Like most of my peers, I’m terrified of graduating. As students, we have this pessimistic notion that we’ll never find jobs after graduation, and to curb these fears we take on as much as we can to enhance our resumes and build portfolios. But as we go from our internships to classes to PRSSA meetings to the library, I think we lose sight of the best way to get through the doors of corporate America—developing relationships with those already in the field.
Chuck Hester’s recent post presents the ten steps to the Pay-It-Forward philosophy, which encourages students and professionals to help others, not themselves. I am a huge proponent of this philosophy, especially among students.
PR students are bright. We’re intelligent, ambitious, and determined—we set goals, and we will do anything to achieve them. Unfortunately, because we are all struggling to set ourselves apart, we lose sight of how to really get ahead in the profession.
It’s actually pretty simple: network and make connections, but do it for the right reasons.
Hester encourages us to enter business relationships “without an agenda.” I thought this was common sense, but I realized I was wrong when I attended the 2007 PRSSA National Conference in Philadelphia two weeks ago. Every workshop featured countless students standing up and repeating the same monotonous statement: Hi, my name is _______ from the University of _________. I’ve had seven internships and have an extensive portfolio. Even though I love my current internship, I am really interested in your field. How does your company hire people?
How do interactions like these benefit anyone, especially in a workshop with hundreds of other students equally as interested in the speaker’s line of work? The workshops would have been much more beneficial if students asked specific questions about the industry, or tried to find out more about the actual subject matter rather than trying to get an interview.
After leaving Philadelphia, members of my PRSSA chapter talked about how the conference swarmed with self-promoting students who were focused on finding their future jobs, not learning about public relations. I walked out of many workshops feeling disgruntled, not enlightened. I wanted to know the ins and outs of PR in the sports industry, or how to develop a creative political campaign using YouTube—not how many internships the person next to me had.
Yes, self-promotion is important in an industry as competitive as PR, but it should be done subtly. Like Hester said, the best connections are made when they are mutually beneficial. Show interest in an organization and strive to give something back to that group. This will bring more attention to you than listing off your resume as soon as you meet someone. Not all connections bring about immediate results, but a positive relationship has been started. You never know where that relationship will lead you.