20 pieces of advice for public relations students

Twenty words of wisdom for public relations students based on 20 years of working in PR. Some of the advice was told to me. Others were lessons learned.

  1. Writing is a fundamental PR skill. Turning out clean, clear and compelling copy on deadline gets you to the front of the hiring line. Write and read constantly. Go on a steady diet of newspapers, magazines, books and novels.
  1. Start doing informational interviews long before you graduate. Ask for 30 minutes and talk with people who are doing your dream job. Ask for their advice and what they look for in new hires. Never ask for a job or leave a resume. Always send a thank-you card (not a tweet, text or email).
  1. In cover letters, it’s all about what you can do for the employer and not why the employer should hire you. No one owes you a job.
  1. Take the initiative and do your homework before a job interview (a surprising number of job seekers don’t do this). Google the employer and person who’s interviewing you. Ask smart and informed questions during your job interview. Make it more of a conversation than a monologue.
  1. Be friendly and polite with all the admin and executive assistants you meet before your job interviews. Sometimes, they’re asked for their opinion of you.
  1. First impressions count. It doesn’t matter if you’ve sent out 100 resumes and only received 20 rejection letters and four interviews. Smile and be enthusiastic the moment you walk into the room for your interview. Be the absolute best version of yourself. If you’re not excited when auditioning for a job, what will you be six months in when the honeymoon’s over and the routine sets in?
  1. Employers don’t care about your transcripts and grade point averages. They don’t care that you got the highest marks. They care about the projects you worked on for real clients. They care what your professors, the clients you worked for on class projects and past employers have to say about you.
  1. Competition for jobs is fierce. You’re up against college and university grads with the same or similar credentials. You’re also competing with working journalists. So what’s unique about you? What sets you apart from the rest? Tell that story in your interview. Focus more on what you did while you were in school and less on what you learned.
  1. Never speak ill of previous bosses, colleagues and classmates during job interviews. Always stay on the high road.
  1. You are what you tweet. Employers will check you out on social media so clean up your accounts. sexkitten@gmail.com, racist rants and Instagram pics of you getting drunk on a Thursday night will do you no favours.
  1. Your skills and education will get you the interview. Your attitude will get you the job. Your boss is hiring for fit. Can they see themselves working with you for eight hours a day? Will that experience be energizing or exhausting?
  1. Hiring isn’t a whole lot of fun. It’s wading through hundreds of resumes. It’s long hours in a windowless room asking the same questions over and over. And all the while, work is piling up back in the office.  Be the low-risk and drama-free candidate that the employer is hoping will walk into the interview room.
  1. Hiring is a high-stakes proposition. Your boss wants to be known for spotting, hiring and developing great talent.
  1. Your boss isn’t your mom or dad and doesn’t want to be your best friend. Keep it professional at all times.
  1. Pay your dues. Be one of the first to arrive and last to leave at work. Be willing to work nights, weekends and however long it takes to get the job done. Your commitment will be duly noted.
  1. Don’t expect gold stars and constant praise from your boss. Doing an outstanding job to the absolute best of your abilities should be its own reward.
  1. Keep learning and stay curious. Stay up on the latest trends in PR and your industry. Shamelessly steal great ideas. If you’re not writing the annual report and business plan, read it cover to cover. Match your work to your employer’s priorities.
  1. Be good at everything and great at one thing. Play to your greatest strength and do it better than anyone else. Build your reputation around one area of expertise that it’s heavy demand and short supply.
  1. Aim to hit a home run once a year with a  cool career-defining project at work or in the community. Do something that will wow a future boss and impress your kids and grandkids.
  1. Treat everyone with respect. If you’re not getting respect in return, start looking for a new job. Life’s too short and you deserve better.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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