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How to land your first PR job and climb the ladder

Posted on 02.10.2017

Top tips from industry experts on landing your first PR job and progressing up the career ladder

The start of any career can be fraught with challenges, and the PR and marketing space is no different. From condensing your academic and professional experience into a short CV, to preparing for interviews and knowing how to win over your potential future boss, there is a lot you need to think through. Not to mention the competition. It can be hard to know how to stand out from the crowd. 

Lucky for you, we hosted a panel event where two global PR pros and one PR recruitment expert shared all their top tips to help you figure out what you should and shouldn’t do to get your foot in the door and start climbing the ladder. (Find more tips from the event on Twitter using the hashtag #firstPRjob

Read on for all the highlights on how to land your first PR job from our expert panellists: Mark Pinsent, European MD at The Hoffman Agency; Stephen Waddington, Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum and Visiting Professor of Practice in Public Relations at Newcastle University; and Hanson Search CEO Alice Weightman.

Do a social media audit on yourself

Before you even think about applying for that job, google yourself. Do all your social media profiles pop up? If so, that’s how easy it will be for a prospective employer to find you. Which is a good thing! You want to be easily found and heard in PR, but for the right reasons.

Keep in mind that the way you portray yourself on social media will influence a hiring manager’s view of you and whether they think you are a good fit for their business.

Fewer than half of the registered attendees for this event submitted a LinkedIn profile. If you have a CV, then you should have a LinkedIn profile. Get it sorted. But finding a job isn’t simply about writing a good CV or LinkedIn profile. You must also use social for networking and making your mark. Share things that you’re passionate about. Market yourself. This will help you build an invaluable network.

Top tips for using social media to land your first PR job:

  • Follow people in the industry
  • Listen to what experts are saying
  • Participate in discussions
  • Curate & create
  • Connect

Got an interview? Prepare, prepare, prepare

Once you get an interview, don’t think ‘job done’! There is so much preparation that you should do in order to make the best impression and come out with a job offer.

Most importantly, do your research. Find out everything that you can about the company, their clients, the person/people that you’re meeting. This knowledge will help you throughout the interview – answering questions, asking questions, and making small talk. Maybe the company recently did some work that you were really impressed by. Or maybe you went to the same university as one of your interviewers. Showing your interest and engaging on relatable topics will help make you more likeable.  

Also, do some research about trends and current events or issues in the industry. What are the top three media stories of the day? Get your head around them. What’s happening politically that might be impacting the industry? Brexit, Trump, party conferences…

Finally, don’t forget to dress to impress. While many PR agencies have a more relaxed dress code today, an interview is an occasion to put your best foot forward. If you show up dressed professionally and your interviewer is in jeans, don’t worry! Whereas, if you look like you’ve made no effort, you could be perceived as not interested.  

How to nail the interview

One thing you definitely should not do is treat your interview like a one-way Q&A. You should use it as an opportunity to ask smart questions.

What is a smart question? ‘What would my typical workday look like?’ is not a smart question. Instead, try some of these:

  • What are your main objectives for your work with [client X]?
  • What are three things I should do to advance in your company?
  • When you think of the best person you’ve ever hired at my level, what were the things they did that impressed you?
  • How do you define the company culture?

If you don’t have much direct work experience to draw from in an interview, don’t fake it. Be modest and realistic in your expectations. You can still impress by showcasing your knowledge, reliability, and eagerness to learn. You can reference your academic experience, sport achievements, or other activities that demonstrate your skills and abilities.

Is it okay to follow up after the interview?

You don’t have to wait around twiddling your thumbs after the interview. You can follow up soon after with a polite thank you. And if you really want to stand out, you could send a handwritten one!

If anything was mentioned that you were going to provide later, for instance, a portfolio or references, then make sure to include those too.

If you are keen to land the job, find a way to demonstrate it. You could propose something based on a conversation you had in the interview. Or ask if there is anything else that you can do to show that you’re the best person for the job.

Don’t force it though. If you don’t have something to add, it’s better to leave it with a simple ‘thank you’ rather than ruining your chances in the final stretch.

Tips for impressing & progressing once you land your first PR job

Finally, you nailed the interview, got a job offer and accepted. Now you want to impress and progress up the career ladder.

Here are the panel’s top tips:  

  • Be reliable: punctual, meet deadlines, communicate well
  • Ask questions: seek clarity, but learn and remember
  • Contribute: speak up
  • Show your eager: volunteer for tasks
  • Be positive: don’t moan, be fun to work with
  • Get social, but make it in on time the next day
  • And most important: "work hard and don’t be a dick!" 

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Author: Richard Savage

In his past life, Richard worked with clients from European leading VC firms, tech-specialist IP law firms, tech start-ups and accelerators, and even world-leading business schools. Richard now leads the Technology PR team at Hanson Search, leaning on his own experience to help candidates and clients alike.

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