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5 Ways Young Communications Pros Can Improve Their Resumes

Written by Mandy Boyle

Searching for a new opportunity can be the norm when you’re a young communications professional, but don’t expect to go anywhere unless you have a solid resume. Consider your resume to be a gateway. If you want to land an interview or even get a call back from an internship inquiry, you have to depend on this 8 ½ x 11 inch piece of paper. It’s your introduction into the professional world. 

When crafting communications-focused your resume, remember that first impressions always count. Be sure that your resume stands out and sends the right message by following these five tips:

1.)    Eliminate the clutter. Most people who have the honor of glancing through resumes do simply that: they glance. You only have a few seconds to catch someone’s attention, so use your space wisely. Focus on only the most important stuff. Be clear and concise. Filling up your resume with fluff can mean that once your resume hits someone’s desk, it’s a quick trip right to the trash pile.

2.)    Spell check and grammar check. You’d be surprised at how many young professionals neglect to do this. Double, triple, and quadruple check if you have to. Better yet, take your resume to a writing center or career development office on campus and get a professional’s input. Eliminate any leet speak and emoticons (it’s just unprofessional). Clean up the language to give your resume a more active voice. Keep it crisp.

3.)    Include social media. If you’re looking to get a job in communications, social media experience is going to be key. Let your prospective employer know that you have the skills needed by sharing links to your social networking profiles, blog, and YouTube channel. Get rid of any questionable photos, status updates, and posts. If sending your resume electronically, put it in a PDF format with clickable links or buttons. It makes your life – and the employer’s life – so much easier when it comes to demonstrating expertise.

4.)    Ditch the template. Recruiters, employers, and interviewers have seen those Word resume templates a million times over. Really show that you want to make an impression and be creative with the presentation. Remember, you only have a few seconds. Create your own resume in a desktop publishing program from scratch, or see if you can have a graphic designer friend create one for you for free or a small fee. The investment of time (and maybe a little money) is definitely worth it.

5.)    Consider keywords. It’s sad but true; many resumes go unread completely. Instead, they are scanned into a computer and searched to find certain keywords that pertain to the job or internship that’s available. Without those valuable key words, consider your resume tossed. When drafting your resume, keep those keywords in mind by studying the position description and considering the skills required. Did you know that “leadership”, “problem-solving”, and “oral/written communication” are some of the most sought after keywords?

What are some of the resume writing tips you’ve found to come in handy? Any words of advice for young professionals looking to make a great first impression? Post a comment here.

About Mandy Boyle: Mandy Boyle is a graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional. As a Search Engine Optimization Specialist for Solid Cactus and published freelance writer, Mandy is no stranger to compelling storytelling. When she’s not at her laptop or in the classroom, you can usually find her in the kitchen. Cupcakes are her specialty. Follow Mandy on Twitter at @mandyboyle or visit her website (

Things Your Mother Said About Social Media

Written by Kevin Hauswirth

Mothers say loads of things as we’re growing up–trying to keep us safe, teach us appropriate behaviors and prepare us for the real world.  Little did she know, some of her lessons might actually apply to social media… and, well, some of those lessons need to be rethought as we approach the online world.

Let’s see if and how what Mother Knows Best applies to best practices in social media. Because, let’s face it, on Saturday mornings when we’re ready to go play, “good things come to those who wait,” but when she wants us out of bed early to cut down a Christmas tree, “the early bird gets the worm.”

1) “Be yourself.” Mother is so right. Authenticity not only adds to your credibility, but it supports your sanity. Being someone you’re not was exhausting in high school and it’s not sustainable in social media.

2) “I’ll turn this car around.” Not true. Let’s face it, she never actually turned around and in social media, there’s no turning back. Sure, the vehicles will change, but we’re just going to keep moving forward. We’re no longer sitting in the back of the station wagon facing out the rear window, or connecting with friends on Friendster, but the future still points forward.

