Posted At: March 26, 2012 2:15 PM
by Katie Bishop and Anna Ellis
Many students preparing to graduate — who have spent countless time and money on a proper education — are expecting immediate job offers post graduation. But this expectation is going to be harder than ever to fulfill, as senior-level professionals are losing their jobs and taking lower-paid positions. Entry-level PR professionals must be equipped with the skills that set us apart from and above our competition.
In his article “14 Keys and Attributes for New Public Relations Professionals,” Dave Fleet, vice president of digital media in Edelman’s Toronto office, explained that the skills PR graduates need to possess have evolved over the years. Fleet stated that although “there’s a new game to play” in PR, the recent graduate should be equipped with all the traditional PR skills. He lists 14 important, traditional skills and online skills for entry-level PR professionals. The traditional skills include writing, communication, attention to detail, media relations, proactiveness and work ethic.
Stephanie Woodham, freelance public relations professional in Columbus, Ga., stated personality can also have an effect in landing an entry-level PR position. “An ability that I consider most proficient as an entry-level PR professional is aggressive media pitching,” said Woodham. “But during the interview process a person’s personality can dictate whether they land the job; they must have an outgoing, positive attitude.”
Fleet also noted the importance of skills with online media. He lists eight attributes he considers necessary for entry-level PR professionals in this new era of PR: blogging, microblogging, social networking tools, search engine optimization, basic HTML coding, blogger relations, social media ethics and RSS.
These may be just a few of the important skills for recent PR graduates, but to be able to compete and set themselves apart from others in the field, recent grads should consider becoming comfortable with all of these skills.
The entry-level position that a PR professional decides to take can be crucial to their future success in the industry. The purpose of this entry-level position is to provide the professional with a thorough understanding of the field and, most importantly, client relations.
An entry-level PR professional may work in a PR agency or in-house for a company or organization. Some of the responsibilities range from interacting with the community, event marketing and handling business-to-business marketing to assisting customers, media planning, and coordinating marketing and promotions activities on a day-to-day basis.
Woodham’s first PR job title was storyteller at the Zimmerman Agency in Tallahassee, Fla. “Some of my day-to-day tasks included organizing PR events, planning familiarization tours, drafting and pitching press releases, client meetings and creating PR plans,” said Woodham.
Finding an entry-level position in the PR field can be difficult, mainly because companies are not always willing to hire recent graduates with less experience, but the field is not impossible to crack. If recent graduates can become familiar with the skills expected at entry-level positions, it will only better their chances of success when searching for that perfect job.
Entry-level professionals typically seek guidance on where to look when first entering the job market, but the possibilities now seem endless. As the PR field continues to gain relevance, it seems that finding a job in certain locations would become easier for recent college graduates. Metropolitan areas have always been seen as the oasis for finding jobs in PR. Luckily, that idea no longer holds to be true.
Jennifer Jenkins, president of JJPR in Mobile, Ala., believes the first order of business is to pick a city you want to work in and then begin the search.
The current location of a job applicant would never act as a hindrance. In fact, many employers – especially in PR – look to add diversity to their team.
These days, even smaller towns thrive in the PR industry. In small-to-midsized towns, you can seek out organizations with communication needs that may or may not be accounted for, such as real estate developers, manufacturers or the cities themselves.
If you have the guts to work independently, then there are no limits to the possibilities of where to work. This avenue would more than likely mean getting off to a slow start, beginning with close clients such as family, friends and even some pro-bono work. If you have self-direction and a vision, a great deal of overhead is not needed. Even if you fail to survive financially, working independently will look good to potential employers.
If you are passionate about a cause and don’t mind not earning top dollar, then nonprofits are another realm you might want to consider. You could even pitch yourself to them if the position does not exist.
According to Jenkins, searching for a job should never be a full-time focus. “There are many professionals who are willing to take students with them to professional meetings and luncheons to network with others and to hear about potential job opportunities,” Jenkins said. “Intern or take part-time jobs to get experience during your search. Idle time does not look good on a résumé.”
Of course, if one’s goal is to work at a more international agency, then working in a larger city, such as New York, Washington, D.C., or Chicago, is inevitable.
Finding a place to work where meaningful experience can be gained should be the ultimate goal for any recent college graduate. “I loved my first job because it gave me the ability to do a little of everything — writing, graphic design, event planning, media relations, you name it,” Jenkins said. “This helped me to be able to widen my skill set early on.”
Ultimately, what is of utmost importance to employers is the set of skills the applicant carries with them. According to Jenkins, these can overcome a lot of obstacles including location and experience. “Be outgoing and enthusiastic,” Jenkins said. “It is important to be a great listener, be organized, pride yourself on high ethical standards and be sincere.”