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To Work or Not to Work

Posted: April 21, 2014, 1:50 p.m.
by Maggie Jones and Morgan Daniels.

In today’s job market you can never be too prepared when it comes to getting hired at your first job out of college. Whether it be preparedness in scholastic endeavors, extracurricular activities or experience, it seems that every work place is looking for something different.

Working throughout college is popular amongst many students. We were curious if this extra hard work outside of classes was relevant when it came to applying for positions in the field of public relations. To find out, we conducted interviews with two of the leading professionals in the human resources and public relations industry, and gathered some firsthand knowledge from a hard-working graduate to gain a better idea of the current job market.

Here are the findings:

4.0 GPA vs. Working

The idea that having a job while in school allows a lower GPA accommodation doesn’t fly when it comes to public relations.

“Whether it’s an internship or a part-time job during school or their first job out of school, it’s not a competitive advantage if it hinders your schoolwork. But if it furthers your learning or career, then it is clearly an advantage,” said Laura Smith, executive director, U.S. region head of human resources at Edelman.

“I’m looking for how well they interview, connect the dots, prove relevance and provide value to my company,” said Louise Crow, director of Peritus in Birmingham, Ala. “What makes you a potential good fit for a company is proving that your skill set gained through college is well aligned with the job description and presenting that effectively with strategic packaging through a résumé.”

Sarah de Jong worked as a leasing agent while studying public relations at The University of Alabama. She maintained a 4.0 GPA and is now a staff associate at McNeely Piggot & Fox Public Relations. “I was able to have a part-time job and participate in extracurricular activities throughout college, and still graduate early, summa cum laude,” de Jong said. “It is absolutely achievable to do it all; you just need to learn time management and put serious effort into everything you do. I now have a dream job, and a part-time job helped me get to where I am today.”

“When I come across someone who has worked a part-time job while going to school full time and maintaining their grades, I am impressed. To me that is something to look for,” Smith said.

Experience in the field of public relations is clearly more beneficial for hiring purposes. But, as far as the skills acquired while working, those are something that can put you above the competition.

“You’re gaining real skills such as time management, working in a group setting, balancing personal and professional life, learning how to use a budget and a salary, and so many other skills that having a job might bring. From being a waitress and interacting with people to working at a boutique and learning sales or even volunteering at nonprofit for the experience, you are always learning something valuable,” Crow said.

“It depends on the person. I would say that having a job, especially if it was related to the field you’re going into, will give you an advantage. And if you are able to have a paid or unpaid internship, that’s going to give you an advantage as well because you have some real world experience,” Smith said.

“My customer service experience certainly helped to set me apart from other applicants. Customer service is one of the most important aspects of any job, regardless of the industry,” de Jong said.

Growing as a person and communicator is a quality that comes from working a part-time job. Balancing the responsibilities as a student and employee can help you become a well-rounded and skillful applicant.

“Find opportunities to build communications experience whether it’s working a part-time job, volunteering with a local nonprofit or helping a campus organization with publicity efforts,” said Crow. “You can find something to fit your schedule that still aligns with your interests and goals. If you need to make money, try to pick something where you can still develop relevant public relations skills.”

“While I did not have a PR-specific internship or job in college, I think that any job in college can help prepare you for the real world,” de Jong said. “To me, having a part-time job while in school shows maturity and dedication. It shows potential employers that you know how to balance work, education and free time.”


Whether it is a part-time job waiting tables or writing for the local newspaper, both outlets offer experience and thus a competitive advantage over others in the job search.

“I would say that having a job, especially if it was related to the field you’re going into, will give you an advantage,” Smith said.

“Having been out there in the real world will put you ahead of the curve. Whether it’s a PR job, a PR internship, or just problem solving using communications skills to identify solutions in anything you do speaks volumes to how you will work in the agency world. That is something we not only take into consideration but also truly value where I work,” Crow said.

“By the same token if your part-time job is at a grocery store or as a server or a bartender that doesn’t hurt you. No matter what, if you had a part-time job of some kind in school, you will have an advantage over those who didn’t, and I think that is true for every field,” Smith said.

Overall, it depends on the company or organization to which you are applying. Experience in any field is worthwhile as long as you learn something beneficial to advance you in the job market.

When it comes to whether or not having a part-time job while in school is beneficial for PR jobs and internships, we think Laura Smith said it best with this point: “It depends on the person. We have had people who have no internships with outstanding grades, and they come across as seasoned and smart, but compared to someone with two PR internships and a lower GPA, they may or may not have a competitive edge. It all depends on how well they interview. Their intellectual curiosity and ability to demonstrate critical thinking is really where they can get a competitive advantage.”

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