It’s almost time for college students on the quarter system to head back to school again. I happen to love getting back into classes each fall. Everyone is refreshed from summer break, football is just getting started and we get to crack open some new books for the term. This year is bittersweet for me. I am heading into my senior year, and I’m wondering how my time in college flew by. As I reflect on my experiences so far, I thought I would share some tips for public relations students heading back to school this fall.
I found myself on the phone with my adviser this week (for the third or fourth time this summer) discussing options for courses this year. While some may think senior year is a time to take a mental break before stepping into the real world, I suggest challenging yourself during in these last few terms instead. Now, more than ever, public relations pros need to be as well-rounded as possible. The more skills you can bring to the table, the better. Instead of taking those easy-A courses, try going outside your comfort zone to learn new skills. Is there a seminar on SEO? Have you thought about taking that course on InDesign for PR? Try to find courses that will expand your expertise.
I know you have heard this time and time again, and for good reason. Now is the time to come together with your peers to learn from each other. Does your campus have a PRSSA chapter? A student PR firm? How about student groups that focus on tech or writing? Not only will joining one or more of these groups give you opportunities to learn, but they can possibly give you material for your resume and portfolio. If you have the time, get involved on campus.
Build relationships with faculty
Now is the time to start picking the brains of as many professionals as you can. Use your academic advisers! They can help you sort through classes and hone in on your options and opportunities while you’re still in school. You should also start to develop relationships with professors. Do you have a professor that has really influenced you or helped you? Stay in touch throughout the year and come to them with any question that you come across. The faculty is there to help you along your journey to being a pro and have a ton of experience that you can learn from. You may even use them for some stellar recommendations in the future.
Start to network
This is probably the skill that most college students (including myself) are a bit nervous about. I’m going to be honest; networking can be awkward when you are first starting out. However, I cannot stress how important networking is in the PR world. The more you put yourself out there and meet people in the industry, the more contacts you will have in your PR tool belt. Starting now will be beneficial as you get ready to step out into the industry after graduation.
These are so important for PR students! I have learned so much from my internship with LTPR this summer. It is one thing to learn about public relations in the classroom (which you definitely need to do), but it an entirely different ballgame stepping into this role and practicing what you have learned. Internships give you real experience and help you decide which area of public relations you want to work in. You can utilize the talent of the professionals you are working with and soak up as much as you can from them. Internships can also give you great material for your resume and portfolio, as well as great recommendations.
Set yourself up for success
As you are finishing up at school, it’s a good idea to get all your ducks in a row. Make sure your resume is flawless and create an engaging portfolio. You can always turn to those faculty relationships for help with these. Don’t forget to keep up on your social media activity and scrub any platforms you use that need some cleaning up. Now is the time to get on Twitter, start a blog or engage in conversation on any other type of social media platform. Make sure that you are consistent across all of your platforms—your blog is linked in your portfolio, your Twitter handle is on your blog, etc.
Interview, Interview, Interview
Any chance you get to interview, take it. The more chances you get to practice an interview scenario, including informational interviews, the better your interview skills will be. Two additional pieces of advice I have to stress: never start an email or cover letter with “To Whom It May Concern,” and always follow up with a thank you email or note. You should always do your research before sending an email and should be able to find your contact’s name. You should also always acknowledge the time an interviewer has taken to get to know you, so take a few minutes to thank them.
“You have to be constantly, insatiably curious.” I will never forget when one of my awesome PR professors, Kelli Matthews, told us this in our introductory public relations course. This is so true for anyone in PR. You need to be scanning the media outlets every day. Stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends and innovations. If there are speakers coming to your school, go see them. Try out new apps, watch Lynda videos to improve your skills or read a new book. Public relations practitioners are sponges by nature, so soak up as much information as you can.
Now dust off your textbooks and keep these tips in mind as you make your way toward that cap and gown this year.