Public Relations Tactics

Survey Explores Knowledge and Abilities of Entry-Level Pros

November 1, 2017

As the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that individuals between the ages of 16 and 34 will comprise nearly 24 percent of the workforce by 2024, it’s becoming more important for management to understand the knowledge and abilities of their entry-level professionals.

A joint research study by the Institute for Public Relations and PRSA released on Oct. 18 found that new professionals have a wide range of expertise — along with some noticeable gaps — in knowledge, skill and ability (KSAs) in core areas such as writing, web design and social media use. In total, 400 professionals with five years or less of experience participated in this survey.

“Identifying the core capabilities and gaps in the industry’s entry-level practitioners is critical to ensuring that we have the best workforce we can in the profession,” said Tina McCorkindale, APR, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations.

The survey also polled new professionals on their “grit” and “emotional intelligence,” two areas that have received wide attention in business but have rarely been applied to public relations.

“Hiring managers continue to tell us that they evaluate new professionals based on their skills, grit and emotional intelligence,” said Laura Kane, chief communications officer of PRSA. “These insights provide us with a road map for rolling out professional development opportunities for current and future members.”

Here are three major takeaways from the survey:

1. New professionals want training — if their employers will help pay for it.

Nearly all respondents (98 percent) said they would be more open to learning new skills if their employers paid for all or part of their training. More than three-fourths of respondents (81 percent) said their employer’s funding of professional development — or lack of it —was a significant factor in their decision to stay at their organizations over the next year. And 55 percent said they personally pay for training programs to learn new skills.

“It’s clear that these professionals are willing to learn new skills, especially if paid for by their employer, which is great news for the profession,” said McCorkindale.

The top-five methods that respondents said they were willing to use to close their KSA gaps were: internal training programs (79 percent), seminars and workshops (78 percent), webinars (76 percent), professional organizations (75 percent) and industry conferences (74 percent).

2. New professionals are confident as writers and communicators, but not as business practitioners. 

Entry-level professionals identified themselves as “having advanced levels of knowledge” in multiple areas of writing, critical thinking and public speaking, while rating their research capabilities and environmental scanning abilities as low. The results related to social media platforms for business use were mixed.

PR professionals did not feel confident in their business skills either, with financial relations and stakeholder analysis appearing in the first and third slots, respectively, on their list of “Top 10 Lowest Ranked Skills and Abilities.”

3. New professionals struggle with their emotional intelligence.

The survey showed that women regard themselves as “grittier than men,” with grit defined as “perseverance or passion for long-term goals.” However, compared to previous studies on perseverance and tenacity, both female and male professionals rated themselves lower on their ability to “work strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over the years, despite failure, adversity and lack of progress.”

The study also gauged respondents’ emotional intelligence, which includes these four factors: self-control, sociability, well-being and emotionality. Entry-level professionals rated themselves the lowest in this area, saying they find it difficult to recognize their internal emotional states and to express their feelings to others.


Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

Not particularly surprising as a recently-retired Curry College COM/PR professor, but still concerning. I would argue, especially as relates to item # 2, that we (teachers) should encourage/push/require our students to become comfortable with "business-think." Public relations isn't "fluff-and-stuff." PR is a means of helping businesses connect with/relate to their target audiences. Meaningful internships will help students develop an understanding of this and (hopefully) greater confidence level as a communicator.

Nov. 9, 2017

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