Monday, June 28, 2010

The Hunt: Concurring the Digital Realm

Last time we recovered the essentials to finding that first great PR job. This post will give you insight to cracking that ice-cold barrier of online job applications on the internet and the importance to social networking.

Concurring the Digital Realm...

And we have contact!

One problem may be that you find yourself lost in the vast void that is online resume applications. In a world where personal connections and references still hold influence, these applications are easily passed over - given they present little insight into how strong your talents really are. Getting past this phase is half the battle. What you want is to create a personal connection between you and the employer.

After filling out a firm's online form, take the time to learn the name of the position's branch president (or HR manager) as well as their contact email.

Once you do, choose this as your moment to introduce the quality of what you have to offer. Your email should reference both the position you are applying for and the fact that you have filled out the online application. Doing so will let the person know that you can both follow instructions and are willing to stand out of the monotony.

Treat your email as if it is a variation of your cover letter. Briefly explain why you want the position and why you are qualified. A bonus to sending an email is that you can include some samples of your work (but not overwhelmingly) that otherwise can't be attached to an online application. Use this time to attach your actual cover letter, resume, references, etc. A bonus to sending an email is that you can provide hyperlinks to some of your online work (i.e. portfolio, twitter, blog).

But the greatest opportunity in introducing yourself through email is that it provides you with the chance to show off your creative side. Use what you already know about the firm to your advantage. When applying for an entry level account coordinator position with Current Lifestyle Marketing, I used their quirky biography pages from the firm's website to create my own bio that I put into a word document and attached to my introductory email to the firm's president, Virginia Devlin. I also used the website's phrase, "creative thinker with analytical tendencies" as an opening line before the rest of the body of the email.

Within the next day I received both an email from Virginia and a phone call from Current's HR to arrange an interview with the company!

For an online job posting with New York Business Partners, a marketing firm in NYC, their leading headline was "Ninjas Wanted!" My response email included the headline "Ninja at Your Service" and the opening line "Not just a ninja!... But a half robot, space cowboy!" After a day I received an email requesting a preliminary interview.

Get Social, Networking that is!

Professionally, the way we present our brand messages is changing to include an IMC technique that involves a demand for consumer engagement. As the new staple, having a common knowledge of social networking sites is paramount.

To get socially engaged, look to create your own blog and learn new ways to promote it to friends and colleagues. Get LinkedIn and actively tweet on Twitter. While you are at it, join a social network; preferably one like PROpenMic that will help you to better develop your PR skills by interacting with industry professionals, professors and other young PR students like you. Whatever you do, make your experiences help to establish YOUR personal brand as something desirable to employers.

Many student practitioners at the university I graduated from question the effectiveness of being so involved online. This attitude seems perverse considering this is the most tech savvy generation to-date. Some students only participate in blogs because professor's have required it as part of class projects, and the lack of enthusiasm shows.

The question of whether being involved with social networks directly provides job opportunities is only part of the game. Every firm I've applied with has asked me about my experiences with social media and how I've used it to my advantage. So while the rest of your peers are pawning-off a very crucial part of where the PR profession is going, this is your chance to impress your future employers that what you have to offer are fresh, involved perspectives that will benefit you and the firm.

We've taken care of the online hurtle in the hunt for your great PR job. In my last blog entry, we'll look at "Interviews and the Secret Sauce." You'll be surprised at what it really takes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Hunt: Back to Basics

Today's job market is a scary place. Entry level positions for graduates are scarce and tough to fight for. For me, I have been through three phone interviews, three face-to-face interviews, and countless job post emails and application forms. When facing so much, one has to wonder, "What can I do to give me an edge?" So here are the first in a series of creative tips that have helped me in breaking barriers to get my first big PR job!

Back to Basics...

Is your resume the right resume?

So you are on your way, diploma in hand and your resume is ready to print, email, fax, etc. As a public relations student; the business, communications or journalism school may have told you that one specific resume type is the preferred format. In reality, every firm or corporation is different. In public relations, the two formats that will best serve you are the objective and summary style resumes. Both will serve very different purposes in presenting your job qualifications.

This was a lesson I learned while doing a critique interview with Ellen Hartman, president of the Atlanta office of Weber Shandwick. Having more than one style of resume ready will show that you think ahead and are prepared for any situation.

The 21st Century Portfolio

Now let's take a look at your portfolio. That hard, leather binder with all of your written materials is great insurance during your face-to-face interview, but to really show off your up-to-date creative skills, you are going to need a digital portfolio website.

