For anyone who has graduated with that hard-won degree in public relations, the current bleak employment picture can be a bit daunting. With many of the public sector jobs either vanishing or simply waiting for better times, it may a worthwhile to look in the public sector.
Military Public Affairs
The U.S. Department of Defense and each of the five military services, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, hire qualified public relations (a.k.a. public affairs) graduates, not as uniformed personnel, but as civilian support. Civilians serve at every level of public affairs, from post or base commands, to major commands, to the thin air of the Pentagon.
Kinds of Work
Public affairs assignments differ slightly in each service, but have in common three involvements: Command Information, Community Relations, and Media Relations. The Air Force breaks out radio/TV work as another career track. Command information is internal communication within the command of assignment and usually includes a weekly newspaper or magazine, radio/TV work and the newer involvement of the Blogosphere. Community relations include working with community leaders and movers and shakers to enhance the relations with the military community. Media relations work includes responding to media queries, setting up media events and interviews, and preparing leaders for media interviews.
Newly hired public relations graduates enter an extended internship program. For example, when the U.S. Army hires university graduates, they enter an 18-month internship. They start at a GS7 pay grade and spend a year working in a post public affairs office where they write press releases, arrange news events and conferences, escort the media, produce newspapers or magazines, and work with the radio/TV facilities to get a well-rounded experience. The next step is the public affairs course at Fort Meade, Maryland, which lasts just over eight weeks. All five services train their public affairs people, both uniformed and civilian, at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Fort Meade. The last phase of training is four months at the Pentagon rotating between command relations, command information, media relations, plans, social media, and legislation liaison.
After completion of the entry training, the public affairs civilian is promoted to GS9 and starts a career in the field. Where that service starts depends on what is open and what the employee wants to do. Civilians move up the grade structure through longevity, ability, and willingness to move to accept positions of greater responsibility. The potential extends to the civilian equivalent of a general officer.
Public relations work puts one in the middle of the leadership circle whether it is in the private sector or the public sector. Those entering the workforce in the current environment of tight employment may benefit from looking at the option of serving the military as a public affairs civilian. It is an exciting environment and an honorable career.
Public Affairs Career Resources
General Military Career Resources
Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at onlinedegrees.org, researching areas of online degree programs. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop. Read earlier guest post with front-lines public affairs insights from LTC Paul Swiergosz.