I turned it down.
It wasn’t a “I just wanted the invite” scenario; I was deadly serious about doing my placement year there and my Grad Scheme. So what changed?
Well, I’m not going to publicise my entire decision-making process on the internet, but the search for placements still continues for many of my peers and it is brutal. Not to mention seemingly completely unfair that some companies search earlier than others, I can’t count how many times I’ve wished they all had the same application dates. Life just doesn’t work like that unfortunately. So you can’t change the dates companies work to but you can do everything in your power to be completely ready to wow them and do everything you can to ensure you make the decision best for you.
Obviously your experience is a key part of whether a company wants to hire you or not, so your CV has to show that off in the best possible way... and not look like this:
This is a template I got given by my secondary school when I was 14 years old. For want of a stronger phrase, it is not good. Certainly not for someone in the media who is “forward-thinking” and “creative”.
But your CV should also represent your personality - they have to know you’ll fit in with them. I’ve changed the entire design of my CV three times in the past two years as I’ve changed and grown up, I wanted my CV to as well.
In the same respect your cover letter needs to be everything you can’t say on a CV. It shows off your writing ability so you do not want there to be any mistakes. I will admit this, once, just ONCE, in the six I applied to, for one company, I misspelt their name... not a great first impression. So check, double check and check four times more.
I had both my CV and cover letter checked by Bournemouth’s placement officer, our careers adviser, older students, my parents, professionals in the industry I have worked with... you can never have enough opinions. Everyone will pick up on something new.
Even with those, having your CV and cover letter word perfect are rarely enough. If you’re lucky enough to escape long application forms, you’ll still be quizzed in interviews. You have to know the company inside out; not only to impress them, but for your sake, you need to know what you’ll be working on, how the company works and if they’re doing anything you particularly do not wish to be a part of. All companies will always look on you better if you already know the brands and recent projects, campaigns and press releases. For each of my interviews, I spent the day before revising and researching the company. Check their website, PR Week and Google search them - particularly the ‘news’ section.
I think I was Bournemouth’s worst nightmare in the placement search. At the beginning of the year, we were told we should be aiming to apply to 80, yes 80 companies by June. That works out as being about 10 applications a month. I’m going to ignore how much time that takes, but who can find 80 different companies they want to work for? For a year? I couldn’t. And I wouldn’t apply to anywhere that was going backwards on my CV, or somewhere I wouldn’t be happy for twelve months. I applied to six companies that were offering relevant positions and spoke with another three to see if they would offer a position. So nine, out of eighty... As I said, probably their worst nightmare.
Becoming more and more popular are interview tasks. Let me make this clear, I hate these. With a passion. I do not feel that I have ever performed to my best in these situations. But most companies will ask, so you have to put up with them. And they vary... a lot. Here’s a few I’ve had to do in the past: -
- Presentations: Whatever the topic or question you have to answer, ensure you are always prepared for this presentation, with both hard and soft copies.
- Press Release: Whether it’s before your interview or during, these are always tough. Every company has a certain style of press release and the one you may be used to is unlikely to be the same but just remember, a press release needs to be newsworthy, written well and always baring in mind your audience; so be prepared to answer which publications you’d expect to see this release in.
- Group Tasks: At L’Oreal, you’re asked to attend an assessment day. During this day, you are placed in a group of six, you are given one of their initiatives and are told to represent that initiative in a group discussion and task. It is not easy, and certainly not if you don’t know much about their initiatives. But something to remember in assessment days, they will always be watching you, even in “breaks”. PR is a very sociable industry, if you sit there quietly ignoring the other candidates, you’re unlikely to get a call back.
- An interesting task I was asked to do in an interview was to read a magazine and highlight articles I thought I could do PR from. Yes, this may seem some what backwards PR, however this does come up quite a lot in some industries. Luckily at this point, I had already worked in Healthcare PR. Healthcare PR involves a lot of reacting to news headlines and stories. For example, last summer saw the headline of the rise in sexually transmitted infections in the UK, shockingly announcing the figure of new cases at 0.5m. With the agency I was at, we handled a private healthcare organisation account and one of the main consultants was an expert in STI’s. We organised press interviews with him advertising both him and the organisation.
With interview questions, you can only prepare for the basic and you can rehearse the answers inside out, but a good interviewer will always ask something to witness you thinking on your feet. But, for the sake of basic questions... I’ve kept track of the most popular questions I’ve been asked at interviews. You can find these here.
An advantage of being an intern, and one people keep bringing to my attention is digital skills. Not all, but a lot of people currently in the industry will not be wholly up-to-speed with social media, blogs and digital PR. We learn about it at university, and let’s face it, as students probably spend the majority of our free time on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. So sell it, if you blog, tell them. If you follow journalists on twitter, tell them. Even find and follow them. You’d be surprised when you start they may rely on you for social media coverage and monitoring and your knowledge of the market.
This is a new idea to me but there is a school of thought that says if you send a thank you note after your interview, you are more likely to be me called back.
I’m not going to lie, I’m glad it’s over for a year... and then I have to start searching for graduate schemes and positions. So this post is just as much for me then, as it is for you. But now I’m in London, working for the BBC, not L’Oreal. A completely different route and a completely different challenge.