8 questions on every PR job-seeker’s mind

 

Last Thursday I had the honor and privilege to sit on a panel at a local Minnesota PRSA event around networking and the job search. Sitting on the panel with me were friends and colleagues Anna Liewicki-Long, Gillian Gabriel and Paul Macabbee.

The panel focused on questions around the job search. We tackled everything from the best questions to ask in an interview to what skills employers are really looking for right now (video editing came up time and time again–remember my media producer post from a couple week’s ago?).

Today, I thought we’d discuss some of the questions we *didn’t* get a chance to discuss during the panel–but questions that I think are most likely on most job-seekers’ minds these days.

How can a job seeker standout when submitting a resume online through a company portal?

The short answer: You can’t. The more complex answer: You can’t rely on the system. You have to find creative ways around the system. Largely that means finding a personal connection within the organization. Scroll through your LinkedIn connections–is anyone connected with the person(s) who might be hiring for this job? Also, think about creative, out-of-the-box ways to get noticed inside the company. Two examples come to mind. Laura Gainor and her creative Foursquare campaign and slide deck that scored her a job at Comet Branding (now Hanson Dodge Creative). And Stephanie Majercik, who wrote and produced a wonderful slide deck that compared herself to the many Disney princesses through the years. The deck focused on how Stephanie’s attributes and skills were similar to those of the many Disney princesses and how she could benefit her employers. Simple, but brilliant. And it made her stand out.

Agencies say they want agency experience–what if a job seeker doesn’t have any? Is there any way around that?

Definitely. And I speak from personal experience on this one. Agencies definitely want people with agency experience–it’s a culture thing. They need people that understand the “speed” of agency. That know how billing works. Tracking your hours. All things you usually don’t have to worry about on the corporate side. But, if you can demonstrate relevant experience, and SPECIFIC experience to the client or industry they’re looking for, they can and will overlook that (no promises, but in spots, I’ve seen it happen).

If a job description is asking for 5 years experience, but a job seeker only has 3, do you suggest applying anyway? Why or why not?

Absolutely. You never know what the employer is thinking. Maybe they didn’t know exactly what kind of experience they were looking for and they just threw out a random number. Or, maybe they’re asking for more experience than they really need (i.e., they’re doing it to purposefully weed people out). Or, maybe their HR team wants to ask for more experience, but the hiring managers really know they only need someone with three years experience. It just never hurts to submit. I mean, what’s the worst thing that can happen? My advice: ALWAYS submit for a job, if you’re really interested and even remotely qualified.

We know most jobs that come open aren’t posted publicly. We also know that networking is a key piece unlocking those jobs. Any tips or advice for enhancing networking skills?

Number one, stop thinking about “networking” as an episodic event. Start thinking about it in terms of a 24/7/365 key piece of your life. Most people do the former–I’d highly suggest you start adopting a “culture of networking.” (read Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone–it might just change your outlook). It will take your career on a different trajectory. And, master the art of the coffee meet-up. I’ve written about this before, but start thinking strategically about your meet-up opportunities. Those meetings are the bread-and-butter of your networking efforts.

How helpful is having an APR when you’re evaluating candidates for an opening?

To be honest, it depends on the position. If the hiring manager has an APR and believes in the value of it, it holds a great degree of influence. If the person is a MBA from Northwestern and on the corporate side, it won’t matter a lick. At the very least, I think an APR designation is a signal. It’s a sign that this candidate took the time and energy to go through a fairly arduous process to become certified. So, I believe it does have value there. But, is it going to be a determining factor? Probably not. And, is it a requirement for certain director and VP-level jobs (as the MBA often is): Often, no. This is probably part of a larger discussion, but in my view, the APR is much more about the journey than it is the destination.

What’s the single most powerful thing a candidate can do to increase their hireability”?

Start a blog. Yesterday. It’s the number one thing I tell most job-seekers. No surprise, coming from me, right? It’s not the right strategy for everyone (for senior-level folks, I’m not sure this makes all that much difference in most cases). But, I still think this is a huge missed opportunity for job-seekers. Here’s why: 1) The Google. When people search for your name, what do they find? If you don’t have a blog, they probably find your LinkedIn profile, your Facebook page and a host of news releases you have written (which isn’t necessarily bad). But, if you had a blog, it would most likely pop up number one (after a short amount of time) in a search. Direct people where you want them to go. 2) Thought leadership. A blog shows off your thinking skills. Employers want employees with ideas (especially on the agency side). A blog demonstrates those ideas in spades. 3) Writing skills. What’s the one thing employers continually ask for in PR professionals? Writing skills. What better way to show those off than a blog FULL of posts written by you (and no one else, unlike those news releases we talked about before). Is that enough to convince you to start a blog today?

How important is a candidate’s social media/online presence in the hiring process?

Googling candidates has become commonplace. We know that, right? And, we know social profiles and properties (blogs) have a tendency to pop up on page one when employers are Googling, right? So, you tell me. How important is your online/social media presence if you’re on the job hunt?

