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Public Relations Expert Offers Tough Love to PR Grads

by Toria Walker / No Comments / 122 View / March 13, 2014

There is not a week that goes by that three or more college graduates (or soon-to-be college graduates) don’t approach me looking for their first job in PR.

They come from almost every college in Houston and Texas – and from colleges out-of-state, too. Some have never lived in Houston before but they’re on their way because a boyfriend or girlfriend is already working here – or their spouse has found a job in Houston. More likely, the grads who contact me grew up here and are headed back home, diploma in hand. They need – yes, desperately want – to land a job in our industry.

They phone.

They email.

They snail-mail.

They voice-mail.

Occasionally they beg and plead and sometimes they even demand a job.

Bayou City Public Relations is not singled out among Houston PR firms. No doubt, these new graduates are also contacting other Houston PR firms. After all, these young men and women are ready to go to work and they’re trying not to leave any stone unturned. Yet, the truth is this: Few will be hired for the jobs they seek. Further, most will become so discouraged at the continued rejection that they will never end up working in PR.

Whew! My arm is in front of my face right now. Please, please put those rocks down! Time-out for a personal disclaimer, lest I come off as an arrogant self-satisfied, curmudgeon who doesn’t remember what it’s like to be a jobless new graduate frantically seeking a break.

  • Yes, I remember what it is like to graduate with no job in my future (and in my case with a two-year-old daughter).
  • Yes, I too, made mistakes trying to attract the attention of hiring authorities.
  • No, I don’t recall playing it especially cool or having my act together very well when I looked for a job post-graduation.

To sum it up, Sharon Dotson made almost every mistake the young job seekers who call me today are making (and some of them I made over and over again). However, maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have made as many if I’d read a few of the essential truths of job hunting I am about to share with you.

So, hold on tight, new PR grads, and listen-up good. This is your future we’re talking about, your moment of truth, and this is Bayou City PR’s gift to you – free and clear, no strings attached. Here are my most important job-hunting tips, which I’ve entitled:

Five things you’ve gotta stop doing if you want that first PR job

1. Stop telling me you’re a team player.

Yes, I know there are a bunch of books out there that instruct you to do this very thing, but forget them. You may think it helps to let me know that you work well with others, but telling me, or anyone like me, that you are a team player is not something to brag about. Why? It’s sort of like telling me you are honest or that you believe in coming to work on time or that you bathe regularly, therefore never smell bad. Having the ability to work well with others is something I assume and so is smelling good (or not smelling bad). It is meaningless, total non- information. Everyone says it and it’s a real yawner. I can’t remember the last time anyone emailed me and said, “Don’t count on me to to develop professional working relationships with my coworkers or with you.”

What you should do – Provide solid, genuine information in your resume and cover letter. Banalities sound silly. They are boring and distracting and definitely do not help any graduate – PR or otherwise – stand out from the scores of others competing with them in the entry-level job market. Talk about facts. For instance, what kind of internship(s) have you had? What did you do? Have you been published in the college newspaper? Now, that’s something I’d like to know.

2. Stop addressing me as “Dear Sir” or “To Whom It May Concern.”

In almost every case when you write or email, you tell me you found my firm through a Google or Yahoo search. You say you reviewed my website and noticed how your skills and education are a perfect fit in the operation of my firm. Some of you are even kind enough to compliment me on the appearance of my website, a courtesy I appreciate. But, I must ask – why-oh-why-oh-why do so many of you begin your letter with “Dear Sir” or “To Whom It May Concern?” First, I am not a Sir, but please don’t go the Madam route, either. If you looked at my website as carefully as you say you have, then you would know there is a whole page on me – it’s unashamedly all about me. It is under the heading “About Us.”

What you should do – Address me as “Dear Ms. Dotson,” or “Dear Mrs. Dotson.” Either works. It’s polite, yet personal and it’s absolutely professional. You can’t go wrong. It also shows me that you really did care enough to read the content on my website.

