip a class, they should not do it because they “partied too hardy” the night before, but instead, to invest in themselves and their future.

Another way students can make themselves more marketable in college is to get involved in extracurriculars to develop their writing skills.

“Work for the student publication or TV station on campus,” said Kyte. “That is the single most valuable thing because you get actual experience and can have published work to use for your portfolio.”

Parting advice
Both Kyte and Dvorak have more than 30 years of experience, and with their years in the industry come observations and advice for the younger, inexperienced generation looking for internships and entry-level jobs.

“Be persistent and politely aggressive,” said Kyte. No one is going to fight for a job for you, he explained; students need to do it for themselves.

“Don’t be so afraid to fail; every job is going to have some component you don’t know and need to learn,” said Dvorak. “Get out and get a job.”

Dvorak advises students not to wait for what they think is their “dream job” because young professionals will not even know what it is for at least 10 years. Students need to discover where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and they can only do that by getting out there and gaining experience and first learning what they don’t like.

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