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Skills Entry-Level PR Hires Should Have

starting lineThree months from now, the class of 2013 will walk across the stage to collect their diplomas and immediately have a panic attack when they realize it’s time to look for that first job out of college. First, let me give you a piece of advice – you have the rest of your life to work, take the summer and explore the world if you have that luxury. That’s something I wish I had done (I started my first job the day after graduation).

For those of you that need to get a job – you know, like yesterday – I thought it would be helpful to share my perspective on the skills I believe most employers are looking for in a PR hire. The reality is, if you’re a recent grad and don’t have these skills, you’ll have a harder time finding that first job. If you’re an undergraduate, learn from this post – so you’ll be in a better place 2, 3 or 4 years from now.

First, Writing Skills

No matter what you’ve heard about all that sexy social media stuff, you still need to know how to write in PR. Ideally you majored in Journalism (or English) – or your PR or Communications program had a heavy concentration of writing-related courses. You should be able to walk into your first job interview with any (or all) of the following:

  • Sample articles you wrote (bonus points if you had them published) – the best examples from my perspective are newspaper articles (online or print) and magazine articles (again, bonus points if you have both consumer and business examples)
  • A variety of writing samples – articles on a wide-range of subjects, press release samples, blog posts and perhaps entire press kits
  • New media writing sample examples – blog posts, tweets and Facebook posts are great – no, not your personal ones, but rather ones you wrote on behalf of an organization
  • Long-form writing, such as research reports or in-depth public relations plans

If you don’t have writing samples like those referenced above, consider seeking out internships this summer and volunteering to write anything you can to build up your portfolio. You may want to take on a client of your own to start gathering work examples – consider helping out a family or friend with their business, or volunteer for a local non-profit organization or church.

Bonus tip: Keep in mind that most prospective employers will give you a writing test or have you write something on the spot during the screening process. Writing proficiency will be the difference between you getting a second interview and a rejection letter.

Second, Internship Experience

Whether through your coursework or on your own during breaks, you should be able to share your experience across a couple of different internships. Ideally, with agencies or larger organizations. You should be able to show examples of stories you pitched and placed, or campaigns you worked on and generated results for. Being able to demonstrate that you can work in the communications department or on an account team and be a contributor on day-one is a huge plus for prospective employers. The more “real” work you can show, the better.

Bonus tip: sure you can talk about your internship experience, but if you prepare a case study or presentation on the work you did, you would make a stronger impression. Being able to talk about the results you generated and the impact they had is more impressive than showing a press release you wrote. Focus on the results.

Third, Social Media Experience

I put social media experience third for a reason. It’s less important than the examples I shared above. That said, this experience will put you ahead of candidates who are your equal when it comes to writing and internship experience. If you’ve developed your own presence in social media throughout college – writing a blog, or building a following on Facebook, Instagram or any other social media, this experience is particularly relevant for getting your first job. You need to be able to demonstrate you are proficient in using these tools, because clients and organizations are looking for employees who can help manage their brand voices across these channels. Bonus points if you’re using emerging channels like Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr or SnapChat – just a couple that are of particular importance at the moment.

With this set of skills, it’s more important that you understand how to use the tools than the content you’ve shared here. You should be able to demonstrate that you understand the fundamental differences in how these tools work – whether it’s conducting research to identify influencers, or you’re well-versed in some new tips and tricks for using the platforms beyond their core capabilities. For example, if you’re using Pinterest images on a blog and driving traffic back and forth in some unique way, this would impress most interviewers. If you used these social platforms to build an audience for a client during an internship or coursework, even better. Finally, if you know how to use analytics tools – either those built into the platforms, or third-party apps for reporting on audience growth, community activity or traffic generated from these platforms, event better.

Bonus tip: most employers will check you out on social media. Make sure your accounts are up-to-date before you apply for a job. It wouldn’t hurt to have a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter account and a Facebook profile for starters. You might want to “check-in” on Foursquare – or Tweet – when you arrive for your interview. I’m surprised by how many people I’ve interviewed for social media jobs that don’t do this. We want to see that you know how to use these tools – and that you’ve done your legwork to check us out before you show up as well.

