I recently gave a careers talk at Sheffield Hallam University for PR, communications, marketing and media students on how to break into the highly competitive industry.
There’s so much generic careers advice out there but I wanted to give them a real, candid perspective on what it takes to stand out in such a tough graduate jobs market – whatever career path you choose.
Employers are increasingly looking for attitude and passion over skill and experience – it is no longer enough to just get good grades from a good university and be able to say you’ve done some work placements. If you are going to get noticed amongst a sea of competitors, you need to be visible, credible and get your personality across.
Here are my career tips for students and graduates on how to do your own PR and build a personal brand that will be attractive to employers.
1. Be strategic about your career
Just as with anything else in business, you need to have a strategy that will keep you focused on your long term career goals. Be realistic about where you need to start and what experience you need to gain to get to where you want to be in the future. This will help you make the most of every opportunity and understand that everything you do is a stepping stone to something else.
2. Do your research
Doing your own PR is about being an expert in your chosen field and tailoring yourself to the audience. Find out what employers are looking for (what they’re REALLY looking for, not just what is says in the job description) and speak their language. Getting advice from a mentor can help with this but you should also monitor what your career ‘idols’ are doing and saying. You can then start to talk and behave like the role you want.
3. Be visible online
Around 80% of jobs aren’t advertised – and those that are advertised are now largely done so through social media channels. If you don’t have an online presence, no one is going to know you exist and you will miss opportunities to find out about jobs and make contacts. This doesn’t just mean completing your LinkedIn profile or firing out lots of interesting tweets. You need to connect/engage with people to get noticed – online and offline. Get yourself out to events and then follow up with people you meet online. One great way to show your passion for a subject is to set up a high quality blog that demonstrates your expertise and commitment to a topic. However, you need to drive people to it for it to have an impact. Again, be strategic about your online presence – decide what platforms you will use for professional and personal purposes and link those together that you want prospective employers to see.
Sheffield Hallam PR student Hayley Cox uses Twitter and her blog to demonstrate her ambition, expertise and passion for wildlife.
4. Manage your reputation
Having a strong online presence comes with risks as well as opportunities. The more information you share about yourself and your personal life, the easier it is for employers to find skeletons in your closet! If your Facebook profile is full of pictures of you on drunken nights out or engaging in your hobby as a part time burlesque dancer then either clean it up or lock your privacy settings so that only your close friends can see it. Remember that most of what you do on Twitter and LinkedIn is completely public so don’t do and say things that will give employers a reason to doubt your integrity or credibility. If you tweet endlessly about how tired you are or, worse still say defamatory things about other people and organisations, you won’t do your employability ratings any favours. Think about the kind of attitude employers are looking for and make sure it is reflected in what you are doing and saying online. You also need to keep an eye on what other people are saying about you online. Put yourself in potential employers’ shoes and Google yourself regularly – then analyse what comes up!
5. Get other people’s endorsement
I based my entry for the CIPR Yorkshire & Lincolnshire’s Outstanding Young Communicator Award 2010 on the premise that what other people say about you is much more valuable than what you say about yourself. In the social media age, this couldn’t be any more relevant. The first rule of CV writing and interviews is that you back up everything you say about yourself with evidence of what you’ve actually done to deserve the title of ‘highly organised’ or ‘motivated’. But it is even more powerful if you can get endorsement for that evidence from someone credible. If someone has been impressed with you, politely ask them for a reference and/or recommendation on LinkedIn. You may need to offer to do something for them in return and make it as easy as possible for them.
Getting your own PR and personal branding right is half the battle to achieving your career goals in such a competitive jobs market, whatever stage of your career you are at.