Five Back-to-School Tips for Public Relations Students

flickr user katerha under CC BY license

flickr user katerha under CC BY license

Mentoring, advising and otherwise helping PR students is a passion of mine. You may know that I’ve previously written about what public relations students should do during their summer break, what PR students can do to build their personal brand, and more. If you are an underclassman, you have the advantage of time; however, if you are entering your senior year, there is no time but the present.

Here is a mash-up of those tips (and some new ones) to help put you on the right path to becoming a new public relations / communications professional.

  • First things first, clean-up and refine your online presence—including your social media accounts. Google yourself (be sure to hide personal results by clicking the globe in the upper right)–and don’t forget Bing and Yahoo!. If the first page results do not represent you and who you are, immediately begin digital damage control. (This is even more important if you have a common name or have a dubious doppelgänger out there.) There are free tools to help you keep an eye on your online reputation –personally, I use BrandYourself.

Human Resources professionals will likely tell you they look at LinkedIn profiles but not a candidate’s Facebook page or other social media, as they are prohibited by law to access any information that could be used in a discriminatory way. However, they will also admit that many hiring managers do vet job candidates through online/social sleuthing. Proof in point: According to the 2013 Jobvite study, 94 percent of recruiters use or plan to use social media in their recruitment efforts.

  • Read, write, repeat. Reading exercises your brain. Writing is a skill that requires practice. But it’s more than that. Reading improves your vocabulary, makes you a better conversationalist, gives you a broader understanding of language and improves your storytelling skills (a key component of public relations). Sure, industry-related content is important but also read general news and (try to) read for fun as well.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~Stephen King

  • Volunteer. Get involved with an on-campus pre-professional organization (like PRSSA, AMA or AAF). That doesn’t mean show-up once or twice a month and sit through a guest speaker or meeting. Run for office and/or lead a committee (demonstrates leadership). Head-up a fundraising event, volunteer to be part of a team, work in the student-run PR firm (if there is one). If you have free time, volunteer at a local non-profit organization and offer to help with public relations, marketing, social media, blog content creation, special events. Do something that’s going to give you experience and help sharpen your skills—it all counts!
  • Network—virtually and IRL. Seek out and follow industry leaders on Twitter, LinkedIn groups, and blogs so you can learn from the pros; but don’t just lurk—participate! Attend industry events (not just those for students but where there will be pros as well). Research agencies, organizations, companies that you would like to intern with or work for.  Develop and practice your elevator speech; you should have a 30-second spiel that is memorable and opens a window to your personality, your passions and your mindset. Not a laundry list of skills, rather what you can offer to a potential employer. Use your smartphone to record yourself so you can play it back and make improvements. Then, reach out to your targets and request an informational interview. If face-to-face isn’t an option, Skype or Google+ Hangouts are good alternatives. Ask what (coursework, degrees, activities, skill sets) they are looking for when hiring. Ask, given identical academic backgrounds, what makes some candidates standout above the rest. Doing this NOW allows you time to make a quick change to a more pertinent elective, audit a course or self-teach additional skills.
  • Create an online portfolio if you haven’t already. Gather writing samples from internships, volunteer gigs, blog posts, class assignments. Be sure to include any public relations or marketing plans you’ve created, press releases, anything written in AP Style, newspaper/media clippings, presentations, creative design samples, reference letters, special certifications, etc. (NOTE: If you are including any work that was done as part of a group, be sure to notate this and identify which part you actually did.) PR professionals must view themselves as “brands”—it’s a very competitive industry. Your online portfolio, business cards, blog, resume, etc. should all present one cohesive message.

What else should students be doing to prepare for their PR career?  If you are a student or recent graduate, what have you done (or are doing) that’s helped to progress your career?

This post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on September 2, 2014, on the BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas blog at http://www.burrellesluce.com/freshideas/2014/09/five-back-to-school-tips-for-public-relations-students and is cross-posted here with permission.
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Building Your Personal Brand

As promised in my last post, here are more tips from the St. Louis PRSA Career Development Day. Digital marketing maven and Director of Marketing at Cantor & Burger Staci Harvatin gave the luncheon keynote on building your personal brand.

To demonstrate why your digital personal brand matters, Harvatin quoted a few statistics from a 2013 Jobvite survey:

StaciHarvatinPreso

  • 94 percent of recruiters use or plan to use social media to recruit and vet candidates
  • 78 percent of recruiters have made a hire through social media
  • 42 percent have reconsidered a job candidate based on their social media activity

That certainly got the audience’s attention—pros and students alike!

