Last week, I spent a few hours talking to the students of the faculty of communications at Carleton University about public relations, web strategy and getting a job. The night was segmented into six half-hour round tables, so while most of what I said started to blur together by hour two, I found myself answering a lot of the same questions. So, in the interest of helping out those just embarking on their career in PR, I thought I’d summarize what I said, in a much less rambling fashion.
- Right out of university, think “career” not “job.” You’ll be tempted to go for the highest paying job right out of school, but look farther than salary when you’re considering where to work. Your first few years out of school is a time to invest in your experience. You can come out of it with a few bucks more, or you can come out of it with a marketable skill set that can ultimately earn you more. If it’s between a job that doesn’t pay well but offers a lot of experience and a job that pays more but makes you a glorified file clerk, take the lower pay. It doesn’t seem like it, but you’ll be that much closer to that big paycheque.
- Experience trumps education. Almost everyone that night asked me if they should take a PR certificate. My answer? Those programs are often very good, but they’ll set you back two to three years, and ten to fifteen grand without guaranteeing you anything. Education is important, but if you already have a degree, commit to learning on your own. Read voraciously, and do everything you can to get more experience – volunteer, intern, or start something of your own. Personally, I would hire someone who has actual experience over someone with a few more years of college any day.
- If you can’t write, you’re useless to me. Blunt, perhaps, but it’s the truth. If you’re starting out in PR, you should be writing as much as you possibly can, whether it’s in a personal journal, a novel or a blog. You need to learn how to write like a journalist, like an advertiser, like a CEO and like an engineer. A good PR writer has no writing style – he or she can adapt to the situation seamlessly. The only way to get there is through practice. As my thesis advisor was fond of saying “the first million words is the hardest.”
- Network. Find out the events that are going on and go to them. Find out who’s an expert on what you’re interested in and follow them. Meet people, but don’t do it looking for a job – do it to learn.
- Don’t stop learning. 90% of the job of working at an agency is the ability to learn. When I was starting out, I had to go from being an expert on export tariffs to hospital staffing to carpet off-gassing emissions in a single day. You need to take subjects you know nothing about and become an expert on them quickly, and the only way to do that is to be good at learning.