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Thursday, February 18, 2010

5 Challenges facing young PR professionals: Where to start?

Throughout my time as a PR major at the University of Minnesota, I can assure you that I always had my eye on the prize—and I’m not talking about a diploma. As I began my final semesters as a full-time student, I began to think more and more about what came after graduation day. I wanted a job, but I had no idea how to start looking for one.

While I worked hard to maintain a solid GPA and gain experience through internships and PRSSA activities, I put even more effort into making meaningful connections with my teachers and PR professionals in the community. All throughout college I heard about the benefits of setting up informational interviews and attending networking events, but I had no idea where to start. It can be a very intimidating process, and unfortunately, there’s no guidebook for beginning conversations with a bunch of people who are experts in communications. Below are a few tips I was given along the way that I found particularly useful.
  • Listen to your professors. Many PR and advertising professors have worked in the field or currently work in the field. Pay attention to lectures, and take note of which agencies, corporations, or non-profit organizations they are connected to.
  • Talk to your professors. Stay after class and let them know that you were particularly interested in a story they told about a client or a social media example they shared. This opens the flow of communication, and will make you more comfortable talking with them and other professionals in the field.
  • Do your research. This part is kind of fun. Start by doing a Google search of PR agencies in your area and check out their Web sites to learn about each one’s philosophy, corporate culture, and client roster. Not only will this help you figure out where you might want to work, but the research will provide you with knowledge that will be useful during informational interviews or other more informal networking conversations.
  • Don’t be afraid to make a phone call. Once you feel comfortable talking with a teacher after class or reaching out to a PR professional via email, it’s time to make a phone call and set up an informational interview. This may seem awkward and terrifying at first, but you’ll learn quickly that in a world reliant on tweets and instant messages, good old-fashioned phone calls are greatly appreciated. Calling will allow you to create a more personal connection with someone in the PR world, and also gives you an opportunity to prove that you’re assertive and proactive.
  • Remember that they were in your shoes once. Anyone who works in this industry had to start somewhere, and most of the people I have talked with over the last couple years are more than happy to meet with and help students who are passionate about public relations.
Sarah Van Nevel recently graduated from the University of Minnesota and works public relations agency in the Twin Cities.