Generally speaking, markeTING is not an advice column, but I have endless experience dealing with graduating students and out-of-work professionals. I could share a thousand war stories; instead, here is some in-your-face advice for both categories of job seekers. I offer it because I care:
1. Be prepared. Don't wait until you are out of school or out of work to get ready. Long before the magical/cursed day arrives you must document your experiences and collect work samples and develop a resume that make you stand out from the crowd. And if you don't have experience and work samples and a resume, then stop what you are doing, go get them and come back later.
2. Know what you are doing. If you are certain you want to be in the PR industry working for an agency, then visit a few agencies (not just the web sites) and meet a few people and conduct a couple of interviews. Then, go visit a couple of corporate PR departments. Then go visit a couple ad agencies and other strains of communications and marketing firms. Get some first hand knowledge before taking the plunge. Geez, we do more research before we buy a mountain bike then we do looking for a job. Getting work is a full time job. Get to it.
3. Craft a solid resume. Assuming you've done the internships and the summer jobs and the school volunteer work or have actual post-grad experience, then lay it out in a resume that gets to the point and makes a point (not a random listing of things you've done). Stylizing it or having it designed is fine, but it is the content that counts.
4. Craft a meaningful letter. Whether you use the pony express or e-mail doesn't make a twit of difference. Write a good letter. Address it to the proper person, spell his or her name correctly, get the company name right, be interesting, be accurate and include a call to action. Oh, and take a minute to proof the letter.
5. For the love of God, follow up on your letter. I don't care how many people tell you not to call them; call them. We receive hundreds of resumes every month, but less than a half dozen follow up calls. Even if you are the reincarnation of Edward Bernays or a second cousin to Ivy Lee, we are not likely to have the time to call you. It's not personal, we are just really busy.
6. Ask for an interview. I get it, no one is hiring. So what? Ask for an informational interview. Don't be so arrogant or timid or lazy or whatever. Set up an appointment to meet with someone (anyone) in order to learn something and make a contact and begin to build a network.
7. Care. Don't act like you care. Don't pretend. Care. Show a little enthusiasm, a little excitement. Ask questions, show samples, talk about your experiences, discuss your ambitions, make an effort.
8. Be professional. You know the old saying: dress for the job you want, not the one you have. The same is true for your behavior. If you want a job, behave like you already have the job. Be on time, be personable, show respect, get to the point, be honest, be intelligent, be grateful, demonstrate your grit.
9. For the love of God (again), follow up. Whether you talk on the phone or meet in person, follow up. Make a phone call, send a note, drop an email. Just follow up. And have a purpose beyond "thank you." Report back on what you learned, ask for more advice, request the opportunity for a day of shadowing, get more leads. Make the time count for something.
10. Use your friends and family. Ordinarily I would not offer such advice; I am not the type to take advantage of friends and family, BUT... There is nothing (not a thing) wrong with taking advantage of your contacts (mom, dad, uncle Bob, the guy next door, etc.) to create an opportunity. Ask them if they can give you references or refer you. Put your pride away and recognize that the only favor anyone is doing for you is opening a door. At the end of the day you have to do all the work and you will be judged on your own merit.
It is okay to pray, but I believe we make our own luck. Someone once said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity (Seneca?); I agree. Open your eyes.