The things I wish I’d learned earlier — job search edition

Relationships, reading and rejection – these were all important components in my public relations job search.

No two people have the same path when it comes to their career – some land their dream job right out of college, while others end up working in a field that has little to do with their major. I’m one of the lucky ones who works a job that aligns with the field I studied in college. But getting there took patience, persistence and dealing with a bit of rejection.

Luckily, these experiences translated into some valuable lessons, all of which were instrumental in leading me to where I am today. Of all the things I’ve learned – so far – there are five lessons that aspiring PR practitioners should keep in mind during their job search.

Treat everyone you meet as if they’re a future colleague

We’re in the business of making relationships. Whether it’s forging one with a journalist or a potential nonprofit partner, relationship building is crucial. And this especially applies to the job hunt. So, whether you’re in the classroom, at your internship, or that informational meeting, comport yourself as if you’re with a colleague, because you never know what the future will hold. In my case, I now have a former professor as a colleague and was able to call on another as a reference, which was key in landing my first role as a PR practitioner. I’m thankful that I spent the time building those relationships, and that I also can now call them friends.

Read. A lot.

Never stop reading. Newspapers, magazines, trade publications, social media timelines – it doesn’t matter, just keep reading. The PR field moves quickly with new tools and tactics emerging all the time. A desire to learn is always a good thing, and the ability to adapt quickly is essential. Reading gives us the ability to do both and allows candidates to ace the inevitable ‘future trends to keep an eye on’ interview question.  

Sometimes it’s not all about the experience

This one was hard to stomach at times. After a number of final interviews in my job search, all of which resulted in the other candidate landing the position, I had a moment of clarity: Could I have done the job, and done it well? Yes. But often it’s not just about getting the job done. Instead, it’s about the chemistry and intangibles. And sometimes, another candidate has more of it. It’s during these moments when it’s especially important to remember that it wasn’t a failure on your part; some things are simply out of your control.

Be yourself, unapologetically

Perhaps the simplest, yet at times, most complicated lesson to grasp. Sitting in an interview can be a stressful situation. We want to present the best versions of ourselves and sometimes we try too hard to be what we think the interviewing teams wants. Remember to be yourself and that it’s okay not to know everything, and it’s even better to have the self-awareness and confidence to admit when you’re not sure on a question. Nobody knows everything.

Don’t be afraid to dip your toes into a different field

This might seem like time wasted, but I assure you, it’s not. Taking a job that isn’t directly tied to PR is still valuable because almost all skills gained during this time will translate when starting your career in PR. And remember, the contacts you make during your time in a different field may come back to benefit you or your organization in the future.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that patience and persistence will serve you well as you search for a career in PR. And as long as you’re reading, honing your skills and continuing to forge relationships with those in the industry, you’ll be able to walk into the next interview with the experience and confidence needed to land the job. Finally, don’t be discouraged should you find yourself on a circuitous route to your first job in PR because at the end of the day, no one’s path is the same.

Evans Mandes

A graduate of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture, Evans joined Hodges in 2018, having previously worked in communications at Capital One and interning for CarMax’s public relations team. Evans works on a diverse mix of accounts including Kroger Mid-Atlantic, Monmouth University, UnitedHealthcare, Owens & Minor, Hilldrup and First Tee.

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