Every month I receive around 100 applications from graduates looking for their first PR job. I’m diligent about reading every email as I think everyone deserves a fair chance, but sadly, around 99% are relegated to the recycle bin before I’ve even finished the first paragraph. That’s not because they don’t have potential, are lacking relevant experience, or haven’t chosen the right degree. Sadly, it’s something much simpler and easier to avoid – their covering letter is poorly written. It just takes one spelling slipup, formatting fail or grammatical misdemeanour for me to know that this person simply doesn’t have what it takes to succeed at a company like TopLine.
As far as I’m concerned, there are four skills at the core of every PR role. They are: copywriting, attention to detail, empathy and verbal communication. I use your CV and covering letter to judge your copywriting and attention to detail, and assess your empathy and verbal communication at your interviews. So, while your interpersonal skills might be off-the-charts, you will never have the opportunity to demonstrate that to me unless you can master the first two. Unfortunately for you, there are so many other graduates fighting for the same role, that employers like me can afford to be picky.
So here are my top tips on how to land your first PR role:
- Make sure your CV is watertight. That means it should be beautifully formatted, easy to read and understand, spell-checked and free from grammatical errors, continuity breaks and typos. I highly recommend that after you have drafted your CV you approach people whose opinions you respect and ask them to give your CV a once over. It’s not cheating, it’s good practice – in any PR role you will be expected to give a piece of work your best shot and then draw on your resources for feedback, and you want to show me that you care about the small details.
- Get office experience. As far as I’m concerned, unpaid PR internships here and there are a waste of time. You’re not going to be given anything meaningful to do and you’ll barely learn a thing. In fact, I think these brief stints can be damaging on your CV. That’s because as an employer, I know that while it is easy to find people, it is difficult to find good people in PR. The result is that I will always question why all those short spurts at multiple PR agencies never led to an offer. I’m much more interested in someone who has worked in an office, as a temp or receptionist for six months, as they will understand some of the basics of office work that apply in any industry.
- Commit to something. Another major turn-off is a patchwork CV. You worked at Costa for three months. Then you did a month at a PR agency. After that you were a student ambassador for a couple of weeks, and then you tried working at the O2 store, spent a term writing for the campus newspaper and temped at a law firm for your summer break. I need to see that you can commit to something and stick it out, and I don’t care what that is (I’ll be as impressed by someone who worked at B&Q throughout uni as I will be by someone who taught maths in their spare time). Every PR job has its ups and downs and you really do need to show that you’re not the type to quit when the going gets tough.
- Do your research. Learn as much about the industry as you possibly can. Read the books (there aren’t many good ones out there unfortunately, but read everything you can), follow the blogs (try the B2B PR Blog for some introductory advice) and engage with prominent people in the industry on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
- Prep for interviews. Make sure that before you go in for an interview, you have read every page on that company’s website, have a list of questions to ask the interviewer, and have looked the interviewer up on LinkedIn and Twitter. Then, have ready-made answers to questions such as ‘Why have you chosen PR?’ or ‘Why do you want to work for us?’
- Read the papers. The best PR people are passionate about news and current affairs. If you can demonstrate that you are a news-geek, you’ll be well ahead of most other applicants.
- Be professional in your interview. You would be amazed at how some people behave during interviews. Make sure you don’t let yourself down by arriving late, chewing gum (!!) or smelling like you haven’t had a shower this week.
- Keep trying. I applied to over 100 companies before landing my first PR job. It was tough, but persistence paid off. It will for you too.