Stephanie Heckman

Archive for the ‘College’ Category

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


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:


Interview with a media professional: Ashanté Hill, filmmaker and video editor

In Career, College, Film, Interview with a media professional, Videography on March 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm


Ashanté Shomari Hill is a 20-year-old filmmaker and video editor. He is currently a junior studying film, video art and Japanese at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He speaks to us today about promotional work, video editing, finding internships and following one’s passion.

Stephanie: Can you describe to us what you do for your job?

Ashanté: I go out and shoot the footage and I handle all the set equipment. Once that is done, I take it back to the computer lab and make the movie through computer software and that includes the soundtrack, the special effects and all of that.

Stephanie: Have you done any promotional work?

Ashanté: I haven’t done any promotional work yet but I am in the process of doing some with the women’s studies department at Ohio State University. Currently, I am doing a commercial that focuses on doing students what the major and minor are within the women’s studies department and what skills they can get from it and how it can benefit them intellectually.

Stephanie: Is promotional work something you would like to do in the future?

Ashanté: This is something I would definitely like to do in the future. It would be challenging. To do videos for other companies, it would require me to do research, to learn more about advertising, to think critically and learn how to best represent the message to get across to their audience.

Stephanie: Is this something you would like to formally study?

Ashanté: If I had time, I would definitely like to take courses in advertising and marketing. This is why I am currently taking a persuasion class, I would like to learn more about how advertising and marketing works and how to incorporate these theories into my promotional work.

Stephanie: Can you tell us about your major?

Ashanté: My major is in film studies which is the study of film history and film theory. But my concentration is in video production which can be the video production courses taken through the theater department. They focus on learning on to shoot video and edit video and on learning how to produce video, with the current standards of the equipment and software.

Stephanie: What is your favorite part of the film major?

Ashanté: There are not only film theory and film theory from an American perspective but you can also take film classes during other departments such as the German Department, French Department, East Asian Literature Department and even the Women’s Studies Department. My favorite part is to learn about it from different things opposed to having to learn film from one perceptive.

Stephanie: You are only a junior yet you’re already on your third internship. What would you recommend to other students to help them get on the right track?

Ashanté: I personally came into college thinking that I wanted to major in Japanese which is why I came to the Ohio State University in the first place. Upon taking these courses, I realized that it was something that I enjoyed but it was something that I was not passionate about. I think one of the things college teaches us is that it’s okay to be good at something but not passionate about something. And I think once you get to that point in your college career, you can actually focus on what you want to do. I definitely recommend getting to that point in your life as soon as possible. Then you can choose your major, choose your courses and start finding internships and networking to realize the professional goals that you have.

Stephanie: Would you recommend that people don’t go to college until then?

Ashanté: No, I recommend that I do go to college because higher learning gives a sense about what professional life is like; our courses will help us prepare for professional skills. Once you go to college and take courses in what you want to do, that is when you’ll realize if it’s something that you actually want to do. I don’t think it’s something you can know about unless you’ve tried it.

Stephanie: How did you find your internships?

Ashanté: I found my very first internship at age 18 through a program that was for underrepresented minorities. I got into this program and they helped me write up a resume and found me a job that pertained to my career goals. They found a job that pertained to experience I had, which is in graphic design. I found a job, which is as a graphic design intern.

After that internship ending, I did some research about local companies that had anything to do with art, film or videos. I came across the Wexner Center for the arts. I simply found their website and looked to see if they had any internships and they did so I applied and got accepted. Even though the internship that I actually got wasn’t the internship that I wanted to get into, it ended up being a lot more productive. I got to work personally a professional filmmaker.

From that internship, I actually found a flyer referencing an internship in digital media and it was actually accessible through the university’s website for internships and jobs. I didn’t even realize that the university had that website. I recommend college students find out if their university has a website like that because it’s very helpful and user friendly. I got that internship. My current internship is writing for a show called Writer’s Talk. This is a Youtube portion and a broadcasted talk show portion. We interview authors and bands that come to Columbus or OSU. My position is digital media assistant and what I do is that I go with them, I shoot the interviews then come back to the computer lab, edit the videos and we post them on the website. After that, we do an audio version for podcast broadcasting.

