10 résumé tips for PR job seekers

By Bridget Castellini

Soon after spring break, the floodgates open and the onslaught begins. Daily emails from eager candidates looking to land their first agency job begin filling our hiring manager’s inbox.

Bridget Castellini is COO of Wordsworth Communications.

Bridget Castellini is COO of Wordsworth Communications.

While the public relations industry has certainly evolved, one thing has remained the same: a résumé is still needed as the first point of contact with a prospective employer. A solid résumé can help a candidate rise to the top of the consideration pile instead of the delete folder.

Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of good and, unfortunately, plenty of bad in the world of résumés. In fact, a recent applicant sent a letter that essentially belongs in the “what not to do” playbook: 

“Hi, Im Jane Doe. I am currently a junior majoring in Communications with a focus in Public Relations. Although I am learning a lot in my classes that can benefit me I think its time to take it a step further. I would really love to get more experience and be exposed to so much more in the PR world. I believe hands on learning is the best learning. Unfortunately its not a lot of opportunity to achieve this in Cincinnati. However as I was looking at different firms websites and  I really enjoyed yours. I think this could possibly be a great place for me to start so I was wondering when will you  guys be hiring for interns or entry level applicants.”

In the spirit of helping the next generation of PR professionals, here are 10 helpful tips to consider as eager candidates prepare their résumés and furiously begin outreach:

1. Do your homework

To help tailor a note to the target company, understand the culture by following the company on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Engage thoughtfully by liking or sharing posts or retweeting, but resist the urge to share everything the company has posted. We once had a candidate retweet and like everything we shared on social media and let’s just say it didn’t impress us.

2. Network

Most agencies are always looking for the next best talent, even if a job isn’t currently available. Make a contact at the company and ask for an informational interview. Young professionals may have luck reaching out to the junior members of a team with this request. Consider networking on LinkedIn and Twitter by following and engaging with professionals in the local PR industry.

3. Include a simple summary statement

We were pleasantly surprised with a recent applicant’s summary statement: “10 countries in five years: Offering a world view and understanding of diversity that allows me to enhance the telling of any organization’s story.” It was a refreshing take on the typically long statement.

4. Tell a story

Storytelling isn’t a buzz word. It’s an essential skill you’ll use every day in an agency career. Use your résumé to tell a story that captures an employer’s attention, tells them why they should hire you, and shows mastery of this skill.

5. Cover letters

A word about cover letters: Brevity is best. If you don’t think a cover note is necessary, think again. Résumés may list accomplishments, but cover notes demonstrate personality, and more importantly, that you are able to write well. Here are a few tips in this area:

-- Send a cover note within the body of an email and not as an attachment.

-- Don’t just cut and paste the employer’s name on the same cover note and hit send to every company. Take a moment to personalize a note, and make sure it addresses the company’s unique job description.

-- Refrain from using exclamation points and screaming at your prospective employer: “My name is Jane Doe, and I am interested in working for your company!”

-- Don’t fill a note with generic industry jargon.

6. Direct a cover letter to a person

It only takes a few minutes to research who is in charge of hiring at the agency. Consider quickly checking out their website, blog, Facebook page and LinkedIn profile and direct an email and cover note to that person. Having an actual person’s name allows for follow-up, too. If you’re in doubt, a phone call to the company can confirm the details. Ask to whom you should send the résumé and if the company is hiring. Use that intel in your note.

7. Create an online portfolio

We’ve been impressed with candidates who have an online portfolio to showcase a full spectrum of capabilities. If you have a blog, make sure it’s updated. If your résumé touts a social media presence, make sure you are active in space, posting frequently and appropriately. One of the first steps we take before inviting a candidate to interview is a quick Google search. Make sure you are comfortable with the results. If not, take a moment to clean up your profile and consider sharing content that a prospective employer could find interesting when they search you.

8. Proofread

We get it. The heat is on to land a job. As you feverishly prepare résumés and cover notes, take a moment to proofread and invite a colleague, friend, professor or your mom to take the first pass through your materials. Nothing turns an employer off more than a cover letter with the wrong company’s name or careless typos. To be successful in PR, mastery of the details is essential. Prove it with a typo-free cover letter and résumé.

9. Check attachments

Always double-check your attachment before uploading. Imagine our surprise when we opened a recent résumé to find it completely redlined and filled with comments. Think about your résumé and cover note as a package. How can you help the hiring manager easily keep track of your package of materials? Consider naming the file the same as your name or combining both into one PDF file. Make sure your contact info is listed in your email signature and prominently on your résumé. Finally, make sure your email address includes your name and isn’t a version of letters, numbers, or a word. For example, if your email includes something like “smileyjenny@” it may be wise to secure a professionally-named email address.

10. Follow-up

Unless an employer explicitly says “no phone calls,” it’s absolutely OK to follow-up. But don’t follow-up by forwarding your original email with a new note. Pick up the phone and call the company, ask if they received your résumé and what the timing is to fill the position. If your cover letter states you will follow-up on a certain date, make sure you follow through. Even though it may be considered old-fashioned in today’s technology-driven world, consider sending a hand-written note; it may just break through the clutter.

Today’s job market is competitive. Ensuring your résumé makes it to the consideration pile can be accomplished if you take the time to carefully approach each opportunity. After all, you only have one chance to make a first impression.