Will a more creative approach get you that job in PR?

Hire me t shirt Recently, Lexis PR was accepting applications for its graduate scheme.  Among them, one grad sent a box of cupcakes to show that they stood out… and Lexis’ HR team tweeted about it.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across less conventional job applications.  In the past I’ve had a graduate send me a tea bag with their CV “so that you can have a nice cuppa while you read about my experience”.   More recently, one of our Taylor Bennett Foundation alumni, Nahidur Rahman, wrote a blog post on why a PR firm should hire him, and Racepoint Group snapped him up.

Last September we featured Graeme Anthony in esPResso with his CVIV.  It did the rounds on Twitter and came up trumps as he’s now working at Frank.  Similarly, Stephen Waddington has written a post featuring Laura Tosney at 33 Digital and her (frankly, amazing) animation that clinched the job for her there.

A few of our ex-interns took part in an online chat on the Guardian website about social media careers.  This led on to a discussion about how to make themselves stand out.  Alan Parker of Golin Harris suggested something quirky might work.  “I once had a candidate send me a shoe in a shoebox with his CV” he told me, “so that they can get a foot in the door”.

On Twitter, I floated the idea of a CV printed on a tea-towel (inspired by all the Royal Wedding merchandise I can see creeping up on us).  Responses ranged from “It’s novel, it deserves an interview at least” from the MD of Rise PR, Paul Alan  to “that’s just weird” from communications officer, Emma Jackson Stuart and “creativity in an application isn't generally welcome in the public sector! It’s better to sell yourself based on examples.” From Adam Fairclough.

Which just goes to show, sending a more unusual job application can work, but you have to be careful who you target with your creative approaches.

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Dealing with January Blues

Sad As more and more firms extend their Christmas closing hours, it can feel like you’ve been out of the office forever.  Lots of people feel a bit blue in January.  Summer holidays are a while away, the excitement of Christmas and new year are over, it’s cold and dreary and you have a nasty cough – although maybe that last bit is just me.

Don’t be downhearted though.  January needn’t be all doom and gloom.  See it as a fresh start – a time to set yourself new challenges and deal with things that you have been putting off for ages.  2011 could be the year that you stop procrastinating and get on with things.  Make it the year that you make things happen.

Firstly, catch up with your emails from over the festive period and make a concerted effort to file away those you need to keep and delete any unwanted messages.   Then make a to-do list and actually DO the things on it.  That means calling that really annoying girl in accounts who has been asking you for invoicing details for months.  Suck it up, it won’t be as bad as you think.

Dig out last year’s appraisal form and check what was set as your goals for the year.  Have you achieved them?  Have you even *started* to achieve them?   Now’s the time for a plan of action.  Set the wheels in motion – book relevant training courses, speak to your manager about taking on extra responsibilities, brainstorm with colleagues to come up with new and inventive ways of keeping costs down.  Make sure you there will be no reason not to promote you or give you a pay rise this year.

Most people spend a fair few hours at work so it’s important that you want to be there.  One of the easiest ways to enjoy your work is to be friends with the people you work with.  If you’re not a naturally social person try and push your boundaries a little by arranging to go for a drink with some colleagues, and offering to help them out if they have a heavy work load.  Having friendly, encouraging colleagues can do wonders to lift your mood.

If you have been bumbling along in your job for ages and are bored, do something about it.  You shouldn’t be dreading going back to work after the Christmas break so if you found yourself having to drag yourself into the office, now’s the time to look for a new role.   After the austerity measures of last year many companies are loosening their purse strings and are hiring again, so polish up your CV, brush up your interviewing techniques and start reading the job ads.

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Surviving Work Christmas Parties

Q.  I like to keep my work and home life quite separate but my firm is throwing a Christmas party and I am feeling under pressure to attend.  How can I avoid it?

Photocopying A.  Some people are not natural party animals and can think of nothing worse than spending extra time with their colleagues, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to deal with it for one night as not attending may mark you out as being reluctant to be a team player and damage your career.  A staff party is one way for a company to show appreciation for their employees’ hard work over the year and to give them an opportunity to mingle outside of work and therefore build rapport.  If you’re a manager, not going along can also send a bad message to your team – i.e. ‘I don’t like you enough to spend time with you’.  Even if your company expects you to contribute financially to the event, and in this age of austerity, some will, it may be frowned upon if you chose not to attend. 

So, once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you should go along, here’s my guide to surviving your work’s Christmas do.

 

 

 

-          Don’t get drunk.  Even the quietest among us can say dreadful things with a tongue loosened by alcohol so keep the drinking to a minimum.

