Tips on securing that PR agency job – and securing it well
It was a bumpy ride for me to secure that Public Relations agency job for me. I came across this article on Facebook which I thought was a good read and good advice for college students. Now, just to give it that additional edge for local students, I’ll revamp it a little.
1. A good understanding of the industry
Understand what is Public Relations 1st before deciding that you want to do this. Be able to differentiate the in-house and agency functions and how the two work together in a campaign.
2. What should I study? And where?
Study a major that is relevant to Public Relations, duh.
I felt that what I learnt from NUS’s Communications & New Media was useful & pertinent to my work. The difference between NUS and NTU’s mass comms is that, NUS weaves in a small component of New Media (Facebook, Twitter and whatnots) into its course.
NTU is a 4 year course which requires all students to undergo a compulsory (6 months) attachment, Final Year Project (also known as FYP) and of course, you graduate with honours. In NUS, the attachment is a voluntary thing and only, the most hardworking (notice I don’t say smartest) do honours.
SMU offers a corporate communications track in its business degree as well, not too sure of this track offers.
3. Sufficient internship experience – the length of it
Like what the article says, I agree it is true that employers expect you to have experience by the time you graduate. Also, not all experience counts. Some agencies maintain that their basic requirement is a 6-months agency attachment, others say 3-months is sufficient. Whatever the number of months, the underlying line is: you need agency experience. Which gets to my next point…
4. When should I do my internship?
If you are an aspiring public relations wannabe since young, I would say, don’t waste the time before you matriculate playing, or working in some call centre. Do an internship.
If you are just like any other tertiary student studying a three year course, you will have two major vacation periods. The summer holidays after year 1 and the summer holidays after year 2.
Do both an in-house corporate communications internship as well as an agency internship. In my opinion, it is easier to get a corp comms in-house internship as your first shot at internship as compared to scoring an agency internship because, agency internships usually requires you to have some type of experience first.
Some corp comms department do work with an agency to supplement their work. In that sense, you will be working on the client side with the agency as consultants. Most big companies and organisations do this. E.g. Nestle, BMW, Audi and Lenovo.
5. Who should I intern for?
In my most honest and personal opinion…
For corp comms: Gun for big names and organisations that are global brands, such as those aforementioned. The reason why I would say this is because, you will get to work with agencies as your consultants. This will give you an opportunity to decide if you like working in-house better. Also, you will get to work with an agency – one whom you potentially might want to work in.
For agencies: Look for the big 5 in Singapore. That is, Ogilvy, Hill & Knowlton, Edelman, Weber Shandwick and Burson-Marsteller.
The hours might be long and you might be thrown sh*t to do. Just to quote a colleague of mine “sh*t rolls downhill”. I feel that this gruelling experience will help you decide if the fast-paced agency life is for you. Also, within an agency, there are different tracks of Public Relations, e.g. finance, corporate, consumer, technology. Each type differs greatly from the other. You will learn how a team works together and you will understand what is expected of you. With a big name to your internship experience, it is going to be easier to secure your first job upon graduation. It’s going to be a short stint of 3-6 months but this is going to impact your future job. So I say, suck it up and do it well.
6. How do I get that internship?
Approach the Career Centre of your school. All tertiary institutes offer some sort of career counselling services and they will have a job portal that you can access. Prepare a resume and cover letter and have the Centre’s consultants vet it. But, never stop at that.
Spam your resume and send in to the different companies you are interested in. Be sure to personalise your cover note to the respective organisations because it shows your sincerity. Make sure that you have no English grammar errors, that’s the very least you can do.
Send your resume in PDF format please because it is non-editable. Also, with PDF format, all fonts can be read. With regards to photo, if you do insert one, make sure its presentable and professional. Do not insert that photo you crop out of your partying days. A semi front profile (45 degrees) suits most people.
Make sure that your Facebook profile and Twitter accounts are corporate friendly. Do privatise or delete those nasty drunk statuses or foul swearing updates. LinkedIn profiles are good because it is corporate profile networking site you want to be seen on. Some PR agencies have turned to using LinkedIn as a job hunting portal.
7. Ace the interview
I always get a little queasy and nervous before interviews but hey, that’s pretty normal.
Be sure to read up on the interviewing organisation before you step in. Know what are some of their clients and the work they do. Check out their website. Also, I find that Googling them on marketing-interactive will give you some latest work and changes within the organisation.
If you are not a confident and fluent speaker, prep yourself. Be able to speak about your experiences within say 5 sentences and how your experiences are relevant to the job you are applying for. Think of 3 weaknesses and strengths about yourself. Think of where do you want to be in 5 years. Think about how can you contribute to the company. These questions are some of the most common interviewing questions.
Dress well, first impressions count. Where ever you are interviewing for, be groomed. Be especially groomed if you know the agency does lifestyle/retail PR (Think H&M and Steve Madden). I feel that a structured dress, blazer and pumps usually work for me. Or else, a nice top, dress pants/pencil skirt work as well. Basic make up – foundation, eyeliner and a tinge of blusher is good. For guys, a shirt and pants combo is a must and please, pair it with nice shoes.
If you’re interviewing for a creative position, you have a bit more leeway to dress. But still, you wouldn’t want to wear Pepsi Blue to a Coca-Cola interview.
Bring your resume, writing samples and certs photocopies. In a nice folder.
Some agencies will want you to do a writing or presentation test so be prepared. Writing tests usually consist of writing a press release with a brief they provide you. Some agencies will ask you to do a translation test as well.
I like to Google and check the LinkedIn profile of my interviewees so that I know who I am talking to. Usually, those who interview you are the ones whom you will be working under. Their accounts, most likely, will be the ones that you are working on.
FYI.. In an agency, the rank usually goes
Intern – Account Coordinator – Account Exec – Senior Account Exec – Account Manager – Senior Account Manager – Account Director – Senior Account Director – Regional Lead – Vice Pres – President
8. After the interview
Be sure to follow up with a thank you note. I think this is not a common practice but it is a good practice because after all, your interviewers take out time to talk to you.
9. After receiving an offer…
Take some time to think it through before accepting. And do research about what is your worthy rate by looking at graduate surveys. Be sure to fight for what you are worth and don’t accept a job below market rate. There are so many agencies out there, don’t be hasty in accepting. At most, work harder and spend a bit more time interviewing around. Don’t lose heart.
10. Do your homework well meanwhile
When homework, I mean, do extra-curricular activities that will boost your resume and let it look good. E.g write for the school or youth magazines. Get a part time stint as a community manager managing social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter communities.
On an ending note…
I hope this article serves you youngsters well on how to map your future career path. I was very lucky because everything was smooth sailing for me and I have wise seniors advising me.
(Just to sound professional)
This author is a graduate of NUS’s Communications and New Media student of Class 2011. She has completed 2 internships and done a part time stint while juggling school, a dance CCA and hall life. She is now working as a PR professional in a mid-sized PR agency and welcomes all comments (constructive please) and questions her juniors may have. Please drop a comment below.