By: Noreen Heron
Around this time every year, I start getting resumes from college students looking for positions or internships at the agency. I empathize with these young job seekers. I remember what it felt like to go through the process of taking a variety of stressful classes in college, then throwing that four years of experience into a condensed package for someone to hopefully like enough just to extend an interview. As an employer now, more often than not, I receive interesting resumes and wish that we had more positions to provide to such talented applicants. What makes a candidate so interesting that they won’t go unnoticed by an employer? Sometimes people get it so right, and others – well, that is why there is a delete button on the keyboard. I have two teenagers who will before I know it, be looking themselves, so I thought I would write what I feel are the dos and don’ts of looking for a job “apres university,” and may be applied to pretty much any profession.
Before the resume is submitted, the job search starts in college. What are you doing that gets you to the place of having a career in an industry that makes your heart sing, but pays you on top of it? I have a friend who owns a PR firm who says that she won’t take an intern unless the intern has had three previous internship experiences. Wow! We don’t do that at Heron. We do look for students and graduates who understand what employers are looking for, and to be frank, that is people who are passionate about helping our clients’ business grow. That, in turn, helps our company grow. When I ask a recent graduate why they chose PR as their possible profession, and they say something like, “Because I like people,” I worry. Cannibals like people. That is not a good reason to go into PR, or Sales, or Human Resources or any of the “people professions.”
The reason to go into PR, or any given field for that matter, is because you think that you can make a significant impact on it on behalf of your company. When I worked for Hyatt as an in-house PR Director, I knew that my role was to make more money for Hyatt than the year before. I used to call my Irish-born grandmother from my desk sometimes as late as 9pm at night. I can still hear her with her brogue and a little laugh saying, “So, you are making the Pritzkers a little richer?” Exactly. That is what every company is looking for – someone that understands that their role is to do a solid job and produce revenue. Now, how do you make it clear that is who you are?
The reason to go into any profession is because you love it and you have a passion for it. The reason for an organization to hire you though is completely different – they have to feel that your experience and knowledge will improve their bottom line. An employer can understand that they will hire you, teach you, and develop within you the ability to do that. But they have to feel that you get that premise from the beginning. So here is what you do, and not do, to make that clear.
- Start with the obvious. Check your resume and your cover letter for typos. I never understand how a candidate can work so hard for four years, and then send a quickly written, sloppy resume or cover letter. It is the equivalent of what we say here regarding PR and Social Media campaigns on occasion. How can a company spend so much money to construct a building, and then not spend money to tell people that they did it? You built the foundation, now is the time to tell your story in a compelling way!
- I get that you need to apply to as many companies as possible, but be careful to change the name of the person in the email before pressing send. Directing your missive to my competitor doesn’t make me think you will be a detail oriented candidate. Also, yesterday, I got a resume saying that the candidate wanted a job at Huron Agency. Delete.
- I never understand the candidate who sends their resume as an attachment with a subject line saying that they are interested. I don’t open attachments from strangers, do you?
- One sentence or paragraph doesn’t tell your story. There is no stop watch for the employer reading your email. Take your time and write what is meaningful and memorable.
- Who doesn’t love a grand gesture? I think of a friend’s memorable job pursuit story. She was interviewing for a position at a radio station called “The Rock.” This creative individual walked up and down Chicago alleys looking for the biggest rock that she could find. She found one, tied her resume and a balloon to it, and added a card saying that she would “Raise the station to new heights.” Genius.
- You’ve done the work. You’ve got great grades and want an internship. How to creatively say that? I had one candidate who wrote an application as a press release eight years ago that I still remember for its creativity. The headline read, “Jarred Smith Poised to Become Heron Agency’s Best Intern in the 12-year history of the Company.” He then went on in the release to list his accomplishments in a creative, story-telling way, but also had clearly researched the company to add in specifically why his talents would be helpful to us on specific accounts. It told me he knew how to write a press release, was not a cookie cutter person, and the application was enjoyable to read. Perfect!
- Now we have decided to have a meeting. When I ask you for an interview, don’t say, “I can fit you in on Tuesday” or “With my schedule, Wednesday works well for me.” As an agency publicist, I am always interviewing for work just like you are. If I told potential clients that they should go by my schedule, as opposed to fitting into theirs, my agency would have closed years ago.
- Get an internship. An internship lets you and your employer see if you are a good fit in their organization. Then when you secure the internship, work to make sure that your employer knows your value. When I worked at Hyatt Regency Chicago, I realized something that is applicable in any industry: Everyone is so busy that they can’t take the time to realize your value unless you tell them yourself what you have accomplished. It is so much easier to get a job with a company that you have interned for once you have impressed them with your talent. Currently, four of our full-time employees were interns including our Executive Vice President!
- Do the most, not the least. Don’t bother taking an internship, or a job, unless you understand that it is an opportunity to really see if it is a good career fit for you, and are willing to do the required work. If you are taking on an internship just for class credit, not because you are truly interested, you are taking up someone else’s opportunity whose goal it may be to work in the industry.
- Internships tell you what you want to do and don’t want to do. You can have an interest in a field and find that doing it day to day informs you that it isn’t what you want career wise. That’s great! Internships are supposed to be educational in the same way a college course is. For that reason, internships are a great trial to find your career path.
- Send a thank you note. Gratitude in our world is an unfortunate waning sentiment. A handwritten thank you means so much.
- Research the company. Identify who you really want to work for and go after it zealously. The resume that comes with an email so carefully laying out what they know about the company and why in turn they are a good fit, is the pearl in the oyster. It is very hard to not at least give that individual an interview.
- Don’t get discouraged. Sometimes, you can do everything right, and it just isn’t the right timing, just like dating! You have no idea why you didn’t hear back. It usually doesn’t have anything to do with you; it’s more the timing of the company’s ability to take on another salary.
- Interviews are a two-way street. You are both interviewing each other, however, don’t use your first interview to ask how quickly you can become Vice President. Get some time in under your belt once hired and then make it clear what your worth is to the company.
- Try to enjoy the process. Easier said than done, I know, but you will work your whole life most likely. Take your time to make sure that the job is a good fit for you. It is easy to spot people who have passion and you want to be one!