After Dean Connelly offered sage advice on PRWeek’s #SecretTop150 careers networking panel, we spoke to him to get his top PR career tips.
On battling the in-house PR stigmas, tips on how to forward your career and the key to getting your CV over the chopping block - Dean Connelly, PR and communications recruiter at Handle Recruitment, has some answers.
Dean Connelly at PRWeek's #SecretTop150
Agency or In-house? Here’s what you need to know...
A lot of junior PRs want to know if they should start their career in-house or agency side. Both can have their benefits, it all comes down to what agency or brand you work in.
According to Connelly, "the biggest mistake a candidate can make is joining a company that thinks PR is all about media relations." He goes on to say: "If you spend two years in a role that is purely focused on securing coverage and not thinking about how, what, why, where or when then you will be outshone by other PRs who have started to hone a strategic skill set".
Connelly has seen too many candidates progress to more senior levels only to find that they can’t cut it in a major brand or forward thinking PR agency. They simply lack the ability to create campaigns that drive a consistent message, engage consumers based on data insight and get them to take action.
He goes on to say: "A lot of the good PR agencies often won’t consider candidates who are moving from an in-house role". This is purely because the demands of working across six different brands often results in the PR moving back to an in-house role or struggling to counsel each client effectively.
Don’t let your CV get brushed under the pile
Your CV is the first thing a brand or agency will see and they will make the decision to interview you on this alone.
As a recruiter for some of the top PR agencies out there, Connelly has seen his fair share of CVs. His tips for creating an eye catching one are simple:
- Your CV should consist of bullet points of your duties and responsibilities. Keep this to five or six points. No more, no less.
- After this, it should have at least three examples of campaigns or projects that you have worked on.
- The devil’s in the details…what was the brief from the client? How did you and the team achieve this? What was your achievement or role in this?
He adds: "If you just list that you have secured coverage, pitched to journalists and handled social media accounts, your CV won’t make it through. However, if you highlight examples such as you delivered a social media campaign that increased twitter followers by 100% or turned a journalist who wrote negatively about your brand into an ambassador you will get more cut through.
Should you include a cover letter?
"As a recruiter, I look immediately at their CV for their experience, how long they have stayed within each role and what clients or brands they have experience on. From there I will call for an initial casual conversation to gain insight on what would normally be put into a cover letter.
"Recruiters see so many CVs. We always look at the CV first to assess the suitability of the candidate. This often means that cover letters get bypassed in favour of the content of the CV", he adds.
For line managers who don’t see CV’s everyday - it’s different. Connelly comments: "Some do like a cover letter that gives more insight into the person applying." He suggests that writing about being a team player, creative and proactive won’t get you the interview. Rather, Connelly suggest you "give examples of key achievements, relevant examples for the role you are applying to and how you have delivered in your previous positions".
You’ve been asked in for an interview, now secure the job!
The good news is that it is a candidate’s market. The PR industry has a real shortage of talent across the board especially at the account director level. With that being said, you still need to ensure that you are putting your best foot forward to secure a role.
Connelly advises: "Even though PR agencies sometimes struggle to fill positions they are willing to wait and find someone who is the right cultural fit." He goes on to mention that they tend to all want the same qualities in a candidates. Someone who is culturally switched on, can think wider about the role they are given and demonstrate they have ambition.
But how do you display these qualities in an interview?
"It’s really important to prepare campaign examples for your interview. It’s not enough to just talk through your duties. Line managers will want to hear examples of how you secured a tough piece of coverage or why you ran a thought leadership campaign for a client". They really want to see that you can think about the bigger picture of what you are doing and your opinions on what works and what doesn’t work.
Learning and development - what will give you an edge?
Training courses are important but you shouldn’t stick to PR specific courses. There are so many other skills you can pick up and hone from other specialisms such as digital marketing or advertising. These will be beneficial to your career development and will make your CV stand out when you’re looking for your next PR role.
"But don’t neglect the training you receive from experience", says Connelly. "If you’re a quick learner with the ingenuity to help out above and beyond your required duties then you can move up the ranks quickly.
"The fastest mover I have seen is someone going from an intern to an account director in just 3.5 years! Their salary jumped from £20,000 to £43,000 in that time frame."