27 August 2012 by Jamie Cwalinski
Summer is once again over, and for some journalism and marketing majors, it’s the start of one last semester before graduation and moving to the “real world” in December.
You all have the rest of your lives figured out right now, right?
For all that’s exciting about the start of the school year, the panicked sense of these outgoing scholars can be far from it. That realization of having one last window to pass your last classes, find a job and get yourself ready for what’s next is overwhelming.
For communications and marketing professionals, this can bring a mix of pleasantry and despair as well. We’ll spend more time reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates for internships or full-time posts. We’ll receive countless emails and calls asking to meet for coffee or set up an informational interview. We’ll have close friends and folks you haven’t talked to in years become friendlier than ever, pushing for an in on a job for their graduating kids.
So aside from the frantic rush, what can the next generation of communications leaders do now to position themselves favorably for that coveted job or internship early, and breathe easier for the last months of their final semester?
I recently moderated a panel discussion in which some of Atlanta’s most successful communications veterans provided young professionals with tips to get noticed and get started in their early careers. Again, while there is no one path to success in this or any field, these experts all revealed common skills and traits that got them in the door – and which they look for in the next generation.
Thus, class of 2012-13, consider this your graduation checklist…or at least a few pointers to make your break into the industry as successful (and least awkward) as possible:
1. KEEP AN OPEN MIND
It’s easy to shoebox yourself coming out of college with a mindset that you only want to work in an agency, or with a specific company, or in one particular field. It’s no surprise then that you may find it harder to land that one specific job.
When looking for the right opportunity, consider your skill set first, and your “dreams” as priority 1A. There are jobs all over the world that may be a great match for what you can and like to do, but may not be explicitly titled as such. Dig deeper into specific company positions – you may be surprised where your skills match. When reaching out to hiring managers or for informational meetings, state what you feel most comfortable doing, as well as where you would like to learn more, and see if what the company offers is a fit.
This also means not being afraid to try a few internships in multiple fields to find what interests you most. While the local panelists I spoke with all currently work in travel and tourism communications, every one of them came out of school with a different path in mind before finding their current jobs.
As another example, a current PR and marketing professional I’ve known my entire life (ahem!) came out of school focused solely on working in sports and entertainment, only applying for jobs and interning in that field. As a change of pace, he decided to take an unpaid internship with a finance and tech agency simply to try something different, unknowing that he would eventually be two years into a job doing similar B2B technology work!
You never know where anything you try will lead, so don’t rule anything out just yet.
2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
It’s something you’ve likely heard a million times, but it can’t be emphasized enough – when interviewing for a job or even just having a casual conversation with someone you hope to work with, know what you are talking about.
Yes, this does mean checking out LinkedIn and studying company websites and job descriptions to have a foundation before your meeting. But this also means reading up on the latest trends affecting the markets the company or person you are talking with serves.
Before any meeting, look over some articles in major industry and local publications, and think about how they could impact the other person or company’s day-to-day activities. These are the values current professionals like to see in aspiring professionals – relative thinking, industry awareness and problem-solving.
While it’s unnecessary and impractical to do days of research to prep for a coffee meeting, asking someone, “Hey, I saw this article and was curious how your team would respond in a similar situation” will likely get you further along than “Where are you from?”
3. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
The panelists all emphasized the obvious – PR, marketing and communications are much different now from when they started. Even when I graduated in 2007, daily print newspapers were still viable, Twitter was still an early concept and PR professionals were faxing press releases to media outlets for promotion.
All panelists relayed how thinking unconventionally was critical to jump-starting their careers. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas when talking to current professionals, and again consider how they could tie back to their current work. While not every idea will be original, or something that makes them jump out of their seats, people are more likely to remember that you came with ideas and (hopefully) delivered them well.
For instance, one of the panelists detailed her experiences working on a campaign for the “Scoop on Poop” exhibit at Fernbank Museum. While it may not seem like the best idea to bring up poop during an interview, bringing forth ideas to extend concepts or programs like this you may have noticed from outside, unusual as they may be, will make you more memorable.
Likewise, knowing the trends in communications can help greatly. When presenting those ideas, think of how they would translate on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Brainstorm if a news release can play out in video form, or how it could be part of an email campaign.
And, as the panelists will confer, some news directors still like to receive those faxes, since today this is considered “out of the box” outreach.
Unfortunately, class of 2012-13, there is no textbook answer to landing a job in PR or communications – if there was, you all would be taking classes in that your last semester instead of Media Law or Campaigns. However, there are a few basic steps to keep in mind that can give you an edge on your classmates when battling it out in the real world. Breaking into communications really is a matter of persistence and positioning, along with the fundamental skills you’ve spent 18 years perfecting!
Best of luck in your pursuit, and I look forward to working with you someday…once those finals are passed of course!