If you’re looking for work in the public relations industry, or you’re hoping to advance in your existing career, you’ll hear all sorts of advice about what you should do to land an interview or a job, what sector you should work in, and how you should grow your career.
Although well intended, a lot of popular advice can be ignored. Here are some of the worst offenders, along with a few optional perspectives to consider.
1. Choose an industry or cause based on what others think
Have you noticed the trend to label some causes as “good” or “bad?” We see this a lot in politics and non-profit advocacy. But it’s also applied to industry.
For example, some sectors of the energy industry, such as natural gas or crude oil, are labeled as “bad” with activists endeavoring to discourage PR professionals from representing these industries. Meanwhile, some on the political right consider the benefits of renewable energy to be exaggerated.
A different perspective is that we’re in a complicated, long-term energy transition, punctuated by incredible discoveries, rapid change, and thorny problems.
- Sustainable energy has enjoyed remarkable breakthroughs, like splitting sea water to generate hydrogen fuel. But renewables aren’t yet capable of powering 100% of humanity’s energy needs. In some cases, renewable energy has suffered from inadequate battery storage leading to blackouts.
- We’re on the cusp of exciting developments, such as carbon-free, geo-thermal mining of “green lithium” to power batteries used in electric vehicles.
- In the Bakken, some oil production sites have deployed new technology that can reduce methane emissions by up to 95%. They are turning would-be pollutants into Bitcoin and electricity.
- There are large-scale weaknesses in the U.S. grid that leave us vulnerable to Sandworm-style hack attacks and unusual weather events.
There are fascinating stories to tell across the energy sector, whether you choose to represent research institutions, government, startups, energy companies, cybersecurity firms, or old school trade associations.
Know this: whatever industry or cause you choose, someone will disapprove of your choice.
Your choice is yours alone to make. Don’t outsource your career thinking to trending hashtags or the approval of others.
Instead, do your own research. Contemplate your values. Consider what areas you already have knowledge of and a passion for, and what underlying concepts are most appealing to you.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Job security: If you place a premium on job security, you may want to consider high-growth sectors like healthcare, biotech and FAANG technology companies.
- Transforming technologies: Others may be intrigued by emerging technologies such as cryptocurrencies (including DeFi finance trends), virtual reality, or geo blockchain.
- Synthesizing technologies: Some may be inspired by international companies like Gro Intelligence and Marco Polo which innovate by synthesizing existing technologies in new ways. Gro Intelligence, founded by former commodities trader Sara Menker, gathers trillions of data points into a single platform for simpler, better decision making. This company is poised to combat famine and create more efficient, and resilient food supply chains. Marco Polo is revolutionizing trade finance by bringing blockchain solutions to a traditional industry typically burdened by massive amounts of paperwork.
- Futuristic: Some PR professionals may find futuristic concepts like space exploration, sustainable cities, and new forms of government to be compelling.
- Political and non-profit advocacy: Others may be animated by political or social causes such as reducing the high rates of incarceration in the U.S., decriminalizing substance abuse, advocating for education or police reform, or exposing fraud and corruption in government.
- Toward a new civilization: If you are a divergent thinker and the idea of architecting the foundations of a better society intrigues you, you may want to pioneer opportunities at the frontier. Try exploring conversations taking place at the intersection of game theory and the crisis in public sensemaking and dialogue.
You can even opt for a full-time gig while pursuing pro bono work in an unfunded (or underfunded) area.
There are many ways to decide. Your values and life experience will influence your course. Your philosophy will shape what you identify as a problem and what you identify as a solution.
Make your decision with pride and confidence. And then enjoy it to the full.
2. Keep at It
“Just keep plugging away,” is no way to get where you want to go in the PR industry, or any industry these days. If you’re applying for job after job with no employer showing interest, then don’t just continue doing the same thing hoping you’ll eventually get different results.
Try something different. Examine how you’re applying. Are you applying individually or via one-click bulk applications? Examine how you’re answering application and interview questions. How are you presenting yourself on your resume? Examine the types of companies and positions you’re applying for.
Workplace dissatisfaction and dysfunction
This advice also applies to those who are not satisfied in their jobs. If you are bored or unchallenged, start exploring new opportunities.
If there are workplace dysfunctions (such as bullying) that have not been resolved in 3 months, they’re not going to be fixed — ever.
