Final year: a time to fear or a time to shine?

This is an article by Natalie Smith.
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Natalie Smith

Year after year it’s easy to spot those students who are on the final stretch of their degree, working hard to make their time at university worthwhile. It’s those who spend more time in the library than they do at home, those who have substituted all night partying for early bedtimes, and those who constantly seem to have the word dissertation playing on their mind.

So why is it that so many students shudder to think of the final year of their undergraduate degree, and just what advice can be lent to perhaps change this dread into optimism?

Lauren Sedgley, a final year PR student at Leeds Metropolitan explains:

“Having just completed a placement year I’ve found it quite difficult to adjust to university life again. I think we’ve all had a bit of a shock with the amount of work we’ve got on. I’m just focusing on my dissertation at the moment but I know I need to be applying to graduate schemes as soon as possible!”

The pressure’s on

Now it does seem like there’s often too much to think about, and of course you have more work on your plate than ever before, but remember too that this is your final year at university – make the most of it! These final two semesters will allow you to reach your academic potential, with your dissertation giving you an ideal opportunity to show what you’ve learnt, and how you’ve developed as a PR professional.

Lauren’s right, as crucial as it is to get going with the final year dissertation, graduate opportunities are already open for 2011 and it’s time to get involved. Although applying for graduate roles seems to be bottom of the agenda, it’s important to start considering agencies and organisations and where you might want to apply.

But how do you know where to apply, and which companies even offer graduate places? Research is key, and utilising Google search (as simple as it may sound) is a great way to get going. Set some time aside each week to research possible graduate schemes or entry level roles and note down any that catch your eye.

Ben Cotton compiled a great list of some of those companies that do offer graduate roles. Although it’s for the 2010 schemes, this is still useful to show what time of year opportunities come up, as well as linking you directly to the agencies’ sites. It’s worth starting a document with key deadlines to work towards, so you don’t find yourself throwing together an application at the last minute!

So what if you find the perfect agency but there’s no sign of a graduate scheme? Don’t simply accept this and move on, get in contact with their HR team and see if they have any opportunities available. This shows real drive and a key interest in the company – impressing potential employers with such initiative can make them take notice, encouraging them to keep you in mind for future roles even if they aren’t currently hiring.

Update your CV

On top of the usual routes in, why not be creative and really catch the eye of employers? Take Jed Hallam’s Facebook crusade or the much talked about video CV of Graeme Anthony as examples. Jed’s unique idea gained him a great job at social media specialist agency Wolfstar and Graeme has since been offered opportunities across the globe.

Now more than ever it’s vital that PR students do all they can to improve their offering to graduate employers. With each PR agency receiving up to 300 graduate applications a year, what exactly can students do to give them that competitive advantage?

Firstly it’s important to remember who your competition is – yes that’s right, the ‘red brick’ university graduates. That being said, the second thing is to remember NOT to be intimidated by this.

So what if someone has a politics degree from Oxbridge? There’s nothing to say that makes them a better candidate than you for the job. Believe in your academic ability and remember that your degree has taught you specific skills and knowledge about the PR industry – use this to your advantage.

Advice from practitioners

When looking for useful hints and tips about having a successful final year and graduate career, who better to ask than industry professionals? Here’s some great advice from influential PR practitioners and graduates:

“Showcase your writing. Writing is an extremely important skill in PR and you need to demonstrate you’re good at it. Try setting up a blog and writing on it regularly.” Sarah Stimson, Editor of esPResso

“Volunteer at a big charity, they tend to have loads of graduate volunteers doing very similar work to an agency Junior Account Executive.” Paul Crouch, PR Consultant, Chameleon PR

“I would recommend learning at least three case studies of successful PR campaigns. The main reason for this is that it seems to be a reoccurring question at interviews. Not only will it give you something to talk about the interview stage, but it demonstrates a wider appreciation of the industry and what the components of a successful campaign are.” Ben Cotton, Digital Brand Consultant, Edelman

“Research is absolutely key, and unfortunately seems to be the most commonly overlooked aspect. This research should include three different areas: the industry, the agency and the people. It’s important to read as much as you can, and know exactly why you want to work for that agency. Know the clients, the work, the products, the office and the people. Know it all.” Jed Hallam, Head of Innovation, Wolfstar

Above all else, keep in mind that although it may be tough at times, it will be worth it. Think of the sense of achievement you’ll feel when you hand in your dissertation, when you get that call from your ideal agency and when you put on your cap and gown for graduation day.

So keep going with the work, start researching potential employers and make sure you’re ready to really show what you can do!


  1. Hey Natalie,

    Fantastic article full of useful advice! I participially agree with Jed – there is no substitute for doing your research.

    Whilst, it can be difficult to know how much time to spend swatting up – if you want to really impress, it’s simply a must that you have a good understanding of the industry, agency and its staff.

    Also, I’ve spent the last couple of days putting together a list of 2011 PR Grad Schemes…it’ll be published on 13 November at



  2. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for your comments, I’m really glad you liked the article!

    Great news to hear that you’re updating your grad scheme list, I look forward to checking it out!

    Thanks again,


  3. Hey Natalie,

    The 2011 list of PR Grad Schemes is now live and I’ll be updating it as more schemes are announced.



  4. Katie Stambek says:

    Hey Natalie,

    I really liked your article. From one PR student to another, thank you for the insight and helpful advice. As students, we are doing all we can to prepare ourselves to get that job we’ve always dreamed of. I found displaying my skills to potential employers the most challenging. We are fortunate to have blogs as an extra way to show off our writing skills.

    Ben Cotton’s (Edleman) advice really helpful. Having knowledge of a few cases on hand for interviews would be a great way to show my passion and interest in the direction of the industry.

    Katie Stambek

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