Getting Experience

Getting an entry level position in public relations usually requires portfolios documenting the experience students have had.  Putting one together and deciding what to use are difficult for a student whose experience is limited entirely to the classroom.  PRSSA provides some opportunities that allow students to build their portfolios.  These include working at student-run firms, submitting articles to FORUM and creating Chapter-level newsletters.  What are other ways for students to gain experience?

20 thoughts on “Getting Experience

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      What concerns me isn’t gathering material for the portfolio. After student jobs, involvement in student organizations, four years of classes and a summer internship I feel I have enough material for five portfolios.

      I do think that students might be overlooking some ways to get experience that they might be already engaged in. For example, working on a student government political campaign writing press releases and designing signs is great experience. Any work on a blog, newsletter or Web site is something you should keep in mind.

      What I’m unsure about is the format and organization of the portfolio. How do you put it together? Is it a tangible, bound booklet or is it electronic? Having never put one together, I have no idea what to do!

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      I think it’s important to just do things for fun!

      For example, I took some skills learned in my CS3 classes and made my family Christmas newsletter, a photo album, a book of my short stories, etc. Granted, they weren’t as exceptional as some of the work I had done in class or for clients but I think if professionals see that you’re genuinely interested in the work and are willing to apply it outside of school, then you may become a highly sought after candidate.

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      Contributing to a campus run newspaper.

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      Student-run firms are the BEST way to gain experience and build a portfolio, especially if your agency is running efficiently like PRADUM, the PR and Ad Agency here at the University of Miami. I also suggest writing for your school newspaper and keeping your work from graphic design classes, if you find that your strength. Volunteer to be the PR representative for different organizations on campus! That’s a great opportunity to let your creative juices flow. And let us not forget internships!

      Jasmine Brooks
      Vice President
      University of Miami Chapter

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      I definitely agree with Parker. I recently went on a spree of internship interviews and during the preparation process realized I wasn’t very knowledgeable about what to put in the portfolio or what to put the portfolio in, etc.

      I ended up finding a nice, leather binder at a FedEx Kinko’s next to campus to contain it, then put my samples in page protectors inside. It seemed to work out for the interviews I had, but once I start interviewing for full-time positions I imagine the portfolio will become increasingly important. Does anyone have thoughts they can share on how they presented their portfolios, how you organized it, how you included web work, etc.?

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      The career person at my school recently pointed me to — I haven’t checked it out too much, but it seems like a great idea to put up some of your stuff online, so you can easily point people to look at it.

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      Another way for students to gain experience in Rublic Relations is to become the PR arm/chair on the executive board of a student organization or club you are invovled in. For example: PR Chair of the Water Polo Team, or your dance team etc.

      As the PR arm of a student organization, you can design the flyers, brochures and banners for your club’s activities,events,socials etc. Spread the word about your club by pitching press releases to your school’s newspaper, create a facebook group about your club or host informational sessions about your club.

      I personally recommend this as a way of gaining practical and valuable experience. I was the Public Relations chair of my dance group (Fusion) at the University of Miami, and it gave me valuable experience in PR because I got to do all the promoting for a group I loved and I had the freedom to be as creative as I liked. I now have flyers, banners, programmes and though informal, promotion experience under my belt as a result of being the PR person of my dance club.

      Hope this was helpful 🙂

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      How would you suggest displaying blog experience and other social media experience in a portfolio?

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      I personally have gained experience through 4 years of classes, one summer internship, and numerous executive positions for student extracurriculars on my college campus. But since college I’ve been on numerous interviews and they all seem to want the link for your ONLINE portfolio.

      I’ve organized my hard copies of my published articles, press releases, and stories, but now I’ve been working on making copies of those hard copies as well as buying my own domain and putting my writing samples online. That way I’ll have a hard copy of my work in an actual portfolio AND an online portfolio that showcases my variety of skills for those potential employers that want to look at ALL of my work, not just the samples I e-mail them.

      For those of you concerned about the format of a “hard copy portfolio” – the best advice I have is to buy a huge binder so you can add and protect each of your samples. Organize the binder by dividing your different samples by tabs and putting your most recent work in the front of the binder. For an online portfolio, buy a domain with your name in it ( Then create tabs at the top of your home page so it’s easy for people to navigate your site. Some examples of tabs might be: “Home,” “Bio,” “Resume,” “Writing Samples,” “Thesis,” and “Contact Information.”

      While I agree that student-run firms and experience writing for newspapers and magazines are a GOOD way to gain experience and build a portfolio, I believe it’s what you LEARN from those experiences that’s going to get you the post-graduation job. Going the extra mile and doing some freelance writing on the side while you’re unemployed after graduation is something you might also want to look into – it shows you have initiative and are able to network on your own.

      Good luck!

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      I totally know how you feel and have done a lot of research to find the best way to present my portfolio. Susan Walton of Brigham Young University has a great article about setting up a portfolio in the January 2008 issue of Tactics. (Maybe PRSA has it online somewhere? Find it! It’s worth reading, cutting out, and framing!) Also, online-portofolios are becoming increasingly popular. This article was really helpful too:

      I hope this helps you in your quest for the best!

      Carrie V.
      Vice President of Professional Development

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      Aside from working at student-run firms, submitting articles to FORUM and creating Chapter-level newsletters, students can use volunteering and campus resources to gain valuable experience.