The persistence of dysfunction is an indicator that there are incentives in place to allow these behaviors to continue. In these cases, know that they care more about preserving the dysfunction than they do about your health, your well-being, and your career.
Warning: workplace dysfunctions that are not effectively and quickly dealt with will worsen.
You need to start searching for a new job now.
3. Take Whatever Job You’re Offered
This bad career advice is based on the belief that any experience is good experience.
There is an exception of course: a job is better than no job. This is especially applicable in times of crises, as with economic downturns. There’s honor in working and supporting yourself. There’s no glory in losing your apartment or home, being unable to pay for healthcare, or being unable to care for family. If like most people, you weren’t born with a wealthy trust fund to access, then there’s no shame in taking what work is available. You can take that job and be proud of yourself. You’ll undoubtedly learn lessons you can apply elsewhere.
Refer to #1 and disregard the opinions of others. Just like in dating, keep looking and you’ll find your right match. Jobs are not permanent.
If you do have the choice to hold out though, then by all means do so. Know what your time constraints are though, and have a plan to follow.
Learn how to negotiate like a boss
Learn the negotiation principles taught by Chris Voss in his book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator.
Following his guidelines will help you get the job you want, and the salary you want, with the benefits you want. And if the job or position you get isn’t your ideal choice, you can still nab a good salary and benefits deal, and use his principles to get your foot in the door somewhere else.
His principles can also be applied to gaining and satisfying clients.
4. Don’t Overdo It
You don’t land big clients by playing small. Nor do you provide big opportunities to your clients by playing it safe.
Success in PR requires creativity, being bold, going all out. Your approach to your career should be no less so.
- Learn to take calculated risks.
- Try many different things.
- Increase your communications: this will cause new opportunities to emerge.
And don’t be afraid of failure: We learn more from our failures than our successes.
5. Make In-Person Networking a Priority
In the past, in-person networking was essential to getting anywhere in PR, but that was before the internet, before social media, and certainly before COVID.
Now, practically every event worth attending is happening online. Gone are the days when you had to show up at the next opening, premiere, or awards ceremony to see and be seen.
Now, you can do it more easily, economically and virtually. Virtual events and meetings allow you to rub elbows all over the world, all from the comfort of your home office. Plus, It’s what the industry has come to expect, even without COVID.
6. Leave the Interview Notes at Home and Only Answer the Questions Asked
This describes two pieces of bad PR career advice in one. Both are rooted in the erroneous belief that you don’t want to appear to dominate your interviewer.
Leaving your notes at home and only answering the questions asked of you puts you in a subservient role, letting the interviewer take the full reins of the encounter. The problem with that, however, is that a good PR person should be a go-getter — someone who takes initiative and knows what he/she wants and how to get it.
The only way an employer or client is going to see that, is if you show them your initiative and creativity.
7. Keep Your Resume Down to One Page
This used to be sage advice for all job-seekers, but no longer. These days, employers and clients don’t care so much about fitting everything into a single sheet of paper since practically nobody reads a resume printed onto an actual piece of paper anymore.
Instead, they care that it’s clear and engaging.
- Clear means that it’s organized smartly and easy to scan as well as to read.
- Engaging means that you use the opportunity to let your best self shine. Show the experiences, skills, and qualifications that set you apart from the other candidates and PR pros.
And if you’re sending your resume via email, here’s another piece of outdated wisdom to eschew: “Add a cover letter attachment to your email.”
Newsflash: Do that, and no one will read it. Forget the already old-fashioned cover letter email attachment, and opt instead for a brief introduction of just one or two paragraphs. Avoid repeating anything the recipient can already read in your resume.
Simply introduce yourself, say what position you’re applying for, and that you look forward to hearing back. Then, let your resume speak for itself.
I was glad to see this week that Fast Company agrees the time for longer resumes is here–if necessary. I still encourage students to keep it short and simple, but that’s hard to do after a few jobs or a lot of contract work.
Just as public relations work must adapt and change to suit ever-changing tastes, preferences, interests, and habits of the target audience, so too must your efforts at landing jobs and clients shift to meet the current market.
What worked a decade ago, or even last year, may no longer work today. Before taking any PR career advice, consider the source and evaluate whether or not the advice truly meets the moment.