Moving Up in PR: Career Advice for Junior-Level Candidates

PR on paper

What’s the current status of jobs in the PR field?
We’ve already established the fact that the industry has a high turnover rate; on Friday, Laurent Lawrence of the PRSA gave us some very solid theories regarding the why behind that fact.
Yet we’ve also heard from both younger readers who find it difficult to break into the field and from college grads who can’t seem to find the right position due to a perceived lack of experience.
We spoke to Courtney Lukitsch, principal and founder at Gotham Public Relations, to learn more about how she approaches the hiring process and what she thinks young, ambitious professionals need to do to advance.
What qualities do you look for in an ideal junior PR candidate?

Truthfully, PR is a temperament in addition to a solutions-oriented skillset that continues to evolve with experience. From an Agency perspective, a junior prospect should be eager, very smart, have a few internships under their belt, and approach me with specific questions about the industry and the practice. Ideally that person will have done their research prior to contacting Gotham PR about our clients and their position in the global marketplace.
I appreciate tenacity, the number one trait for PR pros. A solid educational background is essential since we work with high-profile media and clients who expect a certain level of awareness. Follow-up, flexibility and intellectual curiosity are attractive qualities that are great compliments to someone who has an honest interest in the industry and is well-read. The basics are still paramount: writing ability along with verbal and social skills.

A typical job posting asks for several years’ worth of experience. What are some ways aspiring PR pros can boost their resumes?

A progressive number of internships in the industry is helpful. For an individual, parlaying journalism, business, marketing, advertising, branding and sales work and crossing over into PR is also appealing. Being deadline-driven and research-based in essence, that individual will already have an interest in pitching news stories and producing special industry and press events.
If that individual is truly aspiring, they will find ways to work and volunteer and surround themselves with individuals to learn with and from, as well as opportunities to progressively grow. Networking is the best way to find a great door-opening experience that might be pivotal to getting hired. Joining the local TEDx or PR Meet-Up yield contacts and dividends too.

How relevant are majors beyond the basic PR experience?

A business or marketing degree, particularly at the Masters level, is appealing for the junior to midlevel candidate, given the proclivity toward research skills, focus on invested hours and desired outcome — in general, a commitment to succeed on a defined career path.

How would you describe the learning curve for young PR pros? How does it differ at “corporate” versus “creative” agencies?

In larger corporate environments, there is an emphasis on team learning whereas in start-up or creative environments, the lean nature of the company structure allows for junior team members to assume more responsibility and to report directly to the top decision maker. That is a tremendous learning experience.
Ideally, candidates will explore both environments and learn from both good and bad experiences while holding very competitive PR positions. Agency principals and partners tend to nurture employees with both sets of experience. These individuals are generally well-rounded and know how to troubleshoot in varied company cultures and complicated media, marketing and client-side business development situations.

What advice would you provide to junior candidates seeking entry-level jobs? How can they make the best impression during interviews?

Always ask questions; it indicates a solid interest in the Agency. Research the firm’s clients, case studies and culture in advance to assess the right fit. Explain upfront what can be added from your prospective employment at the Agency, rather than what the Agency will do. Demonstrate specifically why you want the job. Always follow up. Saying Thank You–both verbally and in writing–is imperative and makes a good impression.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.