I have noticed a change in attitude over recent years of students that have picked PR or journalism degrees. For those that don’t know the PR degree (of which I sometimes lecture for) asks their students to get valuable work experience to get real work for their portfolios. This becomes an intrinsic part of their degree and as the years go by the student’s portfolio gets better and better.  It’s actually the reason I got my first PR job in London against 400 other applicants – the fact I had real-life PR experience won me the job. Some students are great, proactive and love doing it and it tends to be those with the right attitude that we pay and eventually hire full-time. The issue I have is with those that do it at last minute and don’t appear interested and seem to be going through the motions because their degree demands it. Don’t you guys realise – there are students out there that have done excellent English degrees and they would snap your arm off to get experience of this nature? We had a student from Oxford in the other day – that had no PR or journalism degree but wanted experience because he believed this was his career path. I have started to think that students that do their work experience off their own back is far, far better than those that are on the relevant degrees. I know this sounds obvious but this is coming from me both a graduate of that degree and a former lecturer. Whilst at University, the words ‘work experience’ and ‘internship’ will be used almost as much as the words ‘night out’ and ‘deadlines’. Unlike nights out, the thought of work experience might not fill you with joy but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be terrible. It could be the making of you. With experience in almost any given field becoming critical, especially public relations, your tutors will tell you time and time again to get in touch with local agencies or in-house PR teams. The plight to look for and secure a work placement may be a tricky one and (if I am honest a tad scary), with more students than agencies to go around, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you should take one without knowing anything about the agency. Treat it like a real interview and genuine opportunity because that is exactly what it is. Wanting to do work experience is important, not just for the agency you choose but for you. If you really cannot bear the thought of one day a week, two weeks or even one year’s placement, are you really entering the right industry? In saying that, no two PR agencies are exactly the same, are you looking for social media, corporate comms, B2B or B2C? If you don’t know, do your research and do it carefully. There’s no harm in getting experience in everything, how else will you figure out what works best for you? I tell my students that all of the time – you don’t know, what you don’t know. I obviously like the agency I have built here but I have worked in some which I didn’t particularity like. Similarly I have had interviews at big brands which instantly turned me off. Interviews are a two-way process and too many people forget this. Nowadays, it’s not just PR students after placements in this industry and this means it’s even more important than ever to impress whilst you are in the office. We (the employers) will remember you by how you act, so if you feel forced into doing a placement and don’t want to be there, they’ll probably be able to tell. I mean – I can! Whilst employers sometimes take on interns to help with workload, they also want you to progress and learn, it is a good idea to let them know if you’re looking for work for you portfolio or are hoping to do a placement year. This way they can help tailor the work to give you the skills you’ll need. I try to help everyone that comes to work at Prohibition but I know what a commitment it is to do work experience. That said I have hired more than 12 people from work experience in the six years we have been going – so it could be your best chance to get a job. Don’t feel obliged to get experience but get it or you risk not having as successful a career as you have had.  

About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.