Stephanie: Can you tell me more about your internship from last summer?

Ashanté: For the Wexner Center, they did a community outreach program. They picked 10 artists between the ages of 16 and 21 and they brought them in for 2 weeks to each build a proposal in any way they could with the artistic skills that they have with professional architects who are building a youth project in the Wexner Center.

What I did is that I worked with their hired professional filmmaker and we shot the entire program, we interviewed the young artists, we interned the architects, we interviewed the entire staff. We put together a documentary covering the entire program. It turned out well. We got to have all the artists come back a few month later and they got to see the documentary as well as the head of the Wexner Center for the Arts, who is someone who is really interested in a youth perspective of the center that they planned on building.

Stephanie: What would you advise to people who want to follow your career path?

Ashanté: The first thing I advise is to see if you want to get a higher education or if you want to focus on gaining skills. If you want a higher education, don’t go to film school. It will only get you skills, not an education. Skills are something that you can learn without going to school. Nowadays, you can just hop on YouTube and learn about digital skills and what you may want to get into.

If you decide that school is not for, you need to start researching and saving to take up money to take classes in film and video editing at places like Adobe or Apple. Once you feel like you’ve gotten to the point where you feel like you can do video work, I would start applying to jobs and internships that pertain to your skills, as long as it’s something in your reach and doesn’t require more experience than you actually have.

If you decide that if you want to pursue a higher education, then you should take as many classes as you can manage. For the major, closest to your field. If you can’t find a major closest to your field at your school, then see if they have a personalized major where you can construct a plan that will help you move into your future profession. In addition to that, see if your school has any internships or part-time jobs pertaining to film or digital media. They may have a station or Youtube channel pertaining to students that you can use for your resume when you graduate.

Ashanté: I would like to add, for students, it’s okay if you don’t know what you want to major in or if you decide that what you do is not what you wanted to do. Because what you actually decide to do will be all the more rewarding.

Check out Ashante’s short film for the Wexner Center:

Five Tips to Becoming a Better Blogger

In Blogging, Career, College, Journalism on March 13, 2013 at 3:46 am

How to be professional, create better content and attract readers


Now’s the best time to start!

1. Take writing courses.

If you are serious about becoming a professional blogger or writer, take courses in journalism, public relations, business writing and creative writing. If you are not in college or have graduated, consider classes at the local community college. Many are very affordable and open to the community. Just one basic journalism or media writing course will substantially improve your writing.

If you are a current college student, consider adding a major or minor in journalism, PR, communications or professional writing. Although an English major or minor can also lead to great writing ability, it’s best to take courses that teach AP style and media writing techniques. It’s not enough for your only writing samples to be literary essays and poems. I don’t regret majoring in strategic communications.

Even for those not planning to work in PR or journalism, writing skills can be applied to any career. In fact, many professionals lack writing skills and clear communication. Use that to your advantage. Learning AP style is a must. Purchase the AP Stylebook and in the meantime, learn basic AP style through the Purdue Owl. Aside from blogging, it is helpful to practice writing news, feature, online and magazine articles.

2. Use Images, videos and links.

Images, like photos and infographics, add visual interest and attract attention. Humans are visual creatures. We love looking at photos, sharing funny memes and watching videos. Because many writers are natural readers, we forget that most other people are more visual-types. Memes and infographics are some of the most shared items on social media.

Videos are another way to add visual interest and draw in your readers’ attention. YouTube is one of the most popular websites worldwide. What’s the universal appeal? We seem to be both easily entertained and informed by short, user-friendly videos.

Links are great for many reasons. They establish the credibility of your blog, create access to more information and make your blog more likely to appear in search results. Research search engine optimization to make sure that others find your blog.

3. Use a simple format and clear style.

Write shorter, clearer sentences. Keep paragraphs short and single spaced; online readers are more likely than print readers to scan. Don’t use too many types of fonts or sizes. Finally, try to use an active voice and cut down on excessive adjectives and adverbs. Use headings, subheadings, bullet points or lists to help make online reading easier.

In regards to formatting, choose a template that is simple and clean. Black or dark fonts are easiest to read, particularly on a white background. White words on a black background or colors on a colorful background are much more difficult to read. Serif fonts such as Times News Roman or Courier are easier to read, while Sans Serif fonts like Arial are best for titles and headings.

