By Helen Salt, Director of Black Cherry Recruitment Ltd.
As a Public Relations and Public Affairs Recruiter, I get a lot of graduates and junior candidates asking how they can break into, what is a very competitive and popular industry.
My response is simple...achieve a good degree (2:1 or above in PR or English), gain as much work experience as possible and be proactive in your job hunting!
It is certainly not enough to have a degree and expect to be given an entry level PR or Public Affairs role in today’s job market. PR and Public Affair companies expect to see at least six months to a years’ solid work experience within the industry and the most successful candidates are those who have managed to gain that experience within one or two companies rather than a succession of one to four week placements.
So how do budding PR and Public Affairs professionals get said experience while they are working hard at University?
Many degree courses offer a sandwich year, which gives candidates the opportunity to secure a year placement in a PR/Public Affairs department or consultancy, where they can get as much front line experience as possible.
If the chosen degree course does not include a sandwich year then it is vital to get a part time PR or Public Affairs placement role. A lot of companies are happy to have students working for them on a weekly basis, allowing the students to work around their studies and also work full time between terms.
If Public Affair’s is someone’s chosen career path, all of the above still stands but a Political Degree is highly desirable as is experience working in local or national politics.
After candidates have gained their degree and work experience the next stage is to secure their first permanent role. This job hunt should be undertaken with dedication and determination.
Make sure any covering e-mail, letter and CV is spell checked, proof read several times and has no spelling or grammatical errors...employers will often throw a CV in the bin if there are! Keep the CV to two pages long, emphasising any PR/Public Affairs experience and keeping unrelated work experience to a minimum.
Once the CV and covering letter/e-mail is as good as it gets they should contact the relevant recruitment consultancies to register their details and find out about what opportunities are currently being handled.
When, using recruiter, candidates should make a point of not allowing their CV to be sent to a company/ agency without their permission, the same CV from multiple sources will dilute the approach and often infuriate the employer too!
In addition, a savvy graduate should try and companies with in house PR/Public Affairs in the localities they would like to work in. It’s important to keep busy with the job search as once momentum builds up there is more likelihood for interviews and thus job offers.
Once an interview is confirmed it’s then down to the candidate to research the prospective company thoroughly and if it is a PR/PA agency, the clients they handle too, the more research and background knowledge the better!
Taking along a portfolio of examples of work done will demonstrate their experience, ability and presentation skills. The lucky candidate should objective about their own ‘USP’s, whether they consider themselves to be strong creatively, strategically or commercially they must articulate what makes them stand out.
Keeping up appearances.... Clients prefer those candidates who are stylish, well groomed and who make an obvious effort. First impressions still count!
Ask questions. The conversation has to be two-way and they need to show an interest in what the company has achieved. More and more, employers are impressed with those candidates who adopt a ‘can-do’ attitude...new recruits rarely get hand-held any longer, so proof of pro-activity always helps.
Whilst many irons may be in the fire, if and when a job offer comes in, it is important not to keep the potential employer waiting. A decision should be reached and communicated within 24 hours at the latest!
Essentially, the PR and Public Affairs industry offers fantastic career opportunities for bright, determined and ambitious individuals with ‘can do’ attitudes, so if this industry sounds like the place you want to build your career work hard and make it happen.
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