Sunday, March 21, 2010

Digital Boot Camp for PR Students

How to prepare and stand out for your first job interview

It's March and PR students are anxiously looking for internships and first job opportunities. They are facing a tough job market and unsure about how to make the best impression on employers. Much of what they have learned comes from text books that are probably 15 years old. Because these students were born in a digital world they intuitively understand that this is an important skill, but they are looking for practical advice on how to develop and demonstrate these digital communication skills.

I spoke at a Public Relations Student Society of America regional conference on Friday about environmental scanning - a big word for monitoring and digesting the conversation. Interns and new employees are often asked to do daily monitoring and coverage reports. The reason a team may be hiring an intern is likely because they need help with this time-consuming task. A way to quickly shine in the interview is to show that you understand and regularly use these online conversation monitoring tools.

Here are some of the points I shared with students to help them demonstrate their digital skills:

1. Develop a daily media diet
- Is this guy telling me to watch TV and surf the Internet? Yes! Unless you understand what the major media outlets are saying, how they work and the way they develop stories, you will never be able to monitor them effectively. Select a major daily, a TV news program and a few outlets that you really like. Read them everyday. Be prepared in your interview to list the news outlets you read each day. I've been reading the Wall Street Journal daily since my Communications 101 teach forced me to subscribe more than a decade ago (a lot more than a decade).

2. Monitor Twitter using TweetDeck - You can't really follow any meaningful conversations on Twitter.com. You need a tool that lets you search on specific topics. Before you interview, learn what clients you may be working on and then monitor everything said about them for a week. In a very short period of time, you will have a good take on the tone of the conversation and may be able to suggest some easy ways the team can engage with the Twitterverse.

3. Use Facebook and other social media sites - Being digitally savvy requires hundreds of hours of practical experience. When you want to learn to ride a bike, you don't get on it for 30 minutes a month. You ride that bike every single day. Even if you are socializing with friends on Facebook, you are learning the social norms and rules of the digital world. I ask every employee I interview if they use Facebook or other social networks to see if they already have these skills. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to teach someone to think digitally so I really need to know if they have those skills already.

Some people advise students to scrub their profiles of all their photos and activities before they start a job hunt. I advise students to be human. Show your personality and be responsible. If you want people to think you are serious then look like a serious person online. I know you do stuff other than PR on the weekends and it is fun get to know you through social media.

4. Develop your voice and build a following
- But I'm just a student - No one wants to hear from me! If you are active in PRSSA and you are about to graduate, you probably have a lot of experience that someone in their first two years of school would love to hear. Maybe a long form blog is not right for you right now, but a shorter form blog on Posterous or even Twitter could be interesting. If you really want to be able to show employers that you can advise clients, then you should practice by developing your own content. That can be writing, photos, Tweets or videos.

5. Master a few other services - If you are going to be monitoring the online conversation, take some time to learn these tools too. Your less digital colleagues will be grateful when you join the team and help them save hours a week.
  • Topsy - Tracks Tweets that include links to stories about your clients. Great for counting the reach of a story on Twitter.
  • Muckrack - Aggregates journalists that are using Twitter. Great way to find interesting people to follow.
  • ScoutLabs - Super easy digital monitoring service. Free trial is enough time to learn it and allow you to prepare for you interview.
  • My6Sense - iPhone app that pulls in all of your RSS feeds, Twitter followers and Facebook friends and then automagically sorts them to put the interesting ones at the top. Great way to consume more media without setting aside more keyboard time.
  • Bit.ly - Shortens long URLs and lets you see how many times people clicked on those links. Since the data is public, you can even see traffic info on other people's Bit.ly links.
Although I was speaking to a room of smart students, I realized the advice for them is similar I'd give for a more experienced audience. If we get out and use these simple and free tools, we can better engage with our customers and increase the value we offer to our employers and clients.

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