As an eighteen year veteran of PR and CEO of my own start-up PR agency, I am routinely approached by recent college graduates looking to lay the final groundwork for a career in Public Relations. For most candidates, the last big step towards garnering a full-time paycheck involves an internship with a New York PR agency.
Many candidates, however, fail to realize that the internship — in addition to teaching a recent grad the ins and outs of agency life — is the primary platform upon which to transition from student to professional. I′ve seen scores of interns worsen their chances for full-time work, by "going through the motions" of an internship instead of taking charge. Based on my experience, I′ve provided several key points to consider for recent grads looking to land that all-important first position.
Clean Up Your Social Media
No HR person schedules an interview without an initial Google search. Few senior executives say "yes" to a hire until they examine a candidate′s online presence. Those rowdy and risqué photos taken during Spring Break or outrageous insights found in your Twitter Stream aren′t helping your chances with HR directors or recruiters.
I′ve turned down more than a few candidates based on what my team has found online. Take a good, hard look.
Furthermore, take a moment to review your personal information on each site. Does it position you as a young professional or perpetual college student? Cleaning up your social media presence will make you appear more professional, giving you an advantage over competing candidates.
It′s never a bad idea to begin networking with your college alumni association before you graduate. Send an email requesting a fifteen minute "informational interview," to a few select leaders in your chosen industry. Ask them to critique your resume and your interview style. Then ask where they think you should intern.
Get the Right Internship, and then Work It
Every agency has an internship program, not all of them are good. Some agencies send their interns on coffee runs; others take the time to teach their interns the basics of PR. If you′re giving an agency your time for free, it′s OK to ask what you′ll be doing on a day-to-day basis.
Once you land the internship, it′s time to get to work. Only a few interns land a job from their internship; and they′re usually the ones who ask for assignments. Don′t wait around for someone to find you, ask if you can write the first draft of a release or a pitch; ask if you can attend a client meeting; ask if you can pitch low-level reporters under a staffer′s supervision; then ask questions when things quiet down. Don′t wait to get noticed, get yourself noticed.
No Job Offer? No Problem
We all know that an internship isn′t a guaranteed job. When the internship period is nearing an end, this is the time to approach the senior most executive in your work group and ask for advice. Ask them to review your resume and then find out which recruiters he or she admires as well as contacts they may have at other PR agencies.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
By this time, you should have a running list of people who may help you land that first position and a resume that positions you as an entry-level PR pro. Stay focused; stay in contact with key people who may assist you and don′t give up. In many cases, entry-level positions are the first to be filled at many agencies once the recession passes. When the time comes to hire, you′ll want to be front and center on people′s radar.
Kevin Mercuri is an eighteen year veteran of Public Relations and related disciplines. He is president & founder of Propheta Communications, a New York based PR and social media agency serving corporate, consumer, technology, lifestyle and nonprofit clients. He can be contacted at kevin@ProphetaComm.com.