Fourth, Multimedia Experience

I don’t expect most students to have the following skills out of college. If they have all the skills mentioned above, but also bring these unique ones to the table, it’s hard to pass up on the hire. So what are these skills? Here are a couple that stand out:

  • You have a blog you’re managing that generates revenue (e.g. you have ads on your blog or use AdWords to generate money from your blog) – this shows that you know how to not only produce content that attracts and audience, but that you’re also able to setup and customize a blog – these are advanced skills.
  • You know how to use Photoshop or the equivalent to alter images – this can be as simple as putting words over a funny cat picture or graphic, or something more advanced like creating your own infographics. If you know how to use image editing software, this is an incredibly relevant skill for public relations and content marketing today.
  • You know how to shoot, edit and post video to platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, etc. If you are skilled with video, and can actually show a video you produced and generated views on, this will make you stand out. Most people I work with are still learning how to do this.
  • You know something about SEO – like how the Google Panda update changes the game for how content is ranked on Google. You know how to conduct keyword research and leverage SEO tactics to help people discover your content on blogs and websites. Typically, if you have a blog as mentioned in the bullet above, you have some of these skills already.
  • Finally, you know how to code. This one is far-fetched, but if you know how to program – not just HTML, but a little PHP or Javascript, you probably don’t need to get a job. You can probably do your own thing and make more money right out of college (if you’re not already doing that). That said, if you have these skills, good for you. I’ll probably want to hear from you.

I’m not saying that you NEED to have these skills above to get your first job – but if you DO have these skills, you won’t be looking for a job very long. The more skills from this list that you have, the better your chances of getting a job in PR or marketing. The PR industry has changed dramatically in the 15 years since I graduated. At the time, if you had a couple of internships and a strong writing portfolio, you were a shoe-in at most agencies. Nowadays, there are far more graduates out there, and fewer jobs to go around. There’s a supply and demand problem in the market today and you can increase your odds of success by adding more to your resume before you hit the job hunt trail.

What skills from this list do you have? If you’re a prospective employer, do you agree or disagree with my assessment? What experience should new hires have on day one, versus what they can learn on the job? Please share your thoughts below.

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • http://iliyanastareva.com/ Iliyana (@IliyanaStareva)

    Thanks for this blog post. Very informative with some truly great tips.
    There’s just one thing I am not sure I agree with (or want to agree with), namely, that you should have majored in Journalism, English or PR and Communications. I am about to graduate with a Double Degree BA in International Business, but I have still managed to develop my writing skills during a total of almost one year of internships in PR and Social Media Marketing. I hope that my degree wouldn’t put me at a disadvantage, but on the contrary – having a business degree means that I look at clients work from a different perspective understanding the way their companies operate and their needs.
    Jeremy, what is your opinion on this and your advice for graduates from non PR related degrees on how to start their PR careers?

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      You’ll have better luck going to work in the marketing or communications department of a Fortune 500 company than you will breaking into the agency scene. Unless of course you can demonstrate your capabilities through internship experience and a portfolio of writing samples – which is sounds like you can.

      I wouldn’t say you’re at a disadvantage – it sounds like you have many of the skills I outlined, but majored in business. In some ways, this might actually work in your favor (strong differentiator). Best of luck to you!

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  • http://www.typicalsarahstuff.com Sarah Tiambeng

    This is a great post though definitely a scary thing to read for some entry-level PR peeps. I think to continue personal growth in this industry you will eventually pick up some, if not all of these skills however some of it will be on personal time rather than on the job or at an internship. How would you suggest highlighting some of these skills on a resume?

