Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess

Advice For Graduating College Students
October 23, 2008, 10:00 pm
Filed under: Public Relations, Recruiting, Thoughts | Tags: ,

When I was going through college, in the back of my mind I always thought about what the world was like on the “other side” – once I graduated, what would I end up doing? Three months away from graduation, I discovered that the track I had followed all through school, a track that would ultimately lead me into physical therapy, was absolutely NOT what I wanted to pursue as a career. So, I was stuck. Do I change majors and spend another 1-2 years in college, or do I suck it up and graduate, and then figure out what to do?

These are the kinds of questions that many college seniors ask themselves – “What do I really want to do following graduation?” “Am I in the right track in school?” “Where do I even begin in looking for a job once I graduate?”

Over the last several months, I’ve had many seniors reaching out to me to ask for advice on how to go about pursuing careers once they graduate, in particular, in the field of public relations. I am pleased to offer up my own thoughts on some of the best things that you, as graduating college students, can do to take steps toward finding a fulfilling career post-graduation and earning the respect of your new colleagues once you find that opportunity.

These recommendations range from the obvious to the not-so-obvious. The majority of these observations come through first-hand experience or from personal friends of mine who’ve had first-hand experience. So, I hope this will provide you with some good tips for entering into the professional world.


  1. Don’t rush your time in college – enjoy it while you’re there. This doesn’t mean drag a 4-year degree out for 6 years. But let’s be honest, the “real world” is tough. I loved the time I spent at the University of Florida. Enjoy the time you are spending in college and don’t wish it away too quickly.
  2. Pursue internships – whether paid or un-paid. Lots of companies offer the opportunity for college students to participate in internship programs while they are still in school. These opportunities are a fantastic way for you to help figure out what you want to do after graduation. Some of them pay, some do not. You should not base your decision on which internships to pursue based on pay – some of the most valuable learning experiences come from those unpaid internships. My advice to you is to start entertaining these as early as your sophomore year, if possible (some companies will only hire juniors and above). If you are able to, try multiple internships over your college career, that way you get a good sampling of what’s out there.
  3. Don’t wait until the day after you graduate to start looking. If you wait even into your senior year to start sniffing around, you’re going to miss out on some really good opportunities. Start asking around toward the end of your junior year.  Engage your school’s career center as they will have some good resources to provide; but be careful not to rely solely on what your career center has to offer. Do your own research as well.
  4. Join student professional organizations – and get involved. This is not just to pad your resume. Joining professional student organizations, such as the PRSSA, will give you real experiences with things you will eventually encounter in the working world. These organizations will also provide many opportunities to hear from successful professionals in your field of study and start networking. Don’t just join for the sake of joining though – make sure to involve yourself in the organization’s activities. Just joining a gym doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get in shape – you actually have to go to the gym and work out in order for that to happen.
  5. Keep your online image clean. Access to view profiles through social networks is so easy these days. The last thing in the world you want is for a future employer to see that photo you took at the last greek get-together of you doing a keg stand or double-fisting a couple of Natty-Lights. Yeah, it’s not fair but you know, no one ever said life is fair. If you want to be taken seriously as a young professional, you need to go above and beyond to ensure that your online image is clean. Take down the questionable photos and ask your friends to be mindful of the language they use when writing you public messages.
  6. Choose your place of employment based on where your desires lay. A big mistake I see many young professionals make is selecting a place of employment based on the fact that their friends work there. One of my co-workers said to me that your friends will not always be people you like to work with, and vice versa. Make sure when you are considering multiple employers that you evaluate them based on what direction you want YOUR career to move, not because your friend just got an offer there.
  7. Know something about the company with which you are interviewing. Nothing is more irritating than being in an interview with someone who has absolutely no idea what the company does. Before you go on any interviews, make sure you do some research on the company, and if possible, the person with whom you will be interviewing. This shows great initiative, and your interviewer will be impressed that you took the time to find out some information on them.
  8. Approach your interviews the way you would approach dating. You would not propose on the first date, would you? Then don’t ask for a proposal on your first interview, either. The first interview is like a first date – you are both trying to determine whether or not a second date would be worth your time. First interviews are not the time or place to bring up salary, benefits, vacation, sick days, etc. They are for you to find out if the company culture would match with what you want to do in your career. When I interviewed at Waggener Edstrom, those items actually didn’t even come up until I was offered the position. I never brought them up because I wanted to make sure the experience of working for Waggener would suit my career goals. I had already decided I was going to accept when we finally discussed benefits – so they ended up just being (major) icing on the cake!
  9. Invest in your professional appearance. Guys, that deal you thought you got buying two suits for $100 is going to fall apart on you – literally. My friend Jeff bought into this as a young professional many years ago, and while he was sitting in a meeting one day, the material on one of his pant legs gave up and ripped right down the middle of his leg – not on the seam, RIGHT down the middle. When it comes to professional attire, invest in one or two GOOD suits. A good suit these days will cost you anywhere from $350 on up. But that suit should last you for many years and in the long run will be a better investment than those two-for-ones. Ladies, that “pants suit” you bought at Forever 21 leaves a lot to be desired. Just like the guys, consider investing in a few quality, interchangeable classic pieces. Quality clothing lasts a lot longer than the cheap stuff, and classic never goes out of style.
  10. Remember that the workplace is different from the club. Ladies, this one is mostly addressed to you. When you start a new job out of college, it’s time to leave the hotpants and glittery club tops in the closet during the week. These are not appropriate things to wear to work. Be careful of how much cleavage or leg you show – you’re not going to work to pick up a date. I’ve seen young women who wear things like this into the workplace, and let me tell you, the conversations that ensue are not about how hot you look. As young professionals, you need to dress a bit more conservatively in order to be taken seriously.
  11. The iron is your friend. I can’t tell you how unprofessional it is to wear an unpressed shirt or pants into work. If you absolutely cannot use an iron, then you should buy all wrinkle-less material outfits. Make sure you put an iron to your clothing before heading off to work.
  12. Learn how to tie a tie. Guys, clip-ons were for when you were 7. Time to learn a double-windsor – it looks the cleanest and in my opinion is the best of all the tie-tying techniques. And let me add in here that a short-sleeved shirt with a tie is just wrong. Period.
  13. Keep your nails clean. This seems like a silly thing to have to mention, but when you’re shaking hands with people, they do actually look at your hands. If you’ve got dirt or grease under your fingernails, they’re going to remember that. Also, ladies if you paint your nails, do your best to take care of chips. I know it’s hard sometimes – trust me, I’m a nail-chewer myself. Which is why I usually don’t even paint my nails.
  14. Don’t feel like you owe your life to a company. While you certainly want to make the most of your time with your employer and give them your best effort, it is naïve to believe that most people spend their entire professional careers with one company. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but in general, that just doesn’t happen any more. Finding a company that understands this and embraces it is a rare treasure.
  15. Look for a place that values employee education and development. And actually has a budget set aside for it – talk is cheap. I’ve worked in places that talked about how they wanted their employees to have development and educational opportunities, but when the time came for us to actually pursue such opportunities, there was either no budget or no time permitted for it. In order to continually excel in your career, you need to be ‘green and growing’. Otherwise, you’ll be ‘red and rotting’.
  16. Be a learning sponge. Take advantage of opportunities to learn from others in your company, or in competitor companies. Be proactive about asking for mentorship. But be genuine about it – don’t waste another person’s time simply to appear eager and hungry for knowledge.
  17. I have one more piece of advice to offer, but you’ll have to email me in order to get it 🙂

