Last week my better half Adrienne Wallace and I spoke with Grand Valley State University’s Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and offered some advice on how students should network with public relations professionals. Networking is critical to virtually any profession, but it’s particularly important in PR given how much of the job is social (connecting not only with prospective employers, but media contacts, and colleagues who can be great resources one may need for projects).
If you’re a PR student and you’re not networking and taking internships (ie building work experience) – you’ll have a very hard time finding employment when you graduate. While job posting platforms like Monster, Indeed, Linkedin, Beyond, CareerBuilder, Brazen Careerist and PRSA’s Job Center are great resources – the vast majority of jobs are not posted anywhere and are acquired based on who you know.
Here’s the gist of what we told them in case any other students find it to be helpful:
Part 1: Networking Online
It’s 2011 – if you don’t have an online presence you may as well be scrawling your resume on cuneiform tablets. Here are some practices you should seriously consider:
1a) Determine your Online Strategy (just like any other important project in public relations). That means asking yourself some questions that will help focus your efforts:
- What kind of job do I want?
(This will help you identify specific sites, people and practices you’ll want to consider when you’re setting up your online presence and looking for people to meet. Designers, for example, have many platforms specifically designed just to post online portfolios and meet other designers, employers and clients. Media Relations pros have myriad tools to connect with journalists online, like participating in the #journchat tweetchat on Twitter.)
- What kind of industry to I want to work in?
(Nonprofit or for profit? Education, Automotive, Fashion, Politics? – All of those widely-varying areas have different groups and forums to connect with.)
- What kind of location (or culture) do I want to work in?
(Understanding the environment you want to work in will help you narrow down where you’ll concentrate your efforts and the tone you’ll use when you’re communicating with other professionals. For every major metro area, there are location-based groups you can participate in. Similarly, the Investor Relations world is much more formal than, say, the Entertainment world – so you’ll need to publish content that is more professionally/formally-written in the former than the latter.)
1b) Now that you’ve given some thought – consider your social networking options:
- Establish presences on the basics. (For Public Relations, Twitter is by far the most important social networking tool to use – followed closely by Linkedin and Facebook)
- Develop presences on interest or geography-specific sites.
2) Get some professional head shots.
Virtually every single social networking platform gives you an opportunity to make a first impression based on the profile image you use.
It seems superficial, but all of us are visually-oriented and we look at profile photos first before we look at other information about a person. We also draw a number of conclusions about someone based on their photo. Well-done head shots can be a great way to make an impression and to add some of your personality to your online identity.
Head shots don’t have to be expensive either – virtually all of us know someone who is a hobbyist photographer who would be willing to take some shots of us for a small fee (or free).
3) Find your name and brand yourself.
Fortunately search engines make it easy for people to find us online, however it’s still important to have a single name people can use to find your profiles and content. That means you’ll want to keep your name consistent from your Facebook vanity URL to your Blog to your Twitter alias.
Tools like namechk.com allow you to speed up the process by letting you check dozens of social networking platforms to see if the name you want is already taken.
4) Create a landing page.
The easiest way to develop an online presence is with a simple landing page (a simple form of website) that will allow you to tie together all of your other presences so that they’re easy to find for prospective employers, clients and colleagues. There are a variety of services that offer free or low-cost web hosting with easy-to-use tools for creating a profile website. They also offer domain registration and simple analytics tools so you can understand who is visiting your site and where they’re coming from.
5) Create your social media profiles. (Start with Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook and add others if you have time).
6) Tie everything together with RSS.
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) has become a standard for pushing content from one place to another. Every Twitter account automatically creates an RSS feed of the user’s tweets that can be used in a variety of ways (the same is true of virtually every blogging service and even some social networking sites). Landing page providers can automatically (and easily) aggregate the RSS feeds of your various presences into your landing page so it becomes a portal to all of your work.
The goal is that you let people find the rest of your content no matter which of your sites they find first.
7) Publish stuff.
You now have a chance to speak to prospective employers. USE IT. In your spare time you need to be blogging, tweeting, posting, liking, curating, and sharing content with the goal of creating a big footprint for people to find when they’re searching the web (or receiving recommendations on content from social networking algorithms).
Use your skills and personal interests as a guide in what to publish. Write a blog. Participate in tweetchats (a great list is available at bit.ly/chatlist). Share photos. Curate news articles in your field. Publish video. Do SOMETHING.
Part 2: Networking In Real Life (IRL)
While the digital world is important – you have a chance to make a far stronger impression and meet people who aren’t necessarily plugged in online at networking events in the “real world.” In every community there are numerous professional groups that hold regular events that are great opportunities for networking. Many are free, or in most cases they have less expensive rates for students to attend.
TAKE THESE OPPORTUNITIES: they can be the difference between starting a new career OR moving back home with mom & dad when you graduate.
Here are some ways to maximize the time you spend networking in person:
1) Prepare a Toolkit for Events. Don’t go in blind – have some things ready to go when you go out into the world to network:
- Professional Presence: It’s something your parents told you – but that doesn’t make it outmoded. Dress formally and make sure you’re looking your best. Bring breath mints or gum.
- Business Cards: Just because you’re a student doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have business cards. There are a variety of services (Vistaprint, Moo, iPrint, Zazzle, etc.) that allow you to print small runs of professional business cards you can use to list your website, email address, or Twitter alias. Make up a job title for yourself. Get creative with the design. Have fun with them – they can make you memorable.
- Your Online Presence: You have to have something to put ON the business cards, after all.
- Notes: Bring something to take notes with. You can go ‘analog’ with a notebook and pen, or ‘digial’ with an app like Evernote – jot down some notes about the people you meet and topics you cover. That information is easily forgotten in the moment otherwise – and it can be a goldmine in terms of inspiring blog posts or tweets, and in giving you a way to remind professionals how they know you.
- Information for Small Talk: Not everyone has the gift of gab, but if you do some prep before the event you can have some valuable information to share with the people you meet. Keeping up on current events (particularly related to public relations) and reading up about the event or speaker can give you an edge when talking to other professionals (who don’t always have time to study up like they should).
2) Behaviors to Practice.
- Bring your personality.
- Don’t sit with people you know.
- Introduce yourself as a student to everyone you meet.
- Write down ppl you meet and topics you talk about.
- Friend/follow them (on Linkedin, twitter, etc.) immediately after (whenever possible, customize friend / connection requests using your notes to help remind the person where you met).
- Send hand-written thank you notes to people who help you professionally.