Recently, I participated in the webinar “Landing a PR Job After School” hosted by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. The webinar covered topics such as what employers seek in candidates, the types of jobs available and how much students can expect to make in entry-level positions.
What are employers looking for?
All of the professionals had great advice to share with listeners. Advice from Lisa K. Hart, communications leadership development program leader at GE, stood out as extremely relevant information. Some of her suggestions included the following:
- Highlight relevant work experience on your resume.
- If you are interested in a specific company, check the company’s Web site often.
- Practice interview skills (Phone & In-Person).
- Be sure your voicemail message, e-mail address, Facebook account and other social media accounts are professional.
- Get your passport. Seek experience and be ready to travel.
- Practice your elevator speech. Be ready to explain your job aspirations in 2 minutes or less.
- Do your homework. Knowing the company and interviewers will immensely help you.
Mark Harris, vice president of communications at IBM Global Business Services, emphasized the qualities and qualifications professionals seek in candidates: a minimum 3.0 GPA, geographically aware, sharp business acumen, sharp analytical and judgment skills, excellent writing skills, leadership experience outside of the classroom, internship or work experience in relevant major and passion for communication. When Harris was an undergraduate student at the University of Alabama, he remembers one of his professors saying he should always take care of the job closest at hand. While some think GPA is irrelevant in the communications field, Harris said grades are a signal to your work ethic and a baseline to convince an employer of your natural curiosity.
The main advice professionals emphasized was the importance of real-world experience through internships. Without practical experience, the professionals said you will probably be offered zero jobs. Even if you have an unpaid internship for a year, the experience shows you are committed to leadership and serious about business. In today’s economy, it will be difficult to compete against other job applicants, and it is important to get as much experience as you can.
Are there really any jobs available in this economy?
Mark Harris said a popular rumor is going around right now that there are not any jobs available. He urged students to understand there are many jobs out there, but they are extremely selective.
Keith Burton of Insidedge/GolinHarris suggested the types of organizations hiring are agencies within larger holding companies, smaller boutique agencies or in-house at corporate offices.
Cirlot Agency COO Rick Looser said that his agency in Mississippi hasn’t seen the high end or low end of economy. He said agency hiring in his area has stayed constant, and many clients look to younger professionals in an agency for social media skills.
What is the average salary for an entry-level PR position?
Jessamyn Katz of Heyman Associates explained the findings of the 2010 PRWeek/Bloom, Gross & Associates survey of the average salary in the communication field. The salary survey polled 1,007 PR professionals across various work settings and disciplines. Findings showed the entry-level salary at an agency was around $36,000 and a little higher in a corporate setting.
Rick Looser emphasized the need to research the area where you apply for jobs because the national average for an entry-level position in New York is a little higher than in Mississippi. He said the average entry-level salary is around $25,000 to $29,000 in Mississippi.
Overall, if you are planning to start your career in an agency, your salary might be in the mid-20s to upper-30s, and your salary will probably increase faster in an agency than in a corporate environment. If you are hoping to start in a corporate environment, plan for a salary from lower-40s to upper-50s, depending on the size and location of the company.
It was great to hear from professionals who truly care about the future of the public relations field. They were encouraging about the types of positions out there, where the jobs are and will be in the future, what professionals are looking for and the average salary range.
If you were unable to participate in the webinar and want to experience it, visit www.plankcenter.ua.edu. It will be recorded and archived within the next two weeks.
Sara Sanderson is a senior at the University of Alabama majoring in public relations and she serves as the Senior Editorial Director of Platform Online Magazine. @scanderson on Twitter.