12 Steps to Stand Out From the Crowd

University of Florida senior Nathan King meets with Ketchum recruiters Sharon Jones and Devon Conley at PRSSA agency fair.
University of Florida graduate Nathan King meets with Ketchum recruiters Sharon Jones and Devon Conley at PRSSA agency fair.

Recruiters report almost a thousand applications flowing into their agencies for each new summer internship and coveted entry-level job. With that in mind this is the season to focus on differentiating yourself from run-of-the-mill candidates.

Based on observations from the recent PRSSA national conference “career exhibition” in Atlanta, a few agencies drew the attention of the best talent, and several students scored follow-up interview promises from the 20 recruiters who spoke briefly with a dizzying number of potential candidates.

First observation and a message for agencies everywhere: Show Up. The longest lines formed in front of tables of agencies that had speakers at the conference. Based on my conversations, the best talent queued up at the major agencies actively participating in the conference.

Observation number two: Students who attended sessions featuring agency leaders made the best connections with recruiters from those firms. These prospects were able to demonstrate their interest in the respective agencies by mentioning the fact they just heard and/or met one of the speakers

During follow-up conversations with students and recruiters, here are 12 tips I jotted down that will help you make and maintain a favorable impression when you attend your next career fair or PR event:

  1. Dress for success. You get about three seconds to make the first impression. Even if the agency is known for its casual environment, showing up in business attire shows respect.
  2. Offer a firm handshake and eye-to-eye contact. And don’t forget to smile.
  3. Be positive. No one wants to hear a sob story about the difficult job search process. Everyone loves an optimist.
  4. Listen. And try to engage in a 2-way conversation.
  5. Keep your resume clean and simple. An overly creative resume might look interesting to you but most recruiters want traditional one-page resumes, especially from those applying for internships and entry-level positions.
  6. Ask about the process. Most recruiters will explain timing and next steps in evaluating candidates.
  7. Seek advice. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Based on my interests and background, where else should I be applying?” Recruiters build future pipelines so they want to be viewed as being helpful. While the right opening may not be available now, they may want to talk with you later in your career.
  8. LinkedIn Permission. Ask if it would be okay to send a LinkedIn connection request. When you do so, be sure to mention something you discussed. Never send the generic LinkedIn template connection request.
  9. Follow-Up. Send a note or email to everyone you meet. Keep the message short, ideally mentioning something from your conversation.
  10. Develop contact spreadsheet. Include all contacts (including other students), email, phone number and interests. This becomes an important resource during your current search and future searches.
  11. Consider sending holiday cards. With fewer and fewer people sending holiday cards, yours will stand out–especially when you include a personal note.
  12. Stay in touch. Don’t over communicate, but when you see a news story that might be of interest to that individual, send them a note with the link.

Seeking that all-important internship and entry-level position can be exhausting, both mentally and physically. Make a game of it. These 12 tips will make it game you could very well win. Let me know where you land.

This article was written by Culpwrit for the current issue of FORUM, the PRSSA publication.

One thought on “12 Steps to Stand Out From the Crowd

  1. This is a very useful post for students like me! Many of these steps seem like common sense, but they are constantly overlooked or forgotten. I like the idea of starting a contact spreadsheet too. Its value could extend into where you met, what you were discussing, things to remember, etc. about each contact.

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