In her excellent column two weeks ago, Mary Lynn Carver of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital outlined four attributes that make young job seekers attractive to employers. I want to highlight several other job search lessons that were shared in a recent webinar hosted by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama.
The professional heavyweights in the student-centered webinar included Keith Burton, president of Insidedge; Mark Harris, VP of communications at IBM Global Business Services; Lisa Hart, communications leadership development program leader at GE; Jessamyn Katz of Heyman Associates; Rick Looser, COO of the Cirlot Agency; and moderator Rick White, VP of communications at Wisconsin Energy Corporation.
They offered advice about prized skills, discussed salaries, and job possibilities, and shared three enduring lessons to help PR students land that first job.
1. Nothing is more valuable than relevant internships. Teachers often remind PR students of this, but the professionals were more explicit: they said you are unlikely to receive any job offers if you don't have relevant internship or practical experience. Internships – paid or unpaid – signal employers that you're serious about the profession and you've invested time to gain some experience.
2. Hone you interview skills. Resumes, references, and connections open doors to potential PR jobs, but the interview is king – the decision-maker. In their book First Impressions, Ann Demarais and Valerie White argue that we form initial impressions of others in less than five minutes based on eye contact, body language, appearance, fluency in conversation dynamics, and similar factors. So take every opportunity at your college and with local professionals to practice your interview skills, and candidly self-evaluate each interview performance.
3. Manage your impressions consistently and professionally. More than 50 years ago, sociologist Erving Goffman wrote a wonderful little book about impression management called Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life. Applied to job searches, good impression management requires you to use every channel in your job search as a crucial form of self-presentation – business card, resume, cover letter, portfolio, voice mail messaging, Facebook and other social media accounts, thank-you letters, and elevator pitches. An interview is a crucial form of self-presentation to an employer, but not the only one. The key is consistency and professionalism across all channels to create a strong overall impression.
Participants in the webinar agreed that PR jobs are available, but they are very competitive. Applying these three lessons, along with Carver's sage advice, may help you land one of them.
Dr. Bruce Berger is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising & Public Relations at the University of Alabama and a member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in PR. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool Corporation. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.