For our 2012 PR graduate scheme at Hotwire, we had over 500 applicants for just six places.
Last year, there were on average 83 applications for every graduate job.
So standing out is important – but how can you make sure your application stands out for the right reasons?
Here are my top ten tips:
- Have your own voice – Standing out is all about conveying who you are. When I’m sifting through hundreds of applications, I find it amazing how repetitive so many of them are. Give each answer a lot of thought and write in your own voice and style, rather than trying to imitate a tone you think we want.
- Don’t let typos sabotage you – This sounds obvious, but it still needs to be said. The amount of applications that are peppered with mistakes and typos – often in the very sentence where the candidate professes their attention to detail and accuracy – is surprising. This is a road to the instant rejection pile, and not just because it shows a lack of care, but because in PR, we’re looking for the ability to produce quality written work for our clients.
- Be original but not wacky – PR is a creative profession so it’s important to show your innovative side, but thinking outside of the box doesn’t always mean being out of this world. Original content is key, not elaborate use of fonts, background images or other things that cloud your application. Professionalism is important and the best thing you can do is to be clear and concise.
- Formatting matters – You don’t need to use creative formatting to stand out, but there are times when something creative, like a graphic, adds real value by bringing your experience to life. Don’t do this for the sake of it, but don’t be afraid to try, especially if you can showcase real design skills – this is very attractive to an agency. But, if your formatting changes don’t help explain something better or remove ambiguity, then stick to the basic template: it works.
- Research and target – All too often I read applications from people who want jobs in PR because they are a ‘people’s person’ and outgoing. That’s important, but there’s more to PR than networking and socialising. Show that you understand PR and that you have a real interest in the type of PR the agency you’re applying to specialises in.
- Never cut and paste – While research is important, that doesn’t mean you can cut and paste from a website. This really does stick out like a sore thumb. We have been known to Google sentences from graduates’ applications, only to find they have been directly lifted from a website. You can imagine what happens to those applications… Remember to use your own voice.
- Read, read and read some more – PR professionals love the media (obviously) and so much of our job relies on understanding the landscape, recognising a story as it develops and knowing how that can be beneficial to a client. So absorb the news, read all the related industry news you can and have opinions. Sitting on the fence doesn’t sell a story, opinion does.
- Think digital – social media is an integral part of PR strategy, and the best way to learn social media is to use it. Social media encompasses so many other useful PR skills: networking, news reading, story finding, researching and engaging. If you’re not already on Twitter, get on it because you’ll need to be once you start the job.
- Show an interest in business – PR isnot just about influencer relations – it’s about business. Measurement is central to effective PR – this is a big trend reflected by the PR associations – and that means thinking about the outcome of campaigns for businesses. So show an interest and understanding of business during the application process.
- Be yourself – PR welcomes personalities and the only way to show that is by being yourself and being genuine. Agencies are increasingly looking for a range of skills and interests in candidates as the definition of PR broadens. Don’t sell yourself short by leaving out things which show off your personality and wider skills. This will help you stand out and give you a much better chance of securing the elusive PR graduate placement.
If I had space for one final tip, it would be this – take heart and keep trying. There is so much negativity in the media about how hard it is for graduates to get their first break. There’s no doubt it is tough, but the opportunities are there and, with perseverance, you will make it. Good luck!