PRospects for New Pros: Finding Your Footing During COVID-19 and Beyond

On Wednesday, April 7, 2021, public relations professionals came together virtually to discuss current hiring trends and how to move forward during COVID-19 and beyond. The webinar, sponsored by the New Professionals Section of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), brought together four experienced PR professionals who shared their experiences and tips with new professionals.

Webinar panelists included Taylor Bryant, an assistant professor (clinical track) in the mass communications department at the University of West Georgia; Kirk Hazlett, APR, adjunct professor of communication at the University of Tampa; Christina Stokes, Vice President and Director of Talent Acquisition at Rubenstein; and Mike Neumeier, APR, CEO of Arketi Group.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, many new professionals have struggled to find their footing, whether as new graduates looking for employment or employed new professionals looking for ways to hone relevant skills and advance their careers. Stokes said that, despite the challenges over the past year, “things are looking up.”

Bryant reminded recent graduates that the virtual workplace forced onto companies by the pandemic has created an environment where new professionals in particular can excel. “The virtual environment for us is new, but for students, they are tech savvy…you have what it takes in terms of the technical aspects.” And that’s a huge advantage.

Seek Out Professional Development Opportunities

Hazlett said that, while companies may not be hiring as much because of the pandemic, there are still ways to get ahead in your professional careers. For example, while internships are not jobs, Hazlett said, “it doesn’t hurt to add more experience to your resume.” Every panelist encouraged new professionals to find ways to use this time to take advantage of the unique opportunities provided by the pandemic, such as online conferences and certificate programs.

New professionals should specifically focus on ways to develop professionally that will help get you where you want to be in your careers. “It’s important to know your why and what. What you want to do next and why you want to do it,” said Bryant. She recommended finding a few desirable jobs and looking at their roles, responsibilities, and required skills, and then taking a look at where you can improve and get professional development in those areas. “It’s like mapping your career,” said Bryant.

Make Networking Part of Your Plans

As part of your professional growth, new professionals should focus on networking and making connections. “I believe in authentic connections,” said Bryant. “Focus on building genuine relationships. People are more likely to recommend you when they know you and have a real relationship with you.”

Stokes emphasized the benefit of using LinkedIn to stay connected once you’ve established those relationships. “Stay connected to them…it takes work, but opportunities will come to you that will help elevate you in your career.” Neumeier added that networking “is a numbers game, like the lottery. If you don’t play, you can’t win.”

Neumeier also said that being part of groups like the PRSA New Professionals Section is key because “these are your peers. These are the people you’re going to grow up in the industry with…take advantage of that and use your network,” said Neumeier.

Aside from insights into professional growth and networking, panelists also provided advice for landing jobs early in your new professionals’ careers.

Interviewing Insights for New Pros

When it comes to interviewing, Bryant says to practice. She recommended writing down a list of essential things you want your potential employer to know about you, and then compare that to common interview questions so you can practice making sure those essential points come up during the interview.

Hazlett said that potential candidates make an impression when they come prepared to ask their own questions.

Stokes added, “Interviewing is a conversation with a potential colleague. So look at it that way and it might make you feel more comfortable.” She also recommended doing research about the interviewer and the company. “What’s interesting about them to you and why? I love having a conversation with a candidate and learning what they’re interested in about the company,” said Stokes.

Virtual interviews can present its own set of challenges, but the panelists encouraged new professionals to make the most of it. Make sure your room is clean and that what the camera captures is professional. Virtual interviews can be problematic, but panelists say that’s just part of how things are. “We’re at a weird time where home is work and work is home and the lines are blurred. The reality is that you can’t avoid crying kids or the dog barking in the background…so I like to see how they navigate that…Use your unique environment to your advantage,” said Stokes.

Even with the challenges created by the pandemic, there are ways for new professionals to find their footing and progress in their professional careers. Find a way to get started and move forward. “Get a job, even if it’s not your dream job. Perform well, learn what you like, and your career will develop,” said Neumeier.

Brand Communications: A Call for Civility in 2021

2020 was a year that sparked change across all aspects of life and professions. As the world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, civil rights issues, natural disasters, ongoing wars, and more, it became apparent that the way we talk and communicate about these issues and workplace happenings would need to change.