-          If you have to buy a secret Santa gift play it reasonably safe – edible undies may *seem* like a good idea, but the recipient may not see the funny side.

-          Try not to only talk about work.  This is not the occasion to suggest to your boss that you’re due for a pay rise, or tell your team about a piece of work you want completed by Monday.  It is meant to be fun. 

-          Dress appropriately.  This is easy if your party is at lunch time as you are likely to be in work clothes but if your firm throws a lavish evening do try to remember that you are going to have to look the other guests in the eye in the office the next day. 

-          Use it as an opportunity to network.  You may not get many opportunities to meet some people at your company – particularly if it’s a big firm – so make yourself known to the movers and shakers, without chewing their ear off about your job. 

-          If you snog someone in the stationery cupboard, someone WILL find out and it’ll be the talk of the office until the next shin-dig.

-          Ditto photocopying your bottom.

-          If your partner is invited to attend, try to make them feel at ease by introducing them to people instead of leaving them to fend for themselves while you have a laugh with your office mates.

-          Do your best to actually enjoy it – you might surprise yourself. 

 

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To Tweet Or Not To Tweet?

Twitter-Logo

Last Thursday I went to a really fantastic conference, Bright One’s Impress London.  And I’m not just saying that because I was a speaker.  Aimed at students and graduates looking to get into a career in PR.  There was a fabulous line up of speakers.

The strongest message of the day, repeated by every single speaker was “when we recruit grads, we expect them to be savvy in social media.”

And so, I was quite surprised that so few of the attendees tweeted during the event.  During his introduction, Ben Matthews told the audience that the hashtag for the day was #impress.

A few people got the hang of it, and very quickly I could form a view of who they were by viewing their Twitter profiles.  By the afternoon session on social media with Stephen Davies, Chris Reed and Rob Dyson I had give up tweeting on my BlackBerry and was brazenly tweeting on my netbook – in the front row.

On Friday, I mentioned on Twitter that I felt quite rude tapping away when others were speaking – which sparked a bit of debate.

When asked if they were bothered by people tweeting when they spoke the response from the speakers was unanimous – no one minded.

Nicola Jones:  “if anything I advocate it, it’s cool to hear what people agree with /don't agree with about what you are saying”.

Stefan Stern: “You can't beat feedback in real time.”

Jaz Cummins: “Agreed, instant feedback is fab. I think tweeters will like it more than non-tweeters though.”

Rob Hinchcliffe:  “not at all, enhances things I think.”

RobmDyson:  Good to tweet for others not present. I'm an advocate as I know how useful & transparent it can be to follow remotely. & spreads awareness / PR of speakers ;)  I'm v used to tweeting at confs. & it means I can 'virtually attend' confs outside England like #begoodbesocial 😉

 

And Stephen Davies raised an interesting point, he encourages tweeting at conferences but added that he  “Can understand why [people may be uncomfortable tweeting]. In non geek circles people are told to switch of their phones before a conference starts.”

But despite the acceptance of the practice among the speakers, some of the attendees had obviously felt uncomfortable about it. 

Carly Ann Smith, a student at Lincoln, said she felt slightly rude if she went on her phone and Rhian Burrell-Joseph commented she thought it was rude to tweet when someone’s talking to you and it would be helpful if the etiquette of what to do in that situation was more established.  And that seems to be at the crux of the issue, some students are not encouraged to tweet at University, so aren’t comfortable doing it outside of lectures. Amy Brunsdon, a student at the University of Gloucestershire, commented that it was nice to be able to tweet throughout as it’s frowned upon in her lectures and J’ara Ami  agreed “I think it was so cool that we were encouraged to tweet at #impress!  It’s all well learning social media but it’s another to engage.

 

Given that graduates are so strongly encouraged by industry professionals to be active on social networks in order to be employable, surely banning Twitter in lectures is short-sighted? David Phillips agrees.  He encourages students to tweet both in lectures and beyond.

Richard Bailey takes a different approach.  Email and Facebook are banned in lectures and so it’s easiest to ban social media tools across the board, including Twitter.

Phillip Young, lecturer at Sunderland University says tweeting has its place and it is important for academics to encourage social media engagement,   “Sunderland was one of the first universities in the UK to incorporate teaching social media into its PR programme and I know from many practitioners and graduates that this knowledge did and still does help them get jobs and, more importantly, make a real contribution from the day they start work.

