Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Graduates need not apply?

Fresh faced and ambitious, many new graduates are embarking on the search for work within the exciting arena of PR this summer, but what are their prospects within the current climate?

This time last year, PR Week reported record numbers of graduates coming into the industry which was very encouraging at the time – after all, these are the account managers of the future. However, with the economic outlook challenging for companies across the board, the problem now is that there simply aren’t enough jobs out there. PR certainly hasn’t been immune. To put this in context, a recent survey from the Association of Graduate Recruiters found that there were 48 applications for every graduate vacancy. Within the competitive PR industry, this is much higher (our latest graduate position was responded to by 80 applicants), so the prospects for university leavers aren’t looking too healthy.

That said, I don’t think that the outlook for graduates is quite so bleak and would encourage any students reading this not to be disheartened. If anything, the trials and tribulations of gaining a first foot on the PR ladder will stand you in good stead for the trials and tribulations of life as a PR practitioner. As the old adage says, ‘what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.’

In my view, university leavers need to be realistic. We would all love to fall into our dream job straight away and start earning the wages that make our student loan look like peanuts. However, what the graduates of today are facing is competition from their professional elders who have been unfortunate to find themselves out of work and who need to go for positions further down the ladder just to keep doing what they love.

For all new recruits, experience, commitment and a strong work ethic are the order of the day. Many universities offering PR related degrees are now placing a much stronger emphasis on work experience throughout the three years – this is crucial in building an understanding of the PR world outside of the lecture hall and will set students up with the all-important contacts that could be invaluable once the degree results are in. With that being said, it can be a ‘chicken-and-the-egg’ scenario, as students can only gain relevant experience if agencies give them the opportunity in the first place, so a little understanding on both parts is needed.

Four years ago today, I joined WPR just one month after getting my degree results and whilst I was very fortunate to find the right company with a junior executive position available, I hope my personal experience helps new graduates to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, PR is as hotly-pursued a career as ever and each agency has a different protocol when it comes to recruiting students for work experience or graduates for junior positions, but the industry needs fresh blood in order to keep its finger on the pulse. This is more relevant than ever with the growth of viral, digital and social networking possibilities and graduates would do well to understand the skills they can bring to the fore.

Whilst some agencies have put the brakes on graduate recruitment, others have been unaffected and to be successful in the search for work now, adaptability and versatility is key. If you can’t get a placement with a PR agency when still at university, widen the net and consider other aspects of the media; after all, journalists, researchers and design agencies need PR’s and PR’s need them. The most important thing is that you DO something that will help demonstrate your skills and appreciation of PR to a prospective employer.

To achieve stand out, show you understand the company and the career you are pursuing, and you never know, you could be the right graduate at the right time.


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