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practical tips for PR & communications graduates

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PR and communications graduates of the class of 2019 have received their diplomas and put away their caps and gowns. As they prepare for careers in communications, they’re probably receiving a good deal of advice from their elders. Most of that guidance follows common themes: work hard to achieve your dreams, be ethical, be independent, seize the moment.

Here’s some more practical career advice for PR and communications graduates.

Get close to the decision-makers and to the keepers of information that decision-makers use. That’s where you can perform the most valuable strategic research. The VP of PR of State Mutual where my career started spent most of his time on the top floor in the executive suite. He knew everything that was going on in the company; he knew most everything the CEO was thinking. Most people thought he was just killing time. I recognized he was doing strategic research.

Understand the value of humor. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was criticized as being a business cliché. So the chamber arranged for a speech by its CEO and president at a major business event in Washington, DC. He could have given a whiney “we are not a cliché; we do important work speech.” Instead, the VP of PR suggested a speech that was filled with over 200 clichés about the role of business in America. The CEO delivered it with a totally straight face. The audience of businessmen and journalists realized it was a parody – and loved it.  Even while using only clichés, the speech delivered real substance about the role and value of business in America. The speech got superb PR. Most every major publication covered the speech including Business Week.

The lessons: Don’t underestimate the value of associations as PR platforms. They can get attention that corporations can’t. Be willing to take risks. Doing the unexpected often gets a better reaction. Educate by entertaining. Humor deflects criticism.

Empathy. Improve communications through empathy. Empathy is the most important element of communications. Understand your audience, feel their pain points, create a connection that says “I understand the problem – and you can trust me to fix it.” Yet the vast majority of corporate communications lacks empathy and doesn’t attempt to understand or connect with the audience. And those audiences start with the journalists that PR pros pitch.

Network. Get involved with local, national and international associations such as PRSA, and attend conferences and other networking events to meet people face to face, says Beki Winchel at PR Daily. A brief “elevator pitch” that succinctly describes you, your abilities and what you seek will help contacts remember you.

Communications graduates can also network by joining social media groups and following PR pros on Twitter and LinkedIn. Through LinkedIn’s introduction feature, your contacts can introduce you to others you’d like to meet online. In addition, LinkedIn endorsements and recommendations help make job candidates stand out. “Reach out to people who can endorse skills that will easily transfer to PR,” suggests Amanda Cristi, a PR account coordinator at Sage Communications.

Establish and maintain relationships — even if you see no benefit at the time. Low-level relationships can be important. Maintain those casual connections by staying in touch periodically. Do favors whenever you can for whomever you can. It makes you feel good and may get paid back multiple times over. Be gracious — even when things don’t go right.

Clean up your social media profiles. According to research from Cross-Tab Marketing Services, 70% of hiring executives say they have rejected candidates because of information they found online. Google your name and remove any distasteful or offensive comments and images. You should remove any “partying” pictures – even if it just shows you holding a red plastic cup. Reviewing your privacy settings can help make sure your private life is really private. Filling your social media feed with upbeat images rather than rants and complaints will create an image of a positive person that people like to work with. Remember to describe yourself honestly and consistently, as hiring managers may look for discrepancies between what job applicants say in interviews and what they post online.

But show personality. Despite the common advice to be cautious on social media, some urge expressing individual personality by sharing posts about your personal life and beliefs.

“After all, agencies and companies want to hire interesting people–not buttoned-up, slick and polished robots. Your personality–whatever it is–should come through loud and clear in your social content,” writes Arik C. Hanson, principal of ACH Communications. Highlight any special interests you may have such as sports, music or volunteer activities.

Build a digital presence. A complete and updated LinkedIn profile is a must-have for professionals in today’s world. Many professionals recommend creating a personal website, blog, or a podcast. More than an online resume, a good personal website displays your portfolio, such as writing, image and video examples, and helps build a personal brand.

Create a “mission statement.” Just as brands develop mission statements, PR graduates can write a clear, concise objective that explains their career intentions. Share any special interests in social responsibility with potential employers. “While it’s always good to keep your professional options open, it doesn’t hurt to share specific areas of interest and experience. Just one phrase may be enough to set you apart from the thousands of other young professionals you’re competing against,” writes Vanessa Restifo, a public relations and Spanish graduate of Westminster College, for her PRSSA Chapter.

Don’t pressure yourself. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to “have this whole career thing figured out” at age 21 or 22, Hanson advises. Through social media, you might learn about friends accepting outstanding jobs at large, respected companies or agencies. You might feel inadequate. “Don’t. Everyone moves through their career at a different pace. And that’s OK,” says Hanson, who confides that his career didn’t gain traction until he was in his 30s. “Everyone’s different. And everyone has their own path. Find yours–that’s what’s most important.”

Final tip: Learn from old pros – but be willing to change their methods.

Bottom Line: As communications graduates seek jobs and build their careers, they can turn to these recommendations for guidance.