How do I get a graduate job in public relations?

Public relations work may be glamorous, but before you can start hosting cocktail parties and schmoozing local journalists you will have to battle your way to an entry level position in PR.

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Graduates can get their career off the ground in a very short space of time in public relations.

How to get a graduate job in public relations: Entry level routes | Working life | Impressing at interviews

PR has become a sophisticated business tool used to tell a story to the public and promote products and services. According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), PR is seen as a vibrant, attractive industry, consistently ranking among new graduates’ top career choices.

What are the different entry level PR roles?

There are normally two types of public relations (PR) positions; in-house for a company or working for an agency that is contracted out to clients. Both need you to handle campaigns, deal with press communications and write press releases as well as keep organised cuttings and handle outside enquiries. Increasingly search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media are becoming important tools for those aspiring to make it in PR. You will need to be a dynamo at networking, meeting and greeting as many people in a room as possible and keep in touch with them afterwards.

You don’t need any formal qualifications in PR to get a job in this industry, but studying a relevant degree may give you a head start in gaining experience and building up important skills. Especially relevant degrees for graduate careers in public relations include public relations, journalism, marketing, communications.

Entry route one: public relations assistant (in-house or agency)

Before you’re completely let loose on an unsuspecting client/crowd you’re more likely to be working in a support role alongside the rest of the team. They will want to see your organisation skills as you sort calendars, cuttings, files and photos and put together press kits as well as know that you can come up with research to aid on campaigns and smaller presentations. Creative and intelligent writing ability are also a must for those looking for a long term career. The skills and experience required will vary a little from place to place, but as a general rule promotion prospects in PR are quite respectable and you should be able to progress relatively quickly. According to a 2020 report by the Hays recruitment agency, average salaries for private sector ‘public relations executives’ ranged from £25,000 in the east of England to £40,000 in London.

Entry route two: public relations assistant (charities and public sector)

Many public sector bodies and ‘third sector’ organisations, such as charities, require PR specialists to manage campaigns and put out press releases just as much as big corporations. If you track the media coverage of an NGO like Greenpeace, you might be surprised by just how extensive it is (it will perhaps feature as much as any large soft drinks corporation or manufacturer). It’s unlikely that you’d walk into the Department of Energy or Greenpeace straight off the bat, but smaller charities sometimes need PR staff and are willing to take on those who need experience in the hope they’ll stay once fully blossomed.

The skills will be similar to those needed working in-house or for an agency, perhaps with a more journalistic tint (you may find yourself focused more on journalists questions, dealing with research bodies and getting involved in organised events than promoting new products). Be prepared to get used to press kits, research, lots of telephone calls to and from media staff and honing your presentation skills. While public sector jobs tend to pay more than in the private sector, working for charities usually pays less. However, you can expect starting salaries to be in the same ballpark. According to the 2020 Hays salary report, a public affairs office can expect to an an average of between £25,000 in the east of England and £33,000 in London. You can find out more about working in the public sector and for charities in TARGETjobs' public sector and charity section.

Entry route three: account coordinator/junior account executive

This role is normally more suited to marketing graduates than PR and journalism grads, but junior account executive is potentially an entry level job. The level of responsibility is likely to be higher, particularly for large companies, and you may find yourself having more control over long term communication strategies and clients. Creative thinking and writing are key as you develop not only press releases and statements but also social media and strategies for other platforms. As both an account coordinator and a junior account executive you may start off in a more supportive administrative role to senior staff before you move on to handling your own projects.

What's working life in PR like?

Given the variety of projects you can work on in this industry, its popularity is no surprise. Graduates have the opportunity to get their career off the ground in a very short space of time in public relations. You may be trusted to contact clients and handle aspects of a project within a couple of weeks.

The role of a PR professional can include responsibilities such as dealing with journalists, writing briefs, to managing a website, answering the phone and responding to queries, and editing or organising events. Necessary skills for public relations include adaptability, organisation and imagination. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do, and it’s not easy always being in the media spotlight. That said, if you see yourself as a confident people-person with a creative edge then this could be a great career for you.

PR options: consultancy, in-house public sector...

Some roles will involve more of one type of work, so make sure that the jobs you apply for are the ones that suit your skills and what you want to do at work. You can raise your chances of application success by being able to tell employers why you're enthusiastic about wanting to work for them, and how your skills fit the job profile you're applying for.

How to impress during a graduate PR job interview

With PR being a very competitive industry for graduates, and with vacancies likely to be even more sought after during the coronavirus pandemic ; it’s important to know why you want to do it, be able to demonstrate that you have the right personality and articulate your suitability for the job.

When applying for a role in PR you’ve got to display that you have what it takes to do the job in your covering letter and CV, but it is equally, if not more, important to show your confidence and communication skills at interview. To help prepare for interviews, imagine yourself as the subject of a PR campaign when you are applying; focus on your positive aspects, how you meet the job description and how to communicate them confidently.

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