Being a university student can be pretty challenging.
Exams aside, you also have to keep up with essays, part-time work, staying fit (physically and mentally), and that growing laundry pile on your chair – all while maintaining some semblance of a social life.
The infamous student lifestyle basically halves your finances, time, and energy for its entire duration.
…but it’s not all bad.
If you learn to manage your time and prioritise your professional progression, you can achieve a whole lot while you are still studying.
I’ve met many students who want to position themselves for hire or create a more ‘professional’ online presence, but don’t know where to start.
Nine times out of 10, this is a question of gaining confidence rather than skill.
It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that you can’t do it. You don’t have a professional network, your grades aren’t that good, all your friends work at Sephora or McDonald’s, you’re not a PR or communications expert (yet), and you feel like you can’t add anything to the conversation.
Tips for PR Students: Position Yourself for Success
The first step in ditching the “I’m not an expert” mindset is to realise that no one knows everything.
That’s especially true in a wide-open industry like communications.
Factors such as technology, diversity, and globalisation come into play constantly. This forces professionals (emerging and senior alike) to review and adapt their skills continuously.
When I was shifting from hospitality to communications, I realised that even the most senior managers sometimes had to face issues they didn’t know how to handle.
Instead, they had to find a solutions on the spot. And so could you.
No one knows everything, and trust me when I say that you know more than you think.
But perhaps more importantly? It’s very likely you have access to people and resources to help you fill in the gaps.
When you position yourself as skilled and adaptive, especially in areas you are passionate about, you increase your chances of getting noticed by the right people and landing that dream job.
The first senior PR professional I worked for was a guest speaker at my university. And because I reached out after the lecture and showed interest in his work, he offered me a job.
Needless to say, this approach works.
Since that time, he’s told me he liked the fact I had my own website, which encouraged me to keep going.
He also explained that job applicants with an active and relevant online presence (excluding Coachella pictures) are preferred – simply because they show skill in relevant areas: writing, website management, tweeting, video editing, and so on.
It doesn’t matter if you talk about PR, horses or vegan restaurants, your practical skills will be evident regardless.
You just need to start by thinking about what it is that you want to achieve.
Personally, I wanted to position myself to be as employable as I could while working towards my degree.
I’m a bit older than most students in my class, so I wanted to make sure I could leave with relevant experience (I graduate this year!).
My second goal was to build a network. I was fairly new in Melbourne (Australia) at the time and had few connections in my industry.
I reasoned that by participating in conversations about subjects I enjoy, I’d slowly create some recognition in the industry.
Set up a LinkedIn Profile
Whichever way you choose to go, I strongly recommend you create a LinkedIn profile.
It’s not necessary to be super-active if that’s not your thing, but fill it out properly and keep it up to date.
Future employers will Google you, and if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, it’s much harder for them to get an overview of your previous achievements.
Join Your Local PR Organisation
This is an excellent way to stay up to date with what is happening in your industry, and in your area.
In Australia, we have PRIA, which is free to join for students studying PR (at least at RMIT). If you are a graduate or new to the industry and don’t want to spend the $99 on membership, then follow PRIA on social media for updates and free content.
Being a member of an association or body also adds credibility to you as a practitioner and lets future employers know that you are serious about your professional development.
Choose Your Social Channels
You need to pick your social media channels carefully, but don’t try to do it all at once.
Find out where your industry is and start there – and think quality over quantity.
I received a tip from a senior professional to get myself onto Twitter, which has proven to be excellent advice.
On Twitter, you have the opportunity to engage with people you would never have the chance to talk to in real life. You also get a front row seat to watch how issues and stories in the media play out in real time.
Everyone has their own preferences so make sure you choose channels you enjoy engaging with.
Talk to Your Tutors and Guest Speakers
This may be the most underrated point of all.
I genuinely try to build good relationships with my tutors. Not only out of respect for their work, but because they’re extremely talented and well-connected.
If you need help or guidance, your tutor is the right person to speak with.
And this also ties in with your performance at university. I often hear younger students use the mantra: ‘P’s get degrees’ (P = pass or 50%)
…and sure, you will receive your degree even if you only just pass every assignment, but who are you fooling?
