When I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I liked to talk, and I’m more than a little bit of a control freak. I’ve always worked well under pressure and I’m extremely punctual—to a fault (there’s nothing quite like being the first one to show up, everywhere you go
I spent a few years at a local community college before transferring to a university away from my hometown. But even with half my college career under my belt, I still had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.
On a whim, I took an introduction to public relations course and fell in love. Not only did I get to write—something I loved to do but struggled with finding a purpose—but I could make lists, tell people what to do, and be in charge of large projects. It was the perfect match for me.
After graduation though, I struggled to get my career off the ground. Looking back, I had unrealistic expectations for what a public relations career would look like and didn’t make the best choices when hunting for a job. For what it’s worth, I offer recent and soon-to-be public relations grads some advice I wish I had all those years ago.
An agency is a great place to get your feet wet
A huge mistake I made when looking for my first public relations job was selling myself short. I was afraid to go the agency route because I saw them as ultra-trendy, high-stakes and fast-moving. In short, I was intimidated. I wasn’t secure enough in my own talents and didn’t think I was qualified for agency work. Never mind that I had glowing recommendations from my college internships and pro bono projects I worked on in college. I settled for an almost (but not quite) public relations job at a non-profit organization right out of college and was frustrated when I wasn’t the first pick to organize an event or write up a press releases. Meanwhile, I watched fellow graduates climb the corporate ladder in various PR agencies, while their paychecks quickly grew as well.
Expect to do grunt work
As the low man on the totem pole in any job, you should expect to do the work no one else wants to do. This holds even more true in public relations. As a PR professional, it’s your job to make sure events go off without a hitch. Your clients should never know about the behind-the-scenes challenges, which can mean getting to the office at 4:30 a.m. for a morning news interview or to prep for an event, scooping cow manure off your building’s entryway, and schmoozing an unpleasant celebrity who’s speaking at an event—all of which I did in my stint as a PR pro. It’s not fun, and you rarely get the credit for your hard work.
Use your social media accounts—professionally
I’m dating myself when I say that social media wasn’t around when I graduated from college. It wasn’t even a glimmer in the eye of Mark Zuckerberg—in fact, he was still in grade school. But just like any other professional, it’s important to set yourself up as an expert in your field. And because public relations is steeped in communication, you better believe that prospective employers will be looking for active, professional accounts.
Do some side work
Whether you work in an agency, for government entity, or at a non-profit, doing side work will allow you to add to your professional portfolio. It also opens the door for professional networking, future job prospects, and additional income. Just be sure to check with your full-time employer so you’re to avoid violating any non-compete clauses in your employment contract.
Public relations can be a rewarding career that takes on many different roles, from social media management and special event planning to branding for organizations and emergency public relations. When starting at ground zero as a new graduate, you can find your niche and realize success by taking on that extra work no one else wants to do and doing a wide variety of work. Just know what to expect as you build your professional portfolio.
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About the Author
Abby is a writer and editor in the Phoenix area and is always on the prowl for great ideas. When she’s not in front of her computer, you can find her running the streets or nearby mountain trails—usually way too early in the morning to be considered sane.Follow on Twitter More Content by Abby Herman