Tips on Applying for Your First PR Job

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Knowing how to handle yourself during a job interview is crucial in the public relations business. If you can't relate, you won't get the job. It's that simple.

You have to be ready to field any questions that are tossed at you. You have to anticipate.

Imagine showing up at the appointed hour to apply for a starting job as a public relations trainee at our fictitious International Widget Company.

You look terrific, you feel confident and you've made up your mind that you're going to turn in a stunning performance. Always remember, however, that confidence and neatness alone are not going to get you that job.

Maybe what you failed to do was enough research about International Widget and the job you were trying to get there. Maybe, just maybe, you don't even know what a widget is, much less what the competition is like, or how, if your luck prevails, you'll fit into the company or the corporate scheme of things.

Given all that, what do you think your chances of getting a job really are? You guessed it. Slim to nonexistent. Your good looks, brand new clothes and vibrant personality will not get you a job. It's fine to look good, but you have to interact properly and you have to know something about the company and the industry of which it is a part.

Unintentionally, thousands of job applicants report for job interviews unprepared. In a competitive marketplace where you often have hundreds of people applying for the same job, it pays to be thoroughly prepared.

Bob Forbes, who used to be with Oxford Personnel in New York, reports that a significant number of applicants lose jobs each year because they're unprepared for the job interview.

''Other than a few highly competitive fields where applicants can name their price, today the supply often far exceeds the demand,'' explains Forbes. "In other words, you often have 100 applicants for the same job. In a situation like this, who do you think is going to get the job? Obviously, it is the applicant who makes the best impression. This is usually someone who looks good and knows something about the field he or she is trying to break into. Often it's not the smartest person who gets the job, but the one who is best prepared."

It all amounts to a small time investment, according to Forbes. "You'd be surprised how many applicants are shortsighted when it comes to their careers," he goes on. "An applicant will go out and buy a new suit of clothes or a new dress for an interview, yet won't invest an hour or two at the library doing research on the prospective field. Those couple of hours of research are often worth their weight in gold.

"I can't tell you how many applicants have called up confused and upset after they're turned down by a company. They were convinced they had the job in their pockets after they finished their interviews. But just because an interview went well is no guarantee you got the job. What they didn't consider was the five or six people who were interviewed after them, who were far better prepared for the interview."

There's a lot of truth to what Forbes is saying. A little time devoted to researching your career is well worth the effort in the long run.

In the process of getting a PR job, try to think of yourself as a product - a walking, talking, breathing product that has to be wrapped and packaged in such a way that you can get the job you're after. Just as a manufacturer goes out of his way to shape his product to the marketplace, you, the PR job-seeker, have to package yourself so you're just what an employer is looking for.

The first thing you have to do is study the market you hope to penetrate. In other words, where exactly are the jobs in your field? It's all well and good to say you want to promote a top computer company. But where are those computer companies you'd like to work for and how do you propose to reach them?

The worst thing you can do is to go off half-cocked without a system. In the process of studying your market, create a workable system for yourself. First identify some of the major companies in the field. This can be accomplished easily by spending some time in a main branch of your public library.

Start with PR companies you're familiar with. You can find corporate addresses plus names of top officers in Standard & Poor's Register, which can be found in the business section of the library. An easy way to find out what companies dominate your field is to locate the trade associations that represent that field. This information can be found in the Encyclopedia of Associations, which should also be in your library.

To get specialized job information on your particular industry, get a hold of a recent edition of the Occupational Outlook Hand book, which is published yearly by the U.S. Department of Labor. It has fairly up-to-date information on most careers and where to get information.

Let's say you've identified the top 15 companies you might like to work for. At the end of the section on Public Relations, the Occupational Outlook Handbook lists some important associations that service the field and could provide you with a wealth of valuable information.

A savvy job applicant, whether he's applying for a PR job or something else, makes it a point to know as much as he or she can about the company or business before showing up for an interview. But with PR, you'd best arm yourself with information. If you're applying by mail, write a well-thought-out letter, state your interests, tell something of your past experience, perhaps stressing a high school yearbook and/or a college newspaper . . . anything that demonstrates a writing proficiency.

But keep the letter short and to the point. No prospective employer wants to sift through a lengthy application. So, say what you have to say, and close. Don't expect an answer by return mail. You won't get one. You're going to have to wait perhaps two weeks. If you don't receive a reply by then, you might make a polite phone call to in quire about your letter. PR firms are like any other business. Things get lost or overlooked or misplaced.

Don't be easily discouraged. If you don't get the job you've researched, don't think you've wasted your time. You've learned how to gather information and how to prepare for an interview. Chances are you'll get what you want the next time around.

What They Look For

The ideal PR person is a unique combination of both conventional and unconventional traits. Want a few of the personal characteristics that many companies look for? Here are some:
  1. Outgoing nature

  2. Enjoys working with people

  3. Good conversationalist

  4. Willingness to work hard and long

  5. Neat, conservative appearance

  6. Assertiveness

  7. Ambition

  8. Success-orientation
Back in the 1960's, legend has it, long hair, herb tea and homegrown vegetables were the order of the day and many young people were not exactly chomping at the bit to get out of school, go to work and buy the proverbial country house and its white picket fence.

They were quite content, 20 years ago, to see the country or travel around here and abroad, to "discover themselves." No more. The idea of life in a three-piece suit is no longer all that abhorrent.

OK, you've done your homework, you've done your research, you've got your education and you know that you really want a job in public relations.
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