While the last few years have seen a push for civility and authenticity in brands and communications, it became necessary in 2020 — and beyond.

In January of 2020, Stephen Dupoint, APR, wrote that people are growing angrier. Then in October, PRSA released a white paper from the Civility Task Force on “Modeling Civility: How Public Relations Professionals Can Restore Quality, Integrity and Inclusiveness to Civil Discourse.

The white paper noted that degradation of civil discourse “permeates our interactions at work, at the dinner table, in our communities and online. It threatens the very thing that distinguishes us as a species: our ability to share our values and perspectives and thereby find ways to cooperate in vast numbers and increase our chances of collective success. It attacks the pillars of our economy, our health and safety, our national security and our civil rights. Most insidiously, children exposed to incivility at home emulate it and, ultimately, internalize it.”

As PR professionals, we have a professional and moral obligation to respond to this growing state of incivility. It is up to us to determine the language, tone and direction of how our organizations address the public.

In 2018 at the PRSA International Conference, Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said to PR professionals, “You are people who set the tone very much for what we, and how we, communicate…You have a great deal of influence over… the tone of our national communications. You have a great deal of influence over your clients, in terms of helping them to understand that civility—just merely being respectful—is critically important, and good for them. It’s good for your clients, as well as good for the country.”

As communicators, we have the power to interweave our private and public discourse with civility. As spokespeople, we choose the words our companies and organizations relay to our audiences. As PR professionals, we influence the tone by which communication happens. May we rise to the challenge and be advocates for civility.

Our 2021 PRSA Chair Michelle Olson, APR, calls for PR professionals to do just that: “I’m hopeful that PRSA and professional communicators can be the arbiters of better civil discourse in our communities, organizations and on social media. If not us, then who? We have the skillset to change the tenor of dialogue in America.”

What You Should Know As a PRSA New Professional

Becoming a member of PRSA is more than just skimming the daily emails. To truly benefit from being a part of PRSA, we have three tips to help you thrive as a new professional in the nation’s leading professional organization serving the communications community.

Understand the Purpose of PRSA

PRSA has about 30,000 members in all 50 states. With over 110 Chapters and 14 Professional Interest Sections, PRSA is focused on connecting, supporting, and serving the needs of PR professionals nationwide. Through an emphasis on advocating for industry excellence and ethical conduct, PRSA provides members with professional development opportunities, the latest news and research, and resources to help PRSA members become leaders and mentors in their fields.

Know Your Member Benefits

As a member of PRSA, you will receive the latest news and information from PR professionals across the nation through PRSA publications, including regular newsletters, the monthly newspaper, and the blog. Utilize these resources to stay connected on the latest trends and happenings within PR and communications.

Your PRSA membership also comes with a wealth of professional development opportunities. Check out upcoming webinars (many of them are free to members) as well as on-demand online training opportunities and workshops. If you’re looking to enhance your skill set, check out the PRSA’s certificate programs, or consider pursuing the professionally-recognized APR designation.

Don’t forget that, aside from what PRSA offers, individual chapters and professional interest sections also offer their own webinars and value-added opportunities. Keep an eye out for those through forum posts and newsletters.

Get Involved

Anyone who says that their PRSA membership wasn’t worth the cost failed to take advantage of one of the most important aspects of PRSA: the opportunity to get involved and network with a wide range of PR professionals. As a new member, take advantage of the PRSA forums by introducing yourself, asking for advice or resources, connecting to local or speciality-interest mentors, and putting yourself out there.D

If you’re looking for further service and involvement opportunities, many of the chapters and professional interest sections have need for board members and collaborators. Volunteer to serve on a board, write a blog, or contribute to a project.

PRSA also hosts its annual conference, and various chapters and professional interest sections host regular conferences and trainings as well. While those typically have registration costs in addition to your PRSA membership, they provide unique opportunities to learn and network in a PR-focused environment.

Becoming a member of PRSA shouldn’t stop with paying your membership dues and skimming the daily emails. To truly benefit from being a part of PRSA, understand what PRSA stands for, know your member benefits, and get involved.