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Job Search Strategies for PR Grads

April 22, 2009

Last night I participated in a IABC panel for the PR199 class at San Jose State University. The students are graduating next month and were eager to hear about our ideas to secure a job and manage their careers.

I was joined by my longtime colleagues Rene Siegel, Yvonne Thomson, Brad Whitworth and John Robertson. Each of us have 20 years+ experience and a good sense of humor, making for a lively conversation. Here are some of the ideas we presented to the class. I enjoyed sharing some of the more provocative and creative approaches in the list including #1, 4 and 9.

1. The “No Resume” Job Offer: Find ways to connect to the hiring manager without sending in your resume. For example, it is far better to be introduced to a hiring manager through a friend, relative or contact through a professional association like IABC or PRSA. If they sing your praises, you may get an interview without submitting a resume and a job offer without showing your resume. It happens more than you might think.

2. Back Up Your Resume: A good resume is essential, but it is better to have a portfolio of materials to offer, including a summary of skills, volunteer work, writing samples, press clips examples, PowerPoint presentations, references, etc.

3. Customize Your Resume. For each job opportunity, update your resume to make sure the stated objective maps to the job, and move the most relevant skills to the top so the employer sees what they need in the first three inches of the resume.

4. Dump the Cover Letter: Writing the perfect cover letter is time consuming and rarely carries much weight in the screening and hiring process. Just write a short email when you send in your resume. If you submit by mail or in person, consider handwriting a short note that covers your interest in the position.

5. Establish Your Brand Online. Spend the necessary time to create robust a LinkedIn profile and a blog related to your profession. If done properly, this can make a resume almost obsolete.

6. Sell Yourself: You are a communicator, not an engineer, so you are expected convey a professional image and be able to sell yourself. Your clothes, grooming, eye contact, body launguage and handshake need to convey strong confidence; your written material should be flawless, and be sure to LISTEN carefully not just talk. Make the most of your assets, package yourself well, and be professional. This essentially what communicators do in their jobs.

7. Get Feedback: At every opportunity with hiring managers, mentors and other professionals that you admire, ask for feedback. For example, at the end of an interview, especially if it went poorly, ask for honest feedback. When done properly, this shows humility, desire to grow, and connects you to the person giving you the feedback.

8. Know a lot, but don’t know it all: Employees like to hire individuals that are smart and skilled and eager to learn more. But nobody likes to hire (or hang out with) a know-it-all.

9. Over Prepare for Interviews: Learn everything you can about the company—its culture, products, company’s market, competitors, industry challenges, etc. Consider preparing a PowerPoint presentation for each interview with slides summarizing this information along with a few slides on your background and how you can contribute to the organization in the position. Ask for 15 minutes during the interview to present the slides. This shows that you are better prepared and more motivated than your peers. Even if you don’t present the slides, just the exercise of putting them together will prepare you well for the interview.

10. Be Authentic: Employers want to hire people that know themselves, their strengths and growth areas, and who convey confidence and genuine enthusiasm for the company and the their profession. Dig deep to find this within yourself and let it come through. Take every opportunity to practice interviewing even if it means interviewing for positions or companies that you are not top on your list.

11. Churn, Baby, Churn: Consider any solid opportunity within the communications profession that comes your way, even if it is not the perfect or you don’t think it will last more than 6 months or a year. Employers are more interested in the skills you have gained than the how many years you were employed at one given company. If asked why you didn’t stay longer, answer that you moved on to a better opportunity and focus on the positive.

12. Think Outside PR: Consider becoming a social media maven or web content writer or marcomm specialist. Learn more about different communications positions and see how your skills align to them. PR is just one small slice of the communications pie. Why limit your job opportunities?

13. Get Personal: One of the least-used secret weapons in business: the hand-written thank you card.

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