It's an exciting time for the thousands of students from across the UK and Ireland who are packing their bags and getting ready to head off to University in September. If you're one of the lucky ones who's about to embark on a PR or communications degree, Clearbox's John Megaughin has some some tips for using Uni as a springboard to launch your PR career.
In the midst of the excitement of new housemates, student loans and endless nights out, it can be easy to forget that in three or four short years, it'll be time to start working in the world of PR. It's a path I've been down myself personally, when I went to Leeds in 2002 to do a degree in Public Relations. If your University experience is anything like mine, you're about to have the time of your life. However, while you're having a ball, it's also a great time to start making plans that will serve you well when the time comes to get a job. Here are some tips for making the most of your time at University.
Probably the most important thing you can do is to consume media. Understand what the press write about, how different publications craft their stories. Become familiar with the days that supplements run in print, when features appear online. Know what bloggers love to write about, and take note of what they don't cover. If you can spend a small part of your Uni week browsing and consuming all forms of media, you'll develop an understanding of the news agenda and how it changes over time. This understanding will stick with you for the rest of your career.
Most students at University will have some free time during the week, between classes or on days off. Use this time wisely - get a placement. Write to companies you're interested in or local businesses where you think you could add value and offer your services. If you manage to secure experience, keep a record of everything you do in a portfolio - it'll come in really handy to show prospective employers in the future.
It's not just the experience that will benefit you - but the contacts you make could also stay with you for a long time. I did my first work placement in 2002 and I'm still in contact with some of the PR people and media from way back then.
If you're at University in Northern Ireland and you fancy a placement with Clearbox, drop me an email :-)
Do a placement year
If there's an option on your course to take a year out and get a job, I'd highly recommend it. Industrial placement schemes are run by many blue chip companies and PR agencies across the UK & Ireland, offering a very real and beneficial taste of what it's like to work in the industry. It's a paid job where you'll build on any placements you've done during your studies. If there's a company or agency you're particularly interested in working for, get in touch direct. Lots of PR people I know have gone back to their placement job on a permanent basis after graduating so it's definitely worth considering.
Develop extra skills
The world of PR has changed beyond recognition since I graduated in 2006. The industry covers a much wider remit than ever before, and if you're able to develop additional skills during your course then you should do it. Photography, graphics, video production or web design are just some of the skills that will come in handy during your career and will make you super-employable. You don't have to be an expert in any of it, but if you know the basics of putting together a Wordpress site or editing an image in Photoshop, you'll shoot to the top of the recruitment queue.
I have to hold my hands up here - this isn't something I did when I was a student. However, I'm now a member of both organisations and can see the huge benefits of joining up. The CIPR offers free membership for students so give it a go. It's also worth trying to get onto your local CIPR committee as a student ambassador, where you'll meet senior PR professionals and get an insight into local agencies and brands.
Above everything else, enjoy yourself and use your time wisely - it'll serve you well for the rest of your working life.
(image via Daily Mail)