Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the New England Regional PRSSA Conference, PR Advanced, at Boston University. As a proud BU alumni, I try and make it to the Conference each year. I remember what life was like as a student trying to break into the PR world, and I’ll never forget those who helped me along the way. Paying it forward is a small way of saying thanks to them.
I met a lot of bright students at the PR Advanced career fair. Afterward, it got me thinking about the transition from college to the real world and how that transition can be both exhilarating and terrifying. The job market is as competitive as it’s ever been, and a public relations position you want at your dream agency or company is also coveted by hundreds of others. The good news is that there are more opportunities than ever to network with the employees of those dream agencies at PR and marketing events.
Networking throughout your college years – especially your junior and senior years – is a must today. It’s a skill that should be taught to students, but it isn’t. If you’re lucky, a professor will wrap it into a class or you’ll have organizations like a PRSSA group to provide training. (We recommend checking with your departmental offices to ask about networking events for your industry.) There’s no real secret when it comes to networking with professionals in the workforce, but there are good and not so good approaches to how you present yourself at events.
After my experience meeting students this past weekend, I wanted to provide a few quick tips for students when it comes to networking with professionals at PR events:
Don’t start by asking what the company can do for you; ask what you can do for the company. We’re substituting ‘company’ for ‘country’ here, but JFK was on to something when he said those wise words. It’s easy to approach someone and immediately ask about internship and job opportunities. After all, there’s a good chance that’s why you’re taking the time to network in the first place. However, I would highly recommend against starting the conversation with, “Do you have any internships available?” My first reaction is, “Don’t you want to know what we do first?” Take a moment to introduce yourself and find out more about the person you’re speaking with, what they do, and the company in question. Feel out if the agency or business is a good fit for you before diving into a discussion regarding any open positions. Having that level of personal interest will show that you’re not just checking them off your long list of potential employers.
Have an elevator pitch ready, but don’t recite it like a robot. It’s always a good idea to practice a quick introduction with essential details before you attend a networking event. Start with who you are, where you go to school, what you’re interested in, etc. Don’t recite your elevator pitch as if you’re a robot though! Be human. Be conversational. Networking is about genuine person-to-person interaction, not a rehearsed conversation. Remember that you know yourself better than anyone; you don’t need to struggle to remember the exact wording of your introduction. Be friendly and then engage in a genuine conversation. This will go a long way in making you more memorable later.
Come prepared with one well thought-out question. At an event like a career fair or a speed networking session, it’s important to stand out among your peers. One way to do this is to come prepared with a great question to ask. It’s easy to ask a PR professional why they like where they’re working or what job opportunities they have available, but a question that stands out could be the difference between you blending into the crowd and being remembered. For example, last weekend I had a student ask me to share one of SHIFT’s most cutting edge campaigns. Another student asked how much classes versus real-world experience prepared me for work life. While those questions may not sound overly unique, each were very practical, and I know the answers are something they can actually apply and benefit from.
Take your networking inside as an intern. This tip particularly applies to those students who have internships. By interning at an agency or a company, you have a ton of networking opportunities. Many of your coworkers have been down the same path and can offer first-hand advice on how to move forward in your career. Make an effort to set up lunches or one-on-one chats with others in your office who can share invaluable knowledge. I personally love taking the time to chat with interns who are looking for guidance as to what their next steps should be – and I know I’m not alone in that within the SHIFT offices. Chances are, your company is the same way. Give it a shot. Not only will it help improve your relationships in your current office, it will help establish connections that will stay with you your entire career.
There are so many chances to network thanks to events like PR Advanced and even online via social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter. Start now. Take advantage of those opportunities. As you go through your career, you’ll value the relationships you’ve made along the way.
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