How to Communicate with Professionals

Photo cred:  Tracy Byrnes
Photo cred: Tracy Byrnes

If you’re a college senior, you’re probably not the happiest person on campus right now.  Times are tough and that run of the mill job search strategy you were taught just won’t cut it anymore.  There are a couple values that are more relevant than ever though, and that is differentiation and “it’s not what you know…but who you know”.  You have to set yourself apart from the tide of college graduates that are gunning for the few jobs available.  That is why establishing relationships with professionals is more important than ever.

Today, the best way to set yourself apart from other students is no longer with a perfectly worded resume, or by wearing an expensive suit to a job fair. The best way is to establish relationships. If your school is like mine, this isn’t something that you were necessarily trained in.  You’re always told to keep to strict guidelines of what to write and say, but in reality that’s not what all professionals are looking for.  Here are three things to keep in mind when connecting with professionals…

  1. Show respect AND personality. This is very important when connecting with professionals.  The respect aspect is common sense, but many people mistake respect for very dry, boring conversation as to not offend anyone.  It’s important to be respectful, but professionals also want to get to know WHO you are.  Don’t be afraid to add some jokes and a little wit to your conversations.  Laughter is a powerful tool and if a professional finds that you make them smile even once a day, they’ll like you that much more.  Just make sure to remain respectful, and be careful not to offend anyone while expressing your personality. Know where the line is and don’t cross it.
  2. Create relationships by engaging in conversation. It’s important that you read what’s going on in your industry, and listen to what professionals are saying.  Even more important, is that you engage in those conversations.  Share your insights, show your passion and add value wherever possible.  If you have a question, ASK!  Most professionals love to give advice to students who are passionate and respectful.
    1. Use twitter. I don’t care if your friends talk about how “lame” twitter is (I hear it from my friends).  I can attest that it is the #1 way to connect with experienced professionals.  I’ve met some great professionals on twitter that I’m confident would recommend me for a job, solely based on a relationship that stemmed from a conversation on twitter.  You can use twitter to meet new professionals, and to stay connected to contacts new and old.
    2. Comment on professional’s blogs. Anyone who writes a blog can tell you that they love getting comments.  It shows that people are listening and that they care about what you have to say.  If you continue to post on professional’s blogs, they will appreciate it and be more willing to establish a relationship.
  3. Establish a relationship before you ask for anything. This is somewhat of a dilemma I’ve faced as I’ve heard some professionals say get to the point, and I’ve heard others say that it’s rude to come right out and ask for a job.  I’ve found that it’s always better to establish a relationship first.  A professional will be more willing to hire someone that they’ve gotten to know beyond a resume and head shot.  They’ll know who you are, that you have a passion in the field and will respect you for establishing a relationship.
    1. If you have to ask for a job right away…You should never come right out and say “I want a job!”  If you can’t establish a relationship first, send an email explaining that you’d like to connect further, possibly set up a coffee meeting, and make mention that you are looking for a job.  Make sure that it’s not the main focus of your initial message.

If you’re confused about what professionals look for in an email, check out Lauren Fernandez’s post on email etiquette.

Interview with Arik Hanson: Tips for Job Seeking Students

Arik Hanson, APR; ACH Communications
Arik Hanson, APR; ACH Communications

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Interview with Lauren Fernandez: Tips for Job Seeking Students

Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa
Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa

Lauren Fernandez, American Mensa, is an enthusiastic PR Professional, who is always willing to help out students looking to become PR professionals.  Lauren was kind enough to provide some great advice for you through my blog, enjoy!

1) How should students approach their established connections to ask for job opportunities? When is the best time to start asking?

Once you start interning and gaining PR experience, you should treat every opportunity as a future job. You never know, because 5 years down the road that contact could be your next boss. When I was just beginning to intern, I would collect cards, and if I felt that I could learn from the person as a mentor, I would constantly email them with questions, advice and meet with them for coffee and/or lunch. I would also write a hand written thank you card every once in awhile. I don’t think it’s valuable to come right out and ask for a job – but by building a relationship and showing interest, you are saying “Hey, look at me – I am valuable and could be in the future.”

2) What are the best methods students can use to create connections with professionals?

