What makes a great PR/Comms candidate? Let’s ask the experts.
There are many ways you can increase your job prospects: from the obvious spell-checking of your CV to the more dedicated undertaking of unpaid work experience. However, if you are trying to get into a profession which is popular, like PR and Communications, you need to demonstrate more than just an ability to spell correctly.
It’s a vibrant, popular sector that is worth more than £7.5 billion annually in revenue and employs over 60,000 in the UK. Little wonder that recruitment for PR roles is increasing, according to the Chartered Institute for Public Relations (CIPR). Competition for these plum roles remains fierce, so it can help to have some information at your fingertips. Insider information perhaps, from people in the know; information that could help you present yourself as a great PR/Comms candidate.
Are there any specific characteristics a candidate needs?
Read any blog on the subject, including our own insightful guide on How to get into PR, and you’ll spot a common theme: confidence and great communication skills are a must.
In both of these exciting professions, you’ll need to liaise with stakeholders of various seniority and use those powers of persuasion to get buy-in or assistance for your endeavours. For that, you need to be able to communicate eloquently, succinctly and without getting flustered. However, that’s not the full picture:
David: Really strong communication skills are of course a pre-requisite, but an ability to go beyond the sound-bite and provide evidence of advisory skills is what I’m looking for. We want to be viewed as trusted advisors by our clients, so candidates need to show they can become one.
Jo: For an entry level or junior candidate I will be looking out for curiosity and energy. For me they are the best indicators of passion and that’s really important in PR. When it comes to more senior candidates I take for granted that they will be excellent at the day job. More important is attitude…Are they willing to get stuck in? Do they still get excited about doing great work for clients? Do they still enjoy the thrill of the chase when it comes to new business and pitching stories to the media? Do they want to play a part in growing the business? If they want to stay comfortable in a big corporate structure, then they are not for us and we are not for them.
Is previous experience or a related qualification necessary?
One of the most common questions we’re asked by our candidates is about experience and qualifications. Where it used to be almost imperative to possess both attributes, is this still the case? Not necessarily. Boyce’s own Natalie Mitchell says that, for graduates who perhaps won’t have much experience, a degree could be helpful: “Degrees in subjects such as history, English or any other essay-based subject are the most attractive as it shows they are good writers, which is really important in PR.”
The CIPR’s State of the Profession 2013/4 survey posed this question to its members. Just ten per cent of respondents said that they thought an academic qualification was the ‘most important quality for PR professionals’. Meanwhile, 12 per cent said a relevant professional qualification was vital, but the majority said that experience was far more essential (68 per cent). In fact, the research revealed that, even in junior roles, some form of relevant experience was required by 45 per cent of cases and an undergraduate degree was sought out by 44 per cent. Only one in 20 were fussed about professional membership to the CIPR.
Ahead of that, however, is the requirement for ‘professionalism’. Ninety-four per cent of PR practitioners said this attribute alone was a ‘central pillar’, but what do the experts say?
David: Previous experience is important, but it has to be relevant experience. For me, recruitment is about establishing the right fit for a candidate.
Jo: While I look out for qualifications, they are not the be all and end all. Some of the best PR people I’ve worked with haven’t had degrees. Similarly I’m not necessarily convinced of the value of vocational qualifications, but I do find journalism training can be very helpful.
What makes a candidate stand out?
With competition for any vacancy rife, it’s more important than ever for candidates to take action that helps them stand out among the crowd.
For PR and Comms hopefuls, this means demonstrating (as mentioned above) relevant experience and skills. A good idea is to offer your chosen company some assistance – perhaps write a blog or simply help out with some admin at a busy period. This will not only get your face known, but might mean you’re on site (and within sight) when a vacancy arises. Keeping up to date with industry trends and news is similarly essential, as it shows that you’re serious about the profession. Don’t forget to use social media to make contacts and participate in discussions, too. Of course, that’s not all you can do:
David:I feel that candidates present themselves far better than they did when I first started interviewing people 20 years ago. The best candidates really think about the company they are applying to and prepare themselves accordingly.
Jo: I tend to look for people who’ve done something out of the ordinary or have side lines that demonstrate that all-important curiosity, be it creative or intellectual. At Velvet we have people who run their own music websites, have lived and worked in China, write poetry in their spare time, the list goes on.
Working in PR and comms is exciting, challenging and rewarding. Getting that first footing on the career ladder will feel equally as thrilling and is absolutely possible if you bear in mind the advice above. Just don’t tell everyone!