In the CIPR’s 2016 State of the Profession report PR professionals have helpfully listed the top 10 skills that are in demand in junior hires. So if you’re looking for an entry-level role in communications, here are our tips for brushing up those must-have skills and getting your CV to the top of the pile.
Written communication – traditional
It’s no surprise that written communications top this list as the most valuable skill for a junior practitioner. If you glance at any entry-level PR job advert it’ll be mentioned as a requirement for the role and there’s a good reason for that. As an entry-level PR, you’ll be doing a lot of writing. A LOT.
If you want to improve your writing, the key is to practice doing it as much as possible and we’ve some tips on how to do that here.
PRs can be sticklers for good grammar and punctuation so if you’re a bit unsure of yourself in that area there’s a couple of books that are worth reading. Lynne Truss’s ‘Eat Shoots and Leaves‘ is a good place to start and ‘My Grammar and I (Or Should That Be ‘Me’?)‘ is a fairly easy, and quite amusing, read too.
Attention to detail
Proof read, proof read, proof read. Do not send a CV or covering letter to an employer without having proof read it very, very carefully. If you send a CV with a typo, they may not trust you to send written comms to clients and journalists. A good trick for improving your attention to detail is to write something then proof read it. Leave it for an hour (or a day) and then go back to it with fresh eyes. You’re more likely to spot errors if you give yourself some breathing space. To make sure you don’t get word blindness, it can also be useful to read a piece of work backwards. It’s easier to isolate words like that and you can pick up mistakes you’ve previously missed.
When writing cover letters try to give examples of when you’ve worked as part of a team
Do you rub people up the wrong way? Then PR is probably not going to be the right career choice for you. PR is often about teamwork and pulling together to get a project delivered so it’s crucial you’re able to get along with others, even if they have a different working style to you. When writing cover letters try to give examples of when you’ve worked as part of a team, or had to deliver a piece of work with someone who may have a challenging personality.
Written communication – digital/social media
You might be wondering how this is different to more traditional forms of writing and really the only difference is brevity and tone. It’s still important that you write well but often the attention span on social media is much shorter than, say, for a newspaper article, so it’s important that you can summarise important points and make them easy to digest. You may also need to write in a slightly more informal tone. The best way to demonstrate to an employer that you understand digital and social media is to use it lots yourself so if you’re not already Facebooking, Tweeting, Snapchatting, Instagramming and on LinkedIn it’s definitely time to start engaging.
Oral communication skills
Just as communicating in writing is important, being able to get your point across in person or on the phone is crucial too. Lots of people are scared of the phone. In an age where email and IMs are king, it can be pretty frightening to have to call up a journalist to try and sell in a story – but that’s the job you may have to do. Do you speak good, fluent English and can you be persuasive? If you can, you’re already ahead of many applicants. If you really want to show an employer how good your oral communication skills are, you might want to consider sending a video CV along with your written one.
If you want to demonstrate your own creativity, then a creative CV can be a good way to do that
PRs have to be creative. You may think creativity is limited to consumer PR. You’d fully expect a fashion or celebrity PR to be coming up with a creative stunt but what about someone who works in internal communications, or government comms? If anything, they may have to be more creative. The drier the subject, the more difficult it may be to get coverage so if you really want to work in creative comms, perhaps think about sectors or disciplines that might be on the more corporate side.
If you want to demonstrate your own creativity, then a creative CV can be a good way to do that – but be aware that it’ll only be suitable for certain kinds of jobs. A digital or consumer agency is a good bet, a public affairs firm not so much. You can also create an online portfolio of creative ideas and content – a blog is an excellent place to do that.
you should make sure your application arrives before any deadline
Universities can be pretty kind when it comes to time management and if you need an extension on a piece of work, you can often negotiate it with your lecturer or tutor. Working life is often not so accommodating so it’s important you have the ability to manage your time effectively, meet deadlines, take on urgent work at short notice and still deliver. It’s hard to demonstrate good time management in a job application but in the first instance you should make sure your application arrives before any deadline. Also, be aware that many firms will put a deadline on a job advert but if they get enough good applicants early on they may close the applications early so don’t wait until deadline day to get your CV in.
Knowledge of current affairs and industry trends
This is such an easy thing to get on top of and yet so many entry-level applicants fail miserably at it. On the current affairs front, we recommend starting with the Today programme which often sets up the news agenda for the day. Pick up a newspaper occasionally, and not just one of the free ones. It doesn’t have to be an actual print paper (although it wouldn’t hurt to read one of those too) but you can access nearly all papers online and through apps these days. Although it’s tempting to just rely on social media to give you the latest news, it’s worth deliberately choosing some news sources to delve into a bit deeper and to discover different styles and interesting journalists.
For industry trends, the industry press is what you need, and subscribe to a few PR blogs too. PR practitioners are often spot on when it comes to predicting the next big thing in communications. You should also consider signing up for membership with the CIPR and PRCA (both of which offer heavily discounted rates for students) and you’ll get free entry to industry events, reduced rates on training and useful industry info.
actually create some content
What actually is content creation? It’s such a broad term but it basically means creating any content which is ready for publication. That might be written articles, videos, infographics, social media posts – the possibilities are endless.
The easiest way to demonstrate that you’ve got the edge when it comes to content creation is to actually create some content. Use your social media accounts to get it out there and put it on your blog. It won’t go unnoticed. Remember – you need to make sure its publication worthy so the earlier points about attention to detail apply.
Many junior job applications are let down by poor research. If you’re not doing the research before you’ve even got the job you won’t be inspiring confidence in your research abilities. If you know the name of the person you’re applying to, look them up on social media. There may be something interesting and relevant about them that you can include in your cover letter. The application may require a written task like ‘in no more than 300 words tell us about a recent PR campaign you’ve admired and why’. If the person you’re applying to says they love chocolate on their Twitter bio, it might be a nice touch to say “I know you’re a massive fan of chocolate, so the campaign I’ve picked to talk about is by Cadbury’. If you don’t know who the applications are going to, at the very least research the company you’re applying to really well. Look beyond just their website. Check out their social media feeds and search the industry press for any mention of them. You might want to see if they’ve won any awards recently too.