I am a big fan of Twitter – this is an easy way to get a hold of me, and also to start establishing a contact. Once we have that, we can move to email, phone and networking. I love meeting students at events, and coming home and already having an email thanking me for my time. The email that contains questions about the field and about what I do, how I got into PR, etc. will always gain a lot of mileage when creating a connection. Also, make sure to keep up the connection – don’t drop off the face of the planet. PR pros talk daily, and we share stories. The PR world is very small, even in big cities such as the DFW area where I work.

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?

Frankly, I don’t want to see parts of your body you wouldn’t show at work, or you chugging beer in the conga line. That is all fun in college, but this is the professional world, and you have to think of it from the standpoint of: What would your co-worker say if they were standing next to you in these pictures? Would your boss like to know that your interests include whiskey and chasing the opposite sex? Probably not. Your social media profiles and presence should only add to your character and exemplify it, not take away from it. There are privacy settings if you need to keep that one picture on there, but once you graduate, it really is time to grow up.

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?

I wish I knew the value of patience, and the fact that you don’t have to accept the first job that is offered to you. I know in this economy it can be a tough pill to swallow, but my dad gave me great advice when that first job I took went really sour and I quit: “Lauren, was that a job that you would be happy with if for the next 5 years you weren’t paid for it?” I didn’t have passion for that job, and that is something you should always have. You are a rockstar, and you have to believe in it. The job will come – and one that you love.

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?

I look for dedication, hard work, and response time. I am a very busy professional, but I can always stop to help someone if they are dedicated to this field. I only want those that can accelerate and benefit the field I love to enter it – and those are the ones I help. I don’t like arrogance (trust me, you aren’t a PR God come to save the field), and I love simple thank yous. If a student can respond to me in 24 hours or less, or at least tell me they received my message, then that will gain a lot of respect for me. If a student asks me to lunch, they stand out, because they aren’t afraid to be in a setting that is outside the professional workplace. If a student sends a hand-written note, that gets a lot of bonus points as well.


You can find Arik Hanson’s answers to these questions here.  Thanks for your time and thoughts Lauren!

What Makes You Follow?

I asked this question on twitter in hopes that the response would show you, my readers, how you can use twitter to foster meaningful relationships.

Adam Sacco
Photo cred: Adam Sacco

Everyone’s definition of a meaningful follower is going to differ based on their reasons for using twitter. I consider a meaningful follower to be someone who is active, responds to questions and embraces conversation.  Others, usually brands or people establishing themselves as brands,  are typically more concerned with making themselves accessible to as many people as possible and so they follow as many people as they can. If you want to gain meaningful followers, you need to understand why people follow.

I’ll start with myself.  Here are some things that I consider when deciding who to follow…

  • Can you provide me with any job or collaboration opportunities?
  • Do you engage in conversation with your followers?
  • Humor is a big plus for me. I enjoy laughing.
  • I try to make a point not to take number of followers into account.  I’ll follow someone with 30 followers just as quick as I would follow someone with 1000.
  • I generally like to keep the amount of people I follow around 300.  Any more and I just don’t have the time to keep up!

I also specifically asked a few people who have slightly different takes on how/who they follow.

Arik Hanson is a great example of someone who puts a great deal of thought into who he follows.  If he’s following you, chances are you’re doing something right.  He tends to follow…

  • People before companies, with the occasional exception.
  • People who have an actual personal photo as their avatar.  Being able to put a face with a name is a big step to building relationships.
  • People who don’t spam (No Auto DirectMessages!!)
  • The occasional person from a random industry with a different perspective on matters. (I loved this and think its so important to make sure different viewpoints are represented)
  • People that trusted contacts follow or recommend.

Dave Fleet spoke about how he follows in his blog.  He makes a great point that he is a communications professional, not a professional blogger.  Like many professionals that are looking to connect and learn on twitter, he simply does not have time to keep up with so many followers and do his job at the same time.  Therefore, he chooses who he follows wisely. If you want him to follow you, make sure to…

  • @reply him.  The most important thing to most twitter users is conversation.
  • Make your username your REAL name.
  • Create a compelling bio.
  • Include your website in your profile.  Websites / blogs show people that you have valuable and relevant information to contribute.