3) “If you keep playing with it, you’ll go blind.” True. If you spend all your time online you’ll become blind to how people actually interact. The root of great social media programs is understanding how people actually behave and interact offline (and online), then capturing that online. Otherwise, you’re just a tech nerd who has early adapted himself into a corner.

4) “Everything will be okay.” Tell that to George Allen .

5)“Because I said so.” Ugh. Hated hearing it then, hate hearing it now. Top down social media isn’t the right approach. It’s more important to listen to your customers than to the big wigs when it comes to social media insights.

6) “Don’t talk to strangers.” Well, now that all depends what you consider a stranger! We all know that we should never expect candy or spam from strangers. Even if they hang out in a van in front of school or recently come into a great deal of money from a Nigerian business man and just need you to front the transfer fee. But some of your favorite social media buddies were unknowns until they started following your tweets. So perhaps the motherly advice is more “choose your friends wisely.”

7) “Treat others how you’d like to be treated.” If you share this blog, link me back. If you love my tweet, show some @ love.

8 ) “Sharing is caring.” Okay, maybe it was Barney the purple dinosaur who said that, but it still counts.

9) “Go ask your father.” Perhaps thankfully, Dad’s not the only one with the answers any more. The consumer (or voter) has become increasingly empowered now that our circle of influencers is expanding exponentially. Sure, Dad might have something important to say about what mechanic to choose, but so do 1,000 Yelpers.

10) “No jumping on the bed.” In social media, you’re totally allowed to jump on the bed and have fun- in fact, I’d probably encourage it. Show your personality, lighten up a bit and keep things interesting. But remember, fun (much like Holiday Inn bed jumping contests) can get annoying. Keep your bed jumping under control and your Farmville updates to yourself.

11) “Play nice.” Unfortunately, mom, some times a$$holes are successful. Right, Perez? But in general, you’ll likely catch more flies with honey because it’s way easier to unfriend that douche now than it was in elementary school. (Though the issue of Cyber Bullying is a totally new can of worms).

12) “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” I still don’t know what that means, but I’m sure there’s a bad “cookie” pun in there somewhere.

13) “Don’t jump in the pool until 30 minutes after eating.” Oh, the ol’ dilemna for journalists adapting to social media. When do you run and jump in with a story sourced from an anon blog or tweet? A good journalist will vet it, let it digest for a bit and ensure it’s safe/accurate. But that’s tough when you see everyone else diving in right away. Sure, it looks like they’re having a great time, until someone gets Sherrod-ed and drowns.

14) “Honey, are you okay in there?” Marketing Executive, are you okay with this integrated digital plan we’re showing you? Huh?? I can’t hear you. I can’t help you if you can’t tell me what’s wrong….

15) “I think it’s time we had the talk.” There’s a time in every marketer’s life when things start to change. You start feeling strange and looking at the world differently, but don’t quite know what’s happening. The other boys in the breakout session seem to be bigger and stronger, while you’re still wondering why there’s pay-per-click where you didn’t even know you could click before.

17) “You won’t know until you try it.” (see also: “You’ll just have to find out for yourself.“)You can’t know what “Facebook strategy” tastes because you talked to your niece about it at Thanksgiving or read half a book on “New Media.” Get in there, don’t pinch your noise and feel firsthand what some of these platforms are like. Remember, there are starving children in Africa who don’t even have Blackberries and would love to have yours.

18) “One day, you’ll thank me.” True, and I’ll write it on your wall.

Kevin Hauswirth is the director of advertising and promotions for a Chicago university, but has a background working with big brands where he focused on national media relations, social media programs, strategic planning and new media training/development. He contributes to the future of America’s college students as adjunct faculty in marketing communications. He teaches a social media strategy course called PR Wired and a graduate course in integrated marketing communications called Marketing Communications via Social Media. You can read his blog at and follow him on Twitter @kevinhauswirth.

