This piece is part of the new series, New Pro? No Problem: The PRSA New Professional Guide to Success.
The fall semester may feel like it’s only just begun, but now is the perfect time to dive into your post-grad job search (or summer internship search, if you’re not yet a senior). Sure, May is still six months away, but there’s a lot of work to be done to ensure that your search is both successful and efficient.
It’s easy for soon-to-be-grads to resort to the “see what sticks” approach when it comes to the job search. “I’ve never had a real job,” “I don’t know what I want to do,” and, “But I just want to find a job, any job,” are all things I’ve heard from other new or almost professionals. This approach is bad for a couple of reasons. First, it completely disregards your already-acquired skills. You should be focused on searching for jobs that do two things for you this early in your career — strengthen your existing skills and help you learn and develop skills that you don’t have yet. Second, it’s inefficient. If you’re spending time searching through generic “public relations” or “communications” results, opening, reading and applying to most if not all, you’re wasting a lot of time. Focus your search on things you’re actually interested in and are a potential good fit for. You’ll have more success in landing interviews and offers.
You may not feel like you have enough of a network to dip into when you’re looking for your first job. That’s common but wrong. Think of all the things you’re a part of – your university, PRSSA, your sorority or fraternity, other on-campus organizations, your hometown, your high school, etc. — and start there. Look at alumni of your university, Greek organization and other organizations, and members of your local PRSA Chapter for professionals in your field, doing a job you’re interested in or working at an organization, and reach out. You’ll find that many professionals — even if you’ve never met them — are more than willing to help young pros get their feet in the door, learn and share their experiences and wisdom.
So you’ve found some interesting people in your network and you’re writing that first email to them. “Hi, I’m looking for a job. Can you help?” is not the first email you should send to anyone. Instead, start building your network as soon as you can by cultivating relationships with others in the field. Schedule coffee or informational interviews with professionals to learn more about their organizations, their careers, and to ask for advice on landing a job in your city. If you’re meeting for coffee, always, always, always pay for their coffee. It’s the least you can do.
After your meeting, send a quick thank-you note or email thanking them for their time and insight. You also can ask them for a follow-up or any lingering questions you didn’t get to ask. A thank you is non-negotiable and should be done promptly every time for interviews, informational interviews, coffee meetings, speaking to your class or group, etc. Any time someone spends time helping you develop professionally, make sure to thank them with a quick, personal email or handwritten note, including a particular mention of something specific from the conversation.
You’ve built up relationships with professionals in your network. Now you can ask them for help in your job search, with a couple of caveats. You cannot ask them to get you a job. You can ask them to introduce you to someone in their network. You can ask them for tips on interviewing. You can ask them for some insight into a job you’re applying for at their organization. You can ask them to share jobs with you that they see shared in their networks or that may come across their desks. Whatever favor you’re asking for, you must be direct and specific — except for asking them to get you a job.
As mentioned in No. 1, knowing what you’re looking for is the key to a successful job search, and good, solid research is at the heart of that. Researching possible jobs will help you to determine what you’re interested in and would be the best fit for your skills. Researching people in the jobs you’re interested in, whether in the immediate future or further down your career path, will help you to nail down the skills you need to build and the achievements you should work toward. Researching the organizations you’re interested in — by scouring their website, scheduling informational interviews and making connections within the organization — will give you insight into the culture and what makes a successful candidate for possible openings, as well as helping you ace the interview when it comes time.
6. Keep your web presence in tiptop shape
I’m sure you’ve heard this time and time again, but it’s important to make sure your virtual self is an accurate representation of you. You should make a habit of auditing your social media and taking care to make sure you have a place on the web to showcase your work. Think of it as a spring cleaning for your virtual presence and do it with each season. When you’re job searching, it’s especially important to make sure everything that represents you is in perfect shape because that’s the first impression most potential employers will have of you, along with your resume.
Finding and landing your first job can be a daunting task. Putting your best foot forward and making sure you’re as prepared as possible will help ease the stress and make sure your first job gets your career off to a stellar start.
Robyn Rudish-Laning is the 2018 chair-elect of PRSA’s New Professionals Section. A recent transplant to the Washington, D.C. area, she manages external communications and marketing for the Airports Council International-North America. She is a graduate of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where she earned both a BA in Public Relations and a MS in Media Arts and Technology.