Graduates in a spin

16 Aug

We’re in a recession, with high levels of youth unemployment. And yet the PR industry’s demand for bright young people appears to be insatiable. Each summer I find there are more employers asking me to recommend good candidates than there are graduates desperately seeking opportunities.

I’ve been teaching public relations in universities for ten years, yet even I’ll admit that a degree is not enough (and a PR degree is still not essential). So how are employers to select the right candidates?

A degree indicates something. It should indicate curiosity and an ability to learn, and this is easily assessed at interview by asking about current affairs (or sport or popular culture).

Good candidates should also have gained some experience (many degree courses expect students to spend a year on an industrial placement and there are many other chances to gain short-term work experience). If nothing else, work experience shows a candidate’s dedication and networking skills.

They will also have the right attitude. While I’d warn against hiring perfectionists, good candidates will be doers and triers. They should have something to show for their time outside the classroom and the workplace. Have they written for online magazines? Do they have their own blog? What about their presence on social networks? What about their offline activities (team sports, volunteering and so on)?

For the past two years, I’ve run a national ranking of UK PR students judged by their social media influence metrics (Klout and PeerIndex). While such metrics are a work in progress, this is arguably a better measure of PR potential than a degree classification.

Then there’s the question of change. We’re not educating young people for the PR industry of 20 years ago, but for a different world of 20 years from now. There’s been a shift from traditional media skills (press release writing and AVEs) to broader online engagement (community management and stakeholder relationship management).

Media skills are a PR tactic and these change with time and circumstances. What doesn’t change is the need for public relations advisers to help organisations to communicate, develop relationships, protect reputation and help avoid risks and crises. Risk and issues management – not media relations – is ultimately the distinguishing characteristic and distinct domain of the public relations consultant.

That sounds like a discipline that merits some serious study.

This article was first published on the PRCA blog.

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