Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Applying for a PR position? Be smart and be #HAPPO.

Our Communications Department at the school district just went through the fantastically challenging process of hiring for a new Public Relations Specialist position.

It was fantastic insomuch that it meant that our department was finally able to add another set of hands to help out in a growing district. This was a challenging endeavor due to the fact that there is a lot of amazing communications/PR/journalist talent out there looking to land a good gig. In the end, we are pleased to have who we believe will be a tremendous asset to our team.

The hiring process also gave me the chance to assess a rather large pool of résumés, cover letters, and correspondence from potential candidates and discover some areas that might help others seeking employment in public relations.

  1. Know your audience - I was surprised at the number of applicants who had zero qualifications that matched our needs. This could be because of the still recovering job market and people applying just to apply, but it doesn't make sense to waste your time trying to get in front of someone when there's obviously not a relevant connection.
  2. Read the job description very carefully - When evaluating applications, we were looking for specific set of skills, demonstrated ability and experience for our department needs. Look for words in the job description (like writing, reporting, media spokesperson, special events, web, etc.) that give context clues to help you determine what they are looking for in an ideal candidate.
  3. Match your skill set with your experience - Look for ways to draw comparisons with your work experience (paid, internship and volunteer) to as many of the skills sought as possible. Don't have any related work experience? This is when your writing skills will come in handy as you'll need to frame your education around the needs of the position. Either way, you need to be able show your prowess for their specific open position.
  4. Cover letters get read. (Hopefully.) - Thinking about writing skills, the cover letter is an area for the job seeker should pay attention to. The cover letter probably shouldn't be a narrative rehashing your résumé. Instead, let the cover letter be a written example of your personality. Keep it professional, but it's ok to be a human.
  5. Details, details, details - Pay close attention to what you send to potential employer. Let's all say it together, "Pay close attention to what you send to potential employer." Sadly, people make bonehead mistakes when applying for jobs. Like leaving all of the edits turned on in the Microsoft Word .doc cover letter so 1/2 of the page is red and/or crossed-through. Don't be that guy. Send a PDF.(And yes, that really happened.) Other mistakes with your résumé such as misspellings or misleading bullet points, etc. cause unnecessary confusion. Also, follow all of the directions in the application process, to whom do  you send documents, whether or not to complete an online or offline application, etc. These things really make a difference and when fouled up, make you appear to not be very detail-oriented which is pretty important in PR.
  6. Apply like you're pitching a story - You'll get better traction when seeking employment if you approach each potential employer they way they want to be approached. We know that blasting out the same generic press releases to a bunch of media contacts and hoping one of them bites is a waste of everyone's time. Tailor your résumé to each prospect like you would tailor your pitch to a specific reporter and outlet. It takes more time, but you stand a greater chance of getting your foot in the door if you can be relevant to them.
  7. For the journalists - We had a high number of current and former journalists apply for our position. And I know of many media friends making the jump to the dark side (or into the light depending on how you look at it) of PR. I believe you bring an exciting potential to any communications team because of the inside knowledge of the media you bring to the table. Lean on your writing, ethical, and newsworthy standards and I believe you can be a valuable addition to public relations teams.
What do you think? What tips or suggestions can you add for PR job candidates? The comments are yours.
And for your moment of HAPPO-ness...
HAPPO (Help a PR Pro Out) is an online community started by Arik Hanson and Valerie Simon. It’s members strive to help PR pros who are looking for jobs connect with organizations looking to hire in order to identify potential opportunities for both sides. I am the HAPPO regional champion for Dallas/Ft.Worth. The next HAPPO online event is Dec. 8. Follow the #HAPPO hashtag on Twitter for more details and to get involved. If you are in DFW, follow the #HAPPODFW hashtag on Twitter for local information.

[Photo by zervas via Flickr Creative Commons]
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