I wish all of you the best of luck as you are preparing to graduate and pursue careers. Please let me know if there is anything else that I can do to help you!


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

As a PR student getting ready to graduate, I appreciate the advice! Thanks! I’m interested to hear #17..

Comment by Alisha Levin dos Santos

Great advice – I have one more thing to add to #2. I always tell students and recent grads not to count out post grad internships. Sometimes this is the best way to get your foot in the door, especially with large PR agencies.

Comment by Allie Osmar

Fabulous advice, Amybeth. Also, good footwear is important. Your shoes shouldn’t be scuffed or ragged, and you should never wear flip flops to the office. It may not seem important, but you’d be surprised by the number of folks who notice your footwear.

Comment by jillsommer

Great advice! Another good idea is to get to know people at the places you want to work. Go to their professional organization meetings and shake hands. Tell them you’re interested in the industry and invite them out for coffee. It’s basically a pre-interview. Even if their company isn’t presently hiring, you will be remembered in the future.

Comment by Lauren

One more: Don’t underestimate the power of a hand-written thank you note … & make sure you mail after the interview on that same day.

Comment by sweetser

Amybeth- Great advice for college students and recent grads! I must agree that you definitely need to do your research on the company you’re interviewing with. I don’t think any interview I went to this year didn’t ask me about my favorite advertisement, or client of theirs. They like to know you’ve done your HW!

I love your advice about approaching an interview as you would a first date. As a student or recent grad you’re looking for a right fit for yourself. You want to make sure you get along with people in the office, enjoy the environment and are getting something out of it.

I think another important thing to remember is to know that it is okay to ask questions. I came up with a long list of “dumb questions” my first week. My boss thought it was funny that was what I actually labeled the piece of paper, but they weren’t dumb questions they were things I wasn’t informed of because I hadn’t worked in an agency setting. Asking questions is the best way to learn. You will be a sponge, but that’s what taking on a challenging position-it’s all about continuing your knowledge.

I think the last thing I would add, which I’m the poster child for now, is invest your time in creating relationships in different social media outlets. Networking is the key to any great opportunity!

Great advice for anyone looking for a job!

Comment by stacistringer

[…] Advice for graduating college students – everything from how to dress to how to manage your online image […]

Pingback by Advice for young PRos « Clemson PRSSA

Great post Amybeth! I especially second getting involved in PRSSA, and I would even take that a step further and say join the PRSSA leadership board (one of the most notable benefits is being able to attend the National Conference). Had I not been actively involved in PRSSA (which gave me the opportunity to pre-establish several relationships with agencies in Portland) I don’t think I would have been able to land a job at WE right out of college.

Comment by Andrea

[…] to Land a Job Using Social Media (Plus Tips to Do it Right) – from Kelly Rusk’s Web2.What? Advice For Graduating College Students – from Amybeth Hale Landing a Great Job – Tips for Success – from Vojtech Horna’s Blog […]

Pingback by Advice For The PR Grad - Final Thoughts and Additional Resources | Pr Channel Blog

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