 I think it is very difficult indeed to separate social media theory from practice! Also, there is quite a difference from being an enthusiastic personal user of Facebook and running a PR campaign with a social media dimension. Understading how you and your friends use social media to find out about the world can give very useful insights but building a strategic campaign that eets specific objective is  rather different, and making the linkages is should be part of any PR degree. (If the students could do it thelmselves why bother going to university!)

 It is my belief that today all PR is online PR. It is no longer a specialism but an integral part of any lecture, and lecturers and  academics who don't appreciate this need to think carefully about their own understanding of the discipline.”

I went on to ask him how he felt about attendees tweeting during conferences, or students during lectures.

“I am reasonably comfortable about tweeting during academic or practitioner conference presentations, which I often do for the benefit of those who cannot attend. Also, as a presenter I find it useful to see feedback and questions.

That said, it is not an easy skill – listening, understanding, then typing something worthwhile at speed in 140 characters is tricky and a lot of presentation tweets (including my own!) aren't of great value.

I can see advantages for students in crowdsourcing comment on lectures – "we are being told xxxxx – what do others think?" but I am not sure how useful general back channel chat is.

One of my students did make an (almost!) plausible claim that being on Facebook during lectures helped her concentrate. Her argument was that  if she was just listening her mind might wander but if she was worried about being caught Facebooking she would then have to listen more carefully to what was being said to avoid being caught out.

I am (sort of) coming to believe that younger people genuinely are better than my generation at multi-tasking, but I am not sure they are that good!”

Jane Crofts, lecturer at Lincoln, takes a slightly different view.  “I find it irritating/distracting if students use their phones during my sessions and I always ask for them to be turned off in sessions. I think it is quite rude to use a phone and engage 'outside the room' during lectures and seminars. To me it is akin to holding private conversations in class and just plain rude.

It's a bit like if I was in a business meeting I would regard it as rude if other people started using their phones for a purpose other than if we had agreed in advance, say to check a point – such as the concept of 'phone a friend'. Now whether this will change as a younger generation take over the board room/lecture theatre I don't know.

Having said that if it is a debate/large lecture session I don't see why there cannot be an agreement at the start to tweet, but it should be done with prior agreement…bit of a Chatham House rules approach.

Now, as to using social media as a teaching/assessment tool that is different and I set blogs and tweets as assignmenets and have done a session just this week on the use of the hash tag, setting it in the context of #demo2010 which failed to trend. I am of the view that social media are just another channel for PR to use and should be used appropriately and selectively, one size does not fit all.”

 

As someone who spends a lot of time teaching graduates how they can make themselves more employable, I am always keen that academics in the field keep their fingers on the pulse of what the industry requires of graduate recruits.  I believe it is in the academic’s interest for their students to go on into glittering careers in communications.  What better advert for their course than successful graduates?  As social media becomes a necessity for every graduate recruit, it is a foolish university that ignores those tools completely.

But the question of etiquette is a good one – I would never tweet , text or email during a meeting, but I would tweet at a conference where it was invited and I think that’s the key – established boundaries and encouragement where appropriate.

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Are your followers for sale?

For_sale_sign

I have an on-off love affair with Twitter.  Sometimes, I use it loads.  Sometimes, I forget it’s there and then there is a delight in re-discovering it.  I use it mostly for business, although I do follow a few friends (and a couple of celebs, but I’m embarrassed about doing that so let’s not dwell on it).  I don’t live in London and am only in the Shoreditch office two days a week so there are few opportunities to network face-to-face.  Twitter is a nice way of finding out what’s going on in the industry, and building relationships with practitioners.  These relationships are useful to me in three ways; firstly, I edit espresso, a weekly e-bulletin which we fill with PR and media news and feature career tips and industry insights.  Quite often I find interviewees or industry spokespeople through Twitter and I also use it for leads on industry stories.   Secondly, I used to be a recruiter.  I no longer recruit directly but I do have connections with Unicorn Jobs and Taylor Bennett and run their diversity internship programme. Relationships with PR practitioners helps me raise awareness of the programme, and have led directly to donations of time, money and training to the interns.  Thirdly, it’s good to just know who is out there, who are the influencers and who is the young blood to watch.  And sometimes, I get to give a little something back – like last week when a student asked me to give some advice on how to get into the PR industry.

Yesterday, I received an email from a Twitter account.  It was anonymous – in that I know which Twitter account it is but there is no way to know who runs it.  I am not going to disclose which account contacted me, as I’m rather interested to see if anyone takes them up on their offer and so will be keeping an eye on them.

