Opening the doors to a PR career

A recent email conversation with a former, successful CIPR Advanced Certificate student, Jill Blake, led to a suggestion that she draft some thoughts that I’d publish here.  The topic is the challenge of getting started in PR as the recession begins to bite.  Here are Jill’s thoughts:

They say when one door closes another opens. But for many people, lots of doors are closing in unison and their noses are starting to resemble a boxer whose taken one too many knocks.

I’m talking about PR jobs and how difficult it is to get one. Many excellent, qualified people with fantastic skills are doing, well… what are they all actually doing? Looking at job vacancies online until they can no longer see straight, sending speculative letters to all and sundry (tailored of course) or sitting tight until such times as the economic crisis lessens thus then joining hands with thousands of other people who’ve been paid off in the meantime?

Or maybe they’ve succumbed to the joys of recruitment agencies and are familiar with the miniscule efforts they exude in finding them a job. Join the club. It’s an ever growing group of people chapping at the PR door with very little response from within. I’m really not cynical in fact it’s something I guard against with hand-on-heart conviction but what the heck gives?

Perhaps being educated to the hilt with specific qualifications is the way forward? The CIPR advanced certificate is an excellent course of which I proudly extol its virtues to anyone who will listen. But in reality, in Scotland anyway, having this sort of qualification might get your foot under the table for the half-hour duration of the interview only. The interviewer will probably say something like your CV looks ‘sketchy’ without that all-important work experience. Ok but how do you go about getting work experience? I know universities do placements – the intricacies of which I’m unaware – but what about those people floundering around who’ve not got the kudos of their uni behind them and who’ve maybe self-funded their PR education. How do they get work experience?

Could writing to PR companies explaining your passion for PR and what you can do for them help? In today’s marketplace taking on work experience people is obviously viable when uncertainty about client retention is running high. And should you think about work experience, even if you’ve already been working but paid off perhaps? Would this work if you were a bit further up the echelon than entry level? I can’t see why it wouldn’t; I mean who wants big gaps on their CV if they can avoid it? Maybe pride holds some people back…

Some employers might think also that they’re taking advantage of you if they take you on work experience if you’ve already been working. To them I’d say that keeping your PR skills alive and well, or developing them, is paramount to securing a job at some point even if you forego a salary at this stage.

Sure their business will benefit from your skills at a rock bottom price (that’s if they pay your expenses) but what else are you going to do, sit in the house and mope or harness somebody else’s expertise and go through the door they’ve opened for you?

Or are there more unexplored avenues to finding jobs in PR? Do networking sites add credibility if you’ve got friends in high places for instance?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

22 thoughts on “Opening the doors to a PR career”

  1. Here’s a tip I give students who are about to enter the job market if they don’t have work experience or haven’t done internships: volunteer to help a non-profit with public relations and add that to your experience record (and portfolio). The non-profit gets excellent work they otherwise might not be able to afford, you get experience to use on your CV, and your good deed may just impress an employer.

  2. Thanks – you both have good advice. I agree about volunteering, even if it is with a local amateur group. Having a good portfolio is another helpful technique – even if you don’t get to show it in interviews, it helps you focus on what you have achieved.

    I wrote a post nearly 2 years ago: (https://greenbanana.wordpress.com/2007/04/11/would-a-social-media-cv-resume-or-biography-be-useful/) which I feel has some useful advice also in terms of managing your online presence.

    Of course, however someone gets to hear of you, you need to make sure they get a consistent and professional impression.

  3. Thanks Pat, that’s interesting.

    I read about somebody who’d tried volunteering in the charity sector from the CIPR Wessex group. He appeared to have some success and was quite enthusiastic. What would be the best things for people to ask to do to get started? Would they need to know the nuts-and-bolts of the strategies in campaigns? Would volunteers be taken as seriously as paid employees?

  4. Hi Kris

    That’s very interesting indeed. The part about networking reminded me about a conversation I had with lady in a candle shop yesterday. Yes I know how odd but we ended up talking about PR. “Skills,” she said “shouldn’t go to waste just because somebody is out of work.” She’d just been over to the Business Gateway and offered her marketing skills to them. She thinks they might let her advise business start-ups about basic marketing skills. The same could be done by ex-journalists who’re flooding the market just now through pay-offs and also newly qualified or unemployed PR people. Teaching people to write their own press releases and launching their new business might be possible.

    Has anybody tried to do this with the Business Gateway or other equivalent?

  5. Heather hi, what format should a good portfolio have? I have designer friends who take their large black folders around with them to interviews and hope to be able to show them at the time. Would freelance press cuttings/articles be presented in this way? Plus, if you’ve worked on campaigns in-house how can you use these in your portfolio? Do you mean just having docs with the plan written out with objectives, strategy, tactics and how it was valuated?