Change Management in Changing Times: A Q&A with Employee Communications Pros

By Elizabeth C. Castro, vice president, O’Malley Hansen Communications

If you oversee employee communications for clients or within your organization, take a quick look at your archives – items like your employee newsletter of 10-15 years ago. Yes, they seem funny and even simplistic by today’s standards. But looking back at past work provides some insights into how employee communications has evolved over the years, where it’s going and what hasn’t really changed. Gone are the days when your employee communications consisted primarily of service anniversaries and benefits information, and employee communicators provided a purely functional role. Now, dedicated employee communications teams have become highly adept at working in partnership with their organization’s leaders to help employees march in the same direction to meet overall business objectives. Today, it’s all about smart strategy, engagement and of course, change management. And nothing can really replace some face-to-face time.

The Communications Blog connected with some of the industry’s brightest and most experienced communications pros here in the U.S. and U.K. to share their perspectives on employee communications and engagement. Here are their thoughts:

What is the biggest difference between internal communications/communicators and external communications/communicators?

Nate Riggs (NR), principal, Social Business Strategies LLC – I think the biggest difference is the potential to really create and solidify an emotional connection to a brand.  Tony Hsieh had a quote in Delivering Happiness that has stuck with me since I read it:  “Your culture is your brand…”.  I think that is absolutely spot on.  If you can focus on making it easy and rewarding for your employees to communicate across all levels of the organization, these same stories also radiate outside of your organization naturally.  Oftentimes, social media is the catalyst that takes them to the outside world.  For instance, we’re using an internally focused Facebook fan page to connect employees at Incept, but leaving it completely transparent and visible to the outside world.  A funny thing happens when you do that.  Customers and prospective customers, and even some competitors often and watch and participate in those internal conversations.

Kevin Johnson (KJ), employee communications, BT (UK)The biggest difference is the use of implicit compared to explicit messages. Internally, people seek to read between the lines far more, so the need to be aware of the audience and their frame of reference is very important. Externally you tend to be either selling a message, belief or idea which is far more explicit in tone.  The emotional intelligence that needs to go into employee communications is far more interesting as a challenge.

Steven J. Ramirez (SJR), CEO of Beyond the Arc, Inc. – Employees appreciate hearing about new initiatives or how the company is faring in the marketplace, but they are particularly interested in hearing about the vision for the company. They want to know that the company has a mission that resonates with their personal values.

Rachel Allen (RA), head of communications at London Overground Rail Operations Ltd.In recent times the pressure on employee communicators to prove their worth and demonstrate return on investment has been greater than ever, particularly in this age of budget cuts.  I think it is encouraging to see more communications positions at board level and think the biggest difference has been the shift in perceptions. In the past, employee communicators  were  often seen as optional – as a ‘nice to have’, whereas now I think there is clarity around the benefit communications professionals can add, particularly  when they have strategic input. Being able to help shape decisions from the start, rather than picking up the pieces later down the line and trying to create messaging to help embed change, is a change for the better. There’s still room for improvement but as a whole I think the industry is moving in the right direction.

How much has the role of an employee communicator changed over the last 10 years?

SJR – It’s changed dramatically. First, they are called on to apply their expertise to a much wider range of internal communications challenges. Second, the globalization of most large organizations has meant that cross-cultural communications is more important than ever.  Finally, information overload takes its toll and communicators not only need to craft the right message, they need to target it to the right audiences and select the appropriate communications channels

KJ – Since 2000 I have seen a move for employee communicators to be a real business partner: more strategic thinking, greater focus on engagement and two-way communications and improved professionalism.

RAEmployee communicators are asked to wear lots of different hats and perform various roles. Back in June the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) held its world conference in Canada and looked at this topic. It outlined seven crucial communication roles that the employee communicator needs to embrace in order to ‘continue to be relevant in their organization five years from now. Those roles are:  the talent, the talent scout, the big picture painter, the community organizer, the multimedia story teller, the social media coach and the creative strategist. You can see from this list that employee communicators need to be all things to all people. (Read more on this subject on Rachel’s blog –

NRFor most companies, I don’t think it’s really changed at all.  The majority of companies out there today still want to keep employees very limited in how they communicate with each other.  This is the typical classical or top-down management philosophy. The buzz around the question is created by very progressive companies that do embrace open employee to employee communication. Companies like Zappos or Hubspot or maybe even BestBuy are setting the new tones here.

