When I graduated from college years ago, I was filled with the anticipation of landing my first PR job. I know some of the required skill sets have evolved over the years—social media, SEO, etc.—but the foundation for being a PR pro has remained fairly consistent.
At the very least, a good public relations practitioner has excellent writing skills, the ability to multi-task, a sense of empathy, a respect for urgency, and an understanding of how to use business strategy to guide PR tactics and implementation.
But what else do you need to impress potential employers?
I routinely reply to emails or return phone calls from college students looking for advice. In an effort to continue to help the “PR pros of the future,” here are five tips to help prepare for your first interview:
1. Apply for internships
Public relations is different from other college majors because employers expect you to have experience by the time you graduate. College courses provide you with critical knowledge but you also need “real world” exposure.
An internship might give you the opportunity to write press releases, build media lists, make media calls, participate in social media strategy sessions, or just sit in on senior level strategy meetings. Internships can also help you decide on a career path. Are you a fit for corporate PR, the not-for-profit world, or agency life? Plus, an internship is the perfect opportunity to start building a portfolio (see tip No. 2) and reference letters.
Interested in looking for a PR internship? Talk to your professors and let them know you are actively searching and visit the following sites that provide internship listings: PRSSA, Internships.com,Craigslist, and PR Crossing.
2. Build a portfolio
As I mentioned in tip No. 1, employers expect you to already have PR experience, but you need more than the name of the internship on your resume. You need to show samples of your work. I remember lugging around a heavy portfolio and thumbing through each page with my interviewers. A hard-copy portfolio is still an effective way to display work, but students now have the opportunity to create an online portfolio. An online portfolio will not only showcase your experience, but will also highlight your online, multimedia, and design expertise.
3. Be a “strategic” online expert
Today’s student has no choice but to possess online savvy. The Web is how you communicate, shop, conduct research, etc., and most of us don’t remember how the world functioned before the Internet.
However, simply knowing how to navigate Facebook and Twitter is not enough. It is important to explore and become well-versed in how social media can positively and negatively impact companies and stay current on the businesses that are doing it right.
It also impresses employers if you understand search engine optimization (SEO) and ways to maximize it for clients. Every company wants to be ranked at the top of a Google search.
4. Create an impressive résumé and cover letter
A strong résumé and cover letter are still vital to the job search process. These two documents are key to getting your foot in the door.
5. Continue to improve your writing skills
I know you’ve heard this a million times, but it is completely true—strong writing skills are critical for a job in PR. If you don’t like to write, you might want to shift your career path.
I don’t think anyone is ever a “perfect” writer. We can all stand to constantly improve. There are thousands of great online resources that offer useful writing tips. AP Style and Grammar Girl are two of my favorites.
Good luck with your job search. Public relations is a fascinating field, full of challenges and opportunities.
Robin Embry is a vice president at Lovell Communications Inc., a national marketing and public relations agency that protects brand reputations and works with companies to build and grow their businesses. They specialize in public relations, healthcare marketing, and crisis communications services. A version of this story first appeared on the Lovell Communications blog.