Degree in Hand, Now What?

June 2022
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Graduation season is always full of excitement and promise. With the uncertainty of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic diminishing at long last, the world is our oyster again. This time is also one of reflection, change and important decision-making. 

Perhaps you’ve just achieved a degree in public relations, journalism, digital marketing or something else under the vast communications umbrella. Now, you’re beginning to search for a job — a brave and thrilling venture into your professional career.

At this point, you likely have a clear picture of why you want to work in PR. Your degree has opened the initial gateway, and now that you have it, where is the best place to start? 

How should you dig in on what is important to you? 

With every opportunity you are considering, break them all down into buckets of importance, and drill down into those further while researching on your own and during interviews. Think about the skills that you want to develop, and explore whether the job will afford you the chance to dive into relevant duties. Ask about expectations and opportunity for growth and development. Think about what sort of workplace environment is best suited for you. 

Are you looking for a role with a mission-driven company that prioritizes empathy and diverse collaboration? Ask about how they put action to their purpose. Do you prefer to work autonomously, or is regular, hands-on leadership favorable? Ask about management styles, how feedback is delivered and what the preferred communication methods are. 

Rick Ferraro, chief communications officer at GLADD and vice president of DE&I with PRSA’s New York Chapter, encourages preliminary exploration and plenty of thoughtful questions.

“Candidates who stand out for entry-level roles are ones who do thorough homework about my organization and team before the interview. It’s easy to tell which candidates have only done a cursory scan of the homepage of our website versus those who have spent real time researching and familiarizing themselves with specific campaigns, social posts and other communications,” he said. “Committing the time and asking thoughtful questions about our work is a good indicator of the research skills and self-starter attitude that I look for in full-time hires.”

What do hiring managers want to see during the interview process? 

A PR pro needs to know what makes a great story, so you have to be able to identify what is newsworthy. As you will eventually be pitching stories to journalists, relationship-cultivation skills are important. It goes without saying that proficiency across social media platforms and an understanding of digital content will also serve you well. 

If you have experience developing pitches and writing press releases, then consider having those examples available in a shareable digital portfolio. You must be able to articulate your skills, interests, experiences and intrinsic desire to learn. 

Omar Bourne, associate vice president at Rubenstein, confirms that nerves are to be expected.

“I’m looking for someone who’s enthusiastic about learning. The interview process is nerve-racking, and I want to see that you’re willing to improve on skills you gained in college and internships to become a well-rounded, competent professional,” Bourne said. “It is essential to understanding the basics of the field, but I’m willing to work with someone who’s willing to learn and may not have mastered the basics.”

What do teams expect from you in your first months? 

The PR space is constantly expanding and evolving. It’s imperative to absorb everything you can, particularly in the early days. Consider joining professional associations that offer regular programs, training, development and networking opportunities. Consume media avidly, and be up to date on news and trends. 

In the beginning, your work will consist of media list creation, building press kits, proofreading and editing, and familiarizing yourself with journalists. You’ll also be able to observe the senior practitioners on your team. Your leaders want to see that you are capable of navigating competing deliverables, while maintaining efficiency and attention to detail in all assigned tasks. 

Ask questions, apply feedback and always be open to improving — constructive criticism is a learning opportunity. Be adaptable, flexible and ready to shift gears as needed by your team and clients. Your leaders want you to be successful, and will often challenge to push your boundaries. 

Best wishes to all recent graduates entering the PR profession! 

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