Skills Entry-Level PR Hires Should Have

Three months from now, the class of 2013 will walk across the stage to collect their diplomas and immediately have a panic attack when they realize it’s time to look for that first job out of college. First, let me give you a piece of advice – you have the rest of your life to work, take the summer, and explore the world if you have that luxury. That’s something I wish I had done (I started my first job the day after graduation).

For those of you that need to get a job – you know, like yesterday – I thought it would be helpful to share my perspective on the skills I believe most employers are looking for in a PR hire. The reality is, if you’re a recent grad and don’t have these skills, you’ll have a harder time finding that first job. If you’re an undergraduate, learn from this post – so you’ll be in a better place 2, 3, or 4 years from now.

First, Writing Skills

No matter what you’ve heard about all that sexy social media stuff, you still need to know how to write in PR. Ideally, you majored in Journalism (or English) – or your PR or Communications program had a heavy concentration of writing-related courses. You should be able to walk into your first job interview with any (or all) of the following:

  • Sample articles you wrote (bonus points if you had them published) – the best examples from my perspective are newspaper articles (online or print) and magazine articles (again, bonus points if you have both consumer and business examples)
  • A variety of writing samples – articles on a wide range of subjects, press release samples, blog posts, and perhaps entire press kits
  • New media writing sample examples – blog posts, tweets, and Facebook posts are great – no, not your personal ones, but rather ones you wrote on behalf of an organization
  • Long-form writing, such as research reports or in-depth public relations plans

If you don’t have writing samples like those referenced above, consider seeking out internships this summer and volunteering to write anything you can to build up your portfolio. You may want to take on a client of your own to start gathering work examples – consider helping out a family or friend with their business, or volunteer for a local non-profit organization or church.

Bonus tip: Keep in mind that most prospective employers will give you a writing test or have you write something on the spot during the screening process. Writing proficiency will be the difference between you getting a second interview and a rejection letter.

Second, Internship Experience

Whether through your coursework or on your own during breaks, you should be able to share your experience across a couple of different internships. Ideally, with agencies or larger organizations. You should be able to show examples of stories you pitched and placed, or campaigns you worked on and generated results for. Being able to demonstrate that you can work in the communications department or on an account team and be a contributor on day one is a huge plus for prospective employers. The more “real” work you can show, the better.

Bonus tip: sure you can talk about your internship experience, but if you prepare a case study or presentation on the work you did, you would make a stronger impression. Being able to talk about the results you generated and the impact they had is more impressive than showing a press release you wrote. Focus on the results.

Third, the Social Media Experience

I put social media experience third for a reason. It’s less important than the examples I shared above. That said, this experience will put you ahead of candidates who are your equal when it comes to writing and internship experience. If you’ve developed your own presence in social media throughout college – writing a blog, or building a following on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media, this experience is particularly relevant for getting your first job. You need to be able to demonstrate you are proficient in using these tools because clients and organizations are looking for employees who can help manage their brand voices across these channels. Bonus points if you’re using emerging channels like Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Snapchat – just a couple that is of particular importance at the moment.

With this set of skills, it’s more important that you understand how to use the tools than the content you’ve shared here. You should be able to demonstrate that you understand the fundamental differences in how these tools work – whether it’s conducting research to identify influencers, or you’re well-versed in some new tips and tricks for using the platforms beyond their core capabilities. For example, if you’re using Pinterest images on a blog and driving traffic back and forth in some unique way, this would impress most interviewers. If you used these social platforms to build an audience for a client during an internship or coursework, even better. Finally, if you know how to use analytics tools – either those built into the platforms or third-party apps for reporting on audience growth, community activity, or traffic generated from these platforms, even better.

Bonus tip: most employers will check you out on social media. Make sure your accounts are up-to-date before you apply for a job. It wouldn’t hurt to have a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter account, and a Facebook profile for starters. You might want to “check in” on Foursquare – or Tweet – when you arrive for your interview. I’m surprised by how many people I’ve interviewed for social media jobs that don’t do this. We want to see that you know how to use these tools – and that you’ve done your legwork to check us out before you show up as well.

Fourth, Multimedia Experience

I don’t expect most students to have the following skills out of college. If they have all the skills mentioned above, but also bring these unique ones to the table, it’s hard to pass up on the hire. So what are these skills? Here is a couple that stands out:

  • You have a blog you’re managing that generates revenue (e.g. you have ads on your blog or use AdWords to generate money from your blog) – this shows that you know how to not only produce content that attracts an audience but that you’re also able to set up and customize a blog – these are advanced skills.
  • You know how to use Photoshop or the equivalent to alter images – this can be as simple as putting words over a funny cat picture or graphic, or something more advanced like creating your own infographics. If you know how to use image editing software, this is an incredibly relevant skill for public relations and content marketing today.
  • You know how to shoot, edit and post videos to platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, etc. If you are skilled with video, and can actually show a video you produced and generated views on, this will make you stand out. Most people I work with are still learning how to do this.
  • You know something about SEO – like how the Google Panda update changes the game for how content is ranked on Google. You know how to conduct keyword research and leverage SEO tactics to help people discover your content on blogs and websites. Typically, if you have a blog as mentioned in the bullet above, you have some of these skills already.
  • Finally, you know how to code. This one is far-fetched, but if you know how to program – not just HTML, but a little PHP or Javascript, you probably don’t need to get a job. You can probably do your own thing and make more money right out of college (if you’re not already doing that). That said if you have these skills, good for you. I’ll probably want to hear from you.

I’m not saying that you NEED to have these skills above to get your first job – but if you DO have these skills, you won’t be looking for a job very long. The more skills from this list that you have, the better your chances of getting a job in PR or marketing. The PR industry has changed dramatically in the 15 years since I graduated. At the time, if you had a couple of internships and a strong writing portfolio, you were a shoo-in at most agencies. Nowadays, there are far more graduates out there, and fewer jobs to go around. There’s a supply and demand problem in the market today and you can increase your odds of success by adding more to your resume before you hit the job hunt trail.

What skills from this list do you have? If you’re a prospective employer, do you agree or disagree with my assessment? What experience should new hires have on day one, versus what they can learn on the job? Please share your thoughts below.

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