A recent PRCA study revealed that 43% of directors say a Public Relations degree has little impact to employers when recruiting graduates, with 34% saying it makes graduates less attractive. Not the most uplifting of statistics to read.
However, it’s important to look past these gloomy figures and not underestimate the importance of a media-related degree. Yes, a PR degree is more vocational than a ‘traditional’ academic degree: it equips you with vital skills and experience that can be easily transferred into industry.
Is the graduate jobs market picking up? Whilst there is some evidence for this, it pays to be sceptical. Yes, there are jobs out there, but the competition for each post is extremely fierce. PR and Communications graduates from 2009 are still struggling to find work within the public relations sector, leading many to invest time and money in gaining unpaid but valuable work experience, which makes things even more difficult for soon-to-be graduates like me.
So, how to tackle this predicament? The advice “stand out from the crowd” is often given by tutors and career advisers, but what does this actually mean? Put simply, it means going above and beyond what’s expected of your average graduate.
How to stand out
Be creative, fresh and innovative, and most of all, don’t think like your peers. Brand and market yourself, think outside the box, perhaps design a creative CV.
A recent survey collating the top skills employers look for, includes the following: pro-activity, enthusiasm, self-belief, motivation, problem solving and communication skills.
There are many ways to go about achieving and developing these skills, and there is no better time to start than now, no matter what stage you are in your studies. The first and most obvious route is to consider internships. They offer the opportunity to get hands on experience within industry; however, this often comes at a financial cost.
Unfortunately, starting at the bottom of the ladder means that a lot of these positions are unpaid, and whilst some companies offer travel expenses, the majority expect you to fund them from your own pocket. In this respect, internships do tend to favour those with higher levels of financial support, something that has come under scrutiny in the media recently.
It’s a vicious circle: companies that offer internships and work experience often require applicants to have previous experience. We all need to start somewhere, and this first hurdle is a problem for many graduates. As a Bournemouth University student doing a sandwich degree, I was lucky enough to have a valuable year’s internship within industry as part of my course. However, not all media and PR related degrees across the country offer this, so it is up to you to harness these opportunities yourself.
The good news is that opportunities are out there. Most PR agencies will offer some kind of work experience scheme, as do a whole host of companies, with duration ranging from one week to one year. Information and opportunities are usually displayed on websites, and if you’re not sure, just ask. It shows initiative, enthusiasm and pro-activity.
Gain experience and make contacts
I cannot recommend work experience enough! It’s an invaluable opportunity to not only see what you are and are not suited to, which sectors you may or may not like but it sets the ball rolling.
For those who are about to enter their final year of study, it’s vital to consider your future employment as well as your studies. Some of the best graduate roles require applications as early as October. So ensure that your CV is up to scratch and get cracking: don’t miss the boat.
When it comes to the selection process, be prepared to go that extra mile. From experience, the process can be tedious and time consuming. Assessment days are common, along with presentations, exercises and various forms of tests. But stick with it: not only are you gaining valuable interview experience, but the potential rewards are well worth the effort.
It’s often said that PR is about who you know, and to some extent this is very true. Many opportunities are gained through contacts, old and new, so make the effort to go out there and get them. Coffees and lunches make an ideal informal setting in which you can get to know someone, and offer a more relaxed atmosphere than an interview. Plenty of professionals are more than happy to set aside half an hour to meet for a chat, and give you the opportunity to network and add to the all important little black book of contacts.
Networking events, career fairs and conferences are also a great place to meet potential employers, although go easy on the bubbly and be professional, or your career could come to a spectacular end before it’s even started! Be confident, enthusiastic, don’t be shy and make those all important introductions.
Social media platforms are also very important – don’t ignore them. Create a ‘LinkedIn’ account, use Twitter; Facebook ‘marketplace’ is also a great hub to look for roles. Look out for annual awards and league tables such as: Times Top 100 employers, PR Week’s Top 150 consultancy awards, as well as the CIPR and PRCA awards, which also give a great insight into each agency’s specialisms.
Here are a list of the best websites to help you commence the mammoth job hunt: – good luck!
PR Week jobs: http://www.prweekjobs.co.uk/
Brand Republic jobs: http://jobs.brandrepublic.com/
Guardian jobs: http://jobs.guardian.co.uk/
Photograph by reality-check on Flickr (Creative Commons)