With thousands of new college grads hitting the pavement looking for work in public relations, we thought this month would be a good time to share what our Minneapolis PR and online marketing agency considers to be the most critical components of a persuasive resume.
We take the hiring of entry level talent every bit as seriously as when we’re seeking more senior account staff. Resumes, along with a candidate’s online presence (more on that in a bit…) give us a clear indication of how someone brands themselves and, therefore, their aptitude to represent our clients’ brands.
Here are some of the elements we look for:
1. Real-world experience beyond the classroom
Oftentimes a young applicant lists coursework they’ve taken in college that’s related to PR, journalism or social media. This is unnecessary and takes up valuable real estate on your resume that could be used for more relevant information (i.e. more compelling copy that could increase your chances of winning that first PR job). After all, you’ve already cited your degree, major and minor, which implies that you’ve completed the appropriate PR coursework.
Of course, it’s important to know how PR should work. Our agency staff needs to know that so we can apply the practice successfully to meet our clients’ objectives, and be able to define a PR campaign’s success and measure it. So, theory is a great place to start and the classroom is a great place to acquire theory.
But the real world of agency PR is messy. Just a few examples:
- The best laid PR and social media marketing plans and campaigns inevitably hit unforeseen snags that require on-your-feet thinking and wise decision-making.
- One contact at a client company is convinced that a particular strategy is perfect, but a different contact at the same company demands that we focus on some other strategy. You need to mediate.
- The media expects one thing from your PR pitch of a story, but the client wants you to deliver something not even remotely addressing the media’s needs. What do you do?
For any agency to give more than a moment’s consideration to a college graduate’s resume, skip your list of coursework. Instead, highlight the real-world PR problem solving skills you exercised during internships, volunteer or part-time work or freelance gigs; illustrate them by quantifying the results you achieved.
One recent intern applicant cited on her resume: “Revamped [Company]’s in-house social media strategy and increased engagement by 14 percent.” Another wrote: “Strengthened writing skills by preparing budgets, itineraries, letters of intent, and more.” The first example here quantifies the results of a specific effort, although it could be made even stronger by detailing how the social media strategy was revamped (Was the audience focus refined? Did they switch social media channels to better reach a particular audience or change messaging so it better resonated?) The second example is good because it describes to what assignments the candidate stretched her writing skills.
2. Number and quality of internships
Gone are the days when just one or two three-month internships will qualify you for the fast-paced, hectic nature of agency PR. Not only has our field morphed so dramatically over the past five years that limited experience won’t cover the basics anymore, but competition for entry-level agency jobs is fierce. The candidates who stand out for us cite multiple internships – in one extreme case, as many as nine! These applicants’ resumes make it to the top of our pile because they show – at least on paper – that they take their future in PR seriously, are not afraid to work hard, try new tasks, and have an insatiable appetite for learning and contributing.
If, for some reason, internships are hard for you to come by, create you own by volunteering for nonprofits whose causes you believe in. Offer to write for their newsletter or blog, create their social media content – even better, to create their social media presence. Join their membership committee and help recruit new members. Assist them in organizing and promoting fundraising events. Track your successes and quantify them on your resume.
How? Quoting from a resume that’s currently on my desk: “Volunteered 100+ hours and strengthened personal leadership skills by motivating 1st-year students.” That one I noticed!
3. How can you contribute from the first day on the job?
Nearly every applicant who’s fresh out of college declares that they are eager to learn; which is great, for we expect all of our employees to learn and grow, regardless of where they are in their PR career. But our PR agency also wants to know how you are going hit the ground running and contribute to the success of our clients right now. Your resume can reflect that proactive attitude and ability by highlighting any “wins” you earned during whatever work experience you’ve had.
Did you create weekly and monthly social media calendars during an internship? If so, in addition to listing that task, summarize any challenge you overcame to complete it and how you managed to do it. Did you write and distribute media alerts for special events? Great – but that’s only a piece of the story. The more important (unasked) question to answer: What kind of media coverage or social media engagement and buzz resulted from your effort? In other words, anticipate what a potential agency employer wants of a high quality worker and proactively address those needs by citing the results of your work, not just the work itself.
4. Design is fine, but don’t carry it too far
It’s understandable that you want to attract attention to your resume, to make it look sophisticated by using design elements such as unusual fonts, graphics and geometric patterns. However, skip design for design’s sake: Using bold design techniques can hamper, not help, unless you are applying to a graphic design firm. Keep in mind that a PR hiring manager is going to spend only a few seconds glancing at your application. If design distracts from vital information, your resume will not make it to the next round.
Instead, aim for a clean, one-page layout that employs wise use of white space. That said, do NOT extend right and left margins to the point where type is falling off the edges of the page. Yes, some people do this to try to fit everything on one page. If you’ve had multiple internships that just can’t easily fit on one page, better to extend your resume to two pages than try to cram everything into an unreadable blob of text.
And, if you can’t let go of design elements, use them minimally. For example, employ graphics that convey at a glance information about you that would otherwise be too wordy to explain. (Think: A simple infographic about you). Making use of spot color can be a good choice, too. Use a second color to highlight headings in your resume or other copy that you want to stand out. There are plenty of great design examples online – find one and tailor it to make it yours.
One more note on resume design, which actually has to do with your text. Of course, you want your name to be remembered, but using 40-point type at the top of the page to spell it out isn’t the way to earn a positive first impression. A font that size screams at a hiring decision-maker and makes it difficult to move past. I’ll remember that blaring “headline” long before I’ll remember reading any of your qualifications.
5. Include links to online profiles, such as LinkedIn and Twitter
We’ll look for your presence on social media channels, anyway, so why not be proactive and list them on your resume?
A word of caution, however: Pay attention to what you’re tweeting; clean up your Facebook page, be careful what you’re posting to Instagram or Pinterest. Social media is now an important tool in PR and marketing, and how you present and promote yourself online will tell us a lot about how you’ll do the same for our clients. A few pointers:
- Your Spring Break revelry photos may live forever on your social channels – or at least long enough to horrify an agency’s HR director, convincing her that you are not cut out for a professional environment with high expectations.
- Proofread everything – even your tweets! Your writing, wherever it appears, is a direct reflection on your standards for excellence. What’s more, writing is a foundational craft that’s critical to any PR executive’s success. Poor grammar or spelling, even in your social media posts, is a red flag to any potential PR agency employer that you won’t pay attention to those details on the job, either.
- Posting negative comments about past employment experiences, no matter how justified you feel they are. Your future employer is looking for someone with a positive, can-do attitude, who can work effectively as part of a team and who is willing to solve problems rather than complain about them.
- Avoid ranting about controversial topics. Yes, you’re entitled to free speech, but when you’re looking for that critical first job out of college, you want prospective employers to focus on your positive attributes: Your skills, education, aptitude, experience, knowledge and professionalism.
Of course, everyone you know will be ready to give you advice on the best way to prepare your resume. The options are endless and there’s no single “right” choice. Just know that your document is going to receive only a few seconds’ initial inspection, so make that precious time count by putting your best writing and presentation skills to work!