What’s the one mistake you see most job seekers making on a continuous basis?

Many people I talk to are looking for a job. Not THE job. Be the person who’s looking for THE job. Why? First and foremost, it makes it easier for people to help you (and they do want to help). Think about that networking event you’re attending next week. If someone asks you what you’re looking for, what do you tell them? If you’re like most, you describe the position you’re looking for in terms of 1) industry, 2) years of experience, and 3) skill set. Fine way to go about it, put it doesn’t make it EASY for the friend/colleague/family member to help you. It’s too broad. Now, think about if you said, “I’m really looking for a job at Mayo Clinic working on their Public Affairs team. I think my broad PA experience and passion for health care would be a perfect fit.” Now, as a friend, I know EXACTLY how to help you. See the difference? Not to mention, it narrows and focuses your efforts. When you’re looking for “a job” you’re taking a somewhat scattershot approach.  When you’re focused on 3-5 employers you’re taking all your time and energy and putting it into finding a way into those companies. Now, this approach may take more time, but I think it pays off in the end because you’re in a job where you can stay awhile (a career)–not a place where you might start looking again inside six months.

Those are my tips– based on questions I hear all the time from job seekers. What others do you have?

Note: Photo courtesy of John McNab via FlickR Creative Commons.

21 comments
rachaelseda
rachaelseda

Wow this is all such great advice that really resonates with me. I've done many of the things you noted and also at times had some of the same questions. This list is priceless for young PR job seekers. Thank you for sharing Arik!

jasonkeath
jasonkeath

Laura's story is great. Glad you found that one.

I think your advice on getting hired at an agency without agency experience is very strong Arik. Develop your skills and focus on a niche.

AbbieF
AbbieF

Arik - great post. Here's some additional thoughts: regarding agency experience - agencies are different than the corporate environment so depending on the level we're hiring for, having spent some time working in an agency is definitely a plus. But that doesn't mean I'm not interested in talking to you if you don't have it. Just do a really good job in your cover letter telling me how your experience does meet my needs.

If you don't have the number of years I'm looking for, should you appply? That depends and is similar to the answer above, you're going to have to show me that what you do have fits with my needs. If I've received a ton of resumes yours will likely not make it in the first round but I will hang on to it if you give me a reason to reconsider.

APR - not going to debate the merits here, but I am a big proponent of continuing education/professional development. That can be APR, ABC, master's degree or any number of ways to keep your skills fresh.

What makes you more hireable? I expect you to have the necessary skills based on the level of experience I'm looking for. What makes you hireable is the stuff that doesn't make it on the resume - personality, culture fit, what you do in your spare time. If I can see you as part of our team, then you are someone I consider hireable. If not, it doesn't matter how great your skills are.

Nikki Little
Nikki Little

Excellent advice. :)

I get the "How am I supposed to get experience at an agency when no agency will hire me because I haven't worked at one?" question all the time. It's frustrating to get that "you need agency experience" answer over and over again, and I think your suggestion on how to tackle that is perfect. Demonstrating relevant and specific experience will often do the trick and help a potential employer to overlook the fact that you haven't spent time working at an agency.

IviMorales
IviMorales

As a rising senior soon to start the infamous job search, I definitely appreciate these tips. I do have one question: when should I start applying to jobs? I'll be graduating in May and I'm not sure how far out I should start applying.

ValerieSimon
ValerieSimon

Great tips Arik! I'd have a slightly different answer to the "What’s the single most powerful thing a candidate can do to increase their hireability?” question, though. Blogging is definitely important, but from what I have seen through #HAPPO, it is the power of connections and your network that can truly help you to stand out in a crowd, find the right opportunity, and help facilitate a powerful introduction with the right person.

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

@Nikki Little It's the chicken and egg mentality all over again. How will you know how to ride a bicycle if you don't try and fall down? How will you know how to tie a shoelace if you don't try and miss the loop? How will you know how to write a comment if you don't try and forget to hit the submit button?

Society pressures us to know everything -- but it also teaches us to be humble and human.

jasonkeath
jasonkeath

@Nikki Little Livefyre question. How do I get my name to link to my blog and not a livefyre account?

AbbieF
AbbieF

@IviMorales Start talking to employers you have some interest in about 6 months before graduation. Ask for an informational interview, learn what opportunities they may have coming up. Lots of graduates will be applying for those jobs, do what you can to set yourself apart.

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

@ValerieSimon Going back to the blogging discussion which @arikhanson began, I'm fond of suggesting to job seekers they build their portfolio guest writing on existing blogs in lieu of creating their own.

We all know that if you build a blog without an audience and never promote it, you will never get that audience. If the purpose of the blog is to show you can write, embed, portfolio stuff, whatever, to a prospective boss, that's one thing; but why not guest write on someone else's blog and show off the social sharing statistics, commenting and replying, etc.?

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman

@ValerieSimon I must agree! What young job seekers have to remember is the IRL connection is the most powerful. There are many cultures who just won't do business with you until they look you in the eyes. I would say most employers are like that too..