With college students heading back to campus, I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with a young professional working part-time in broadcasting promotions while yearning to work “in her major” – PR, specifically, media relations. She did just one internship in college, right before she graduated. It was in broadcasting promotions. The station hired her, part-time, right after graduation and now she feels stuck.
As someone who believes strongly in the need to feel enthused about your career from time time you wake up each morning, I have sympathy for her situation. But there’s nothing I could do but be honest with her. She’s going to have a next-to-impossible time finding a full-time job, with benefits, in media relations or any form of PR. That’s because of one simple fact that every college student interested in communications must understand – coming out of school, given what has happened economically in this country in recent years, nobody is going to pay you – especially with a full-time salary and benefits – to do something you have never done before. That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news – you don’t need a license or to pass a standardized exam to get an opportunity in this business while you’re still in school. But you do need to put down the beer and work some contacts (or the school’s contacts) and find an internship. Do the internship as early in school as you can. Then, do another internship in a different side of the industry. Get credit for your internships in lieu of taking classes.
The best internships are not entry-level jobs for graduates who only went to class for four years. They are for current students and give them a chance to sample new experiences, build relationships and, perhaps most important, find out what they really like doing for work. Class assignments can only simulate work. To find out what you like, you have to do it. A good internship provides a safe environment to experiment and grow.
In communications, it has always been the case. But now, more than ever, it has become imperative. In PR, no firm wants to spend its clients’ money training someone with just a high GPA. But every firm should want pros who are proven successes, at some level, in this business.
If you won’t take my word for it, ask another Friedman, Thomas, of the New York Times. As he said at the Mackinac Policy Conference earlier this year, “The credo of the C.E.O. today is: “You only hire someone — anywhere — if you absolutely have to…” The way you make a company have to hire you is by using your relationships to market your skill set, something you can’t develop solely in classrooms.