the future for grads in PR: an interview with Tony Byng, Leeds University Business School

business cardIt is coming up to that time again.  Dissertations are in, final exams are looming and the prospect of leaving the fun university life that has been a reality for the past few years is becoming more and more real.

But, given the current financial climate™ what are the prospects for today’s graduates?

Rather than come up with a flimsy list of tips (that is the next post) I thought I’d speak to an expert.  Tony Byng used to work with me at The Weber Group before pursuing a career as a lecturer.  He is currently the programme Director for Leeds University Business School’s MA in corporate communications and PR. I asked him what he thought of the industry today and how tough it was for Grads:

… from what I gather, the market is still relatively open for those students who are prepared to ‘put themselves about’ or who have garnered some real experience during their summer vacations. Having said that, we have seen an increase in applications for our marketing-related Masters programmes of between 20-40%… suggesting many are hoping to ride out the economic storm by spending another year in education – if they can afford it!

We have a large Careers Service at Leeds and the University has a very good track record of graduate employment. While the ‘Milk Run’ is rather a sparse affair these days, Leeds is still targeted by many corporate employers – partly due to the quality of its education, but also down to the quality and background of the students we accept.

The issue with PR specifically, is that both agencies and in-house departments appear to be pretty poor at graduate recruitment. I have rarely come across agencies who start a recruitment drive in, say, November… interview in the spring with a view to employing in August/September. Most of them don’t seem to be able to plan that far ahead! And, it’s not just PR – most marketing agencies are the same, apart from the some of the larger ones. Of course, a lack of experience tends to shut the door pretty quickly as well.

I asked Tony what his advice is for this year’s graduates:

So, my advice to students considering a move in to PR is, perhaps, a little old-fashioned. I tell them to surf the web, read Guardian Media and PR Week, talk to anyone with even the slightest association with PR and encourage them to identify agencies they would like to work for (based on awards, client list, positioning, etc.) and then get on the phone… looking to find out who’s hiring, when they may be hiring and generally selling themselves and trying to get a network going. I even encourage them to ask for internships – even a day shadowing an account team. It’s difficult to say no to someone who appears keen and bright when they offer themselves for free! If they think this sounds too much like hard work, then they’re probably not cut out for the industry anyway!

How does the Uni help PR grads find work?

In terms of the University, I recommend that students look to the careers service for advice on preparing CVs, interview skills and using resources for researching target agencies. I also advise students to look at their whole CV and find something that differentiates them – not a just a rounded CV balancing work and play but something genuinely interesting to talk about. It is difficult for the education sector to do too much more when the industry appears to be less than organised. I would be delighted if you proved me wrong on this last point 😉

To help prove Tony wrong, I will be speaking to PR students at Leeds over the coming few months and we’re also reviewing  how we promote the graduate scheme at Ruder Finn.

Corss posted at Ruder Finn’s blog

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