It is becoming more difficult for graduates to develop a PR career.
This is not only due to the recent recession and an increase in people attending university, but also the sheer number of students wishing to progress in a professional career such as PR.
Media, and specifically PR, are popular career destinations for today’s graduates. Public relations and media careers are known for being relatively glamorous and, crucially, these professions accept unrelated degrees such as Media Studies and English Literature. So as a result, once the graduation ceremony and ball are over, a huge number of graduates begin clamouring for that elusive PR job.
This desperate rush for the “easy” careers (as some undergraduates deem them) has serious consequences. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. At a graduate level, there is a massive supply of labour, all clambering for a limited number of PR jobs.
So what can students and graduates do to differentiate themselves from their rivals?
From grads to riches
Sarah Murray, account executive at PR and marketing agency MCC International, describes her route into PR:
“I graduated in 2009, slap bang in the middle of the recession. The job market was in such a dismal state that our lecturers and tutors were encouraging us to go travelling for a year or apply for jobs in supermarkets and coffee houses in order to ride out the recession.
“Many of my fellow students followed this advice and saved up quickly, working in pill-packing factories to buy their plane tickets to adventure. I, however, wanted to hit the ground running. I feared that all I had learnt would just disappear, not to mention that sleeping in hostels in malaria-ridden countries just wasn’t for me!
“In order to tackle what seemed to be the biggest shock of my life, I jumped in at the deep end. I moved straight into a flat in Southampton, a city which seemed to have plenty of small retail jobs that would tide me over and got a full-time job in Pret A Manger. This paid the bills, but was rather disheartening work, so I applied for every job possible.
“I signed on with all the recruitment agencies in the local area and registered with jobs websites, setting the goal of applying for five positions every day. This was a heartless task and a discouraging one, following my fun days at university. However, I kept trying and managed to get a temporary job in Southampton Solent University in the finance department. This was a real breakthrough and allowed me a better wage and a chance to keep applying for jobs in the industry that I studied in.
“My chance finally came from a source that I hadn’t really considered. After giving a tour of the university to visiting professors, I was asked whether I would consider applying for an internship at the university, which included a funded Master’s degree. I had always considered a Master’s, but was concerned about the money, knowledge and motivation necessary.
“However, the internship was a big chance for me to turn a high 2:1 PR graduate into someone that stood out among the massive crowd of PR wannabes. I personally blame Ab Fab!
“Throughout an internship, networking is key. I kept in touch with all my old PR work-placement contacts and tried to gain as much experience as possible. I’m not going to lie and say it was a breeze working and studying full-time, but it was definitely worth it in the end.
“As I came to the end of both my course and internship, I decided it was again time to look for a job in PR. I had done as my tutors and lecturers suggested and filled my year after graduating with work experience and learning, so hoped that all my hard work would pay off in the form of a job in PR.
“Sure enough, the first one I applied to hired me and now I am working as an account executive at the international PR and marketing agency, MCC International.
“Many of my classmates did not have such luck. The majority decided to delay working full-time by going travelling for a year or two. Many of them haven’t returned yet, hooked on sunshine and adventure. One friend came back and managed to get a job at Champion Communications in London, which saw her land on her feet – she was one of the lucky ones. Another went on to secure a job as a PR and marketing assistant in Southampton, until the recession caused mass redundancies in the company. The good news is after a shaky start she is now working for a PR agency in London.
“One of my close friends found getting a job in PR impossible so started applying anywhere in a sporadic fashion with no success. So she decided to work in an estate agency showing properties. She has recently been head hunted and is now moving to London as an estate agent.
“Another friend now works in Tesco on the tills and has resigned herself to the fact that there are no graduate jobs out there. She is saving up to move abroad and hopes that she will find something overseas.
“The job market has shrunk with all the recession cutbacks and the majority of jobs are now found in big cities such as London and Manchester. PR graduates are having to look into alternative jobs until a preferred position opens up in a company or settle for a completely different career. I’m just glad that I managed to differentiate myself from others and stand out when it comes to the job application process. With the change in tuition fees, the job market will change again and hopefully, make it easier eventually for graduates to get jobs in their chosen profession.”
Ben Smith is managing director of PR commentary and careers site PR Moment.