How to Start a Career in PR: Finding & Getting Your First Job
Want to work in PR / Comms? We don't blame you: it's a dynamic industry, both demanding and rewarding. If you're looking for a profession that combines creativity and strategy PR is it.
First, we've information about what your first PR job might look like. Next we run through the things you should be doing to get your foot in the door.
What an entry level PR / Comms job is likely to entail
Although there are some differences between 'in-house' (one organisation, for whom you work directly) and 'agency' (a business handling multiple clients) PR jobs, the responsibilities are mostly the same - especially at entry level. We've advice on how to succeed in your first PR job here, but to summarise you will need to:
- be able to write effective press releases;
- be the first point of contact for press and other enquiries;
- track and record media coverage;
- be confident face to face, meet people and network.
Public Relations Assistant
Although this is a support role, your tasks will frequently be an essential part of what the team is doing, so the level of responsibility is high from the outset. If you are documenting media wins then that is fundamental to reporting (especially in an agency role). If you are contributing to or managing a calendar then that is the campaign strategy in action. If you are doing research then the rest of the team will depend on your initial insight. Even putting together press kits is important work. You will need organisational skills, creative writing ability, people skills and a desire to contribute to shared wins. If you are working in-house you might find that the work involves more research, and more enquiry handling and participating in existing events than outreach and event organisation.
Account Coordinator / Junior Account Executive
It is not typical for this agency role to be an entry-level job. Most employers will be looking for someone who has cut their teeth as an intern, although they might be prepared to consider a particularly promising candidate with the right degree. This is a more mission-critical position: as well as the solid creative and organisational skills demanded by the assistant role above, you will need to be able to demonstrate ability to contribute to and inform strategy, and handle day to day client contact, often being their 'go to' person.
It should go without saying that you follow current events nationally and globally, and that you are also interested in the media industry as a whole and have a firm grasp of current thinking and the PESO model. You should also have a professional web footprint.
The importance of being an individual
Whilst there are obviously transferable skills within PR, professionals tend to specialise: even agencies that work across multiple sectors will have different divisions for different sectors because a deeper understanding of a particular sector lends itself to not just to greater insight but also a better 'little black book' of solid contacts.
This is where bringing your own hobbies, interests and passions to bear is not only likely to help you find a rewarding career, but will also help you on your CV and at interview (more on this below). Certain common interests such as sports, exercise, computer games, music, fashion and cooking all have directly related sectors. But don't worry if your interests are less mainstream. Whatever it is that inspires you to pursue your interests, whatever makes them rewarding to you, can you relate that to working in PR? Even if you can't do that, don't despair: hiring managers should not be focused on what you like but rather WHY YOU LIKE IT. They are looking for someone who can demonstrate passion and enthusiasm, because these are everything in PR.
A degree or industry qualification is pretty much essential
There is no shortage of advice from PR professionals without a degree to the effect that a degree is not necessary. However as far back as 2012 the PRWeek/PRCA Census found that 98% of PR professionals had a degree, while recruiter Major Players conducted their own survey and found that 86% of successful candidates were graduates.
The following degree topics are desirable: Journalism (obviously) and also English and History because of the solid research, analytical and creative writing skills that these subjects demand. However, there are now also options for vocational training and qualifications, notably from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA). You can view learning opportunities via the CIPR's Learn & Develop section. If you want to combine a vocational qualification with real hands on experience, then the PRCA apprenticeships are also well worth checking out.
Where to look for entry-level jobs or internships
Larger agencies publish details of any graduate training programs and internships.
Most recruiters do not handle graduate recruitment (both agencies and companies tend to recruit direct for junior roles) but they usually know who among their clients would be open to giving attention to a CV from a young hopeful who has demonstrated the initiative to contact them directly.
Finally, attending industry events and getting some practice at networking will give you experience, confidence and something great to talk about at interview even if it doesn't directly lead to a job opportunity.
Do your research
Once you've identified a company you want to work for, do your homework. Find out what you can about them from their website, follow them on social media, soak up their culture, then Google them and see what else you can learn. You might be surprised to discover how few candidates actually go to the trouble and how much this can make you stand out in your application and at interview.
Have a recruiter-friendly CV
Writing a good CV is a topic in its own right and we have:
Be sure to review your CV and make sure it is as relevant as you can make it to the company in question.
Make your application stand out
Every application you make should be tweaked to suit any job on offer and / or the company you're applying for. You will get closer to landing a job you want with five carefully researched and considered applications than you will with any number of hit'n'hope impersonal ones.
If you have done your research, chosen the company carefully, and adjusted your CV, then the final piece of the puzzle is your cover letter. Don't hold back: say what you want, how this role (or a job with this company) helps you, and how you can help them, what you can bring to the table, and why they should meet with you. Don't lose sight of the fact that there is going to be far more that they can offer you at this stage in your career than you can offer them, but do project yourself into the role and into the team you hope to be working with. Be respectful, but don't be shy: ask for what you want.