Darren Rowes creator of Problogger has a very different approach. He follows everyone that he can and recently started using TweetLater to auto-follow those who follow him.  He explained to me his approach…

  • The biggest concern is being accessible to anyone who wants to contact you.
  • Engaging with users is very important but @replying to every question creates a lot of clutter for followers. Its important to be able to continue conversations privately via direct message.
  • It’s impossible to keep track of updates when you’re following 9000+ people. You can use tools like tweetdeck‘s @reply feed and grouping features to filter out the people you really want to see while keeping track of those who reply to you.

Here are a few more responses from my followers:

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So if you want more followers, instead of following people to get them to follow back think about who you want to follow you, and why they follow.

I hope this was helpful!  Comment with why YOU follow people.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Advice for PR and Marketing Grads

m00by
Photo cred: m00by

This is a collaboratively reworked version of Lauren Fernandez‘s post “Let’s Be Frank: Some Advice for PR Graduates” that I thought was SO great, I needed to make it available to my readers with a few additional insights of my own. I also spoke with Lauren after her post to find answers to some additional questions I had which will also be included here. Here we go…

  1. Build experience and set goals. Participate in internships, take offices, join clubs and do community service.  Find jobs that you are interested in and work to become qualified.
  2. Be realistic. Many companies have become big by retaining their employees and job openings are limited, especially in today’s economy.  You shouldn’t always shoot for the big name companies.  You will find that smaller – medium sized companies are the ones looking for bright new entry-level people to join them as they grow.  At these small agencies, you can gain a lot of experience because you really get to see the ins and outs of an agency.
  3. Don’t rush to grad school. Focus on building some experience first.  PR students should always have some experience before going to grad school. Really, a masters in PR is geared toward if you want to go into teaching. However, you can always go for Emerging Media, Public Affairs, Communications, etc. In many situations, only YOU would know what’s the right approach when considering going to grad school. In general, I would recommend having at least 2 years of professional experience first.
  4. You are not too good for ANY offer. As long as an organization has a good reputation, there is no reason to not give it a shot. You might find it’s a great fit, and you will definitely learn from it – good or bad. Also, you might hear of a development coordinator job opening – this is geared toward fund-raising and developing the brand. This is great for a young PR pro because you can really fine-tune your pitching and customer service skills.
  5. Stay open to doing internships after you graduate. Not everyone coming out of school will get a job right off the bat.  If you are set on the big agency, be prepared to take a paid internship for a couple of months before being offered an entry type position. Don’t look at this as a disadvantage!  Since you have a degree, you will be given more responsibility and greater consideration for full-time opportunities. You will take away great experience, contacts and if you do your job well, a recommendation.
  6. Set up interviews around graduation time Sure, your finance and business major friend already landed a job back in December but guess what? This is PR and marketing. The job offers WILL come.  Those hiring, unless stated differently, usually want someone to start within a month of the interview process. This is a field that is constantly on the go and constantly changing.
  7. Network until you graduate! The key is to establish a connection with professionals and stay involved until interview season. Three quick networking tips:
    1. Use social media to it’s fullest! Tools like linkedin, twitter, and professionals networks have made it easier than ever to meet professionals in your field. If you feel comfortable enough, have a lot to say and can say it well, start a blog!  Make sure to be respectful and professional in your online presence. Word gets around in these fields and you don’t want to tarnish your reputation.
    2. Go to networking events! There are always events going on in major cities.  They are a great way to make some real connections with experienced professionals who will only be impressed that you are networking before you graduate.
    3. If you’ve made a contact, communicate with them once a week – either by email, phone or even meeting for coffee. It’s the simple things that keep a relationship alive, and that drive to connect with PR pros is going to get you very far. Face-to-face communication is ALWAYS the best route to create meaningful relationships, especially for those that haven’t jumped into social media yet.
  8. You can focus your job search on social media. As many have argued, social media doesn’t exactly fall under marketing or PR but more of a mixture, and there isn’t an accepted method to approach social media. If you’re set on working in social media, consider an association/non-profit job. Contrary to popular belief, this is where a lot of job opportunities will be coming from. They all need in-house PR, and they also have a great need for the 20-something who is great at social media. In non-profits/association, you truly know the ins and outs of your client, because you ARE the client. In these settings, you also gain a ton of experience because you get to do a lot more, and are trusted a lot more, than in the agency atmosphere.

What did we leave out? What advice would you give to PR and marketing grads?