During my Business and PR degree, I sometimes wondered whether experience in the working world was actually more beneficial than the actual degree itself.
At the time, it seemed that nothing compared to experience in the office when looking for a job in PR. No one was going to hire me without any previous office experience and I had to find some way of gaining experience before completing my degree.
Understanding the difference between internships, placements and work experience was difficult in itself, but finding work experience positions was thankfully not that difficult while I was in university.
Here are six different ways to gain experience and add to your CV while at university studying for your degree (and some you can do from home too while we’re in this pandemic).
I hate to state the obvious, but the most tried and tested way of gaining experience in the PR industry is by interning in a PR agency or in-house office.
Clearly that may not be possible right now, but when the time comes that we can go back to offices and work together in-person, take the opportunity to intern for a few days or weeks at places you like and want to get to know more about.
Interning is probably the best way to get hands-on experience and to find out what it’s really like to work in an office, what it’s like to work with other people and to see what kinds of things you would be doing once graduated with your degree.
Use your summer holidays, mid-term breaks and days off from university to try and book in some time with local agencies and companies that will have you. You can expect that most of these positions will be unpaid but may have travel or lunch expenses covered.
If you’re lucky to secure something more permanent like a few days a week over a longer period, you should hopefully find that this would be a paid opportunity.
Another way to add some experience to your CV is to write around the subject you are studying for. The more you read, the more you write, the more you understand.
Think about if from a teaching perspective. When studying for exams, I used to try and ‘teach’ my friends what I knew, and that helped me understand it better as I had to know enough to pass the information along to them.
The best way I would always recommend to write is by starting a blog. It doesn’t mean buying a domain, theme or putting a lot of your money into something you won’t pursue. Instead, write some posts on LinkedIn, write some guest posts for another blog, join in Twitter conversations and talk to others about PR.
Related post: Five Reasons to Start a Blog
While at university, you could try your hand at offering your PR services to charities or small businesses from your hometown or new local area.
Ask to manage their social media platforms, write blog posts for them or try securing coverage for them in publications. Offer your services pro-bono to start with so that you can get some experience on your CV.
You could even reach out to your university and see if there are ways to gain work experience on the uni team or in a society. If there is no PR society at your university, maybe you can start one (something I wish I had the confidence to do while at university).
You never know, starting off like this could lead to full-time positions or even lead to freelancing your services.
4. Build a social media account
University is a great time to experiment with different things like career and opportunities. You often have a lot of time on your hands and probably find yourself sitting up late at night deep into a Netflix docu-series. Has anyone watched Night Stalker recently?
With your free time and no big responsibilities, why not try your hand at building a following on social media. Think of what you’re really passionate about, and run with it.
If you are able to block out all fears of what other people will think, start a YouTube channel, an Instagram account, a TikTok account or even a podcast. Put out all the content you can, learn about hashtags, and ways to grow your account.
Treat it like a business experiment. See what works for your account and what doesn’t; what brings followers and what doesn’t. At the end of it, you could have a portfolio of accounts that you’ve grown from 0 to 10,000 followers in a very short time. A great example of social media management and content creation that an employer will value.
5. Take online courses
This was something I spent a lot of time doing in the first lockdown. I completed two Course for Excellence diplomas, a Google Analytics course, and a Harvard Business course about Contract Law.
If you find yourself having a lot more time on your hands because of lockdown and university going online, spend that time taking online courses and being accredited in anything you want.
You’ll find a lot of courses provided by Google and Hubspot for content marketing, Google Analytics, digital marketing and more. Moz offers free courses in SEO and link-building.
Here are five online courses that you might want to take a look at if this interests you.
I know I talk a lot about books and reading, but it really is a great way to learn. While you may not rush to read the text books on your university reading list, there are smaller, more enjoyable books to read around your topic.
When it comes to public relations, read books like The Art and Craft of PR, No Filter, and How to Be An Overnight Success. I’m pretty lagging in the PR and influencer marketing books department, but it’s on my list of things to improve on this year.
For now, you can read my favourite books in 2020 if you would like some reading recommendations.