Working in the Public Relations Industry: Tips from PR Pros

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Ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in a room full of communication professionals, as they dish about the skills and attributes they love to see in internship and job candidates (and the ones that make them throw resumes in the recycle bin)? I had that chance recently, and it was eye-opening.  Below are thoughts from Meri McGloin of Ketchum, Jessica Weidensall and Matt Wager of Weber Shandwick and Pam Golum of The Lippin Group, who were on-campus helping with student portfolio and resume reviews thanks to our CU Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter and faculty adviser Dawn Doty  (Thank you, thank you, thank you!)

Social Media:

If you don’t use it at all – why are you applying for a PR job?  These pros expect interns graduates to be digital-savvy, and that includes using social media.  If you hate social media and don’t want to live on your phone, they say you should at least use Instagram and Twitter.  You’ll be expected to know how to navigate those platforms to research, before pitching.  And, of course, you should be on LinkedIn.

Resume Dos and Don’ts:

All of these pros agreed that a summary (up top, directly under your contact info) helps them see, at a glance, what you’re all about.  If you’re just starting out, this is more difficult.  You may not have much to “summarize.”  That’s OK – you can skip this until you have at least one internship under your belt.  But those candidates with some experience should be able to “tie it all together” in a short, summary paragraph or bullet points.  Include relevant details that matter.  Appeal to the laziest person in the room by being concise and clear.  Don’t make anyone guess about your skills or expertise.

Speaking of Skills…

It might go without saying that you must have an understanding of digital strategy.  The pros want to see skills in Google Analytics and analytics in general.  Paid search, boosting.  Design skills, including graphic design.  Understand how influencers are used in a campaign vs. being one, yourself. These words were tossed around and everyone nodded in agreement.  You need these skills.  If you’re going to specialize or go into a niche field, you’ll need more specialized training to gain specific skills – maybe in crisis communications, or entertainment industry public relations.  Whatever you decide to go into, the pros want you to own it.  Take classes, read as many trade/industry magazines and websites as you can, and connect with professional organizations in your niche area.

Be a “Student of Society”

Know your audience.  Read news. Be aware of trends.  Have a broad interest in current events and world affairs.  Just be aware of what’s going on.  They know you don’t have much time, so they recommend The Daily podcast from The New York Times, Vice, The Skimm and Morning Brew.  Finally, use your common sense.  Trust your gut.  If you really know your client and their industry, you’ll be able to make decisions they can trust.  And they realize nobody bats a thousand.  When you make a mistake (as will happen when you’re just starting out), learn from it, be kind to yourself and move on.


About the Author

Christine Mahoney

Coach Christine Mahoney is the Internship & Career Coordinator at the University of Colorado Boulder’s new college of Media, Communication and Information (formerly the Journalism & Mass Communication program). Christine is a certified Global Career Development Facilitator and member of the National Society of Experiential Education. Prior to finding her calling helping students connect with employers and launch their careers, Christine taught broadcast journalism courses at CU Boulder for nine years. She is a former award-winning television news anchor/reporter, where she worked in markets including Denver, Sacramento, Las Vegas and Michigan.

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