Two weekends ago, I had the privilege to attend my first Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) Regional Conference in Nashville, Tn., at Belmont University. The weekend was broken up with developmental sessions, keynote speakers, networking opportunities and great “Southern Hospitality.” One of my favorite sessions was with Gary McCormick, Director of Partnership Development at HGTV and the past Chair/CEO of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). He discussed in great length the secrets to landing that first job. Since I have recently begin my post-graduate job hunt, the talk was extremely relevant for me.
I took a total of seven pages of notes, so I will condense that into my favorite seven tips that he shared.
1. Relocate with a purpose before applying for jobs.
First off, McCormick answered the pressing question: should I relocate before I apply for jobs or wait until I receive an offer? McCormick suggested that relocating is better because you can start investing in the community. He said that you must have a reason for relocating other than the city is “cool.” Employers want to know that you are reliable and will not relocate to a “cooler” city at a given’s notice.
2. Look for a job in an industry you are already passionate about.
This may seem like a no brainer, but it is so important. Look first at companies that spark your interest. For example, if you took dance lessons since you were little, consider doing PR for a dance company. Look at that industries publications, companies, etc. You will enjoy the work more, your passion will show in interviews and you will already understand the industry and know key terms.
3. Use the Capture Strategy to prepare all your job application materials.
When you first read a job description, highlight all the key words, so you can use them in your application materials. While this may seem like common advice, McCormick took it a step further saying create a matrix with all the key words and plan where you will highlight those key traits in your application materials whether that be your resume, cover letter, references, etc. Also, make note of what you need to research and if you have contacts that could help you gain skills or experience that you lack for the position.
4. Be aware of snowballing interview tactics!
McCormick pointed out that sometimes employers will did deeper than the references you give them employing “snowballing” tactics. They might ask one reference if there is anyone else could speak to your qualifications, and contact them.
5. Your cover letter should be your best writing sample.
He said, “If that cover letter doesn’t sell you, your resume won’t do much good.” I had never thought about a cover letter in terms of a writing sample. It is your first piece of writing that your prospective employer will see, so make it perfect and compelling!
6. Leverage someone else’s 10 thousand hours in your network.
Your network does not stop becoming useful after you get a job. Your contacts can also be great resources in learning cultures of a new community or a new skill that you lack. You may not know all the media in the community, but you may know a great public relations partitioner in that market that would be able to help you make connections.
7. Be able to switch to business mode at a moment’s notice.
Gary McComick made an interesting suggestion of buying a track phone just dedicated to your job search, so when it rings, you answer it professionally. He said he likes calling prospective employees at 9 p.m. on a Friday evening or 4 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon to see how you might answer the phone in your natural environment, because as a PR professional, you never know when that reporter may call for a comment on your organization.
*Bonus: ALWAYS follow up appropriately.
I have always been took to send a hand-written thank you note after an interview. However, McCormick shared a story where his company interviewed four outstanding candidates. Only one sent a follow-up email, and none of the candidates sent a handwritten thank you. None of the highly qualified candidates were hired.
You can connect with Gary McCormick on Twitter @GaryMac865.