For the fourth year in a row, I had the pleasure of participating in the annual PRSA St. Louis Career Development Day (formerly known as Pro-Am Day) on Friday, February 28. PRSSA chapters, as well as PR, communications and mass media students within a few hours’ drive, were invited to join us for this phenomenal professional development and networking event. Of the more than 100 attendants were students representing 11 different universities from both sides of the Mississippi River—and from as far away as Murray, Kentucky!
Prior to the luncheon and the afternoon PR pro industry roundtable discussions, the day kicked off with a panel of PR talent and recruiting professionals:
- Aurrice Duke, Vice President, Midwest Recruiting for PR Talent
- Nick Sargent, Manager, Intern Program Coordinator for Standing Partnership
- Shannon Gerli, Manager, Human Resources for Osborn Barr
- Monique Matthews Wolford, Senior Recruiter, Global Talent Acquisition for Monsanto
- Jeremy Cockrell, Director, Integrated Producer (Creative) for Osborn Barr
The panel was moderated by Sandi Straetker, APR, who posed some basic but essential questions before taking questions from attendees. There was a ton of good information and I was writing so quickly that my notes are nearly indiscernible, but here are some highlights.
- Agency and corporate recruiters alike are looking for real world experience. This can be in the form of internships, student-run firms and volunteer activities.
- Gerli advised researching and knowing the company’s culture so you may follow the appropriate path. For example, a publicly held corporate environment or large global agency atmosphere are going to differ from creative shops.
- Duke advised clear, concise but effective explanations on resumes. She also stated there should be NO typos, and good use of white space—not too ”busy.” This is especially important where an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) is used.
- Cockrell suggested focusing on accomplishments and results versus just descriptions.
- Wolford added that your results should be metrics-driven. She recommended you build a bridge between what you’ve done in the past and the position for which you’re applying.
- Sargent stressed that both your cover letter AND resume should be customized to each position. NOTE: This is especially important when ATS is utilized—your resume should include the key words/phrases from the job description, where appropriate. Never lie!
Many PR students choose to double major or minor in journalism, mass media, advertising, creative design and other communications-related areas, so we asked Cockrell to briefly discuss how students and pros alike may showcase samples of their work. There are so many sites and tools out there it would be impossible to name them all but he suggested WordPress, Wix, Blogger and SquareSpace as relatively simple options with pre-created templates to choose from. However, if you’re leaning to the creative and design side, Behance offers the most customization (no templates). Cockrell suggested CodeAcademy as a great resource to learn basic coding. He noted that this skill will also give you a leg up on those candidates who have no coding knowledge.
Even if you have no real-world experience, you have options. You could create a made-up campaign and build a portfolio around it. (NOTE: Always disclose if it’s made-up work!) However, Sargent suggested an even better option would be to volunteer for a non-profit organization in event planning, media relations, social media, marketing creative, digital content—wherever you can get some relevant experience.
Finally, all job seekers should be aware of what can be found about them online. The HR professionals on the panel stated they do look at LinkedIn profiles but not a candidate’s Facebook page, as people are entitled to their personal lives—and they are prohibited by law to access any information that could be used in a discriminatory way. However, they admitted that personal and professional lines are now blurred so be careful and use good judgment about what you’re posting, and be very cognizant and diligent about your Facebook privacy settings. On the other hand, many hiring managers do vet job candidates through social media and indicated that business-appropriate Twitter (and Google Plus community) sharing and participation is encouraged.
Do your job hunting experiences jibe with our panelists’ advice? Do you have additional advice to offer?
PS – I told you there was a ton of great information! And this was just from the opening panel. Stay tuned for some personal branding tips and statistics from the keynote speaker in my next post.