In today’s financial climate, change management is a big topic in the employee engagement area. What are employee communicators most concerned about or focusing on?

SJREmployees can be unsettled and fearful. Internal communicators want to have a positive impact on morale, but they don’t want to sugar coat an uncertain situation. Striking this balance isn’t very easy.

RA – The key focus area for employee communicators now is the ability to link change to engagement and to steer organizations through the change curve to get to where they need to be. Communications professionals are aware of the impact of change and the importance of listening, thinking strategically and providing transparent two-way communications to help guide companies through it. We often discover the best ways of doing things is by being in the deep end, so the focus is to keep sharp and alert to trends and ask peers for their advice. I believe that being a member of groups such as the IABC, Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) or Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is beneficial for employee communicators as you can draw strength from each other and discover what has worked well and equally what hasn’t been successful. I think we’re concerned about getting it right and learning when things don’t go to plan, in order to improve when the next change comes along.

NR – I think most communicators are concerned with getting top level buy-in for any type of change initiatives in communication.  In most cases, significant change is going to require time, resources and some capital investment.  Getting buy in that requires C-level leaders to sign checks is often a big source of anxiety for a majority of the communicators I work with.

KJ – Change communications is one area I see still lagging in maturity compared to some of the other areas of communication. Too often we try and beat people into changing their behavior or way of working simply by the power of our logical argument. The emotional response to change is the part of communication that takes it from science to art. You need to have great processes in place, the science so to speak, to deal with the steps for communicating a merger or downsizing, for example. But the art comes in how you then engage with people and bring out their resistance so that you can align both the logical and emotional messages (There’s some great stuff by Chip and Dan Heath on communicating in change, and some interesting thoughts for communicators in Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis).

When trying to communicate a new strategic direction to employees, what are some of the new tools being used beyond employee newsletters?

RA – There are plenty of tools in the employee communicator’s toolbox to choose from. Employee newsletters still have their place – I think it is important to assess an organization’s culture and set-up before dismissing the more traditional tactics in favor of whizzy gadgets and trends, which may clash with the way things are done and how employees expect to receive/give information. I think the phrase ‘new tools’ immediately makes people think of social media. But these tools aren’t really new, they have been around for a while now and employee communicators have a rich mix to choose from blogs, wikis, Twitter-style tools (e.g., Yammer), podcasts and forums. They certainly have their place in the toolbox as they can aid collaboration and discussion which in turn can help with sense-checking and providing clarity. I recommend a pick and mix approach to tools; choosing what is right for your target audience and culture in order to get your messages across and understood.

KJ – Old is the new ‘new’ or more to the point, face-to-face is the future of communicating strategy. Blogs, podcasts, tweets will never get the same interaction that real face-to-face engagement brings, nor will it allow you to allow people to raise issues, build trust and belief, especially if you have difficult messages. And from a British perspective, all of the nuances and subtleties that go with the way that many people communicate here get lost when it is done in a virtual way. For strategic direction there is no substitute to getting the leadership out and visible, particularly in helping more junior management understand what is being communicated so they can be part of the change.

SJR – One of the most effective ways to convey a new strategy is via town hall meetings; that kind of face-to-face interaction can’t be beat. Internal video segments can also be very effective. We’ve seen some great use of video produced in a news magazine style. Social media has not yet come of age in the large enterprise, but we expect to see more use of internal blogs, wikis, and more.

NR – There’s a variety of tools that can be used, but internal social networks and communities are growing in popularity.  These can range from free tools like Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups or even internal micro blogs like Yammer, to more high-end applications like Jive Software, SocialCast or Ramius. At the end of the day, it depends heavily on the size of your budget, the size of your company and ultimately the types and severity of communication challenges the business is facing.

How do you reach desk bound employees versus employees in the field or in manufacturing settings?

