On PR first job tips and millennials

I almost drowned in my first proper job interview. Thankfully, a feisty response to a feisty question from a veteran local newspaper editor saw me resurface. Just.

So this brilliant blog post set out as an open letter to millennials both brought a smile and made me remember that while it’s OK for PR people who’ve been knocking around in this business a while to grumble about young people trying to get a first foot in the door today, we should also be clear on expectations.

To me, much of this stuff is obvious. I spent most of the 1980s in school watching an economic boom and the rise of an ultra-competitive work ethic. I came out into the jobs market in the early 1990s fired up and ready to be aggressive in order to develop a career quickly, but was hamstrung by the economic slump of the time. It made me and most others fight harder, with 15-hour days and working weekends the norm. We didn’t particularly like it, but it was that or nothing.

Yet in the boom years of the mid-2000s, PR firms were mostly falling over themselves to hire entry-level people. Grads – often whatever their degree – could often take their pick. In the past few years the intense competition for limited job openings has forced most applicants to try far harder and many have endured lengthy waits to get an interview, let alone a job.

Still though, employers talk about the challenges they have with managing initial expectations and with piles of unsuccessful candidates who simply don’t get what it takes to land that first job. In jobs market terms, they’re not house-trained.

Building on the open letter post, here are a few more tips, in the interests of clarity, and in the genuine hope that it’s helpful:

1. Flawless application letters – yes, absolutely. But also keep them brief. As the initial post said, it’s not about you, it’s about the agency you’re joining and what you might bring to it. And if you can’t communicate your own benefits in a few potent, incisive words, what good will you be to clients?

2. Digital formats, such as a video-based application, can be neat and will make you stand out, but don’t sacrifice substance for style. What we do, ultimately, is all about words and pictures. I’ve received many a glamorous photo to accompany CVs over the years, but the words are what count most.

3. Think about what you’re going to wear, what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. You’re applying for a job as a communicator, so you’d better show you have the initial capacity to do so well.

4. If you turn up late, forget it. Have a contingency plan for travel problems and communicate any issues to the interviewer. You’ll have to do the same if you get the job, so start as you mean to go on.

5. These days, YOUR story is public. Of course you’ll think about things like what you’ve posted on Facebook, but it’s very easy to dig further and get a rounded view. Simply changing your Twitter info to ‘Bubbly PR girl’ a day before the interview won’t cut it if you’ve a legacy of mischief lurking elsewhere. Think about it, and be prepared to address it directly in the interview.

And once you start the job:

6. Look to impress from the off, ideally by achieving things that the new employer wouldn’t necessarily expect of you.

7. Aim to achieve something of note for every client every day.

8. First and foremost it is you that have to make career development happen, not your employer. If you’re not driven to succeed, expect to spin your wheels for a long time. It’s a two-way street, so don’t sit there bitching that you feel ‘they’re not developing your talents fast enough’ – do something about it.

9. Be ever-keen, eager to take on more responsibility and ever-ready to help others out. But apply that effort in the right places so you don’t burn yourself out.

10. Do your own PR really well. Don’t undermine others, but equally make sure that the good stuff you’re achieving shines through. After all, you’re a communicator.

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