      As a highly active student at Florida A&M University (FAMU), now Vice President of my Chapter, learning to use resources that are available to accomplish tasks is something I had to learn early in my collegiate career. If there is not an opportunity because you weren’t able to get an internship, don’t have the time because of work, or etc., then create one. Public relations is all about being resourceful by creating opportunities and paying attention to trends.

      Volunteer your knowledge from the classroom to assist non-profits or small businesses in your area. In fact, students can use the classroom assignments to gain their needed experience. I’ve done it on many occasions and my professors love it.

      At some point, you’ll have to create a press release, media kit, or perhaps a strategic communications plan to fulfill course requirements. Gathering internal or published information from a business/non-profit organization and then using it to turn in coursework is as real as it gets.

      One might ask “how?” Well, it’s not much different than what will happen in the typical entry-level position. We’ll have to gather facts, pay attention to trends/news and implement tactics that are coherent with the strategic plan that a superior has created. A manager/account supervisor, very much like a professor, will assign work, review what you submit and either assigns more work or have it redone. The difference is that in the world of academia, hypothetical situations are often used to accomplish assignments.

      Students can also get involved in campus organizations and major activities and APPLY public relations skills and knowledge to related tasks that organizations/activities need accomplished. Professional organizations/associations (like PRSSA), student government, Greek organizations, and clubs all use some type of public relations function to operate. Every year FAMU has celebrities and national leaders come to the University for Various Events. Find out what your campus does and get involved.

      Don’t sit in the classroom thinking that a degree, no matter how prestigious your school is, will automatically provide a job. We’re in a competitive field where performance and results are what bring the bucks. Employers want, and need, to know that students can apply what they learned.

      Although my FAMU PRSSA does not have its own firm, PRSSA and other public relations students are active in our school’s agency entitled PRodigy Public Relations Firm. PRodigy has reached a capacity of more than 90 contributing associates this semester. With national clients like Victoria’s Secret, ESPN and the Centers for Disease Control, students at FAMU have had opportunities to obtain experience that will serve them well as they enter profession.

      You, too, should take advantage of student firms, campus organizations and local business/non-profits if you have not obtained experience or an internship is not available. I’d also strongly suggest writing for your campus newspaper … it WILL enhance your writing skills in the long run.

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      I think that the best way for any new or upcoming professional to land a job in the future is to think of themselves as their own brand. I work for ( , and we provide Public Relations + Publicity services for Architecture + Fashion + Furniture + Interior Design + Style.

      The more relevant content that you produce, the more your work will be connected to your brand. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have invested billions of EUROs to make their search algorithm the most accurate. If you think about search, then you will see that indexing can be automated. However, discerning and ranking which websites deserve top placement is embedded into their technology. This is where your brand and your work is so crucial, because everything that you produced will be indexed (and able to be searched).

      I opine that prospective employers will Google your name and review your results as much as what your resume says.

      Feel free to send your comments directly to me for more insight:

      Pete Park, MBA
      PR + Marketing Executive
      New York City, New York

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      Is there a specific format for a portfolio? What do potential employers look for in a portfolio?

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      I would agree with Carrie…doing things for fun doesn’t only improve your talents, but it shows your passion for what you are doing. Your passion for your work is so important for your potential employers to see.

      Major requirements – My university requires us to complete two practicums as well as an internship. The practicum includes doing PR work for a division or organization on campus. As a nursing major also, I will be working with the Nursing division. Being careful not to limit myself to one area, I’m sure I will work with another, different division/organization in the future.

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      I graduated from school in 2001 and have done many voluteer PR projects but finding a job is hard. I did take a few years to get married and start a family but the job market is hard. My portfolio is now OLD, but
      I am creating new things to go inside. A grant project, crisis plans, and family newsletters. Where are the best starter jobs and how do you get passed the “Apply here” button for the interviews?

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      Hopefully I’m not too late for this discussion.

      Unpaid internships, though a sacrifice, are the best marketing and development tool for PR students. yes, grades and outside writing experience are helpful. But they are only proxies for performance in the workplace. Actual experience as a practitioner, and the good recommendation from a supervisor that accompanies it, are invaluable.

      Given the importance of a student’s first job (particularly in this economy), the significance of unpaid internships should not be underestimated. While supplementing that experience with campaigns through PRSSA or other activities is a good idea, it is not a sufficient replacement. Good analysis of this topic can be found at .

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      Lusinda, great question. I just went on an agency tour this past week in Salt Lake City and someone in my group asked the same question. They said that they’ve had a few people call and ask about positions only to tell them they weren’t hiring. Any normal person (myself included) would have walked away disheartened, shuffling my feet. Interestingly enough, they said that a recent graduate asked if they could come in and do an ‘informational interview’ where they could just ask questions about the industry or the agency itself. What an impression this left on them! By the end of the ‘informational interview,’ these agency executives were so impressed they looked for a way to fit this person into their staff. My best suggestion: be unconventional. Be passionate and keep trying.

      Your break will come. 🙂

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      That is so amazing for me! Thanx!

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      Amazing news, thank you!

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      Another Good post, I will bookmark this in my Furl account. Have a awesome evening.

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