1. Write. Your PR career is going to involve lots of writing, so you had better get used to it. Yes, you will need to know how to write a good press release, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to PR writing. You’ll need to write up reports, white papers and memos. You will need to communicate frequently with many different people via email (see below). You will need to prepare backgrounders, talking points and scripts for executives. You will need to write good web copy. You likely will be involved in social media writing, which often can be the toughest assignment of all – getting a succinct, relevant message out in just 140 characters isn’t easy!
2. Work (often for free). If you expect to get a job right out of college so you can pay your loans, you will need to do a couple of internships before graduation. The job market has never been more competitive, so getting a head start has never been more necessary. Getting a paid internship (yes, they do exist) that will actually some income while you’re a senior probably will require you to have completed one or two lesser internships first. That means you need to get started on internships the summer following your sophomore year. It doesn’t have to be much. It might be as simple as providing some volunteer PR services for a non-profit in your hometown. Maybe it’s writing up and executing a PR plan for a small business (you must know somebody who owns their own business … if not, your parents will).
3. Socialize. You are about to enter a profession where you are expected to “relate” to key “publics” and where you will be expected to advocate for a client or employer. Get a head start by relating to some key publics on behalf of your most important client – you! If you want a job after college, you should start reaching out and creating relationships with potential employers. Start following professionals on Twitter. Read blogs written by professionals and offer comments. Attend meetings held by your local PRSA or IABC chapter and make it a goal to meet and talk to two professionals. After you have been at it awhile, you might set a new goal to talk to four professionals you’ve met at previous meetings.
4. Grow up (aka “Be professional”). How you dress, how you communicate, how you present yourself to the world are all important as you embark on your career path. Your social media accounts reflect who you are, so be sure that prospective employers will like what they see!
5. Be ethical. First of all, you should be a member of PRSSA as a student and PRSA as a PR professional. It provides ongoing networking and development opportunities. It also provides you the resources to better understand what is and what is not ethical in the professional practice of public relations. You WILL be placed in situations during your career where clients or employers ask you to do something unethical. Don’t do it. You can always get a new job, but it’s very difficult to repair a bad reputation.
6. Be authentic. Be the real you and don’t fake it. Over time, if you’re just faking it, you won’t be happy and it will show in your work. Also, if the “real you” is mean and conniving, I’d rather you get that out there right away so you get fired before you work your way into positions of authority. But for most of you, the real you isn’t bad, it’s just different … and it’s our differences that make us more marketable and help us land in the place we were meant to be.
7. Put in the extra effort. People that count the minutes before they will bolt for the door because of a 9-to-5 attitude will be treated as a commodity resource rather than a strategic resource. Always demonstrate to your bosses that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done right … even if that means you miss happy hour. In the long run, it will pay off.
8. Achieve balance. Putting in the extra effort at your job can be good, but making your whole life about work is not so great. Without life balance, you will eventually burn out. Work may provide some happy moments and boost your self-esteem, but it also will let you down and make you feel hollow. Make sure there’s something more important in your life than your job (faith, family, friends, a cause) and devote as much attention to that as you do for clients who won’t be around forever.
9. Be positive. Approach every day with a positive, can-do attitude and don’t get sucked into the office politics and griping with co-workers by the coffee machine. You don’t have to be where you are … you can always find another place to work. So devote your efforts to understanding others and doing all you can to make where you’re at the best place it can be.
10. Love. Do what you love, and love what you do. If you find yourself detesting the kinds of things you’re required to do day after day, you’re in the wrong career (or with the wrong employer). Better to change tracks early while you still can!