4. Become part of the online community.

Consider sharing your blog posts on Facebook and Twitter, making use of appropriate hashtags. Retweet or share others’ great works on your favorite social media sites. Also, make sure to comment with useful information or even words of encourage on your favorite blogs’ posts. By being an active reader of relevant blogs, you will only benefit yourself and make others more likely to read your own blog. Do not simply comment to spam or try to trick people into reading your posts.

If you are an active participant on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or other social media sites, make use of these networks to become involved in the online community. Twitter has a Tweetchat called #blogchat every Sunday night. By participating, you can learn more about blogging while also promoting your own efforts. Finally, if your blog posts are well-written, professional and related to your industry, consider posting a link to them under LinkedIn’s “publications” section.

5. Never stop reading!

The best writers are frequent readers. Read everything you can get your hands on. This includes: newspapers, magazines, online magazines, blogs, novels and nonfiction books. Read frequently in your industry and in your blog’s subject matter. To gain new ideas and to understand what readers want to follow, read blogs in your industry or topic every day.

Furthermore, reading general interest articles, news stories and articles on new topics will increase your knowledge and worldview while giving you interesting ideas. Follow a variety of media, industry publications and thought leaders on Twitter. Without exception, all good writers are avid readers. To not read frequently is to limit yourself professionally and intellectually.

Now get to blogging!

Six Tips for Finding an Internship

In Branding, Career, College, Public Relations on February 27, 2013 at 1:27 am

Finding internships during college is the most important step one can take to starting a career. Internships are the new entry-level jobs, especially in PR. During these challenging economic times, most “entry-level” jobs now require one to two years of experience and many technical skills. The question many recent grads ask is: “How do I gain experience without having experience?”


1. Increase your marketability. If you are majoring in journalism, communication or public relations, consider adding a minor in another marketable subject such as business or nonprofit management, professional writing, video editing or graphic design. If you have in a liberal arts major such as English, consider increasing your relevance in PR through taking elective courses in editing or business writing with perhaps a double minor in a communication or journalism with one of the above minors. Any courses that can increase your amount of marketable skills should be considered. Try to find a way to connect your education with the specific field you are interested in joining.

2. Keep gaining experience. Writing is the most important skill you can have in PR. By becoming a college reporter for at least a year during college, you can learn important skills in reporting, interviewing, writing and editing that many hopeful PR professionals did not learn in college. After you gain experience as a reporter, considering venturing into becoming an editor or a freelance writing. Many local publications and start-up online magazines do not pay writers or pay very little. However, these writing clips can be used for your portfolio and may lead to paid writing gigs. You should also consider doing volunteer PR, fundraising, social media or event planning work for a local nonprofit that you support. Even a few hours a week can lead to an internship.

3. Develop your personal brand. Even if you are a first-year in college, it’s important to start promoting your personal image and brand. Create a professional Twitter, Facebook. Pinterest and LinkedIn used to follow important brands and organizations in your industry, industry news and media. Use these social media websites to share links to relevant news stories, articles in popular marketing, advertising and PR journals or magazines and recent academic news. Create positive relationships with journalists, communication professionals and others in industry. By having professional social media accounts, you not only demonstrate to your future employers that you have social media experience but you also show that you are a go-getter.

4. Talk to your college’s career service office. Most universities and colleges have an underused career service office. Through career services, you can have your resume improved and learn interviewing skills. Many times, you can also gain information about internships and jobs. Your university may also have a webpage that can be used for job searches.

5. Look through your department’s website. I found my most current PR internship through my university’s School of Communication. There is a huge amount and diversity of organizations seeking interns. You should also be able to find internships through the school of arts and sciences. If you have a minor, it may help open you to even more internships in related subjects.

6. Utilize your resources to find the perfect internship. Think about what industries you would most like to enter. Are you a finance type? Or are you more interested in museums and galleries? Do you want to promote politicians or celebrities? Or are you more interested in book or music publicity? Write a list of companies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and boutique agencies. that you would like to work for in the future. Begin following them on LinkedIn and trying to connect with professionals in these fields. Many times you can find information about internships directly through the organizations’ websites.

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