Congratulations to those PR students who graduated this past year and those who are graduating in 2021!
I know this isn’t how you imagined it would be — Zoom classes, masked faces you barely recognize, cancelled semester abroad, socially distant events, virtual events, and graduating in a down economy with record unemployment. This isn’t how anyone thought it would be this time last year, but here we are.
I’m reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words (from a 1960 civil rights rally at Spelman College), “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Although he spoke those words many years ago, I can’t think of a better time than now to remember them. With this in mind, let’s talk about what you’re doing amidst current adversities to keep moving forward.
We all seem to be questioning what normal looks like, so before we dive into your job search, let me reassure you it is absolutely normal to be worried and anxious about your future. Experiencing feelings of uncertainty, even dread, is normal. Note: If you feel ‘stuck’ and find it difficult to function day-to-day, please talk to someone. You are not alone! It’s also normal to not know precisely what you want to do for the next 30 years. I know almost no one who is doing now what they thought they’d be doing 10-20 years ago — including myself.
Pandemic job searching
There’s no time like now to be focusing on your job search. In our last blog post, my colleague Craig noted the reality that the public relations industry has lost numerous jobs throughout the past year. He offered these five tips (and details) to communicators looking for work during the pandemic:
- Keep your focus on the short term
- Get connected and build your virtual network
- Take this downtime to get additional professional training and education
- Tell your story in a compelling way (as only you can do)
- Stay current on this ever-changing industry
There’s no doubt that many jobs have been lost in the last 12 months. However, here is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m beginning to see job postings tick back up, which is great news! *Caveat: You may need to temper your expectations as those positions are going to be even more competitive now.
Where to start
You probably already have a resume—perhaps one you created for a writing class. That should be your starting point, but you will not likely actually use that resume in real-life. Why? Most professors still require students to keep their resumes to a single page. One page is unreasonable if you’ve had multiple internships, were involved in on- or off-campus organizations, have won awards, and have done volunteer work.
Whether you have a LinkedIn profile or not, a go-to resource for students and recent grads is the LinkedIn for Students handbook and videos. It’s a self-guided series focused on building your LinkedIn profile, and it also helps you get into the right mindset for creating your resumes, cover letters, and networking. There’s even a handy LinkedIn profile checklist.
Although I haven’t gone through this myself, there’s a new (free) LinkedIn Learning course, Job Hunting for College Grads, on finding “a job post-graduation in a struggling economy.”
My friend and PRSA colleague, Ron Culp, a PR professor and the PRAD program director at DePaul University, recently wrote about the crucial skills you need in today’s PR work environment. He discussed the need to develop ‘thick skin,’ be a team player, work on problem-solving, stay flexible, and be forward-thinking. As usual, Ron is spot-on here.
You need more than the academic knowledge you learned, like top-notch writing skills. You need emotional intelligence (or emotional quotient aka EQ) skills, too. These usually consist of self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy and relationship-building skills. Lewis PR has a great post about the importance of emotional intelligence in PR.
Be a news junkie
Especially with the rise of misinformation, disinformation, and distorted facts, being news literate is a must. News literacy goes beyond watching or listening to the morning news. To have good ‘news sense,’ you have to read the news from various sources. Don’t blindly rely on social media for news, at least not until you’ve double-verified with a reputable news source. Besides, how will you know what’s newsworthy if you haven’t mastered news literacy yourself? And, if you want to check the bias of a news source or writer, check out AllSides, whose mission is to “strengthen our democratic society with balanced news, diverse perspectives, and real conversation.”
Look beyond the title
Many of you may find you don’t have what it takes to get that entry-level job. Yes, I know that seems counter-intuitive, but in PR (and some other industries), it’s very common. Most entry-level public relations jobs ask for at least one year of experience. In some cases, they may also ask for additional skills such as graphic design, publication layout, coding and others that are historically outside the realm of traditional PR or internships. While it can seem frustrating, there is a way to get that requisite experience — a post-graduate internship. In other words, don’t worry so much about the title of the position. Instead, be sure you are moving forward with building your skillset and experience.
While I’m not advocating for accepting the first job you’re offered, I am strongly encouraging you to be flexible, broadminded, and consider things you might not have a year or two ago. As Janel Steinberg, VP of Liberty US, recently said, “…the most important thing is to get that first foothold into your career.”
Networking can never be understated. Zoom meetings, phone calls, emails, Facetime, or however you go about it, you should always be networking. Social media—specifically Twitter (and LinkedIn, of course) is a great place to meet others in the industry, especially if you take the time to participate in Twitter chats. Virtual conferences and webinars are also great places to network. If you’re still in school and on-campus, this could be through pre-professional organizations like PRSSA. Peer networking is important and beneficial, too!
Finally, whether you are a member or not, you should read the PRSA March edition of Strategies & Tactics, entitled “A New Era for Networking.” It’s chock-full of great advice, no matter where you are in your career journey.
*A version of this post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on March 9, 2021, on the Burrelles Fresh Ideas blog at https://burrelles.com/pr-graduate-job-search-pandemic-edition/ and is cross-posted here with permission.