3. Stop telling me you have bills to pay and you have to find a job — now!

OK, OK – this doesn’t happen often, most grads who contact me are way more savvy than this – but it does happen and it’s such a serious gaffe I think it’s worth addressing. I understand, believe me, I understand. Unemployed college graduates get scared. They’ve got school loans and car payments and credit card bills to pay (some of them even have children to support). Some are petrified that they may have to succumb to that old death knell experience – moving back in with the folks. Nevertheless, telling me about your personal problems won’t make things better and it sure won’t persuade me to hire you. Be my next-door neighbor and tell me your problems and I will cry with you. Sit next to me on a flight to Kansas City and confide your personal crisis in me, one- stranger-to-another, and I’ll listen and wish you well. Do the same when you’re applying for a job and you won’t even tickle my sympathy. Your problems are not my problems and my problems are not yours.

What you should do – Apply the no-excuses rule. Starting right now, say to yourself, “I will never treat a would-be employer as if she/he owes me a job and I will never (ever) poor-mouth, even if I am poor. I will calmly and strategically look at where I am in my life, at what I have and what I don’t have, and then, I will do the sensible thing. I will create an honest plan that includes some temporary compromises that in all my naïveté, I never dreamed I would have to make. I will do this because I want a good life for myself today and down the road. Further, I will not feel sorry for myself. When things get dreary, I will be grateful for the huge advantage I already have. I am (or soon will be) a college graduate.”

4. Stop saying you can write when you really can’t.

It may be the biggest career secret you keep – the fact that you don’t write well and in fact, dislike writing. If this situation applies to you, as it does to some PR graduates (even though, ironically, these same graduates were just granted degrees in PR), you have ‘issues,’ as they say. At least you would have issues with Bayou City Public Relations, because in this shop, the rule is simple: No writ-ee, no work-ee (and I guess it follows, no eat-ee).The inability to write well will bite you in the back. Hard. If you believe you can somehow fake good writing, think again. Recently, when I ask a PR graduate about his writing abilities, he answered me with confidence. “Oh, I’m not going into that side of PR,” he said. “There are other people who do that. Me? I’m a people person.” My reaction? I was polite, but the conversation ended quickly. Good writing is at the core of every PR endeavor. There are no exceptions. It doesn’t matter if you just graduated yesterday and everybody (of course) thinks you can write, yet you’re embarrassed to admit it’s not so. I don’t care. if you believe you can bluff your way through a few dozen press releases until somehow, some way, you find your ‘voice.’ Please believe me when I tell you that you can’t. Good writing is produced consistently and knowledgeably and enthusiastically. That doesn’t mean good writing cannot be learned. It can. But it shouldn not be learned on the client’s dollar. PR firms are not schools, although everyone knows that, with experience, we all get better and better on the job.

What you should do – Learn how to write, now. Enroll in writing courses at night while you work another job by day. There are some exceptional courses available at Houston Community College. And, HCC also has fantastic writing labs where students receive one-on-one attention. They were teaching this same material back there at the college where you recently graduated, but maybe you were too busy to learn. Or maybe, not enough people in the know bothered to tell you how important professional writing credentials really are. Now, you must learn once and for all. Easy? No. Worthwhile? You bet. You want a career in PR, don’t you?

5. Stop telling me you don’t have the money to join Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) or International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) — and that it’s a waste of your time because you are a newbie.

Please, please, indulge me here. This is my sore spot, right up there with not being able to write. Plain and simple, PRSA are where the action starts in PR. If you want to be a player – I don’t care how young and green and poor your are – you need to be a part of of one of these organizations. I don’t care what you do (as long as it’s legal) to get your hands on the money to join — just do it. Dues to either of these organizations are a few hundred dollars a year, and you know — if you try — that you can put the coins together to become a member. PRSA – the organization I belong to — will permit you pay on the friendly payment plan (my words), and I am sure IABC has a similar arrangement. Work at McDonalds, mow lawns or babysit, if you can’t find a better job. This is your life you’re talking about and membership in one of these organizations that can be the center of your career.

What you should do – Join. Then, attend monthly meetings and volunteer for a committee. Work hard. Do more than your share. Working together on projects with other members is where you make your future. It is all about building relationships and making connections that turn jobs into careers.

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