Arik Hanson, APR; ACH Communications, is a PR expert who has been a great mentor and friend to me since I’ve met him not too long ago. Always looking to help others, he has now offered some advice for you, my readers, to help clear up some questions that college students looking for a job may have. Here we go!
1) How should students approach their established connections to ask for job opportunities? When is the best time to start asking?
Don’t start asking about full-time opportunities until you’re ready and able to take a job. However, that shouldn’t stop you from discussing opportunities and exploring possibilities with your “real world” colleagues. As far as approaches, I’d suggest as much face-to-face interaction as possible. Invite a professional out to lunch. Take them out for coffee. You’ll be surprised how open folks are open to this approach. Most want to give back, just like someone did for them once upon a time.
2) What are the best methods students can use to create connections with professionals?
The tried-and-true approaches still work today. You know why? Because so many students still aren’t using them! Attend PRSA or IABC events and start introducing yourself to professionals. Then, follow up with a call and ask to take them out to coffee sometime so you can learn more about what they do. Participate in existing programs.
In Minnesota, we have a program for students called Pro-Am Day. Students have the opportunity to shadow a pro and learn more about a day-in-the-life of a PR professional. Great opportunity, but so many students miss the bigger picture. Yes, we get great participation from students in the actual event. But, what’s missing is the follow-up. Most of us pros participate in this program because they want to help and mentor the next generation of PR pros. But, it can’t be a one-sided situation. I’ve participated in Pro-Am Day now for six years–I have yet to have a student call me afterward and ask if I’d like to grab a coffee and talk about career advice and PR. Students are simply missing out on a fantastic opportunity to build relationships with folks in the industry. Remember, most jobs don’t come from online channels or job boards–they come from word-of-mouth and references.
To that end, social medial channels can also be a great way to start the conversation. Just like what you’re doing David–very smart. Connect with folks in the industry–keep your name top of mind. When they have an opening, and you send them a note, they will remember your name and the work you’re capable of doing.
3) To what extent are students expected to censor their online profiles? How can they do this while keeping to the values of transparency in social media?
Organizations are facing this exact same issue right now, which is why you’re seeing more social media policies popping up. The learning for students: There are no black and while rules, but there are guidelines. Be yourself online, but just be aware that nearly everything you post can be accessed by a recruiter or manager. If it’s me, and I’m searching for that first job, I’m pretty darn aware of the photos I’m posting to my Facebook page. I’m not saying you need to censor yourself completely–but, your online persona is a direct reflection of your real self. Organizations in the PR industry want to hire folks who are responsible, mature and creative thinkers. They don’t want to hire folks they think may embarrass the organization. That’s not a new thing. My advice: Expect every potential employers to search every online asset (photos, blog posts, etc) you produce. If you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see it/read it, don’t post it..
4) What was one thing that you wish you did differently, or that you wish you were aware of when searching for your first full time job?
For me, I really wish I would have taken the more personal approach. Like many students, I search job boards, scoured listings in our career resource center and browsed the newspaper listings (back when those mattered–remember, I’m old). But, I realize now, the way to stand out among the crowd is to establish those personal, more human connections. And it’s not that hard. Again, not many students are doing it, so for the ones that are, they stand out like rock stars. I also would have looked and accepted an agency job right out of school. Great way to learn about a variety of different PR disciplines to figure out what you want to pursue further. Plus, you usually have the chance to travel–both across the U.S. and the world. What a great opportunity to experience different areas of the country and parts of the world–even if you are usually working 18-hour days during those business trips!
5) What are some things that students can do to stand out from the crowd, differentiating themselves from other job candidates? What are specific things that you look for?
Well, you could walk around NYC with a bunch of resumes attached to your body. If I remember correctly, that’s what Peter Shankman did–seemed to work for him. For me, it comes down for three areas:
- Writing. Huge. A must have. And employers need to see samples–lots of them. From internships, pro-bono work, even blog posts. We need to get a feel for how well you can write.
- Initiative. This is surprisingly big–for me. In PR, you can’t be a wallflower. You need to be able to speak up in a meeting with senior executives. You need to be able to take a project with minimal direction and make it happen and produce quality results. And you need to be able to start and facilitate engaging and productive conversations with clients, colleagues and partners. Again, wallflowers need not apply.
- Social media skills. This is where students can really shine right now. There’s a whole sector of professionals that are uncomfortable using these new tools. But most recognize the need to at least explore the possibilities they hold for their organizations. And they need help. Students have been living and breathing many of these new technologies for years. Today’s students grew up on Facebook, MySpace and text messaging. I’m only 36, but I grew up with a land-line phone (with a cord), a word processor and bulletin boards. Big difference. Students can add tremendous value in this area by helping “coach up” senior-level professionals on the ins and outs of social media.
You can find a Lauren Fernandez’s answers to these questions here. Thanks so much for your time Arik!