Top PR Agency Owner Shares 10 Tips for Landing your first Job

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Written by Noreen Heron,

A version of this post was originally published at HeronAgency.com

Around this time of year, I start getting resumes from college students looking for positions or internships at the agency. I empathize with these young job seekers. I remember what it felt like to go through the process of taking a variety of stressful classes in college, then throwing that four years of experience into a condensed package for someone to hopefully like it enough just to extend an interview.

As an employer now, more often than not, I receive interesting resumes and wish that we had more positions to provide to such talented applicants.

What makes a candidate so interesting to me?

Let’s start at the beginning

Before the resume is submitted, the job search starts in college. What are you doing that gets you to the place of having a career in an industry that makes your heart sing, but pays you on top of it?

I have a friend who owns a PR firm who says that she won’t take an intern unless the intern has had three previous internship experiences. Wow! We don’t do that at Heron. We do look for students and graduates who understand what employers are looking for, and to be frank, that is people who are passionate about helping our clients’ business grow. That, in turn, helps our company grow.

1. Understand the purpose of being hired

When I ask a recent graduate why they chose PR as their possible profession, and they say something like, “Because I like people,” I worry. Cannibals like people. That is not a good reason to go into PR, or Sales, or Human Resources or any of the “people professions.”

The reason to go into any profession is that you love it and you have a passion for it. The reason for an organization to hire you though is completely different – they have to feel that your experience and knowledge will improve their bottom line.

An employer can understand that they will hire you, teach you, and develop within you the ability to do that. But they have to feel that that you get that premise from the beginning.

When I worked for Hyatt as an in-house PR Director, I knew that my role was to make more money for Hyatt than the year before. I used to call my Irish-born grandmother from my desk sometimes as late as 9 pm at night. I can still hear her with her brogue and a little laugh saying, “So, you are making the Pritzkers a little richer?” Exactly. That is what every company is looking for – someone that understands that their role is to do a solid job and produce revenue.

2. Ruthlessly Edit Your Resume + Cover Letter

Check your resume and your cover letter for typos. I never understand how a candidate can work so hard for four years, and then send a quickly written sloppy resume or cover letter. It’s a little bit like having a PR strategy; how can a company spend so much money to construct a building, and then not spend money to tell people that they did it? You built the foundation, now is the time to tell your story in a compelling way.

Write a thoughtful cover letter. There is no stopwatch for the employer reading your email. Take your time and write what is meaningful and memorable. The resume that comes with an email so carefully laying out what they know about the company and why in turn they are a good fit, is the pearl in the oyster. It is very hard to not at least give that individual an interview.

3. Double-check your work

You need to apply to as many companies as possible, sure, but be careful to change the name of the person in the email before pressing send. Directing your email to my competitor doesn’t make me think you will be a detail-oriented candidate. Yesterday, I got a resume saying that the candidate wanted a job at Huron Agency. Delete.

4. Embed (don’t attach) your resume.

I never understand the candidate who sends their resume as an attachment with a subject line saying that they are interested. I don’t open attachments from strangers, do you?

5. Make a grand gesture

I think of a friend’s memorable job pursuit story. She was interviewing for a position at a radio station called “The Rock.” This creative individual walked up and down Chicago alleys looking for the biggest rock that she could find. She found one, tied her resume and a balloon to it, and added a card saying that she would “Raise the station to new heights.” Genius.

I had one candidate who wrote an application as a press release eight years ago that I still remember for its creativity. The headline read, “Jarred Smith Poised to Become Heron Agency’s Best Intern in the 12-year history of the Company.” He then went on in the release to list his accomplishments in a creative, story-telling way, but also had clearly researched the company to add in specifically why his talents would be helpful to us on specific accounts. It told me he knew how to write a press release, was not a cookie-cutter person, and the application was enjoyable to read. Perfect!

6. Prioritize the hiring process

Imagine you’ve made it to the top of my list.  When I ask you for an interview, don’t say, “I can fit you in on Tuesday” or “With my schedule, Wednesday works well for me.” As an agency publicist, I am always interviewing for work, just like you are. If I told potential clients that they should go by my schedule, as opposed to fitting into theirs, my agency would have closed years ago.

Interviews are a two-way street. You are both interviewing each other, however, don’t use your first interview to ask how quickly you can become Vice President. Get some time in under your belt once hired and then make it clear what your worth is to the company.

7. Accept the internship

An internship lets you and your employer see if you are a good fit in their organization. During your the internship, work to make sure that your employer knows your value; everyone is so busy that they can’t take the time to realize your value unless you tell them yourself what you have accomplished.

It is so much easier to get a job with a company that you have interned for once you have impressed them with your talent. Currently, four of our full-time employees were interns, including our Executive Vice President.

8. Do the most, not the least

Don’t bother taking an internship, or a job, unless you understand that it is an opportunity to really see if it is a good career fit for you, and are willing to do the required work. If you are taking on an internship just for class credit, not because you are truly interested, you are taking up someone else’s opportunity whose goal it may be to work in the industry.

If you find that doing the day to day work of your role isn’t what you want career-wise – great! Internships are supposed to be educational in the same way a college course is – give it your best anyway.

9. Send thank-you notes

Gratitude in our world is an unfortunate waning sentiment. A handwritten thank you means so much.

10. Don’t get discouraged.

Sometimes, you can do everything right, and it just isn’t the right timing, just like dating! You have no idea why you didn’t hear back. It usually doesn’t have anything to do with you; it’s more the timing of the company’s ability to take on another salary.

Try to enjoy the process.

Easier said than done, I know, but you will work your whole life most likely. Take your time to make sure that the job is a good fit for you. It is easy to spot people who have passion, and you want to be one!

About Noreen

Since 2000, Noreen founded and has built the award-winning Heron Agency into one of the nation’s leading lifestyle communications agencies. As a pioneer of new communication and digital technologies, Noreen ensures that Heron Agency is always on the cutting-edge of the media industry and its trends. Her entrepreneurial mindset has garnered her over a dozen prestigious industry awards, and her reputation of consistently delivering fully integrated marketing campaigns that improve a client’s bottom line and profitability is well known.

Never having worked at an agency prior to owning one, Noreen developed what her clients refer to as “the secret sauce.” Team members serve the way in-house publicists do, working in every conceivable fashion to drive business for clients. Wanting to provide service that she would herself hope to receive as a consumer, Noreen provides the bandwidth for clients, putting 4 to 5 experts on each team servicing a client.

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