Skill-building for students: What we need to impress employers

One of my current favourite blogs, the ever-insightful Comms2point0, published a post on Friday by Sarah Stimson covering her perspective on what skills are currently needed for a career in PR; namely: ‘Likeability’, ‘Writing skills’, ‘An interest in media and current affairs’, ‘Attention to detail’, and being “savvy” with social media.

Whilst these areas are of course valuable, I don’t think the article perhaps addressed the nitty gitty specifics. Seeing a gap, I’m intending to fill it with a breakdown of a few slightly more specific things that we students/newbies need to be able to demonstrate when job-hunting – that’s not to say we need all of them however, as agency and role requirements vary to suit their and their clients’ needs.

I’m basing this post on a compilation of suggestions by marketing, journalism and PR academics such as Sheffield Hallam’s new PR whizz, @LizBridgen; DMU Journalism Lecturer, David Penman; and my own experiences facing what employers claim to expect skill-wise in interviews and job descriptions.

Some may be obvious. Some may seem like they’re unnecessary for any but the highest over-achievers. But I believe they all have great potential for being useful not only to initially ‘get’ a job, but also to succeed once in it.

Writing skills

Arguably the most important aspect of a communications/marketing/PR role – It would be idiotic to claim otherwise.

Writing doesn’t always come easy though, and your tone of voice in what you write needs to be adaptable. Creating your ‘personal voice; however is something that only really comes with practice, I find, so specifically, the following will help with that and in building your professional ‘brand’ as it were.

  • Create and regularly update your own Blog. Don’t forget to share posts via Twitter and LinkedIn.
    • Blog and tweet about current media issues and areas.
  • Review PR/marketing/advertising books on Amazon.
  • Write for a local or University magazine.
  • Write press releases and blog posts for University societies and clubs.
  • Write for a student PR magazine such as ‘Behind the Spin‘ or for CorpComms Magazine.

As well as practising and honing your writing skills (including your attention to detail), all of the above can be a way of demonstrating that you have an active interest in media and current affairs that goes beyond just reading Metro headlines on the way to the interview.

Creative skills (for Advertising and Marketing)

Practice. That’s all I can recommend. It doesn’t need to be perfect, you have time to hone your ‘craft’ but being able to show you’ve done some of the following go’s a long way to suggesting you have the creative/innovative and therefore useful approach that employers like.

  • Create a perfect portfolio. Only contain the best of your work; remember your choices are what are ‘selling’ your ability to an employer, show them what you can accomplish.
  • Practice creating under pressure. @OneMinuteBriefs I’ve found really helpful for this even if my attempts are usually notebook doodles rather than cut-past collage masterpieces
  • Draw/sketch/paint/design every day that you have the time. Some may be rubbish, but soon you’ll pick up on ideas and improve time-wise.
  • Visit Museums, art shows, theatre performances. Attend niche music events and watch independent films. Breaking out of a personal ‘bubble’ exposes us to a wealth of creative inspiration that we can use.

Networking

Some of us love it. Many students don’t. How do we get our identities known so we can get that elusive ‘big break’. The following are a few of the ways I’ve come up with for meeting and greeting (within PR particularly). They don’t take an awful lot of effort either if I’m honest. Easy peasy!

  • Join the CIPR (small fee for students, free membership for students of Uni’s with CIPR-recognised courses).
  • Join the PRCA (free for students I believe).
  • Research the agencies you want to work for and the people who work there.
  • Find current agencies and practitioners with personal blogs. Have an opinion! Ask for advice! Give feedback!
  • Follow and engage with relevant people on Twitter and LinkedIn. Comms chats like last week’s #measurePR discussion are particularly great!
  • Create your own business cards. Moo.com is cheap. Make sure to include your LinkedIn, Twitter, Email and Blog addresses or even a QR code.
  • Go to CIPR events and local business events.

Social media savvy

To me, the term ‘savvy’ never fails to bring ‘pirates’ to mind (thanks to a childhood love of Johnny Depp) but that’s probably the one thing I’d recommend not to do. I know it may seem low risk to grab that innocuous torrent but with the way things are going, in my opinion at least, its a silly thing to risk a reputation and finances on. The following however are skills with a potentially giant reward of getting your foot in an employers door, so keep these platforms and skills in mind.

  • Twitter. Enough said. For the few that don’t yet have/use Twitter, have you been living under a rock? For marketers, advertisers and PR execs, this is your bread and butter platform, so definitely make sure you have a profile and engage frequently in conversations with those you want to engage with.
    • Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. Both are great apps for making Twitter a lot easier to manage, Hootsuite is perhaps more commonly used, but I like Tweetdeck’s interface a lot.
  • Facebook. Not chatting to your mates of course, but learn how pages work and how to measure impact and engagement.
  • Google adwords. Research, learn, understand.
  • Learn how to blog using WordPress or Blogger.
  • Understand how to network and engage on LinkedIn beyond its use as an online CV.
  • Do video blogs and host your own YouTube channel.
  • Make use of Vine and learn the best ways to be creative/innovative. Experiment and see what works for you.
  • Learn the marketing potential of Instagram and consider how that relates to what you want to do/achieve.

Technical skills

For me, technical skills is a broad-brush term that includes all of the below plus many more I’m sure I’ve forgotten/haven’t come across. The perhaps annoying thing about web 2.0 is that its forever changing the goal posts BUT, saying that, its also a great opportunity to get really good, relatively quickly at a range of skills. Such as, for example:

  • Adobe Creative Suite, particularly: Photoshop, Lightroom and InDesign. For January only, Skillfeed are offering over 63’000 video tutorials for various software
  • Basic coding. It might seem daunting but websites like CodeAcademy are really simple to use and learn.

General skills

  • Language skills. Set yourself apart from your competition by learning a ‘business’ language i.e. French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin etc. It shows that you’re internationally minded and appreciate other cultures. It’s also a valuable commodity given that in the EU, we Brits are significantly disadvantaged in terms of foreign language ability.
  • Get a full drivers licence. Even if you don’t intend to ever own, drive or be in any way associated with a motorised vehicle, it ticks a super common box in application forms and is a basic technical skill of modern adulthood outside of inner-city London.

Experience

Very simple. Get some. It’s one of those things that shows you’re serious about what you claim to want to pursue a career in, and that you’ve impressed someone else within the industry in the past. Although payment for work is never guaranteed, and the jobs aren’t always the best, here are a few ways I’ve found work well to getting you noticed.

  • Volunteer to do PR for a local event or charity.
  • Volunteer in a local public sector business or for your University’s Media Department or Student Union.
  • Apply for internships here, there and everywhere. Though I’m a huge advocate for paid placements, if you can afford it, then widening your search to include unpaid short placements hugely increases your options.
  • Use your contacts and friends. Everyone knows someone and those ‘someones’ might well have your golden ticket to experience.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s