The questions on the minds of every PR job seeker—and the answers!

Last Thursday, I had the honor to sit on a panel at a local Minnesota PRSA event around networking and the job search. Sitting on the panel with me were friends and colleagues Anna Liewicki-Long, Gillian Gabriel, and Paul Macabbee.

We tackled everything from the best questions to ask in an interview to what skills employers are looking for right now. (Video editing came up time and time again—remember my media producer post from a couple week’s ago?)

I thought I’d share some of the questions we didn’t get a chance to discuss during the panel—questions that are most likely on most job seekers’ minds these days.

How can a job seeker standout when submitting a résumé online through a company portal?

The short answer: You can’t.

The more complex answer: You can’t rely on the system. You have to find creative ways around the system. Largely that means finding a personal connection within the organization. Scroll through your LinkedIn connections. Is anyone connected with the person or person who might be hiring for this job? Also, think about creative ways to get noticed inside the company.

Two examples come to mind: Laura Gainor and her creative Foursquare campaign and slide deckthat scored her a job at Comet Branding (now Hanson Dodge Creative), and Stephanie Majercik, who wrote and produced a wonderful slide deck in which she compared herself to the many Disney princesses through the years. The deck focused on how Stephanie’s attributes and skills were similar to those of the many Disney princesses and how she could benefit her employers. Simple, but brilliant. And it made her stand out.

Agencies say they want agency experience, but what if a job seeker doesn’t have any? Is there any way around that?

Definitely. And I speak from experience on this one. Agencies want people with agency experience—it’s a culture thing. They need people that understand the “speed” of agency. They know how billing works and how to track their hours. All things you usually don’t have to worry about on the corporate side. But if you can demonstrate relevant and specific experience to the client or industry, they can and, in some cases, will overlook a lack of agency experience.

If a job description is asking for five years’ experience, but a job seeker only has three, do you suggest applying anyway? Why or why not?

Yes, apply. You never know what the employer is thinking.

Maybe the company didn’t know exactly what kind of experience it was looking for and just threw out a random number. Maybe it’s asking for more experience than it really needs. (Read: The company is doing it to weed people out.) Or maybe the HR team wants to ask for more experience, but the hiring managers really know they need someone with only three years’ experience.

It just never hurts to submit. I mean, what’s the worst thing that can happen? My advice: Alwaysapply for a job if you’re really interested and even remotely qualified for.

We know most jobs that come open aren’t posted publicly. We also know that networking is a key to unlocking those jobs. Any tips or advice for enhancing networking skills?

Stop thinking about “networking” as a series of episodes. Start thinking about it as a 24/365 part of your life.

Most people do the former. I’d highly suggest you start adopting a “culture of networking.” (Read Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone; it will probably change your outlook.) Doing so will take your career on a different trajectory. Also, master the art of the coffee meet-up. Start thinking strategically about your meet-up opportunities. They are the bread-and-butter—or cream-and-sugar, if you prefer—of your networking efforts.

How helpful is having an accreditation in public relations when you’re evaluating candidates for an opening?

To be honest, it depends on the position. If the hiring manager has an APR and believes in the value of it, then the accreditation holds a great degree of influence.

If the person holds an MBA from Northwestern and works on the corporate side, it won’t matter a lick.

At the very least, an APR designation signals that a given candidate took the time and energy to go through a fairly arduous process to become certified. So, I believe it does have value. But is it going to be a determining factor? Probably not. Is it a requirement for certain director and VP-level jobs (as the MBA often is)? Often, no.

This is probably part of a larger discussion, but in my view, the APR is much more about the journey than about the destination.

[Ed.’s note: See today’s PR Daily story, “3 benefits of earning your accreditation in PR.”

What’s the single most powerful thing a candidate can do to increase his or her allure to a potential employer?

Start a blog. It’s the No. 1 thing I tell most job seekers. It’s not the right strategy for everyone (except, perhaps, for senior-level folks; I’m not sure this makes all that much difference in most cases).

Not having a blog is a huge missed opportunity for job seekers. Here’s why:

• Google. When people search for your name, what do they find? If you don’t have a blog, they probably find your LinkedIn profile, your Facebook page, and a host of news releases you have written (which isn’t necessarily bad). But if you had a blog, it would most likely pop up first (after a short amount of time) in a search. Direct people where you want them to go.
• Thought leadership. A blog shows off your thinking skills. Employers want employees with ideas (especially on the agency side). A blog demonstrates those ideas in spades.
• Writing skills. What’s the one thing employers continually ask for in PR professionals? Writing skills. What better way to show those off than a blog full of posts written by you (and no one else, unlike those news releases we talked about before). Is that enough to persuade you to start a blog today?

How important is a candidate’s social media/online presence in the hiring process?

Googling candidates has become commonplace, we know that. We also know social profiles and properties (blogs) have a tendency to pop up on page one when employers are Googling. So, you tell me: How important is your online/social media presence if you’re on the job hunt?

What’s the one mistake you see most job seekers making on a continuous basis?

Many people I talk to are looking for a job. Not the job. Be the person who’s looking for the job.


First and foremost, it makes it easier for people to help you (and they do want to help). Think about that networking event you’re attending next week. If someone asks you what you’re looking for, what do you tell them? If you’re like most, you describe the position you’re looking for in terms of industry, years of experience, and skill set. That’s a fine way to go about it, put it doesn’t make it easy for the friend, colleague, or family member to help you. It’s too broad.

Now, think about what might happen if you said: “I’m really looking for a job at Mayo Clinic working on their Public Affairs team. I think my broad public affairs experience and passion for health care would be a perfect fit.”

Now, as a friend, I know exactly how to help you. See the difference?

Not to mention, it narrows and focuses your efforts. When you’re looking for “a job” you’re taking a somewhat scattershot approach. When you’re focused on three to five employers you’re taking all your time and energy and putting it into finding a way into those companies.

Now, this approach may take more time, but I think it pays off in the end because you’re in a job where you can stay awhile (a career)—not a place where you might start looking again inside six months.

Those are my tips, based on questions I hear all the time from job seekers. What others do you have?

Arik C. Hanson is the principal of ACH Communications in Minnesota. He blogs at Communications Conversations, where a version of this story first appeared.


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