Jobs in PR: What really stands out to employers?

A bout this time last year, I was travelling up to Manchester for my first interview with Fourth Day, a tech PR agency. With a freshly-printed CV in my bag and the smartest looking notebook WHSmith had on offer, I nervously climbed the stairs up to the Northern Quarter office to meet the team.

Now, almost 12 months into my role, I feel like I can very much relate to how other graduates might be feeling around this time of year. It’s an uneasy period. After three years of having your hand held, you’re by yourself all of a sudden – having to navigate this new world of work.

When wracked with uncertainty over whether you have what it takes to get a toehold in any industry, it’s always a good idea to speak to those already working in the sector.

To help you understand what’s required, I asked Fourth Day’s top dogs: “What stands out to you when hiring for a new role?” Here’s what they said.

Qualifications

While there are many different kinds of qualifications, the majority of our team undertook undergraduate degrees at university.

The subjects we chose to study vary though, from Literature and Drama to Russian and History. In other words, you definitely don’t need a degree in PR to work in PR – in fact, it’s an attractive quality to any employer if a candidate can bring something different to what can be learnt on the job.

However, it’s usually not what you studied, or where you studied it, that matters to an employer as much as the transferable skills you acquired while gaining those qualifications.

For example, having studied English Literature at university, I was able to speak confidently about communication and demonstrate verbal and written skills in my interview.

“For us, it’s much more about the 360 degree view of a person than the specifics of their degree”, says Nikki, co-founder and Manchester director, “Can they communicate naturally and effectively? So many can’t.

“Can they explain why they chose their particular degree and what they loved/didn’t love about it?

“Do they have the ability to grasp a complex subject matter and relay that in layman’s terms? Do they feel confident talking about technology? This is crucial for the clients we work with.”

Experience

Before applying to Fourth Day, I had already completed a three-month internship with a food and lifestyle PR company in London the previous year. It was something I found incredibly useful. Without it, I would not have discovered my love for various elements of the job, such as account management, writing and media relations.

With this ‘try before you buy’ approach, I was able to get stuck in with the day-to-day responsibilities of the industry, without committing myself to a full-time role.

Not only this, but through undertaking a reasonably lengthy internship with a company in the same industry, I was able to show in my interview that I understood what PR was, had a good grasp of its different aspects and had already learnt the basics.

It’s worth noting that PR internships have often been the subject of criticism in the media due to so many being unpaid, including the one I did. However, they provide clear value by leaving you with a much better understanding of what you’ll like and dislike about the job, more so than what’s possible in two weeks of work experience. And paid internships are available here at Fourth Day.

Internships and work experience are not the only ways to demonstrate you’ve gained valuable experience. For example, our co-founder, Xanthe, explains that while “you may not have had the opportunity to work in PR, people who have been successfully employed in the restaurant and bar industry are often well-equipped with the basic skills a PR needs.

“These include clear communication, quick thinking and the ability to handle all kinds of personalities. PR is a service business, after all.”

Life, the universe and everything

Don’t just think about what you’ve done to forward your future career – also think about everything else you’ve done in your life that may be of interest. This could be your involvement in a society at university, playing in a sports team, travelling, writing for your local newspaper or public speaking.

It’s those things that come under the ‘About Me’ section on your CV that are often included as an afterthought, because people think it won’t win them the job. Granted it probably won’t be the only reason, but it could make all the difference in setting you apart from the other candidates. It’s an opportunity to show the real you and offer something beyond what an employer stereotypically expects to see in an applicant.

In my first interview at Fourth Day, content director, Paul, asked me what my biggest challenge was when I was president at the University of Essex’s badminton club. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights – I just wasn’t expecting any questions about that, but I should have been.

You might think that collecting antique train sets isn’t something for your CV, or a love for vlogging is just a personal hobby and not something your employer would care to know – but do include them.

As Paul advises, “We’re always keen to see what else someone has to offer. Are they members of any clubs or groups, have they done anything out of the ordinary or have they achieved anything notable or praiseworthy outside of school or work life?

“These things can tell you a lot about the person. Are they the type of person who is content to live their life in a cosy bubble or are they looking to push themselves out of their comfort zone and grow as a person?”

In the end, there’s no perfect way to impress as every PR agency is different, but through doing your research on them, realising the potential of your own skills and just being honest, you can put yourself in the best possible position for success.

The author

Laura is an Account Executive in the Manchester office

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