The 7 Top Tips for a #PRstudent to get their first graduate job!

neesonSo, it’s that time of year again where summer is almost over and we’re slowly coming to terms with the looming reality of returning to university or *gasp* facing the daunting prospect of needing to get a job.

Now, if – like me – the prospect of becoming a fully-fledged adult (complete with taxes and commuting) has a tendency to give you heart palpitations, I thought I’d make things a little less stressful and give my top seven tips for getting that all important graduate job.

1.  Experience is (almost) everything!

Public relations – and, for that matter, most creative industries – is notoriously competitive to get into. This competitivity is even more pronounced at junior levels where swathes of new grads are fighting it out for the attention of increasingly discerning employers. One of the best ways to get their attention (and those elusive job offers) therefore, is to show whoever is potentially hiring you that you know your way around an office and the positions you are looking to fill.

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Whether it is an internship, a collaborative project like Stephen Waddington’s #PRStack, writing for communities such as that built by Behind the Spin or volunteering your abilities within/for a not-for-profit, all experience is readily seen as good experience and, as such, does wonders for not only showing an employer you won’t crumble in the job, but also helps you gain confidence in your skillset and your ability in applying your academic knowledge to a professional context and environment.

2.  Figure out what makes you special and own it!

Now anyone who knows me knows I have a wide and arguably uncommon variety of interests (from WWE to politics to rats to blogging on a regular basis). As an undergraduate, I believed that being seen as ‘weird’ would put agencies and employers off but the more I’ve explored the industry and built connections within it, the more I’ve noticed that in fact the opposite is proving true.

Being ‘weird’ and having seemingly ‘quirky’ interests has been a godsend during interviews as I genuinely feel that it has been one of the key aspects that has ‘set me apart’ and led to my applications being memorable – something that is all to important when you know the person hiring has umpteen CVs to go through where every CV is going to look basically the same.

3.  Know where to look.

There are thousands of job sites across the Internet. Some are great, while others are riddled with spam, so finding the most helpful sites for what you’re looking for can be a mammoth process. The best course of action is to of course browse job boards that specialise in public relations like the handy list provided below:

4.  Stand out on social media!WORKING

I know. I know. Breaking through the noise and standing out online (particularly in a positive manner) is much easier said than done. But networking online across all the commonly used platforms is one of the key ways in which to get your name out there and your profile known.

Additionally, social media also is a great way to find job ads and stand out to employers. Indeed, I have recently gained a graduate role myself through securing an interview with Hamish Thompson, MD of London’s Houston PR, via Twitter based on his reading my blog and discovering a few of my quirkier interests – particularly my love of stationary (something that is shared within his team already).

5.  When it comes to applying/interviewing, Research. Research. Research.

Social media however, is not the be all and end all for getting a graduate job. Keeping up-to-date and being knowledgeable about your industry as well as the agencies you’d like to work for is so important in making a good impression. Interviews test your ability, skills and character but an interviewer is often looking for more. Stand out by commenting on campaigns the agency has been involved in, content they have posted or their client’s industries.

6.  Be gracious (in both success and defeat).

It’s amazing how many people don’t follow up an interview by sending a quick note to say thank you.

DO NOT LET YOURSELF BECOME ONE OF THEM.

Show your appreciation to anyone and everyone who helps you out (and even the people who don’t). It leaves such a positive impression and will pay off in the long run. After all, PR is a surprisingly small industry, and you never know who you might end up at an event with (or even working with) in the future.

Most importantly though is number 7. Keep a cool head and don’t let the slog get you down!!! Stay positive, keep a balance, hang out with your mates, and you’ll get there eventually.

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Don’t just take my word for it though! Leave a comment below and let me know what you think! Are there any tips you want to share?

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So…. Was it worth it?

scribblepenNow that I am drawing towards the end of my Masters studies and am facing the inevitable leap back into the graduate pool (albeit with considerably more awareness and experience than after my undergrad), I feel it’s important to finally take a step back and answer the recurring question I keep being asked…

Was it actually worth it?

