I’m writing a four-part blog post on how to have a successful collegiate career for those interested in public relations. I’m basing this largely off my own experiences (a lot of what I’m including reflects what I wish I would have done during college, particularly in my early years) and those in my network. Please share and comment — with enough feedback, I may write another revised post.
You’ve made it to senior year! The most important thing to keep in mind about being a senior is to keep up the hard work throughout the entire year. Don’t get lazy, keep up the job search, join PRSA and enjoy your last year in college. Here are my tips for a successful senior year:
Maximize your PRSSA membership
Believe it or not, you can still genuinely benefit from a PRSSA membership during senior year. The most important thing to keep in mind, job or not, is that joining PRSA is the key to continuing your professional development. Keep that in mind as you go through the year and prepare to graduate. Here’s what I would do to maximize your PRSSA membership senior year:
- Continue to take on leadership roles on the executive board and on committees, but also make sure you are serving as a mentor to the younger students.
- Continue attending local, regional and national events. Even during senior year, attending National Conference, National Assembly and Regional Activities are still great ways to enhance your public relations knowledge and network with your future colleagues. If you’re lucky and serve as Chapter President, you’ll be able to attend the Leadership Rally and learn from students just like you.
- Apply for national awards — still. PRSSA has many scholarships and awards seniors qualify for and can help put you ahead of the game. Check them out here.
- Finally, join PRSA. Did you know that as a member of PRSSA, you can join PRSA as an associate member for up to two years for only $60 per year? How sweet is that?! More information here.
Tip: After years in PRSSA, the best thing to do is continue your professional development and join PRSA. Keep learning!
Don’t be afraid of post-graduate internships
Finishing up your senior year, you will probably looking for full time positions with your dream company. It’s important to be aware that you will probably have to intern with a company before you work for them. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but I wouldn’t count on you being the exception. Also, even though you might have had four or five internships in college, you still might be to intern with the company before a full time position. That’s OK, too.
The reason for this is simple economics: for any one open public relations entry level position, there will be a ton of applicants, so the employer can be more selective. That means they can have their top candidates “try out” for the position before hiring them on full time.
Tip: Don’t rule out post-graduate internships and don’t be surprised if you get offered one. This is the company’s way of making sure you’ll be a good fit and will do well full time.
Avoid senioritis like the plague
I’ll be honest: I think senioritis is the biggest crock of BS I’ve ever heard. It’s a state of mind and you will only get this “disease” if you let it happen. So, to make sure you have a productive year, surround yourself with highly motivated and hard working folks. Make sure you remember that just because you’re a senior doesn’t mean you can stop trying.
Tip: Don’t get lazy and pride yourself on the work you accomplish senior year.
Understand strategy and work a campaign from start to finish
One of the biggest differentiators between a tactical PR professional and a strategic PR professional is their understanding of “why.” That said, working a campaign from start to finish can be one of the most beneficial things a student can experience.
There are a couple different ways to get this kind of experience. One way is to participate in the Bateman competition through PRSSA. Another way is to stay in an internship for more than a semester. Even if you can’t take part in these above experiences, you can learn about strategy simply by asking your supervisor “why.” Why is a press release going out after the media advisory? Why write three blog posts per week instead of five? Why target this audience? These are all questions you can be asking those you work with in order to better understand public relations strategy.
Tip: Enhance internships and other PR activities by understanding and taking part in public relations strategy.
Know how to network
I mentioned this in one of the previous posts and I hope you listened! The best kind of network is one that you don’t need at that moment, so if you have been building a solid network for the past couple of years, the job search process shouldn’t be long and painful. Remember that networking is not about how someone else can help you; it’s about how you can help someone else. If you help a professional with a freelance project, or volunteered some time to help, that’s what real networking is all about. Continue to build a strong network, even if you’re planning on leaving the area. The PR community is smaller than you think, and local professionals might be able to help you in other areas.
Tip: Hopefully you have been building a strong network for the past several years so you can get advice from mentors and look in the right places during the job search.
In case you didn’t know, the public relations industry is not really like other industries. Companies usually don’t consistently recruit a certain number of graduates each year. Also unique to the public relations industry is you probably can’t show up to a career fair without knowing anyone and land an internship after. Getting a job in public relations takes a lot of time and work, and chances are you probably won’t find a job before you graduate. The key here is patience — don’t let the job search distract you from finishing up the year strong.
Tip: During the job search, keep your chin up, don’t get too discouraged and know that something will find you.
And for this last post, here is what my Twitter network had to say:
@MelissaHackett (she cheated and wrote three!): Well, I will be a PR senior next year and I think it’s important to realize that it is your LAST year in college. If you haven’t been, become very active in organizations. Soak in as much experience as possible before graduating. In this economy, you need more than a degree. You need skills, and you get those through experience.
@beckyjohns Reach out to people in your network that can be professional mentors. Having a sounding board is so helpful in a job search. Try to involve yourself with as many different types of PR as possible. Use the skills you’ve developed to become well-rounded.
@rossmanmckinney Learn to write w/3 c’s: be crisp, clear, concise. Be curious, ask questions. work ur butt off. do everything!
@kellee_m Start sending out resumes early in the year so agencies have you on their radar. Apply again when you graduate.
@FrancoPRGroup Graduating PR seniors MUST have great writing skills! also need to find a way to distinguish themselves..what makes them unique?
@samemac Work harder than you ever have before. Try something new and dream big.
@heatherhuhman Apply for internships and entry-level jobs simultaneously. You never know what opportunities you might uncover.