Stephanie Heckman

Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

Hope to work in public relations? Prepare now!

In Branding, Career, College, Journalism, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media on April 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm

How to prepare for a career in media or PR while still at college

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Still in college? Fear not! This is the best time to focus on your career.

1. Choose the right major

Considering majoring in journalism, broadcast journalism or a writing-intensive public relations, communications, mass media, advertising or business communication. Some mass media or communications programs require no or few writing courses. If this is the case, back up your major with writing-intensive elective or minor courses. I chose a major in strategic communication, with elective courses in journalism and creative writing.

While many publicists started with a major in English or other liberal arts subject, this will not prepare you for specific PR job skills. It will teach you critical thinking and essay writing skills; however, you should be focusing on learning journalistic writing and marketing techniques.

If you choose to major in English or a similar subject, make sure to also work for the student newspaper, write freelance articles and learn business and technical skills. If you attend a larger university, I highly recommend choosing one of the more journalistic majors alongside other courses in business, marketing, public relations techniques and communication theories.

2. Select a complementary minor

Everyone should make time for a minor or even second major before graduation but choosing the right minor is tricky. Every hopeful journalist, publicist or marketer should take courses in technical skills such as multimedia journalism, audio and video editing, graphic design, digital photography and Photoshop. If your college has a program in a relevant technical subject, consider adding a minor or at least taking enough elective courses to become proficient.



I chose a critical theory-based, liberal-artsy type minor because I enjoy working for nonprofit organizations and social justice causes. If this sounds like you, consider minoring in a subject related to the type of nonprofit organization you hope to work for. Examples include environmental studies, public health, women’s studies or political science. If you would prefer a corporate or agency environment, you could major in business, economics, finance or marketing.

I think it’s perfectly fine, even advantageous, to add a minor or second major in any subject that interests you, as long as you choose a core major that will give you the skills you need to succeed. If you enjoy a subject, you will do better and learn more than you will in a subject that seems more career-intensive but causes boredom, frustration or poor grades.

3. Get involved!

Join the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) if you are a current student. Your school likely has a chapter and will allow you attend meetings, if you can’t pay to become a member. If you are a recent graduate or soon-to-be graduate, join the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Consider joining other student or professional groups related to journalism, marketing or advertising.

Write, write, write! Join your school’s newspaper or magazine as a reporter or editor. One of the best things I did during college was to become a student reporter. It taught me how to come up with story ideas, decide what was a marketable story, track down potential interviewees, conduct interviews and write effectively in AP style.

But I don’t want to become a journalist, you say? I’m sorry to break the news, but to work in public relations, you must be an effective writer, reporter and editor. Public relations requires knowledge of AP style and the fundamentals of journalism, the ability to write news and feature stories and an awareness of how editors think. You must be able to pitch your own stories to the media and this means that you need to know how to think like an editor. The important aspect is that you get experience now.

Furthermore, get involved from your own computer. Create an online presence by starting a LinkedIn profile and a professional Twitter account. Learn to effectively use many social media websites, as social media skills is an important skill in this industry. Delete inappropriate photos and content from Facebook and Twitter pages. Employees do Google you and they don’t need a photo of you passed out drunk in a puddle of tequila.

4. Find an internship — better yet, do several of them.

During university, I’ve had four internships. Is this excessive? I don’t think so. Each one taught me more about what I wanted out of a career. Did I want to work for a tiny office or a huge organization?Do I prefer a well established one with a century-long history and much bureaucracy or something new and energetic with a young leader? Should I do grassroots community work, administrative type tasks or event planning? What kind of coworkers do I want to spend over a third of my day with?

Internships are short — typically 2 to 6 months — which gives you much more flexibility in choosing the right career and job environment. In my opinion, this is much more effective than waiting until your first job after college to decide if you like what you do. Having many short internships is normal while job hopping after college is frowned open.

Speaking of jobs, public relations and other communications careers are very competitive. They seem glamorous, are frequently shown on popular TV shows and movies and are highly desirable to people in all majors from business and marketing to English and art history. Try doing a search for entry-level jobs in PR or related jobs. Not only are they difficult to find, but many of them require one to two years of experience. Yes, “entry-level” jobs require experience, on top of having a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

If you want to work in the media, marketing or communications industry, you will be competing against people with family connections to the industry. Create an advantage by gaining more experience than your peers. How do you find an internship? Check out my prior post on obtaining an internship. Keep your ego in check and be willing to work hard and for little or no money. If you put the time in now, soon enough, the jobs will follow. You will likely have to do an unpaid internship or much relevant volunteer experience before you start getting offers for paid internships, fellowships and freelance work. Take whatever experience you can get now.

5. Post-graduation tips

What if you have already graduated or are about to graduate in an irrelevant subject or without enough experience? Consider graduate school. There are many Master’s programs in journalism, public relations, advertising, corporate communication, broadcasting and various other subjects. A master’s degree will give you a heads up in the job search while simultaneously giving you more time to focus on gaining experience.

Can’t attend grad school? Consider taking post-grad classes or workshops in crisis communication, multimedia journalism, feature writing, PR campaigns and other important courses. You may be able to complete a certificate in a short amount of time. Workshops can also be included in your resume under the education section.

If you can’t find a job, find a fellowship or internship. If you can’t find an internship, volunteer one day a week for an organization or freelance for several organizations. What’s important is that you keep gaining relevant experience. Even if you need to work full-time in your current job, find a few hours a week to gain experience.

If you are a current university student, what are you doing now to prepare for graduation? For graduates, what helped you find your current job? What advice can you give to other readers?

Check out my past articles on career advice:

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