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Living Up to Expectations- Making Your Skills More Than a Checklist

Posted At: November 1, 2012 9:30 A.M.
by Nicole Hohman

Intro to Public Relations: Check
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As graduation looms, you may be thinking, “Where do I go from here?” Your résumé is refined, and you’ve completed all necessary classes. What now?

Today, a PR pro is expected to be a jack-of-all-trades. Upon graduation, PR students have had training that touches on a variety of topics: journalism, graphic design, advertising and sales. With an education focused on formulating a well-rounded student, what other skills are expected of PR graduates?

Arik Hanson, principal of ACH Communications, outlined 10 skills for the PR pro of 2015 in a recent presentation at the 2012 Southern Public Relations Federation Conference. He included a wide range of skills, from video editing to content creation, proving the high expectations for future PR pros. As PR evolves with advancements in technology and a constantly changing society, the skills obtained through an undergraduate degree may not be enough.

Is a graduate degree the solution?

Ron Culp, author of the blog “Culpwrit” and director of the Graduate PR and Advertising Program at DePaul University, personally expects graduates to have knowledge beyond their initial education. Culp believes delving into a job first is a better option.

“If your undergraduate major is public relations, I encourage you to seek a job before considering grad school — even if outside the profession,” Culp said. “You’ll then better know where you need to focus in graduate school in order to achieve your personal goals.”

By gaining valuable experience through a job, students can evaluate what skills they need to hone or learn in order to be successful. While graduate school may be a solution for some, obtaining additional skills to exceed the high expectations of our field may simply come from experience.

Culp expects students to “hit the ground running” after graduation.

“This means being able to write well, do research beyond Google, build media lists and become billable from day one,” Culp said.

By having a vested interest in the PR field and a willingness to learn, graduates can acquire additional skills for their future. Skills such as critical thinking may not be taught in a classroom or gained through a graduate degree.

Maria Russell, public relations professor and director of Executive Education Programs at Syracuse University, believes that competency in basic PR skills will never go away.

“Those are constants,” Russell said. “But in addition, according to the study (see below) we recently completed on graduate public relations education in the United States, the senior-level professionals that make hiring decisions for their firms and organizations emphasize critical-thinking skills, problem-solving abilities.”

Not only are these additional skills expected of PR grads, but knowledge beyond skimming the surface of technological advancements is also expected.

“Right now many employers appreciate the skills of ‘digital natives’ — recent college graduates,” Russell said. “But just having social and digital skills is not enough — after all these are just new tools.”

Russell stressed the importance of employing “a well thought-out strategy behind those tools.”

Rather than obtaining the skills to execute these tasks through a graduate degree, Russell also believes having a job first is the best decision.

“Frankly, I tell my undergraduate students who are leaving a rigorous program in public relations: Get out there and work for a while,” Russell said. “Find out what you like, what you don’t like. What kind of master’s degree should you get?”

Getting a job after college provides endless potential for honing skills and gaining new experience. Also, this decision may lead to the choice to obtain a specialized degree in your preferred area of concentration.

Worried that without a graduate degree you won’t have the skills to be prepared for a job in PR? Don’t fret! There is always the opportunity to go back to school and to further your education – even while working.

The Master’s in Communications Management program at Syracuse University created by Russell is designed for working professionals. This program allows those with a minimum of five years of professional experience in PR or related fields to work full time while gaining a master’s degree. Russell said the program is offered in a format that combines short, on-campus, in-person residencies that build a community of learners with a distance learning that is flexible enough for busy professionals to study and do assignments at times convenient to them.

“These are accomplished people but they are smart enough to know that one can never stop learning,” Russell said. “They’ve accomplished the skills of public relations; now they want to be better at managing the function.”

As Russell said, this program truly is the “best of both worlds.”

With or without a graduate degree, students must be passionate enough about the profession to have the urge to learn new skills beyond those taught in their classes. Both Culp and Russell stressed hard work, a positive attitude and love for public relations.

When asked what she expects from PR graduates, Russell said, “I hope that they love the field that they are entering. I hope they have thought about how to take the skills earned in the classroom and in internships and plan to match them with something they are passionate about.”

What skills on your checklist do you need to polish to get you where you want to be?

Final Note from Maria Russell: The study above was unveiled at the PRSA conference in San Francisco. Funding came from The PRSA Foundation and from The Plank Center. The full set of recommendations can be found at: Students considering graduate school should find it informative because right now there are no standards in graduate public relations education, and this report can give them some insights as to what they should be looking for in a high-quality master’s program.

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  1. Post comment

    Last year I went to a Real World PR conference and one of the main things professionals stressed was experience. I never understood the full effect experience had until this year. The reason I was offered my current job is because I gained experience through my internship, which my classes prepared me for. I have heard numerous times that most students who intern at the company I work for get jobs right out of college simply based on experience.

    I can relate to this article because during my time at the company, I have grown a passion for broadcast PR. I know it is the field I want to work in through the experience I have gained while still in school. I will be able to work in many different areas of the field and still be able to use my PR knowledge, which is a plus. In a few years I plan on getting my master’s, but as for now I am going to test out this field and make sure it is what want to learn more about in graduate school.

  2. Post comment

    As I am one year from graduation, I find myself facing the graduate school versus job dilemma. The majority of professors I have had throughout my undergraduate experience have stressed the importance of getting a job first to discover exactly what it is I want to accomplish by getting a master’s degree. Graduate school is extremely costly, and even if the first job is not the “dream job,” at least it pays. Many college students fear they will not have a job at all upon graduation because of unemployment rates and discouraging statistics, and this forces students into graduate school. Graduate school is often seen as a way of killing time instead of truly furthering education. Most students approaching graduation fear the future primarily because it is unknown. “Will I have a job?” “Will I hate my job if I even get one?” These questions go through my mind as well as many others, and I believe that these questions lead many people to turn to graduate school as the safe option.

    Public relations is an ever-changing field that requires constant efforts to stay ahead of the game. Job experience gives PR professionals real-life education and practical skills while graduate school provides networking opportunities as well as an additional degree. Both options have great success rates, so students fearing their choice between the two as graduation approaches need not fret.

  3. Post comment

    While grad school has several benefits, such as networking, new knowledge and credibility, I often wonder if it would be worth the investment. I have spoken directly to a few PR firms. It is interesting to hear where the employees gained their experience. I was surprised to find out that the majority of people working at the firms had never taken a class in public relations. They came from many different fields of expertise and PR just happened to be where they landed after graduation. They all stressed the importance of experience and learning on the job. I often wonder where I will go from graduation, but I know the direction I take will involve constant learning and growth. PR is always changing; it is important that we stay informed. Contrastingly, I have heard from several people who attribute their success to what they learned in grad school. I believe both paths can lead to an outstanding outcome.

  4. Post comment

    I have been having the grad school versus job argument with myself for the last few months, so this article was a great read. I have been constantly pondering whether a graduate degree or a job would push me farther right out of school. It was interesting to read this professional’s thoughts. I think Ms. Russell makes a good point about figuring out what you really like before investing in higher education. It might not be a bad idea to get a job first, even if it isn’t the job of my dreams.

  5. Post comment

    Great article – completely agree that you need some ‘real world’ experience before grad school. Being accountable for helping a company provide a good or service to clients helps you understand how your skills and knowledge should be applied. Knowing what you need to polish up on and where your biggests strenghts are is key to choosing appropriate career goals that will allow you to succeed on a larger level.


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