What I Wish I Knew About PR in College

On November 3, James Madison University’s PRSSA chapter came to visit The Herald Group to learn firsthand what it’s really like working in public affairs from some of the best experts in the industry (I’m a little biased). The panel was not only informative and enlightening for the students, but for myself as well.

It got me thinking—what are some of the things that I wish I knew when I was in college that my older (and maybe a little wiser) self knows now?

  1. Interview before the interview. When I was in college, I knew I wanted to go into public relations, but I wasn’t quite sure what my future job would entail. I recommend setting up interviews with connections or friends who already work in the industry while on breaks and glean insight into what a typical workday looks like, skills to hone in on and general tips for applying for PR jobs in the future. Some questions to ask: What types of skills are needed across clients? What are some writing exercises I can practice? Are there any programs I can train myself in the curve?
  2. Prep, prep, prep. You can write draft press releases and blog posts for school assignments for eight semesters, but nothing is the same as writing them on the job. That being said, try to tackle assignments in classes or on your own that you might have to do on the real job. This includes writing an op-ed or letter to the editor and pitching it to the local paper or learning how to use programs that PR firms use like Cision, resources permitting.
  3. Follow your gut, not the crowd. In middle school, I only wanted to wear shirts that had Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister logos all over them because they were well-known brands that everyone else was wearing. Similarly, in college, a lot of my friends wanted to work at big, well-known firms or corporations with high-profile clients because that’s what we learned about. However, looking for a job in PR is about finding a firm that you click with, not basing your search solely off of the name or reputation of a company.
  4. Try to get at least one internship or on-campus job. Even if it’s not related to the industry you want to work in, getting an internship or on-campus job in college gives you a preview of what it’s like to work in an office environment. From abiding by a dress code and managing your time properly to figuring out what to do with your hands in meetings, internships are a great way to dip your toes into the working world and learn about how a company operates.
  5. Have a cover letter and resume ready and know how to tailor it for each position. Talking, and writing, about yourself will never not be awkward—that’s a fact. But with that in mind, I wish I had taken more classes on cover letter and resume design. Employers look at several resumes a day, so it’s imperative to have a good resume and cover letter that’s error free and can tell an employer in a straightforward and clear fashion why they should hire you. A good first step is researching the company and having your materials reflect that. It will most likely make you a stronger candidate.
  6. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Starting the job search is incredibly stressful, challenging, frustrating and exhausting. You might have to be patient for a while, but being diligent pays off. It’s always better in the long-run to find a job that you like and are happy at, rather than accept a position for the sake of saying you have a job.

Public affairs is a great industry to pursue—it’s exciting, challenging and never boring. By making the best out of your classes, internships and other opportunities in college will help you stand out to employers and prepare you for your first public affairs job!