    A social media CV would be an excellent idea. As it’ll probably be management who read these CVs and as some of them are slightly prehistoric when it comes to social media how do you know they will be receptive to such a CV? A PR company’s website might show social media leanings with podcasts/ blogs but some of the people within might not necessarily think ‘social media.’

  6. We all at one time or another reach a crossroads in our career where we purposefully slow down to evalute a possible change in direction. Venturing down this road can be riddled with pot holes or should i say pitfalls which more often than not lead to congestion with like minded others and inevitably induce road rage and a gnashing of teeth. Sound familiar?, thought it might. It does’nt seem to matter how loudly you blast your horn at prospective new employers, they just won’t budge or give you any room as they more often than not are set in their ways like the proverbial hard shoulder. One sure fire way of getting into the fast lane is to be a little more creative than the rest of the gridlock. The chances are that the ideal company you want to work for has used every ruthless method available to them in their own journey where the highway code and any other code of practice has been ejected some several miles back. Try picking a few companies down south who are no longer in business to help construct your all new and improved C.V. The chances are that your new employer will know little or nothing about them but it will furnish them with the belief that you have already cut your teeth and that a position with them would seem like the natural progression. There is always a risk in going down this route and therefore you have to be able to pull it off in an interview situation. Some companies will undoubtedly tipple to your ruse so therefore it is important to set yourself up with several interviews and that way eventually one will pull over and give you that gap you so longingly are looking for.

    Question is, do you want to go from nought to sixty in three point five seconds or do you wish to be permanently stuck behind that old farmyard tractor?

  7. Jill – to answer all your questions, I think you don’t need to have in-depth knowledge for any interview, but should have done your research and show this in the questions you ask and the answers you give. I know you’ve done that before and also consider how your experience is relevant even if not directly in any sector.

    I always think of someone who might describe themselves as a housewife, but who could produce an amazing CV if they clarified exactly all the skills they gained in that role.

    Re a good portfolio, I suggest thinking in terms of PR case studies (as you might see in Awards). Draw up any campaigns or activities where you’ve been involve to illustrate their objectives, what was done and achieved – particularly focusing on benefits or outcomes in the results. If you’ve artefacts such as releases and coverage to include, that is good, but less expected the higher up you are aiming.

    Not everyone will benefit from a social media CV, but it could be a good follow up from a business card or printed CV. Some companies will Google you and it will look good if you’ve a professional CV that appears first.

    Re Ian – I hope you are being tongue in cheek over recommending falsifying experience. I once worked with a guy who was eventually proven to have done this and was then very publicly fired. Oddly everyone else in the company could sense he was dodgy apart from the manager and HR people who appointed him.

  8. Ladies and Gentlemen how do.

    I was of course attempting to throw a humerous slant in my earlier submission advocating the wool pulling over corporate eyes.

    I do hope all who digested its content saw it for what it really was but a light hearted attempt to raise a smile on an area which has some vexing issues.

    On a more serious note, one has to bear in mind when searching for fulfilling and gainfull employment that the employer in question is realistically trying to sell you an opportunity and therefore one has to grab the bull by the horns in this narrow window of opportunity and sell one’self to them.

    Sometimes the more cautious amongst us would do well to learn that by forwarding and highlighting just exactly what benefits and assets you intend bestowing upon the company without the need to be prompted for them by the company in questions pays dividends.

    This can be achieved without coming across as being over confident, cocky or indeed arrogant but has the desired effect of being self assured and displays a self belief which is so often lacking especially in an interview situation.

    Remember! first impressions last and more often than not there won’t be a second so when you get the chance to blow then blow.

  9. To your last point, I’d say yes. The networking junior PR professional will always have more opportunity than the one who stays silent; it’s visibility, really. I recall an IABC colleague of mine telling me that, through the connections she’s made at IABC, she’s literally never had to put out a resume. The statistic is something like 90% of positions are posted internally; imagine the advantage a keen networker has, then, over the one who just scrolls online job boards.

    As for getting work experience, I’m lucky enough to have come out of Centennials CC & PR post-grad program, which includes a client project AND a 2-month internship program. This internship worked wonders for me, but what really separated me from the competition when it came to getting my first corporate role, believe it or not, was the work I’d been doing right here, in the social media space. I have an entire section in my portfolio dedicated to social media, and prospective employers absolutely ate it up. Why? It’s fresh, it’s new and it’s conversational– something business writing is sorely lacking and, depending on the culture of the organization, trying to adopt.

    Key message? Network like you’ve been doing it for years and set yourself apart from the competition through plenty of social media involvement.