Anyway…. this is the email:

Hello,

 I am writing to see if you are interested in taking over the Twitter account ******, including its large follower base of job seekers. The account can be renamed and rebranded, giving your brand and jobs a huge audience, saving time and advertising costs.

 The account can be found at ***** and is followed by a community of PR professionals who are actively searching for their next role through social media. These job seekers have the online skills PR employers are looking for and are engaging with this Twitter account to find their next job. The account is currently tweeting a feed of job postings from various sources, and followers are clicking through to the job postings to find out more. For this demographic, young UK-based PR job seekers, this is the largest Twitter community I am aware of.

 Taking over the account would put your jobs in front of the right people without having to spend money on advertising. It could also significantly help to establish your brand on Twitter. Twitter allows changing the names of accounts, and the followers will be transferred over to the new name.

 Please get in touch if you would be interested in discussing this more.

 

This is my reply:

No thanks.  I run a Facebook group, PR Job Watch, with over 3,000 members.  We don't need to buy Twitter accounts, we can develop our own.  Twitter is all about building relationships.

I'm not sure it's really in the spirit of social media to be "selling" your followers.

Regards
Sarah

 

And their reply:

Very true. Some do a great job, like Unicorn Jobs, but others look for shortcuts.

It is unfortunate, while there are those looking for shortcuts, there will be a market for things like followers. And when there's a market, there are those desperate enough to feed that market. Still, it isn't like it is being sold for spam. I am targeting relevant people who will take care of my followers. Atleast, that's what I keep telling myself.

Thanks for getting back to me and keep up the great work.

ps. I love your esPResso newsletter

 

I mentioned it on Twitter last night and a couple of people expressed outrage at the thought of followers being sold.  I actually *am* a follower of the account in question, and I am not that happy about being sold myself.   But maybe I am behind the times?  Maybe it is acceptable to build up relationships and then sell them on?  Perhaps the likes of The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den are encouraging such entrepreneurial spirit?

It still doesn’t sit quite right with me.  I will be watching with interest to see if a PR recruiter takes them up on it though.

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Filed under Recruitment, Social Media

Working from Home

  Working from home

As employers become more relaxed about flexible working practices, many more people are finding that they can work from home.  For some jobs, a phone line, laptop and internet connection is all that’s needed, so the option to commute from your bedroom to your workspace instead of a long journey in a car or on a train is very appealing.

Working where you live can be beneficial for both employee and employer.  If you focus, you can get more done.  There are less likely to be distractions from colleagues and you can get on with the task in hand.  You will spend less money – no daily breakfast coffee or sandwich from Pret, and you may save on the commute.   You also get to spend more time with your family (or flatmates!).  If an average commute is two hours a day, that’s 10 hours a week you get to spend doing something more constructive.  The bottom line is that working from home makes you more productive.  Rescue Time’s research in 2009 may have only been a small sample, but gives us a good idea of the levels of productivity that can be achieved by not being in an office.

Of course it’s not all sweetness and light.  There are downsides too.   The lines between work and home can get blurred and it can be difficult to switch off.  You may also find that you get a bit lonely and there is a danger you will fall into the laziness trap.  From an employer’s point of view it can be frustrating if you don’t feel your staff are pulling their weight at home, and that they are not instantly available for a meeting.  But there are things you can do to make sure working from home works well for both you and your employer.  I work from home three days a week and my husband works from home permanently so I am very familiar with the pitfalls.  Here’s my top tips for how to work at home effectively:

1)      Have a separate work area.   If at all possible, a separate room is the way to go.  Somewhere where work is work, so that your home life remains separate to your job, is a good idea.  In my case, my husband works in the spare bedroom and I have a desk in the living room.  We don’t speak for most of the day – we work for different companies and when we are working, we are working.  

2)      Don’t turn the telly on.  Ever.  It is tempting.  Hours of fun with Homes Under the Hammer and This Morning may seem like a good idea, but believe me it’s not.  You may think you can work effectively with the TV on in the background, but it is a distraction.  You are not a student, you are being paid to work.  The radio or some quiet music is a better option.

3)      Make time for lunch.  We all know it’s important to take breaks when you’re working.  Having a lunch break is a good start.  It doesn’t have to be a whole hour, but twenty minutes away from your computer screen is a good idea.  Make sure your colleagues know when you are away from your desk and when you will be back.  If you can, set your phone to do not disturb.

