Get ready for the real world

It's May. University commencement ceremonies are in full swing.

It's May. University commencement ceremonies are in full swing. Newly minted communicators have been scouring the planet for jobs for several months and many more will start their search in earnest very soon.

Recently, I found myself talking to a university PR class. The students asked me what I look for when hiring PR staff and what advice I would have for them. The two questions go hand in hand because the attributes that will make you happy and successful in PR are the same ones that will make you attractive to a hiring manager.

When preparing for a PR job interview – as a new grad or an experienced practitioner – if you can provide examples of where you demonstrate each of these attributes you will be ahead of the pack.

Prepare yourself for the life of a “negotiator.” Whether you are at an agency or working at a company, you should be prepared for copious amounts of editing, numerous changes of direction, and countless opinions to balance. Aggregating different, often conflicting opinions into something coherent is your job description. Look at where communications sits within the organizational hierarchy of a company as a sign of how difficult these negotiations may become.

Add calm to every situation. Someone very wise once told me that communicators are paid to face the devil and not flinch. I guess if we were not in communications, we would have been ER doctors (sorry mom). True PR professionals have a Zen-like ability to think rationally and quickly execute under extreme pressure. Organizations that have faced significant external challenges are often good environments for communicators, as they understand the value of good issues management.

Develop “elephant” skin. Communications work is highly visible. If done well, most people can understand it and, unfortunately, will feel qualified to critique it. The good news is your hard work will not go unnoticed. The bad news is your work will not go unchallenged. During your career, look for an environment where this challenge is done constructively and helps you grow.

Have a point of view. Professional communicators are valuable to an organization because they often see what others miss, can articulate what external stakeholders perceive even when the company doesn't want to believe it, and are able to garner support within their organization to “course correct” when necessary. Learn to articulate your point of view effectively and at the best time for the desired effect. Find someone within your first job who does this well and study how he or she does it.

Mary Lynn Carver is SVP of PR for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. A 20-year PR veteran, she spent many years in global pharma communications. Her column looks at healthcare PR issues and topics related to the management of the communications function. She can be reached at

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