This may sound boring – but hear me out. Having just completed a four-year degree course at Leeds Metropolitan University in Public Relations with French, I secured myself a graduate job back in January, and will start in a few short weeks.
I believe that I won my job offer through strategic decision-making and career planning.
It’s tough out there on the job market at the moment, particularly in PR – one of the most popular degree courses. So how do you get yourself a job before all the other thousands of applicants with similar credentials?
You make yourself stand out from the crowd.
I want to share with you why I think I was hired and how you can make it work for you…
I began planning my career back in 2006 at the age of 18 when looking at university prospectuses and deciding which course to choose. I still wasn’t sure which career path would be right for me, so I kept flicking through with an open mind, waiting for topics to grab me.
The PR courses kept catching my eye so I decided to contact local PR agencies to ask them what they would be looking for in new recruits. I wanted to ensure that I would be making the right decision and ultimately arming myself with the best tools to get that job at the end of it all.
Why study public relations?
Too many students choose a course without any thoughts on where it might take them, or which doors it may open in the future. Degrees are very expensive, let’s be honest, so it seems careless to invest so much money and time in your education if you cannot even imagine how it will help you in a few years.
Do a bit of research. Know where you want to go, and what you must do in order to get there.
The agencies I spoke to were really helpful in their advice, and one response stuck in my mind particularly. It said:
“Too many students leave University with a standard media degree, which is not enough. I’d be looking for other experiences the candidate has had, for example, travelling, charity work, languages they speak, work placements – essentially, anything the candidate has done that will give them the confidence to stand next to me in a boardroom and tell a company director what they should be doing with their communications.”
Two key words stand out: confidence and experiences.
So I went for PR, but combined the degree with French to give myself an initial point of difference. And since then, I have set myself the challenge to not only succeed with my degree, but also to develop myself further in a personal and professional context alongside my studies, building my confidence through life experiences – and I think this is why I was hired.
The interview in January was my first, and it was for a junior graduate role with Text 100, a global PR agency specialising in the technology sector.
Another carefully planned decision lies behind this opportunity, as I had already considered which sectors I would be interested in and which I felt would offer the better career prospects. Consumer technology has been growing recently thanks to gorgeous gadgets such as the iPhone and tech trendsetters like Google and Facebook.
Tech is no longer a ‘geek’ domain, and with the popularity of social networking sites, I believe that this sector has an exciting future ahead. What a great market to start out in!
How a dissertation can help your career
So I decided to write my final year dissertation on social media, exploring how this can be used by brands to build their reputation. This choice was aimed at creating another point of difference for me to outshine others. My specialised knowledge would not only give me a potential topic to talk about at interview, but my findings may even be useful to my prospective employers. If you concentrate on your areas of interest throughout your course – it will stand you in good stead.
The interview went very well, and I felt confident and comfortable talking about myself, selling my skills and experiences to impress them. But this is only because I had thought out my sales pitch…
I used tools that my course has given me, such as a portfolio of achievement with examples of past PR work I have done. I also gave a short presentation on ‘what makes me different’. Because I believe that what secures you a job is demonstrating to the company what you can bring that no one else can. A presentation gives you the chance to show them that you have a personality that they would feel happy to work alongside, that you work well under pressure, and that you are a good communicator (very important in our line of work!)
My presentation touched on specialist conferences I’ve been to, charity work I’ve done and my experiences abroad, including a six month study programme in France. I used these experiences to discuss what I’d learnt about myself, what I’d most enjoyed and how this could make me a better fit in their organisation. But most importantly, I drew on my year-long placement experience at Sainsbury’s Press Office, giving examples of my successes and failures, and how I could build on these at Text 100.
They’re not expecting perfection – but they want to see enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.
In my humble opinion, enthusiasm and experience are what gets you a job in a recession. Uniqueness and personality that make you stand out from the crowd. Everyone has to start somewhere in the working world but unfortunately the industry is becoming even more competitive due to the tough economic climate. Each person is different. So work with what you’ve got, what skills you have, what makes you unique.
And build on your strengths as early as possible – it makes you look motivated and smart.