4)      Make sure your colleagues know when you are available and when you aren’t.   People who work from home often feel guilty and are concerned that their boss and colleagues are suspicious that they’re not working hard enough, and as a result work much longer hours than they would if they were in the office.   Your colleagues may not be keen on you working from home, particularly if it’s not a common occurrence at your firm.  They may resent the flexibility you have and be suspicious that you are actually sat in your nightie in front of Trisha scoffing shortbread biscuits instead of actually working.   Make it clear that you will be working from x o clock to y o clock and will be taking a half an hour for lunch at a particular time.  

5)      Have a decent chair.  Back pain will make you unproductive and resentful.

6)      If you have children, make sure you make proper arrangements for child care.  Many employers now will insist that you send them to nursery or a childminder while you are working, which is fair enough.  But a few lucky people have employers that are a bit more flexible and allow them to work slightly odd hours in order to be there for their children – so they may allow you to work in the evenings instead of 9 – 5 for example.  Whatever your arrangements, make sure your employer is aware and happy with them.

7)      Get dressed.  I have made this mistake.  Got out of bed, read emails on my Blackberry and then logged straight in on my laptop to start replying to messages.  Before I knew it, it was lunch time and I hadn’t had a shower or got dressed.  Even more embarrassing is when you have to open the door to the postman still in your dressing gown.  You would never go into the office in your PJs so take some time to get yourself groomed and dressed.

8)      If you are sick, you are sick.   Let your boss know.  Turn your out of office on and go to bed. 

9)      Don’t take advantage.  Don’t assume that just because you are at home you can swan off to pick the kids up from school or go to the hairdressers in the middle of the afternoon.  You  wouldn’t do that if you were sat in the office would you?  Ask your bosses permission to finish early or start late.   You are still employed, just in a different environment.  Of course different rules may apply if you are freelance and paid for a piece of work rather than hours worked – in that case it’s up to you when you work and when you don’t.  If you don’t finish the work  you don’t get paid.

10)   Use technology.  Email and remote access to computers are a fantastic way to keep on top of things, but don’t forget the phone.  Many of us would much rather write an email than speak to someone but you could be missing a trick.  Hearing a friendly voice will stave off loneliness, and help you to build relationships with your colleagues.  By not being in the office, you may miss out on the banter so it’s important that other people realise you are still part of the team.

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25 Things to Avoid Doing at Work

Want to know how to avoid winding up your colleagues?  Discover your irritating work habits and make work life easier for everyone.  Here’s my quick and easy guide to what not to do:

1)      Don’t eat smelly food in the office.

2)      Don’t shout into your phone.

3)      Don’t worry about other’s people’s time keeping.  Make sure you get to work and meetings on time, let other people’s bosses worry about them getting there.

4)      Don’t use your mobile/Blackberry/smart phone in meetings.

5)      Don’t take credit for other people’s work.

6)      Don’t come into the office when you’re sick, spreading your germs won’t make you popular

7)      Don’t blame others for your mistakes.

8)      Don’t sit on a task all day then ask a member of your team to do it five minutes before the end of the day.

9)      If you’ve set a deadline for a piece of work, don’t ask for it repeatedly BEFORE the deadline.  What’s the point of a deadline if you’re going to nag for it earlier anyway?

10)   Don’t miss a deadline.

11)   Don’t interrupt.  Give others a chance to speak.  Don’t speak over other people or ignore them completely.  You may like the sound of your own voice but your colleagues will find it pretty grating.

12)   Don’t use endless management speak.  Thinking outside the box is SO last year.

13)   Don’t  allow your parents, friends or partner to call you endlessly at work – particularly if you work in an office where there are no direct lines.  It’s irritating having to take messages from your husband every fifteen minutes.

14)   Don’t be consistently late.  A one off is a one off – everyone oversleeps or gets stuck on a defective train now and then.  But five minutes late EVERY morning is disrespectful and annoying.

15)   Don’t shout across the office at people.

16)   Don’t belittle colleagues and if you have to tell someone in your team off, do it in private.

17)   Don’t talk on the phone with your mouth full of food.

18)   Don’t expect other people to make you cups of coffee if you’re not willing to return the favour.

19)   Don’t leave the printer jammed with paper for someone else to sort out.

20)   Don’t put the empty milk carton back in the fridge.

21)   Don’t say you understand something when you don’t.

22)   Don’t expect everyone to drop what they’re doing to do something for you, unless it’s an absolute emergency (and then be nice about it).

23)   Don’t make a mess in the staff kitchen and leave it for someone else to tidy up.

24)   Don’t leave the toilet roll holder empty.

25)   Don’t send unnecessary emails.  Pick up the phone, or talk face-to-face, once in a while.

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