Admittedly, I can understand where my friends, colleagues and family were coming from last summer when they expressed concern about my returning to academia after a year out in the ‘real world’? After all, I had one degree already, not to mention a fair amount of (sadly unpaid) experience in public relations. What could returning to De Montfort University for ANOTHER year of study really offer me? Other than another load of debt to shoulder, I mean.

Additionally, PR tends to get the subtle reaction of ‘eh?’ when described. I wouldn’t think it’s that hard to understand. After all, its all about helping to shape and maintain the image of a company, organisation or individual whilst marketing its products/services via third party endorsers.

Doing a Masters didn’t just allow me another year of burying myself in fascinating areas of contemporary research though (Don’t judge me; I’m a nerd!), it in fact opened doors for me that I’d been hammering on for a while – not to mention a few that I didn’t even realise had been closed.

Don’t get me wrong. Graduating with a 2:1 in International Relations and Journalism from a fairly well-respected university gave me options. However upon realising in my third and final year that despite being a dab hand at editioral copy and being skilled in meeting short and changeable deadlines, I didn’t just want to report on campaigns that did (or didn’t) do well; I wanted to work with clients to help build and shape these innovative campaigns that justified being reported on. I knew that turning to the ‘dark side’ (or at least pursuing it enough that I could sit on the fence and juggle the two) was something that would not only be rewarding to my professional and personal growth, but also was pretty inevitable.

Although I’d thrown myself into the deep end and gained a range of experiences across sectors, I felt that undertaking a MSc qualification would provide that added sense of ‘confidence’ and ‘sureity’ in my knowledge and skills that I felt I was lacking in my job-search, whilst also demonstrating to potential employers how determined and dedicated I was (and am) to seriously pursuing PR as a career.

Saying that though, I won’t deny having second thoughts. Everybody does.insomnia

The niggling doubts whispering that taking out a PCDL on top of a student loan was ‘irresponsible’ and that I should have just pulled on my big girl pants and gotten a job were pervasive and despite being irrational, were always at the back of my mind until perhaps mid-way through my second term.

Sometime during that second term though, I honestly think I had my ‘lightbulb moment’ that this was exactly where I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to be doing.

I’m not sure what set it off… Perhaps it was realising that I do in fact know an awful lot more than I thought I’d known; perhaps it was talking to people who expressed feeling just as much of a duck out of water as I had after graduating; or perhaps it was just the sense of waking up in the morning and actually looking forward to another day of writing about things I really cared about. All I know is that somehow, suddenly, everything just seemed to settle and ‘click’ into place.

My second term ended, and quickly blended into my third; and alongside being shortlisted for a national blogging contest for PR students (in which I subsequently came joint ‘Second/Highly Commended’), I also began being regularly invited to join local BBC radio panel discussions with Ben Jackson talking about aspects of the 2015 General Election – something the political geek in me was THRILLED at.

So… now that I’m truly at the end of my Masters (I handed in my last proper ‘assignment’ today), I thought it was high time to reflect on this last year and the value of the further education I’ve chosen to invest both time and energy into.

I decided that my experience can be summed up in the following key ways:

1) No matter how much education you feel you should ‘have’ before seeking a job, the key thing holding new graduates back is a lack of confidence and awareness of how to translate academia understanding into professional practice.

2) A postgraduate qualification is effectively a piece of paper. A nice piece of paper signposting your ‘knowledge’ in a particular area, but not the be all and end all of an employers analysis of you.

3) Extracurriculars are vital. Whether it’s writing a blog, joining a club/starting a new hobby, or taking part in your local paper/radio etc., having elements such as these on a CV act as a ‘balance’ to academic ability and professional experience, tells the employers your values and priorities and (perhaps bluntly) whether they could put up with sharing an office space with you for more than five minutes.

4) These ‘extra’ curriculars are just that; ‘Extra’. They often do not come as part of an academic course and unless you are *extremely* lucky/wealthy/well-connected, be sure that they will not just “fall into your lap” if you wait long enough. Be proactive.

