I have been searching for an internship or part-time job for a while now. It never occurred to me that the process would be harder than usual. I have had about 3 steady jobs and loved all of them, but they never required any special skills or concentrations. After all, it only takes an age barrier to be a Barista at Starbucks or a server for a restaurant.
I live about 30 miles outside of Houston, so I realized looking for an internship or specified job in a bigger city has a bit to do with the difficulty of landing the right one as well. Houston isn’t seen as the biggest PR hot spot compared to cities like New York and Los Angeles, but trust me, the competition is there. So, as I’ve been going through the process of finding the right fit for me, I decided I would share what I’ve learned. It’s one thing to hear tips and think about the job search process, but the flip side is so different.
Here are some general suggestions for your job search:
Don’t use job search websites as your main source of pursuit.
[Note: Unless it is customized through an organization you are already in.]
Here’s the deal: Use them if they work for you, but try to seek out other networks for job postings. When you’re looking through hundreds or thousands of search results, it’s hard to find the right one and twice as hard to know if it’s the right fit. Most of the time, detailed company information isn’t included. One exception I do like is the job boards powered through schools- they are specific and know what types of students or graduates they want.
Join and connect with the local networks you can find, and learn through people you know. This is how the “who you know” becomes important! The best job leads typically come from organizations you are a part of already, and most of them include areas for or updates about job openings. For PR, I say to look at PRSSA, PRSA, search local companies, and the unusual: connect with other areas of communication. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a PR job; a lot of companies are more than just stand-alone PR agencies. They find it beneficial to have a collaborative mix between different areas of communication, so don’t limit yourself to the possibility of just one.
Yes, it’s true you need to prepare yourself for an interview. Walking into one blindly is asking for them to turn you away and showing that you truly aren’t genuine about your job search. However, there has to be a balance. Waltzing in and spitting out rehearsed lines might deter an interviewer from knowing how well you think quickly on your feet, don’t you think?
The key is to listen. You have to know yourself and their company well enough to conjure up a good response to the specific question they ask. Another blog post hits on this by mentioning: “A good interview is a conversation to experience, not a monologue to prepare.” You can read more at http://sixfigurestart.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/is-it-possible-to-over-prepare-for-an-interview/
The last company I interviewed with left me mortified for this reason. I prepared myself for two days. I had in in the bag. No one could answer typical interview questions better than I could, and I was ready to impress them with my knowledge.
…Until the interviewer didn’t ask me a single question I prepared for, and grilled me over my resume. I was stunned. I had prepared so well for other questions that the ones I was asked surprised me and I was scrambling for the right words to say.
Have proof of your work.
Everyone has read articles and heard tips on how to customize and construct their resume. Follow the right steps and make sure if a company reads this, you seem like the candidate to fit the spot.
But don’t stop there. Make sure that you’re not just writing your accomplishments on your resume, you have proof of them. For example: Writing is an important skill to master for public relations, so I have to prove I can write. Almost every company asks for writing samples.
Introducing: portfolio. A resume typically has to be one sheet, but the length of a portfolio is up to you. Use classwork, campaign work, blog work, or anything you find relevant to the job you’re applying. Sometimes for me, this includes social media work or even essays I’ve written unrelated to PR. This is something after my last interview I realized I need to focus on more. Don’t be afraid to just try it on your own. Research different writing types and styles for PR, and put your pen to the pad. Get someone to critique you. This is how you’ll learn and your best work can be the spotlight of your portfolio.
Research the company.
I don’t have much to say about this because most people already know this one. The trick is to dig a little deeper. Don’t just look over the “About” page, the managers, and the mission statement. Do the work. Look at their blogs, the specific projects of the team you would be on, and find out where their heart is really at. Find what moves the company, and you’ll get a better feel for your fit there. If you don’t believe me about researching deeper, you should read this post, especially the fourth paragraph where she talks about Charles Arment, the chairman on their website that they list to weed out the people who aren’t looking hard enough. http://www.prcrossing.com/article/250119/How-to-Interview-for-Your-First-Job-in-Public-Relations/
Never throw the rules out.
Expand on them, bend them, even break them occasionally, but never throw them completely out. The formality of the application process is there for a reason. You can get creative and color outside the lines, but make sure you are coloring the right picture. I made the mistake once of throwing out the rules and trying to be “cool” and later when I never heard from the company, I reread my email to them and found it a little creepy. I thought I was being creative comparing myself to something out of the ordinary, but let’s face it: There is nothing cool about having “ghost-like qualities”. Yes, I said that. I’m admitting it so no one else ever makes that mistake.
And for goodness sake, if it’s not a grand-slam type of joke, don’t make one. It’s always better to be perceived as intelligent or polite instead of corny. Which leads me to the most important tip to remember that was the theme of the last PRSSA National Conference: Perception is reality.
People will always believe what they perceive, so anticipate their perceptions.