What are PR firms looking for in today’s entry-level employees?
We recently interviewed Rosemary Ostmann, CEO and president of RoseComm, an independent, boutique strategic communications firm. She was named “PR Professional of the Year” by the New Jersey chapter of the Public Relations Society of America in October 2020. An industry veteran with over 25 years of experience, we caught up with her on what agencies want most in new hires.
Tell me about the skills you want a recent grad to have.
Most of the recent graduates we hire have degrees in Communications, Journalism or English. The common thread is written communication. We always ask our finalist candidates to do a writing test that includes a pitch letter and a news release. Their performance on this basic task speaks volumes about whether they’ve learned how to position a client’s news as a story worth covering. Many college students are also picking up skills in visual storytelling – such as photography and graphics – that are increasingly important for our clients. Finally, most of our work involves both traditional and social media channels. An understanding of how to use and leverage technology platforms and measurement tools is also important – think social listening, analytics and social media management.
How has the shift to “working from home” impacted the public relations field?
Right now the priority is keeping people healthy and we’re fortunate to work in an industry where we can be just as productive and effective regardless of where we happen to be sitting. The labor market isn’t particularly competitive because people are less inclined to change jobs in the middle of a pandemic. As such, most of us are collaborating with the teams we worked with in a physical office setting. There’s built-in camaraderie and trust. When we’re in growth mode again and companies need to recruit, train and onboard new employees, I think we’re going to realize just how difficult it can be to do that remotely. And the entry-level employees are the ones who will suffer most because they need the mentorship that is difficult to replicate in a virtual scenario. As employers, we need to get creative to ensure they are engaged and learning during this critical stage of their careers.
Has what you’re looking for in a candidate changed given the current pandemic? Do recent grads need to position themselves differently now for this new normal?
I would recommend job seekers focus on two key factors: initiative and accountability. The age-old phrases “self-starter” and “team player” are more important than ever. You need to show a prospective employer that you will take initiative and bring a sense of ownership to your work. Highlight experiences on your resume where you’ve come up with an idea and made it happen with little to no supervision. From there, it’s critical you demonstrate that you will communicate clearly with your teammates about the status of your assignments. Speak up early if you have questions; flag any issues you’re facing; and, provide meaningful updates as you go! The potential employer needs to see that you understand you’re part of a team that’s relying on you.
What is an immediate turn off for you when reviewing resumes and cover letters?
I know there’s a debate about whether cover letters are a thing of the past. For PR professionals, we think they are critical. Our work is based on the ability to craft stories that are powerful and credible … and that change attitudes and behaviors. Take the time to tell your own story in a way that differentiates you and makes the employer want to interview you. We often dismiss applicants who haven’t taken the time to include a cover letter when applying for an open position.
Agency life is undoubtedly fast-paced and client needs can change quickly. What are the most important traits job seekers need to thrive in this type of environment?
I recently interviewed a person who is finishing a graduate degree in strategic communications. She was prepared with excellent questions. One was how to deal with difficult clients or a boss who doesn’t support your ideas. In addition to flexibility and adaptability, which are required in any agency setting, I think it’s important to learn patience and diplomacy early in your career. If you take the time to prove yourself and build your credibility over time, you will be more successful selling your ideas or pushing back when you don’t agree with someone else’s. With the rise of digital communications and remote working arrangements, I also worry that professional relationships will suffer. Much of my agency’s success is due to the networking I’ve done for last 25 years. Human connections are everything in this business.
What is your number one tip for helping a recent grad getting an interview at a firm like RoseComm?
A little research goes a long way. Take the time to learn about the firm, the people who work there and the clients they represent. The information is so readily available that not doing so says you aren’t the kind of person who takes initiative. Just because a platform like Indeed makes it easy to submit a resume without much thought doesn’t mean that’s the right approach. In our experience, the ones who do the homework — and show it in their application — stand out from the vast majority who don’t. And get the interview.
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