NR – The common denominator here is mobile devices.  There’s a reason why mobile integration and application development trends are rising at such an alarming rate.  Adoption of mobile communication strategies will become more dominant than email became in the late 90’s.

SJR – If you need to reach employees in the field, or on the shop floor, then talking points, team huddles, and similar personal communications are very effective. In this era of hi-tech global communications, sometimes we forget how effective it can be to just speak with someone!

KJ – The boundaries are merging here with mobile workers getting technology that makes content accessible from any location.  The larger issue is recognizing the desire to access information as we move to less ‘push’ and more ‘pull’ information. That means the quality, succinctness and tone of messages needs to be really compelling and differentiated in a way that audiences from different backgrounds find accessible.

What are the most successful ways you’ve communicated difficult news to employees?

KJDifficult news is actually quite simple to get right but for some reason we all too often get it wrong through a lack of preparation, planning and forethought. First, what is the plan? Think about what you need to say, prepare for what it means to the individual, recognize that they may not accept it and you may need to repeat and confirm what it means. But most importantly do it with respect and do it simply. Second, how should you do it? Tell them personally, face-to-face, but if that’s not possible (and it shouldn’t be just because it is inconvenient), do it by phone. Never send a text, email or voice message – and never in a group meeting or conference call, unless everyone is affected.

RA – I think the most important measure of success is feedback. If you receive lots of questions and comments throughout a period of communicating difficult news, it shows that employees trust the process. Or it at least demonstrates they know who to direct their concerns to if they cannot find the answers they are looking for at a local level. Also, I’ve successfully used rumor busting campaigns – literally lifting the lid on shared concerns whispered in corridors and exposing them in order to be able to address them in an open and transparent way. I have found that demystifying rumors and unpicking them to reveal the elements of truth, and correcting false information has worked well. I’ve also found that empowering line managers is a crucial part of communicating difficult news. Equipping them with the tools to tackle the difficult topics at a local level and raising concerns at a higher level is vital. The ideal scenario is empowered line managers meeting face-to-face with their teams to discuss difficult situations and news.

NR – I love, love, LOVE Skype or any type of video conferencing.  Depending on what studies you’ve read, it’s somewhere in the area of 65%-75% of all communication between humans is non verbal.  That said, conference calls are extremely ineffective in my mind.  The ability to see who you’re talking with and read facial gestures, body posture and other non verbal expressions is critical.   I learned a concept from Kerry Patterson’s book “Crucial Conversations: Make it Safe.”  It describes how you can approach both written and spoken conversations in order to make the employee feel like they can be absolutely honest with you. Outside of this, for me, video conferencing is a corner stone in interpersonal communication for business.

SJR – Employees appreciate straight talk. The language should be clear and concise, delivered in a respectful and empathetic tone.  

When developing a change management/employee communications program what are the top strategies or tactics? How do you approach it?

NR – Number one: Audience research on the different types of employees.  We use surveys, focus groups and individual interviews to really get the feel of the different types of audiences were dealing with. Number two are cultural assessments. We look at the internal social graph of a company to identify the communication leaders who might live outside of the management hierarchy in order to understand how they influence their pack.  To do this, we start with the C-level and ask more relationship driven questions to see if any rank and file employees are popping up on multiple radars.  Once we’ve identified the folks who connect levels in an organization, we work outwards to map out the communication clusters who might be having frequent “conversations at water coolers”, whether those are happing inside or outside of the office, or in online communities.

KJ – It’s all in the planning:

1. Build a stakeholder map; details of what the impact is, what changes, who influences them and when.

2. Build a message set.

3. Ensure you have active sponsorship. Not vanity or badge-wearing sponsorship but commitment for time, resource and the right influence.

4. A change readiness assessment – What change has there been before, with what success? What involvement has there been (the emotional stuff)?

5. Make it two-way – People might not have choice in what is happening but the more you can involve them in how to get there, to share their views, to provide comment and feedback, the quicker you get to the other end of the change and start seeing the benefits.

