PR Students: How to Navigate Post-College Life


When transitioning from student life to the workforce, arguably one of the hardest parts to launching your career is just getting your foot in the door. On top of your degree, many employers say it’s best to have prior experience, such as work from an internship or a related job. But has the job market for an aspiring PR maven changed in recent years?

Having initially signed on to the PR field out of a love for Journalism, Nina Clark, a PR Senior at the University of Oklahoma, discovered that she was a people-person at heart.

“I like the relationship aspect that you build with other people and with the media,” says Clark. “Also...every company/business/industry needs some form of PR to help manage how they interact with the public.”

And while the PR industry does in fact provide a lot of opportunity for growth (the Bureau of Labor Statistics predict PR job rates to increase 6 percent from 2014 to 2024), landing that first gig can still be tough. So let’s answer some of Clark’s burning questions for any PR student looking to break into the workforce.

What kind of qualities or characteristics do potential employers look for when hiring for entry-level jobs/interns?

Calmness in the face of stress is everything. Especially in the agency world. If you can keep your charm and cool in the face of an upset or even just an important meeting, your addition to the company can easily become invaluable. When we meet with potential hires and they seem overly stressed, nervous, worried, it’s usually a non-starter and a sign that the search continues.

What skills do PR employers expect college students to have coming out of college and into the workforce?

Having good people skills are 50 percent of what we look for in any job applicant. For PR specifically, it helps to be good at wearing multiple hats and being able to easily pivot from social media to press to email marketing to content writing.

Furthermore, an absolutely well thought-out portfolio will take you all the way. School projects, extracurricular work published, etc. are all great starting points. If you’re writing for your university’s paper, we want to see samples. If you’ve been published elsewhere, we want to read it. We really just want to know that you can both show and tell us you’re capable of the job you’re interviewing for.

Out of all the other recently graduated PR students looking for a job, what are some ways to stand out to get your foot in the door?

There are two really great ways to stand out here.

First of all, if you don’t have name-brand projects to present or a large resume, including some spec work will beef up your portfolio. Sending in a larger amount of clean, easy-to-read samples (even if they were never published) are key to really seeing your strategy, writing style and ensuring you would make a great fit for any clientele.

Second of all, 'fake it ‘till you make it' doesn’t apply. Be honest about your capabilities. Honesty goes a surprisingly long way. If you don’t know something that’s outside of the scope of your degree, that’s absolutely okay to admit. If someone asks you if you know HTML, a great response for a PR major could be, “I don’t know it but I am curious about how it works and applying it to PR strategies in the future”.

What is the difference between in-house and agency public relations?

In-house essentially means you work for one company in their office and manage their marketing strategy, PR and content full-time, having a hand in all aspects of the brand. In an agency, you work with other creative types on multiple projects for multiple clients, so the types of work you get to work on is on a much broader scale.

What should be in a PR portfolio?

Your work, and the way you do it, tells a story. From the start, we want to see the basics, i.e. actual samples of content, press releases, marketing strategies, social media posts, copy and advertising -- no matter if it’s print or digital.

But more than anything, we want to see the story your process tells. Where do you start, how do you get to the end result, and what are the successes in the aftermath. If you ran a campaign, we want to see the audience engagement rates, the bounces, the good and the bad. So much of a good portfolio is wrapped up in the final product of the content you’ve produced -- but that’s only half of the story. If you can include data after the fact, that’s what makes a portfolio truly great.

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