Public Relations Tactics

Life After College: How to Attract Potential Employers

May 1, 2017

Culp and Kotcher [john elsasser]
Culp and Kotcher [john elsasser]

“This is what you’re facing and why you have to set yourself apart,” said Ron Culp, Fellow PRSA, as he presented a list featuring the names of every person who had responded to a Chicago PR agency’s recent entry-level job announcement. The paper, once fully unrolled, was so long that it spanned all the way from Culp’s hands to the floor below.

During the second installment of PRSSA's “Life After College” webinar series on April 5, Culp, the director of the graduate program in public relations and advertising at DePaul University, spoke with Ray Kotcher, Fellow PRSA, non-executive chairman of Ketchum and professor at Boston University’s College of Communication.

According to Culp, the outlook for anyone pursuing a job in public relations is more positive than it’s been in recent years. But as the demand for talent increases, so does the competition.

“A lot of people immediately become intimidated and say, ‘I can’t do it,’” said Culp, who co-wrote the 2014 book “Business Essentials for Strategic Communicators.” “I look at it as a challenge — how do I set myself apart?”

He offered the following advice on how students should prepare for the progression from college to the real world:

Sharpen your literacy skills

Citing a PR Council survey of agency leaders, Culp said the ability to write is the most important skill that a young professional can bring to the table, followed by business savviness.

“Agencies are not as tolerant as they used to be,” he said. “We don’t have time for editors — that’s overhead. You have to be really good at writing.”

Culp also emphasized how pivotal it is for PR professionals to be well read and aware of what’s going on in the business world, telling a story about a CEO who once reprimanded him for not consuming that day’s Wall Street Journal.

To keep your reading skills and knowledge of trends sharp, Culp recommends scanning through the “What’s News” section of the Journal every day. He also implores students to pick a brand they may be interested in and follow it for a year, keeping up with the earnings releases and corporate announcements.

“I didn’t try and go too broad in my business understanding,” said Culp, who has monitored brands such as Kellogg, Starbucks and Target, at different times. “I wanted to really zero in.”

Write a personal statement

Culp talked extensively about how important it is to maintain a strong LinkedIn presence — he recommended updating your profile once per month and making sure that your page isn’t just a duplicate of your résumé.

He also suggested that students write a terse, thoughtful personal statement on LinkedIn because it’s valuable to be able to explain who you are to a prospective employer.

“Résumés are scanned quickly,” said Culp. “If someone drills down into your LinkedIn profile, they’re going to want a personal story.” 

Tout your extracurricular work

“When I was running the Ketchum office and we were looking at résumés — and we spent about seven seconds [reading each one] — I’d go right to what they’re involved in,” said Culp. “And if it says ‘PRSSA,’ especially if they had a leadership position in their Chapter, it’s a résumé I’m going to come back to. It automatically separates you from the rest of the pack.”

Culp doesn’t just value PR organizations on résumé. He appreciates any extracurricular activity that displays passion and dedication, regardless of whether it’s volunteering or participating in Greek life.

And in some situations, involvement outside the classroom can foster promising career opportunities, he said.

“I can count on one hand how many students show up to meetings for the Publicity Club of Chicago,” said Culp. “When they show up, they’re noticed. Next thing you know, intern relationships are formed. You have to be physically present and engaged.”

Dean Essner

Dean Essner is the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications. A former resident of Washington, D.C., he holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English from the University of Maryland. Email: dean.essner@prsa.org.


Email: dean.essner at prsa.org

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