How PR Students Can Improve Their Marketability

You want to get a job after school, right? Well you need work experience, which often comes in the form of internships. In case you haven’t figured this out yet, it’s not easy for undergrads to find the right internship – or any internship for that matter.

For those of you lucky enough to find internships, you’ll often find yourself working for little or no pay. Since most of us need money during and after college, that can be pretty tricky. It’s a catch 22 that plagues undergrads and recent grads – you need work experience to get a job, but that experience is hard to come by.

Regardless of your level of success finding and landing internships or that first PR job, there are always ways to add to your resume and portfolio and make yourself a more marketable public relations professional. Here are a few suggestions I have found helpful so far:

1. Network. This is probably the most cliché piece of advice you will hear. I’m frankly tired of hearing it. Then again, it’s hard to deny it is probably the most important thing to keep in mind through everything you do.  Each person you meet in your travels can ultimately help you in the future. There are few connections that are not worth having, and building connections and relationships is a vital part of the PR industry. Talk to professors, fellow PR majors, club advisors, and company representatives at career fairs. With online professional networks like LinkedIn, you can develop a simple way to keep in touch.

2. Become a PR chair for student organization. This is another piece of advice that may seem obvious for a PR major, but many neglect it in student organizations because there is not always a pre-established position in place. If your organization doesn’t have a PR chair, then create the position yourself.  Nearly every type of organization can benefit from solid PR initiatives. Pitch articles about what your group is doing to the local area and student newspapers, and help organize and manage any events your org holds. Pitching, interaction with the media, and event planning will stand out in terms of experience.

3. Consider writing for a student newspaper. Learn how things work from a journalist point-of-view.  You will get an idea of how journalists conduct interviews and face deadlines and how a writer crafts a story.  As a PR professional you will have a better idea of what type of information and ideas journalists find useful.  You will be able to gain an understanding of how to reach journalists more effectively and craft a smarter pitch.  Writing also gives you the opportunity to do what else but flex your writing muscles and get valuable practice.  Your work will be open to critique and on display for everyone to see, just like writing on the PR side.

4. Stay up-to-date by reading. Read every day, if only for a few min, to stay up to date on what’s going on the in the world and what’s going on the PR industry.  Reading news sites isn’t particularly exciting for a lot of college students but it will enhance your writing prowess and allow you to see how organizations use PR in real life situations.  Keep up on industry trends by reading sites like PR Daily or AdAge (and of course Journalistics!).  Next to professional experience, this is probably the best way to learn about the industry, and it will speak volumes in an interview when you are able to discuss PR intelligently.

5. Learn Microsoft Excel. Every college student graduates with the ability to use Word and PowerPoint, but almost no one I know really knows how to use Excel.  This is general advice because no, excel is not a huge part of PR, but it can be very helpful to know when you’re spending hours creating and re-organizing media contact lists.  At the very least, it’s a skill that will be useful in many other jobs and you won’t ever be lying when “Proficient in Microsoft Excel” is written on your resume.

6. Develop an online social media presence. Although displaying the trophy for winning the beer funnel chug contest is an awesome accomplishment, this is not what I’m trying to recommend.  Be active in social websites (and vigilant with your privacy settings) so employers take note of your social media prowess when they look you up.  If you are feeling ambitious, start your own blog or website.  Companies need fresh young minds that understand social networks and how they can be used for PR and marketing.  Make sure to create a LinkedIn account, so you can directly control what people read about your experience and accomplishments.

7. Seek out opportunity. Take part and be active in campus and community events.  Ask about opportunity.  Talk to teachers and other mentors about different chances to branch out (performing research, becoming a TA, etc).  Help others with opportunity.  Share leads and look out for others; you’ll be helping a friend and maybe set yourself up for a reward one day.

Most importantly- be open to opportunity.  Always be open to trying something different and always try to say yes more often than you say no.  Experience in different areas can you help you more than you may ever realize.  Sometimes you won’t expect an opportunity to present itself.  Don’t hesitate to go after these chances.  PR incorporates skills from a variety of fields, so there’s a good bet that most opportunities can be applied in a PR role.

About Vincent Paventa

Vince Paventa is a senior at Penn State University, finishing his last semester for a degree in advertising/public relations with a minor in business and liberal arts.  A proud native of NJ, Vince has experience with the digital advertising team at ZenithOptimedia New York and working in consumer public relations with Toys“R”Us, Inc. On campus, Vince has a communications position with online company Off the Quad and is a proud member and former Vice President of Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity.  Last year, he competed in the American Eagle Spring 2010 Marketing Challenge and is now lead Digital Chair for the AAF National Student Advertising Competition.  He is always looking to have a good time and knows the St. Louis Rams will win the Super Bowl in 2012.

4 Comments

  1. Great advice! I completely agree with all of your suggestions. Although not strictly in PR, I work in Corporate Communications for a non-profit organization, and I use Excel daily.

    We rely on our college interns to give us the latest perspective on how college students (whom we are trying reach with our message) use social media, so the more informed and confident students are about that the better they’ll do in internships and careers.

  2. Well said.

    I’m a college student lucky enough to have two internships this semester, even though they have little to do with PR.

    Your first point is really important however, and no matter how cliche it becomes, it is still very important. The one thing that I would add is that the first place you should look is your family and immediate connections.

    I never realized that my older brother knew so many people in social media but it turns out that he does. If he hadn’t come to me first, I never would have thought to ask him.

  3. Fantastic advice, particularly numbers 1, 6 and 7 – which, incidentally, are all fairly interconnected.

    I was an early adopter of social media, and managed to make my name fairly visible within my community. As a result, I completed 3 internships in PR agencies before graduation – the longest one, the summer before my 2nd and final year, was a paid one landed largely because someone retweeted my inquiry for positions, and someone else recognized my name. Due in large part to the experience I gained in those, I was hired within weeks of graduation into a manager position in a very established PR department…for which I was referred by someone else who saw my blog post that I had started job junting.

    I don’t think I can overstate the importance of engagement in your community – students shouldn’t make the rookie mistake of ‘networking to network’, trying to make connections that could pay off for them at some point. In the same way that engagement and offering value are necessities once you land a job, they’re essential in the run-up.

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