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Photo courtesy of Spirit-Fire (2010)

I’m frequently asked by students and transitional communicators, how to set themselves apart from the pack. Here are some helpful tips for PR professionals trying to make their way into that first position:

1)    Immerse yourself in social media – This is a place where you can really get an edge in the interview and be seen as an expert early in your career. As communication professionals, we are expected to know the ins and outs of every social media network, but obviously, it’s an ongoing process. Here is an opportunity to shine in an interview. Get to know every network you can by experimenting and understanding the nuisances and potential benefits of each. A key role you can play when starting your career is a sharp understanding of your own demographic. Like it or not, the expectation these days is that younger communicators should be extremely knowledgeable of social media.

2)    Volunteer – I can’t say enough about the benefits of getting involved in a communications organization such as IABC, CPRS or APRS. One of the hardest things to do in business is to learn how to network, so it’s best to get started right away. Networking is a long term project, so don’t expect instant pay-off, but you will reap the rewards throughout your career.

3)    Elevate your portfolio to the next level – Developing a basic portfolio was likely an essential part of your communications program, but a portfolio is a lot like cooking: even if you have all the right ingredients, sometimes it can just taste a little bland. Expand your portfolio and build a little more of your own personality into it. Give it that little extra spice, maybe with photos, maybe with a little design. The objective is to create some conversation about your skills in the interview, highlight what makes you so special and what you can bring to an organization. If you don’t have a portfolio, please create one. I once interviewed a girl who pulled her most recent writing sample out of her back pocket. Do you think she got the job?

4)    Take care of your online presence – This is a really important one these days (especially, if you have a unique name like mine). Search your name and your images through different search engines. Make sure that everything online would be appropriate to show a potential employer. If not, do your best to remove it from being online. Also, make sure to put a Google alert on your name. This is not only a good practice for job hunting, but for personal security as well.

5)    Informational interviews – Request calls with professionals, chat with them, get the inside scoop on what is happening in the industry and talk with them about where you would like to head in your career. Just remember, an informational interview is only just that. Asking for a job after an informational interview is a little like asking for a date after a business meeting – awkward, uncomfortable and taints the whole experience. 

Good luck with your career. The field of communications is wide, exciting and tremendously rewarding!