So you’ve graduated with a PR or Communications degree. Probably from a university or even received one from online classes. Now what? With the job market being what it is, you need a plan of action that will help you land your first job in PR.
You’ve learned how to handle a PR crisis. Write a press release. Connect with the media. Maybe you even held an internship that will give you more hands-on experience. You’re eager to put your skills to good use.
Many graduates assume the primary job a person with a PR or Communications degree gets is a job at a PR firm. Not so. There are actually many roles and many different types of companies you can work for and still use your communications skills. Don’t be narrow-minded in your search!
1. Work for an Agency
For many college students, getting hired at a PR agency is their golden ticket. For others, they quickly find out they over-glamorized what is often a grueling and stressful job. Working at an agency, you will be thrown into the fast-paced world of making clients look good. These clients might be in entertainment, politics, consumer and business products and services, or finance.
You’ll likely be writing press releases and doing lots of administrative support to start, and perhaps helping with events. As your experience grows, you may handle media relations for clients or manage accounts.
The catch 22 about working for an agency is that agencies want you to have prior experience…working for one. If you intern at a firm, this can get your foot in the door. Otherwise, getting hired as a Junior Publicist or Account Coordinator would be a great start.
Are there drawbacks in working for an agency? It depends on your personality and what you’re looking for. If you want a range of experience in multiple industries, you won’t get that working for many agencies, as they tend to focus on a single vertical or specialize their staff in practice groups. Some agencies, however, will let you move around to different practice groups, so it is important to understand how it works with each agency. If you want a 9 to 5 job that never requires extra work of you, a PR firm isn’t that.
Still, working at an agency, even for a few years, can give you the experience you need to do just about anything else you could do with a PR or Communication degree. If you make a point to connect to people, you’ll have the contacts to see you to your next role, even if it’s not at another agency.
2. Work for a Private Company
If you’ve glamorized working for an agency, consider the public relations staff of a private company the unsung heroes. In fact, many companies don’t hire external PR firms, and instead house them internal to the company. Some larger companies have a small internal PR team and also hire an agency. Either way, there are plenty of jobs working in communications directly for a company.
These PR folks work for companies in every industry: manufacturing, consumer products, technology, semiconductors, finance, healthcare, etc. If you’re interested in really delving into a specific industry, working for a private company, for example, a company like Fisher Investments, is a great way to do so.
Depending on the size of the firm, you may work with a very small team, which you will come to rely on in your work. You’ll get to know the company’s products or services well, as they’re the stars of your PR pitches and the center of all your communications.
You’ll do the same work you’d do at a firm: write and distribute press releases, work with the media, manage crises. If your team is small you may have additional responsibilities such as creating email newsletters and managing the company’s social media strategy. In smaller companies, marketing and PR often overlap.
What companies look for will vary, based on the business and role, but usually they don’t expect as much prior experience as a firm for entry-level positions. Your degree, general skills, and writing ability are the typical areas of focus. Some companies may want you to have experience with content management systems, Photoshop or presentation software.
Drawbacks here: focusing on the same products day in and day out can get boring if you need constant stimulation. Some industries are less exciting than others, so if the idea of pitching laser marking devices doesn’t appeal to you, focus on industries that you enjoy more.
3. Start Your Own Firm or Freelance
While it’s not always easy to do right out of college, some PR professionals end up forming their own companies or freelancing. This can give you the freedom to focus on the type of clients you want and you are able to pick and choose your projects.
Naturally being your own boss sounds great, but it’s not for everyone. You truly need experience, either with an agency or internally, to understand client relationships. As the owner or freelancer, you are responsible for constantly finding new clients; you won’t get a paycheck unless you get paid! Running your own business requires a strong stomach to take some risks, and constant dedication to improving your craft – on your own.
If you stick with it, your business might thrive so much you can afford to hire support staff and a team of account executives, writers, and managers. Keep in mind doing so sometimes takes you away from what you love doing the most: the actual PR and communications. Many entrepreneurs don’t realize they’ll be doing more admin work than hands-on in their businesses.
Where to Find Your First PR Job
For your first job in PR or Communications, start by searching for titles like PR Specialist, PR Coordinator, Junior Publicist, Account Coordinator, Assistant Account Executive, or Account Executive. Look for jobs that don’t require much more than a degree and interest, if that’s all you have.
In terms of where to look, there are websites that focus on jobs in public relations and communications specifically, like Hoojobs (disclosure: I’m an owner of the site). You should be able to find both agency and in-house jobs here. And don’t overlook investor relations jobs at publicly-traded companies, especially if you have a knack for understanding stocks and financial information.
Use social media to find your first job. Twitter has plenty of accounts and hashtags you can follow that will give you a stream of new openings, including #PRJobs, @EntryPRJobs, @HlthcarePRjobs and, of course, @PRjobs. Here are more tips for finding a job on Twitter.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated, and join groups with PR professionals and job hunters to network.
You can join professional organizations like PRSA, which not only gives you access to its job boards, but also gives you the chance to network with PR professionals in your area.
Finding a job fresh out of college can be a challenge, and a PR or Communications job is no different. But once you land that job, put in some good, hard work, and build your resume and experience!
Photo courtesy: Earlham College