Grades matter – and other PR student myths

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Here are the five things most PR students get wrong.

#1 Grades matter

Enjoy graduation – but beware what you share on social media

Everyone wants you to do well, but percentage grades are not the only way to assess performance and ability.

Employers know there’s no standardised way of comparing achievement across different courses and universities. Large employers may expect applicants to have an upper second class degree, but this is merely a way of reducing the number of applications they have to process.

Other employers are likely to be more open-minded. They’ll ask what you did with your time at university, not just what grades you gained.

I have seen students with disappointing grades gain great work experience and build careers based on this. I have seen students with First Class degrees become very frustrated in the workplace (perfectionists often struggle in public relations since the work is never done) – so degree classification is no predictor of likely success in the workplace.

#2 It’s impossible to define public relations

Public relations is a young and evolving industry/profession, and there are unsurprisingly many different academic and practitioner perspectives on the subject. This does not mean it’s impossible to define PR; if anything, it suggests it’s too easy.

You too can and should seek to develop your own working definition. Just keep an open mind – and be prepared to update your thinking. That’s what smart people do.

Don’t be surprised if, at a job interview, you’re asked to discuss the subject you’ve been studying for three or more years at university.

#3 Consultancy work is more varied

You assume that working on a range of different clients guarantees variety. There are no dull moments, sure, but a consultancy tends to win work based on its areas of expertise, so you might end up doing very similar things (like social media content or media relations) for several different clients.

Compare this with in-house work, where you might be working with a wide range of different internal and external stakeholders. The in-house versus consultancy decision may be a choice between one client and many tasks and many clients and one task.

#4 PR is lightweight

AbFabmovieMedia portrayals of public relations tend to present it as a lightweight, even ridiculous, activity. Then there’s the confusion between promotional work (often involving ‘PR girls’) and professional public relations work.

If public relations only involves low-grade promotional work (such as handing out flyers), then why did you sign up to study it for several years at university?

What was the purpose of all those lessons in stakeholder relationship management, reputation management and crisis management?

#5 You’re hired for what you know

Employers do not hire graduates for what they know. They hire them for their potential to learn.

That’s why those with non-vocational degrees like English and History (see previous article) are often recruited to work in public relations. Your degree (in whatever the subject) should have taught you how to solve complex problems: that’s what interests employers. Employers use job interviews to identify candidates with future potential.

So please enjoy your graduation ceremony – but beware of sharing on social media your delight that the hard work’s finally over. If you are serious about developing a career in public relations, the hard work hasn’t even begun.