Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of NYU students working toward master’s degrees in public relations. While I firmly believe that the best PR education is gained through internships and on-the-job training, I do see a lot of the value in approaching public relations from an academic perspective.
I spoke for approximately 45 minutes, and left 15 minutes for Q&A. The professor of the class had given me a blank slate, inviting me to discuss whatever I felt was most pertinent to the students. I focused on two key areas: 1) media relations, which I believe is the single most important service that a PR agency provides; and 2) how to write an effective job application cover letter.
Guess which topic engendered more interest?
If you guessed #1, please go to the back of the class! It really should come as no surprise that those on the cusp of entering the job market would be most interested in how to get a job.
I showed the class three real cover letters, sent to us by would-be job applicants (not to worry: all the names were redacted to protect the innocent!). The letters were entitled, “poor cover letter,” “better cover letter,” and “good cover letter.” Notice that there wasn’t one entitled, “great cover letter.” The sad fact is that the overwhelming number of job applicants don’t know how to write a really good cover letter, which should include one overarching message—“what’s in it for me—the employer?” In other words, why—as a potential employer—should I care about your candidacy?
Most people—nearly everyone—gets this aspect wrong. Instead of stating what they could do for OUR agency and why they would be a good fit for OUR agency in particular, they generally discuss “me, myself, and I”—talking all about themselves: their experience, career aspirations and, sometimes, their skills. They may think that they’re following the correct format, but what they don’t consider is a potential employer receives scores of letters from candidates with similar skills and backgrounds. Employers can “help you develop your skills” and “enable you to grow professionally” but this isn’t a one-way street—we also want to know what you can do for us.
Here’s my advice: go to our website; read a few of our financial PR case studies; tell me how you can contribute to our growth and how you will use your skills to jump in and help us service our clients.
You (or your parents) have spent a tremendous amount of money on your education. Use the skills you’ve learned in college—research, writing, critical analysis, subject matter expertise—and leverage these in your cover letter and in answers you give in job interviews—regardless of whether the interview is a casual phone call or a more formal sit-down meeting.
The hard truth is that if you can’t position yourself effectively with a potential employer—which, in essence, is doing your own PR—then you’ve immediately demonstrated that you likely can’t effectively do PR for a company or organization.
However, if you make a good first impression—by telling the employer how you’re going to help them—chances are that you’ll stand out from the crowd and get your foot in the door with the company of your dreams—whether that company is Google, Apple, or the best company of all: Dukas Linden Public Relations (DLPR)!