  • Grace Freeberg

    Great post, all future PR and Journalism professionals should take a look at this before graduating. Thank goodness I have all of the four main skills checked off my list! Thus far I would say that the area I am lacking in would be multimedia experience, even though I have a small amount of skill there from high school, but thanks to my Convergent Media class I think I will be catching up very soon.
    I agree with what you said about having majored in Journalism or English (or a PR or Communications program that involved rigorous writing training). I do not think that most other majors–including business–place as much emphasis on writing as these four majors do. This is not to say that amazing writers cannot come out of business programs or science programs or art programs, it is just less likely due to the lack of emphasis. I was a decent writer in high school, but my journalism courses have increased my writing skills so much over the past few years. I would consider my journalism classes invaluable to my writing skills, whereas my marketing classes did not help me in this area.

  • http://mbmarcom Mary Beth Griffin

    Thanks for putting social media third. As important as social media is the basics still count. And knowing your audience dictates the message and the medium.

  • http://heckmanpr.wordpress.com Stephanie

    I loved this posting! I’ve tackled the first three steps and am currently working on the fourth step. While I have experience with social media, I need to gain more experience in Photoshop, video and audio editing and other tech skills. I also agree with your recommendation to major in a writing-intensive major. I’m on my fourth internship during college; employers seem to love that I’ve studied strategic communication with courses in PR and journalism.

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  • Tracie Noel

    Thank you for this excellent information. I am not a recent grad, but looking to re-enter the job market in PR, so I still found your list very relevant. Fortunately I have many of the skills you discuss! Would you have any suggestions as to where I could learn more about SEO, though? That is an area where I am definitely lacking. The other would be the use of third-party analytics apps; though I’m familiar with some of the built-in tools, I have not had the opportunity to use the other. Any advice you might have would be appreciated as I would love to add to my “skill bank” in these areas! Thanks again.

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  • http://www.mediamakersconsulting.wordpress.com Bill McColl

    Excellent point about writing. As a former senior producer in TV and radio now in media consulting, I’ve been surprised to see so many PR releases that are overly wordy and more importantly, “bury the lead” about the client. Just a basic understanding of Journalism 101 can really go a long way towards putting together a more focused and stronger release.

  • http://bookpublicityservices.com/ Kelsey McBride

    Great post! I would add SEO as a skill entry-level PR hires should have. As a publicist, I am finding that PR and SEO combined can provide long lasting results in a PR campaign. In order to have high search engine rankings you need to combine public relations (PR) and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies.

  • Chelsea

    Great post, Jeremy. As a senior PR student myself, I couldn’t help nodding and agreeing with everything you said during this post. I am a senior at Kent State University in Ohio and I can honestly say that my JMC (journalism and mass communication) program has prepared me with everything you said. Even though I moan and groan about creating videos and posting them on YouTube, I can see now how they are vital skills that may make me stand out when applying for my first job. I’ve grown to love the field of PR and have a newly respected outlook for journalists after taking three journalism classes (one of them reporting for the school newspaper). This post has great information for me as I am getting ready to apply for another internship, and soon, applying for my first “big girl” job. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      Thanks for your comment Chelsea. Feel free to reach out if I can be a resource for any of those “big girl” job seeking challenges. I know KSU has a top-notch program. I wish you the best of luck in your search.

  • Katie Egan

    I’m going to graduate with a communication degree in December and I just got my first entry level job as a content writer. This is dead on and really, really helpful. Even though I just got a job, I still want to expand my skills and now I know what I should focus on next. Thanks!

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      Thanks for sharing your situation Katie – and congrats on getting your first job ahead of graduation (I did that too). It would be great if you could share any additional tips for students who are still in school. It’s one thing for me to share advice from the hiring side of the table – another to hear from actual job seekers (or in your case, job finders). Thanks again!

  • http://www.jenniferncrane.com Jennifer C.

    This is completely accurate. At least in my experience. I’m a PR student graduating tonight who started an “entry-level” job with a corporation in the marketing department back in March. I had several internships and wrote for a community paper for a year. I brought with me experience that other people didn’t have (blogging, basic video skills). I had tons of examples of my work to show and I beat out two veteran PR pros for this position. They said they were looking for someone with 3-5 years experience, and my four years of various internships and my concrete experience got me the job. Now I work in community relations and manage much of the internal communication.

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