Here are a few guidelines to getting an entry-level job in PR. It’s easier to break into the industry in some countries compared to others due to employment laws, but these points should get you started:
Definition – know what PR is and what it isn’t. I always ask candidates to tell me the difference between PR and advertising. If you can’t answer, you need to research this further. It’s surprising how many people want to get into PR, without understanding what it involves. Make sure you’re not one of them.
Education – if you know you want a PR career before selecting your degree, then choose something directly related. There are now public relations degrees. Mass communications, marketing or journalism degrees will also be directly relevant.
Sector – choose which vertical industry sector you want to focus on. Make sure it’s something that interests you. You will be talking about that topic everyday in quite granular detail. Take technology for example, it’s not just about computers, tvs and cell phones. More likely it’s about the software which designs the silicon chip inside each of those.
If you don’t feel engaged with the sector, you will most likely do 24 months and move on, so save yourself the disruption.
If you are interested in a sector, then learn as much as you can about it prior to interviews. What are the main trends? Who are the movers and shakers? What are the main publications, events etc? Also bear in mind that some sectors pay better than others. In beauty PR, remuneration may be lower than healthcare for example.
Agency or in-house? - most entry-level jobs will be in an agency. Agency life will give you broad experience of a number of campaigns, but not allow you to go as deep. Progression at an agency is likely to be faster, and if you’re interested in a managerial role, opportunities will probably arise sooner. But an in-house role may be more complex, more stable and more lucrative.
Internships – the definition of internship varies by country – in some it’s just a few weeks, in others months. Regardless of the length, get at least two different internships before applying for your final role. This will help you decide if PR is really for you – it’s not all champagne and parties. It’ll also give you a feel for the tasks you’ll be charged with, whether you like agency or in-house, and which industry you like. You’ll also learn more about which firms are the good ones to work with when it comes to applying for positions.
Treat any internship as an extended interview. Many firms invest time and money into internship programs to give them a prolonged look at potential recruits. If you are interested in a permanent role with the firm, make that clear towards the end. Agencies are always looking for good people, even if the listings on their website don’t say so. But if not, keep in touch with your prior internship companies – you’ll need them for references and they may reach out to you later when a position crops up.
Applying – the rules of applying for a job in PR are the same as any professional organization. First impressions count, as does a personal approach and follow up. Make sure your resume and cover letter are spelt correctly. PR types are anal about that. if there’s more than one typo – bang, you’re out. Don’t be creative with your resume and cover letter. Attaching tea bags, crazy shapes and colors, putting it on a CD, sending it in a box or on a Flash website might all seem like a good idea, but I’m afraid nine times out of ten, it’ll have been done before, better and probably failed. You have to be creative in PR, it’s just a prerequisite – don’t apply if you are not. More important to you at this point is credibility – and a pink resume with flowers on doesn’t do that.
Interviews – it’s likely there will be a phone interview first. This is a screening call to ask some basic questions and flesh out your resume. Make sure you are on a landline in a quiet place. Prepare and be ready on time. The questions will be straightforward, and have a few of your own ready, equally just basic ones at this point, perhaps about the selection process.
Second round interviews will be face to face. Be prepared to have people wheel in and out, sometimes with several people at once. An interview is a two-way process, you have to feel comfortable with your potential employer as much as it does with you. The people coming through want to know if they can work with you, and you should make a call about that too. Cultures vary, so try out several to see what fits you.
Again, there are plenty of other resources to learn about interview techniques. Do turn up in a suit, even if they are casual – it shows respect. Do turn up on time. Do know the names of the people interviewing you and have done your homework on them. If it’s an agency, learn about some of their clients. If it’s an in-house role, look at the recent news and be prepared to comment on it. Don’t bs in the interview – you’ll get caught out and if you don’t you’ll likely fail down the line.
Follow up after the interview with a swift email. You may also have to do some assessments or provide writing samples so have those to hand.
Working in PR – the first few years in PR are some of the hardest, but also some of the most exhilarating. You’ll learn a lot about the media, about the sector, about the art and science of PR, about teamworking and management, and about yourself. Be prepared to work long hours (occasionally) and sometimes to do fairly basic tasks. There’s a lot of admin involved in PR – mounting coverage, drafting reports, refining press lists, researching shows etc. Those above you will have done their fair share no doubt, and technologies like extranets and RSS are removing some of it. It’s important to get this grounding and the skills of attention to detail, hitting deadlines, and organization that they give you. Most of all though, you’ll have started on a road which will take a lifetime to master. So enjoy it and good luck.