"Don't Panic!" -the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

This may seem a daunting idea at first but believe me, the key to creating a great online portfolio is time, patience and the use of what resources are comfortable for you. My online portfolio took an average of three very intensive months to create. I also used creative thinking to rearrange the elements of the Blogspot blog system to design it into an appropriate format.

And don't be afraid to look to other online portfolios for inspiration in creating your own design. Auburn University professor Robert French regularly posts recent online portfolios from his upper class public relations program at PR Prospects. In the early stages of designing my portfolio, I used a lot of concepts from his site.

NEVER hire someone else to "create" your portfolio for you (or any of your other written material for that matter) much less try to pass it off as your own. It is laziness on the part of the individual and when in comes time for you to replicate something similar, this lack of skill will come back to haunt you.

As an up and coming public relations professional, these online design skills are assets you need to acquire for yourself. In doing so, you're sure to stand out above the competition.

Internships, Internships, Internships!... Did I mention Internships

One of the most important aspects to your education, before hitting the road professional, doesn't come in the class room. Internships are a key element in what firms look for. Start finding internships early. Almost every employer will ask if your job was a PAID internship. This fact alone is critical in employer's decision making.

Those other basics you forgot about

I would bet you've never considered creating your own business cards! Business cards are not part of the basic curriculum in school and most entry level job seekers I've talked with don't think about them. A business card is another great tool you can use to show employers that you are ready for the big leagues.

Not only can you use the card to provide your basic contact information (cell, email), but it also serves as one more opportunity to mention that online portfolio of yours. Additionally, networking is an important part of finding a job. You are not always going to have your stack of resumes and cover letters with you. Business cards can be kept in your wallet or purse, ready to pull out when needed.

Thank ya very much!

Just because today's business atmosphere is "Go, Go, Go!" does not mean you should skip out on the Thank You note. Considering we live in both a personal and digital world (PR), you should take the time to write both a physical thank you letter as well as a shorter email version. The thank you note helps to send a stronger message that you cared about the interview and how you position your personal qualities as a professional. Considering most candidates today do not take the time to utilize this opportunity, treat it as a golden moment.

And as with any basic "how to," remember to make a personal connection with the employer in your letter, citing something you may have discussed or learned during the interview that you valued.

We've taken care of the basic elements you'll need to survive the hunt for your great PR job. In my next blog entry, it's time to take on "Concurring the Digital Realm."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Return of the Dark Horse

After a heavily loaded semester of completing my requirements for a minor in business administration, coupled with graduation and "the hunt" for my first career propelling job; I finally find myself with the time to once more share my learnings in becoming the next great public relations practitioner. Especially now that I have accepted my first job!....

The past few months have been stressful yet exciting. In April I once again found myself in the "Big Apple" of New York City for one more National Invitational Tournament with the Ole Miss basketball band in Madison Square Garden.

The following week I received a collegiate PRism Award from the Public Relations Association of Mississippi for the public service campaign I developed for the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation last semester. Along with a PRism, I was also awarded the Best of Show award which is only given to one professional and one collegiate practitioner each year.

Aside from this, I took time to moderate an innovators research program on developing environmental solutions around Oxford. I even taught a seminar on headline and caption writing during the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association annual spring conference.

In the second week of April, I went on to participate in an SPJ sponsored program honoring the University of Mississippi as a historic site in journalism. Recognizing the efforts of journalists during the campus' 1962 James Meredith race riots, the event featured words from University Chancellor, Dan Jones, MacArther Genius Grant recipient, Jerry Mitchell, and CBS broadcast legend, Dan Rather; all of whom I was honored to sit beside on stage in the Overby Center. The incredible privilege of participating in this program forever remains with my advisor, Dr. Wickham, who tirelessly worked to make this designation and event possible.

After barely surviving a brutal back-to-back final exam schedule (pushing 26 hours without sleep), I graduated that same Saturday with a bachelor's degree. Two weeks later, I found myself on a three day trip to New York, where I held my first two face-to-face interviews, one of which I received a job offer from. The following weekend was spent with my family in San Destin, followed by an interview in Memphis and a phone interview.

That phone interview was for the Society of Professional Journalists yearlong post-graduate internship for media, marketing, and public relations efforts. During the interview, I was informed that I was one of three finalists for the position I had applied for one month ago. Two days after speaking with Executive Director, Joe Skeel, I received another phone call, offering me the internship. I gladly accepted!

In the phone call, Mr. Skeel referred to me as "the Dark Horse." This title referenced the upper hand the other two candidates held over me prior to the interviews. But when the dust settled, two very important factors gave me the edge I needed to receive the position.

So what gave me the curve? Find out in my next blog post "The Hunt," where I'll share some great tips that helped me land my first PR job!