5) Invest in your personal development and recognise that at the end of the day, in pursuing a Masters qualification in something that expands your skillset and is professionally applicable, that is precisely what you are doing, and keep doing it.

Its like putting a puzzle together without the box for guidance. You flail around a lot to begin with getting flustered and frustrated at both yourself and the world. Then you plan out an in-depth plan of action in solving the ‘challenge’ being faced so that when you finally do make that step and face the daunting prospect of putting that puzzle together, you know that althoguh it may take a little longer, you’ll still get there eventally.. The decision you have to make is how you ‘flail’ and how you approach complex issues in later lfe.

Whether this degree is ‘worth it’, I suppose is yet to be seen – after all, I’ve not found a job yet.

However it is early days and I know that compared to my prior experiences as a new graduate, I am now far more knowledgeable about the industry; far more self-aware about my role and priorities within it for professioanl and/or personal growth; and far more confident in my abitlity to use the skills I’ve learned to positive effect.

So it seems that as I dive back into the fray, I’ve grown as a person. My MSc may or may not have improved my career prospects (I like to think it did), but as I consider the future, I have realised that I’m content.  Not happy per ce, as I’ll miss spending weeks looking into yet aanother niche area of research, but definitely more content about my current situation, the future, and about life in general.

I’m ready to make that step into the job market without fear of rejection. I know I’m ready.

Bring it on!

A new section is born: “Notes for novices”

A big part of my learning process has been the realisation that pretty much every single person I’ve met in my position or in their first creative job role is scared. They’re scared about money, about their current situations, and most of all (I believe) they’re terrified of how to get themselves noticed. Today’s creative industry is so competitive, its understandably a daunting challenge that anyone worth their salt is expected to overcome.

Working for a social enterprise: PAPER Arts, which focused on helping unemployed young people build skillsets for roles in (or to start their own businesses in) the creative sector, was a true eye-opener as to the sheer number of young people who don’t know where to start.

I wouldn’t claim to be the font of all knowledge (for one thing I don’t have the ego) but I’ve thought that, as well as my own analyses and opinions on various aspects of advertising and PR, it might be beneficial to include a section of tips or notes for other students/young people trying to break into the business based on my own gleanings and take-homes on the off-chance they learn something new that might be of use.

So here it it.

A new *star* – by which I mean ‘section’ – is born.

“Notes for Novices” (Name in progress)

First impressions always count

I’ve got my bag packed, lunch made, and coiffed my appearance into a semblance of order, and yet still there is that niggling doubt in the back of my mind that I’ve forgotten something… Have I researched the company well enough? What if I say something daft?

“Its ridiculous really”, my long-suffering partner informs me as he continues to yawn into his coffee. Annoyingly perhaps, he’s right. I’ve always been an over-planner, especially when I am excited about something. I enjoy working to deadlines and I enjoy making plans – you know, the kind with multiple highlighted and italicised sections.

Luckily, after focusing on gaining Comms and PR experience over the past year, I am now able to truly sate my organisational cravings by undertaking an MSc in Advertising and PR Management at De Montfort University. A fact which may or may not mean that I currently have numerous notebooks and planners as well as text books stacked on my desk.

So, to celebrate the milestone of having a mere 2 weeks to go until classes start, I have bitten the bullet and created this blog. As an amateur fanatic rather than a seasoned professional, it is a work in progress. In addition to original features and reviews of relevant copy and campaigns in PR, advertising and marketing, it will also hopefully provide an amusing and (ideally) interesting insight into the ups and downs experienced on my journey through this industry.

That journey starts with what will prove to be the first of many steps I hope to take now that I have returned to Leicester, namely a two week internship with Hopwood PR – an agency I have admired since becoming aware of them in 2011. Two weeks being exposed to working with clients in the NFP and public sectors as well as campaigning; I can’t wait.

Don’t worry though, I’ve got a long list of posts lined up, so you’ll be sure to regularly have the chance for a latte and a laugh.