Friday, September 17, 2010

Actually, it IS about what you know.

Oh never mind, 
I'll just go to the next mixer.

I read a good piece on the CPRS Calgary blog this morning about the value of having a strong professional network in public relations.

The writer, recent University of Calgary Communications Studies grad Tammy Schwass, is absolutely right: any PR pro (and especially one just starting out) deciding not to take advantage of professional networking opportunities does him/herself a disservice. If a hiring manager can associate a face (and a positive impression) with the name on one of 200 resumes, that name is far more likely to stick.

Even more importantly, if the hiring manager can see you've actively participated in the local communications community (by volunteering on the local CPRS or IABC or PRSA board, for example, or helping out with special events, or organizing a local tweet-up), that says some things about you:
  • "I'm active in my professional community."
  • "I have energy and am willing to use it for my own professional development. (Additional subtext: I'm not lazy.)"
  • "I may have connections that could help you meet your objectives... if you hire me!"

And, as we know because it just makes sense, a recommendation from a trusted colleague trust can carry far more weight than an "unknown's" resume alone.

But it's not ALL about whom you know.

Ms. Schwass opens her post by saying: "It’s not about what you know, but who you know. These were words that I heard many times over the course of my university career."

I, too, have heard this expression many, many times; usually, the people who say it understand that it's a bit of an exaggeration. (Ms. Schwass' degree tells us she gets it.)

It is, of course, what you know. And, in the longer term, even more so than whom you know.

I've been privy to some conversations online and in person lately involving people who still somehow believe that success in PR is less about learning how to create effective strategies and use a wide range of tools to execute them, than about whom you know and being able to sell yourself.

That may have been the case 20 years ago; but 20 years ago, employers simply didn't have access to nearly as many job candidates who had been trained to do what we do. Twenty years ago, you might have been able to get by with the right friends, good common sense, and good writing skills. Not anymore.

Today's successful entrant into the PR profession needs far more than the right connections and a basic understanding of the structure of a news release. (Also, on a side note, (s)he needs to know not to call it a press release, but maybe that's a topic for another post.)

If you want to give yourself the best possible odds of landing a job in PR, you should absolutely network.

But there are a few other things you should absolutely do.

1. Get some foundational knowledge in the practice, whether that's through a formal program like Red River College's Creative Communications program, or by taking a part-time certificate program at a college or university, or even by going through your professional association's accreditation process (for example, the Canadian Public Relations Society's APR). In 2010/2011, you're competing against hundreds of other candidates who have done just that; good luck to you if you think that won't matter to a potential employer.

2. Build a portfolio of work that shows you can actually do the things you've learned about. Make your portfolio reflect your own versatility and flexibility; an employer wants to be able to see, through your work samples, what you might be able to do to help meet his/her organizational objectives.

3. Wherever you can, show the impact of your communication work. If you developed and executed a strategy to get a new city councillor elected, show how your work translated into votes. If you wrote a news release for an organization, show the coverage it earned. If you built and ran a blog, show how many readers/subscribers it earned, and how much discussion it generated among the client's audiences.

Whom you know will open the door; what you know will get you invited in.

Unless a hiring manager is an idiot, quite frankly, he/she isn't going to hire based solely on someone else's word. (And if he/she is an idiot, plan not to be working there too long, even if you do get the job...) A hiring manager is looking for someone who can make a positive contribution toward achieving the organization's objectives; what you know (and how you can show it works) is key.

So, do get out there and network. All other things between you and a competitor being equal, who you know may make the difference in getting you hired.

But it's what you know that will keep you hired.

1 comment:

  1. I had teachers that used to repeat again and again that it is only who you know that counts. Glad to see someone finally stepping up and showing everyone that having the knowledge is just as important.