  10. Hi Brandon
    That’s very interesting. What was your first foray into the social media platform? I’m trying to imagine what your social media page on your portfolio looks like. Is it more engaging than simple hyperlinks? I’m building my LinkedIn page now and have realised the beauty of recommendations of which I’ve beavering away at collecting. I have linked to this PR post here so others in a similar position can see all these wonderful thoughts everybody has offered. That’s once I’ve made some connections who know of people seeking work or who are themselves looking for employees and who will be active enough to click to this thread that is.

  11. As a student about to graduate from the certificate PR program at Humber College, the recession and downturn in the economy have left a lot of us worried, to say the least. While our instructors have reassured us that there still are jobs available, it’s hard to ignore the constant barrage of news highlighting the skyrocketing unemployment rates. With graduation a mere two months away, I find myself clinging to the safe world of academia.

    I found that this post and all of the responding comments were all extremely helpful, so thank you! When I start looking for my first “real” job, I’ll go in armed with the advice I’ve picked up from this blog.

  12. @Jill – Yeah, I’ve included screen shots of my blog and made sure to discuss how social media has led to some of my accomplishments (Example: I landed my spot on IABC Grand Valley’s board largely because of my social media involvement, and much of the freelance work I do is related to social media). Also, I include a digital copy of my resume (either via jump drive or CD ROM) which links to some of my social media accomplishments (notable blog posts, guest posts, etc).

    @Irene – I had this discussion with a student member at IABC. Just remember, coming out of that program you will be joining about 150 other grads. Do what you can to distinguish yourself! And what better way than to develop a rep with some of the most notable communications professionals in the world, right here, in the social media space.

  13. Hi Irene, that’s good you’ve found this helpful – I have too. I think to be one step ahead of other classmates is a good place to be when you graduate. As they say get yourself a USP! Whether carving a niche in the social media landscape, as Brandon points out, or by some other means, people have to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

  14. Brandon, thanks for that, I have a mental picture of it now. Please would you be able to tell me the significance of a tailored url on LinkedIn? It gives the option to create one unique to you. Is this so your profile will be top ranking in a search engine like Google say thus making your profile easier to find for potential employers or anybody searching for you? I’ve tried various connotations then searched for myself ( ok you’re allowed to snigger!) but it’s the same whatever I do – second from the top usually, so I fail to see why I’d bother choosing certain keywords to put in it.

  15. Yeah, it’s about making yourself more searchable. The Google search algorithm is a strange machine, and it likes when keywords are included in the URL. I’d suggest tailoring the Linked In URL to match your name, since this is the “title” of your page (keywords in titles are given more seniority in search than if the same word were included in the body of the page).

    Keep in mind, Jill, that becoming searchable takes time. If you change the URL, it won’t automatically make your page rank climb in Google. In order for that to happen, you need to have enough people visit your page with the new URL and have that URL established for a longer period of time. It’s a waiting game, really.

    Also, keep in mind that Google favours pages that are updated regularly. Go to Google and type in “Heather Yaxley” or “Brandon Carlos” and the first link that pops up is our blog page. So if you really want to climb to the top on certain keywords (your name, for instance) I’d suggest maintaining a blog.

  16. Brandon – thanks for helping here. I do love having Google Juice myself – indeed, I am now so lazy that instead of having business cards (which is essential for any self-respecting professional and/or job-seeker), I arrogantly tell people to Google me.

  17. I’m intrigued that you think giving money to useless academics for a worthless CIPR qualification is ever going to get anyone a PR job.

    Instead of being conned by farcical academics, I spent my money getting experience. I now have a paid position.

    There should be a huge crackdown on these con artists. Qualifications that clearly get you nowhere should be exposed for the scam they are.

  18. A PR Exec – or Peter which I presume is your real identity,

    I do not “think” that gaining a CIPR qualification will get someone a PR job, I know this as I have seen the knowledge, confidence and capabilities of those who are successful in their studies improve career prospects.

    These qualifications are certainly not a scam, and those such as myself who teach public relations are not useless, farcical or con artists.

    Indeed, I have over 20 years PR experience which I have underpinned by a lifelong commitment to studying the underpinnings of this profession. Being able to share the why as well as the how of PR enables me to help others improve their practice as well as increase their career earning potential.

    Experience is of course important in a vocational area such as PR, but why would you decry knowing how to do your job well? That’s what academic understanding is able to bring to those at all stages of a career in PR.

    If experience alone is the secret to PR competency, how come we are still reading posts such as Scoble: http://scobleizer.com/2009/04/07/a-private-note-to-pr-people/ – that highlight the bad practices that are perpetuated through experience.

    If you want to get in touch, I’d be happy to welcome you to the next CIPR session that I’m teaching as my guest – and you can see if what we’re doing is a scam, or perhaps you’d open your mind and hear from our students how their studies are helping in their careers.

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