She went on to say that an active brand is the best brand. Many recruiters use Twitter to vet candidates for their style, attitude and communication aptitude—soft skills, things that are difficult to determine from a traditional resume. Her tips to building your brand online included:

  • Use consistent profile pictures across your various platforms
  • Claim vanity URLS on all profiles that you’re able to
  • Pay attention to your bio—this is your professional “elevator pitch” to sell yourself, but should also include some insight into who you are as a person
  • Create and use vanity email and professional signature blocks
  • Cross-promote public profiles so they are tied together
  • You can’t be everywhere so pick a couple social networks or other digital outlets and put all of your efforts into making an impact in those areas
  • Invest time participating in LinkedIn groups, Google Plus communities, and industry-related Twitter chats
  • Connect –follow, friend, and like other professionals
  • Share posts (socially) and other content created by companies you are interested in
  • When you comment on blog posts or online articles, make sure you use a consistent name and link back to one of your public profiles.
  • Participate in the blogosphere by reading and commenting or asking questions on pertinent blog posts

Harvatin suggests Googling yourself often—remembering to turn off “private results” so you are seeing what someone else would see. She even suggests setting up a Google Alert with your name so you can keep track of any mention of you (aka your brand).

Personally, I use the free version of BrandYourself. It tracks my search results and alerts me (via email) whenever the results change. It even offers a “search score” based on how many positive versus negative results are on my first page of Google search results.

Harvatin wrapped up her presentation saying that if you want your personal profiles (like Facebook) to be private, then lock them up! Check and double-check your privacy settings.  If you are commenting on something that you don’t want to be associated with publicly/professionally, use a different email address and alias and do not link back to your professional persona.

In addressing why this matters, Harvatin concluded there are two major advantages( and I’ve added a third of my own):

  1. You’re leaving breadcrumbs of content with which you want to be associate
  2. You are building a REAL network of professional contacts
  3. The more professionally active you are online, the more those activities push down less desirable search results

What additional advice would you offer? What strategies do you use to remain visible online?

This post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on the BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas blog at http://www.burrellesluce.com/freshideas/2014/03/building-your-personal-brand and is cross-posted here with permission.

PR Career Tips: Get Screened IN, Not OUT

For the fourth year in a row, I had the pleasure of participating in the annual PRSA St. Louis Career Development Day (formerly known as Pro-Am Day) on Friday, February 28. PRSSA chapters, as well as PR, communications and mass media students within a few hours’ drive, were invited to join us for this phenomenal professional development and networking event. Of the more than 100 attendants were students representing 11 different universities from both sides of the Mississippi River—and from as far away as Murray, Kentucky!

Prior to the luncheon and the afternoon PR pro industry roundtable discussions, the day kicked off with a panel of PR talent and recruiting professionals:

The panel was moderated by Sandi Straetker, APR, who posed some basic but essential questions before taking questions from attendees. There was a ton of good information and I was writing so quickly that my notes are nearly indiscernible, but here are some highlights.

  • Agency and corporate recruiters alike are looking for real world experience. This can be in the form of internships, student-run firms and volunteer activities.
  • Gerli advised researching and knowing the company’s culture so you may follow the appropriate path. For example, a publicly held corporate environment or large global agency atmosphere are going to differ from creative shops.
  • Duke advised clear, concise but effective explanations on resumes. She also stated there should be NO typos, and good use of white space—not too ”busy.” This is especially important where an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) is used.
  • Cockrell suggested focusing on accomplishments and results versus just descriptions.
  • Wolford added that your results should be metrics-driven. She recommended you build a bridge between what you’ve done in the past and the position for which you’re applying.
  • Sargent stressed that both your cover letter AND resume should be customized to each position. NOTE: This is especially important when ATS is utilized—your resume should include the key words/phrases from the job description, where appropriate. Never lie!

Many PR students choose to double major or minor in journalism, mass media, advertising, creative design and other communications-related areas, so we asked Cockrell to briefly discuss how students and pros alike may showcase samples of their work. There are so many sites and tools out there it would be impossible to name them all but he suggested WordPress, Wix, Blogger and SquareSpace as relatively simple options with pre-created templates to choose from. However, if you’re leaning to the creative and design side, Behance offers the most customization (no templates). Cockrell suggested CodeAcademy as a great resource to learn basic coding. He noted that this skill will also give you a leg up on those candidates who have no coding knowledge.

Even if you have no real-world experience, you have options. You could create a made-up campaign and build a portfolio around it. (NOTE: Always disclose if it’s made-up work!) However, Sargent suggested an even better option would be to volunteer for a non-profit organization in event planning, media relations, social media, marketing creative, digital content—wherever you can get some relevant experience.

Finally, all job seekers should be aware of what can be found about them online. The HR professionals on the panel stated they do look at LinkedIn profiles but not a candidate’s Facebook page, as people are entitled to their personal lives—and they are prohibited by law to access any information that could be used in a discriminatory way. However, they admitted that personal and professional lines are now blurred so be careful and use good judgement about what you’re posting, and be very cognizant and diligent about your Facebook privacy settings. On the other hand, many hiring managers do vet job candidates through social media and indicated that business-appropriate Twitter (and Google Plus community) sharing and participation is encouraged.

Do your job hunting experiences jibe with our panelists’ advice? Do you have additional advice to offer?

This post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on the BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas blog at http://www.burrellesluce.com/freshideas/2014/03/pr-career-tips-get-screened-in-not-out and is cross-posted here with permission.