As the fall semester approaches, college seniors are facing the realization that this is their last year as a college undergraduate. Two more semesters—a short ten months—and these students will be entering the workforce, many with the hope of beginning careers as PR practitioners. With the job market as competitive as it is today, soon-to-be graduates need to start thinking about how they can make themselves stand out to prospective companies and businesses.
There are a multitude of ways to make this stressful time a little less intimidating by being prepared for the next major milestone. Thinking ahead and taking advantage of the opportunities that are offered while still in college can end up being the deciding factor for getting a job. Here are some helpful tips for upcoming graduates to consider before entering the workforce as PR professionals:
Pick Classes That Matter
While it may be tempting to take that easy elective in the last semester of college, don’t. Choose classes that will give you the opportunity to expand your knowledge and test your capabilities.
In the fall semester of my senior year, I spoke with my advisor and asked if I could take a restricted elective from the journalism major because I had never had any training in that form of writing and reporting. It ended up being the most challenging course I had ever taken. I had to fight harder in that class to get a good grade than I had in any other class. This course made me learn something highly valuable—that so much of PR writing is learning how to write less. Taking that journalism class helped me become more proficient in that skill, and it improved my ability to write pitches, press releases and even emails for my current position at a PR agency.
Throughout your college career and moving forward into your professional career, you will come in contact with hundreds of people. Begin to develop relationships that you can grow and learn from.
During my first semester in the PR major at my university, I had a professor that was incredibly passionate about her career in PR. She was also my advisor, and she was there for me throughout the remaining years of my college career. Even now, after graduation, she and I stay in touch and she offers me advice constantly about how to tackle some of the obstacles that come with the territory of starting a new career in public relations.
Some crucial advice I took from her was the importance of maintaining a professional presence on social media. Employers aren’t naïve enough to think that college students have never partied, but it's important to be able to accept professional contacts on various social media sites without having to worry about portraying a negative image on those platforms.
Great Interview—Now Follow Up
One of the most intimidating parts of the job hunt is the interview process. Going into an unfamiliar place to meet with a stranger and convince them that you are qualified and deserve the position that you have your heart set on can be very stressful. Gain experience by accepting as many interviews as you can.
Even if the job you're offered an interview for isn't your dream job, go on the interview anyway. It's good practice. Anticipate questions and have some of your own to ask. Interviewers want to see that you have something to offer to their company, so don’t be afraid to bring your personality to the table. Be yourself—in moderation, of course.
Don’t forget to follow up. Send an e-mail thanking your interviewer for his/her time and stating that you are interested in the position or learning more about the company. It also doesn’t hurt to send a copy of your résumé or a relevant writing sample to remind them of what a great candidate you are.
Interning: The Best Thing You Can Do in College
Interning is an invaluable experience that can, in many cases, lead to a full-time job after graduation.
Take advantage of the businesses and companies that are willing to take on interns and share their knowledge with you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, speak up in brainstorms or offer ideas for a project you’re working on. If there is a task you want to be a part of, ask for a spot on the team. Show initiative—the more effort you put into the tasks you are asked to work on, the better.
This isn’t high school anymore, and that media kit isn’t going to finish itself overnight. Take the time to work on the assignments and projects you are given because they will turn into things that can be used in a portfolio or become a talking point in an interview.
I took a magazine writing course and had to submit an article for publication. After many edits and reviews from my professor and peers, I sent the article out and ended up getting it published. That piece of writing has consistently piqued the interest of interviewers, and it still makes me proud to see my name printed at the bottom of that article.
With graduation on the horizon and time flying by, take a deep breath and realize that there is still time to take advantage of the opportunities surrounding you. Develop qualities that will increase your chances of landing a job in the career you want, not in one you’re settling for. Work hard and go the extra mile so you have something extra special to celebrate after you walk across the stage in that cap and gown.
Sydney Holmquist is a PR assistant at Vantage PR.
Follow Sydney Holmquist on Twitter: @accordingtosyd
Looking for a job in PR? Check out PR News' Top Places to Work Luncheon in New York City on September 16.