If you have a poor attitude towards the people most eager to help, you aren’t likely to receive any recommendations at the end of your course. In a profession like communication it also just makes sense to value your relationships and industry connections (such as guest speakers).
Many of the speakers visiting campus are highly respectable professionals and experts, who are quite ‘famous’ in their industry.
You just don’t know it yet.
My tip is to do some quick research on the speakers before you go to the lecture and engage them with a few questions afterward.
This point is probably the most relevant right now.
There is an extremely high demand for new and fresh content online. And guest blogging is a good way to gain a foothold.
Every magazine, blog, and website needs more quality content than they can produce themselves. This means it’s easier than ever to get them to publish your story.
It is helpful if you have your own blog or previous articles to showcase in your application, but it’s not a deal breaker.
As long as you can provide relevant and thought-provoking content, you’ll be a good candidate.
It’s then important that you find right channels or publications to target.
For example, if you have a website featuring Shetland ponies, then write for a horse magazine (this could then help you get a job in PR that relates to the horse industry– if that is your goal).
…but if you have an interest in e.g. communication, you’d be better off submitting your content to relevant industry sites, magazines or PR blogs.
Stay Up to Date with the Right Sources
This is a very important point that I first thought about after listening to an episode of the Spin Sucks Podcast: future employers will ask what you read, which blogs, magazines or newspapers.
When that happens, make sure your answer is something other than “I don’t have time to read.”
In order for you to keep up with the industry and adapt your skills and knowledge, you need to read (or listen) to relevant and credible sources.
…and this also means that once you find yourself at that PR conference, you’ll recognise industry leaders right away.
Tips for PR Students: Keep Educating Yourself
Look don’t freak out, but your education doesn’t end with your degree.
Expounding on the point above, learn about industry trends and changes and then adapt. You do learn a lot at university, but not everything.
For example, you may learn how to plan a social media campaign, but maybe not how to schedule posts on Facebook, or what tool to use for image editing.
Right now, there is so much free education online. And really, there is no excuse not to improve your skills on a regular basis.
Be curious! I learned the basics of Photoshop and InDesign at my first internship. And by practicing, I’m now a frequent user, which makes both my university assignments and job tasks much easier.
Whether you’re interested in Photoshop, Google Analytics, Instagram scheduling tools or podcast recordings, you can find tutorials on YouTube, Lynda (often free through your university library) or events such as MeetUps or seminars in your area.
These newfound skills will help you improve your online presence and your brand, as well as benefit you in your future place of employment.
Tips for PR Students: Create Your Own Website
Some people argue that you need to ‘own’ your content, i.e., host it on your website.
That way you are not relying on, for example, a social media platform that may or may not survive in the next few years.
I do agree with this strategy, but not everyone will be ready to launch a website the first thing they do. It’s a lot of work, and putting your name on a website can seem pretty daunting.
So I suggest starting where you are comfortable, and with channels you’re already using. Try writing a few longer posts or engaging with people you admire in your field and see how you go.
Once you’ve published some content and found your ‘voice’ or style, then it might be time to create your own website.
Don’t Put Too Much Pressure on Yourself
There is no point in turning your own brand into a ‘must-do’ or something that weighs you down. It should be fun and exciting.
Then plan what you want to publish on your channels. Create content in bulk, every night or every week, and schedule it.
TIP: If you have a website and feel pressured to keep publishing content, remove the date stamps from your posts, so the number of weeks/months between posts become less obvious (that’s what I’ve done since going back to uni). It takes some of the pressure off.
There are times when being visible can feel embarrassing or overwhelming.
Personally, I’m in a constant state of flux – with one part of me wanting to have my voice heard,
…and the other wanting to remove every last trace of my identity from the Internet and crawl into an anonymous cave forever.
In those times though, you just have to remember that you’re doing this for yourself.
It’s all so you can land that amazing job, have your article published in your favourite magazine or score an important internship.
Creating your own content is the most effective way to create a lil brand of your own. And as a result, improve your whole work experience.
…and just a final point, be humble.
As long as you don’t claim to be an expert or ‘thought leader’ (ugh), you can start publishing some stuff without worrying too much about it.
A version of this article was first published on Spin Sucks.