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.
The way I see it, you really need to lay strong foundations in your college career. That means starting early. Sure, some people can pull it off starting in their junior year (and do a good job, too), but if you keep these important principles in mind early, you’ll be off to a great start. That said, here are my tips on sophomore year:
Get your career going!
Now you’re out of the “way to get involved so early” phase that is freshmen year (I heard this a lot), get going with your professional career. Start seeking internship experience during the school year (if possible) as well as the summer after the year. In my previous post, I talked about getting jobs on campus working for the school newspaper or in sales/fund raising — these are great jobs to develop necessary public relations skills. You can move on from those positions to PR internships, or take on leadership roles within those positions.
If you choose the PR internship route, start by making a list of several companies you want to work and find ways to network with their employees. One of these ways is to attend networking events through PRSA and other associations. Another way is the informational interview. E-mail a younger professional with the company and see if they have a half an hour to talk about the company. This is a great foot-in-the-door opportunity, and remember not to be shy.
Tip: Make business cards, attend networking events and follow up with the professionals you meet. You’d be surprised how many people don’t follow up and that puts you far ahead of the rest.
As you begin to think about what you want to do with your career, make sure you’re thinking diversity. This doesn’t necessarily pertain to ethnicity; it means to think of your career in an interdisciplinary fashion. Working at two mid-size agencies specializing in health care probably isn’t your best approach. Try to get as much experience in as many different industries in a many different atmospheres as possible. It’s a mouthful, but learning from different people will help you down the road.
This also means to get involved with different things. Getting involved with communication organizations is great, but also think about student government, research with professors and other leadership opportunities. Sometimes, the best experiences come from where you’d least expect it.
Tip: Try to work in at least three different settings. Some options you have include large and small corporations, differently sized agencies, nonprofits and writing jobs. Try to mix and match with what you would like to do when you graduate.
Maximize your PRSSA membership
If you haven’t already joined PRSSA, what are you waiting for? Sophomore year is a prime time to be active in the organization and network with your peers. Here’s what I would do to maximize your PRSSA membership:
- Take on leadership roles. Yes, you have to do more than just go to the meetings. Talk to your executive board and learn ways to lead committees, shadow the e-board and learn as much as you can about the organization.
- Attend regional and national events. Here’s where it gets a little more expensive. Attending National Conference, National Assembly and Regional Activities are great ways to learn more about the profession and network.
- Work with other Chapters in the area. Get to know some of the other students at colleges nearby.
- Work for your student-run firm. If you don’t have one yet, consider starting one with a single client and work up from there. Check here for more info on this.
- Learn about the member benefits — locally and nationally. Talk to your local executive board for information on scholarships and awards, mentoring programs and other benefits. Also, there are so many benefits at the national level. Check them out here.
As you can see, I put a lot of emphasis on making the most of your membership. This organization probably won’t help you if you aren’t active. If you are active and get the most out of your membership, you’ll have a job when you graduate.
Tip: Don’t make excuses — get active, take on leadership roles and go to conferences.
Study abroad or intern?
I’ve heard this debate a lot, and truthfully, there’s not necessarily a better choice. Some companies would rather see more experience, but some of the larger corporations want to see international experience. I know a lot of this depends on your financial situation, so if you have the money and can do it, I would recommend fitting this in some time during college.
Tip: If you can fit in a study abroad, try to do it earlier than later so you don’t have to choose between your trip and a sweet internship.
And here is what my Twitter community thought about sophomore year:
@AdrienneBailey Find an internship with a nonprofit for experience or job shadow to learn the ropes! And of course join & get involved w/ PRSSA
@KarenRussel get more involved in student orgs (as PR rep) and volunteer positions — starts to build experience for internships
@KFo11 and get connected with professors to ask them what they did and what did/didnt work for them! MISS YOUR GUTS
@makeyourownfun Now that they’ve probably had time to hear of some of the student organizations, to get actively involved with them
@AngelaHernandez It’s never too early to gain experience. Do PR for nonprofits, small biz or other student orgs
@kelle_m Take as many writing classes as possible
So, what else do you have to add for sophomores?