The Communications Bog wants to thank these experts who contributed their insights to this article. Here’s a bit about each contributor and how to find/follow them online/on Twitter for continued best practices:

Kevin Johnson works in employee communications for BT plc (  Operating in more than 170 countries, BT is one of the world’s leading providers of communications solutions and services. Its principal activities include networked IT services, local, national and international telecommunications services, and higher value broadband and internet products and services.  Kevin has focused on communication during change, with experience in financial services and transport before joining BT. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinSJohnson.

Steven J. Ramirez is the CEO of Beyond the Arc, Inc. (, a management consulting and strategic communications firm that helps clients sharpen their focus on their customers. Steve’s expertise is in effective management and communication strategies for mergers, acquisitions, and other corporate strategy initiatives. You can join the conversation on Twitter at @beyondthearc.

Rachel Allen is Head of Communications at London Overground Rail Operations Ltd. She started her career as a journalist, and then wrote internal publications for L’Oréal, GSK and BSkyB through an agency, before moving in-house. She has been part of the corporate communication team at Visa, Visteon and Tube Lines and in 2009 was named one of PR Week’s Top 29 under 29. Her Twitter ID is @rachallen and blog is

Nate Riggs is the principal and chief strategist at his firm, Social Business Strategies LLC. He works with mid-sized & large organizations to help them adopt and use social media communication tools, and build social media offerings designed to serve their clients. He is a proud dad and lucky husband who enjoys music, photography and distance racing. Nate also blogs about business strategy, communications, parenting and life in Columbus, Ohio at You can follow him on Twitter @nateriggs.

Elizabeth Castro is a vice president at O’Malley Hansen Communications (OHC) in Chicago ( and the editor of OHC has developed award winning public relations and social media campaigns for national brands. You can follow her on Twitter at @Eliz_Castro and @thecommsblog.

What Do I Do With a Communications Degree?

Written by Mandy Boyle

When first beginning our college careers, some of us were faced with this dreaded question:

“So, what do you exactly do with a communications degree?”

If asked, you probably felt a little embarrassed because you didn’t quite know what you wanted to do. Some of us know right from the start, but as our education and experience progresses, we tend to change our minds. Maybe you were thinking about public relations in the fashion industry but discovered your true calling is community relations. Maybe you discovered your passion is in production. Maybe you just weren’t sure if your focus wanted to be marketing instead of advertising.

That’s the beauty of a career in communications. Unlike many other industries, you have choice and a variety of focuses in which you can stretch your legs and develop your talents. As a young professional, the job outlook may be competitive, but it’s most definitely varied.

Let’s take a brief look at some of the most common career focuses in communications:

Media Relations: This is the area of communications that most people associate with public relations. Media relations involves developing strong connections with the media on behalf of your client in order to secure coverage. You’ll pitch, write, and pitch some more as you look to gain exposure for your client’s brand, products, or services.

Government and Community Relations: Facilitating two-way communication between a government and the community it serves can be difficult, but that’s the beauty of government and community relations. If you’re passionate about civic involvement and want to serve your country, state, or local community, this may be a strong fit for you.

Public Affairs: Relaying policy messages and serving as a bridge between the organization and the media is the chief function of a public affairs communicator. Governments, non-profits, universities, and many businesses use public affairs officers to ensure that the right information gets to the right destination.

Crisis Communications: BP and Toyota have something very much in common: the need for professionals in crisis communications. Should you choose to focus yourself in this high intensity area of communications, be prepared to communicate with a variety of constituent groups under pressure to minimize damage to your client’s brand. Organization and a cool, clear head will be key.

Digital Media: Are you passionate about technology? Then digital media might be the best fit for you. In this area of communications, be ready to engage and interact through video, web, podcasting, interactive advertising, and other various media.

Social Media: If you’re the kind of person who loves to have conversations, then you’ll love taking part in the social media sphere. Should you choose to engage yourself in social media communications, you’ll need more than just savvy with the platforms. You’ll also need to know how to build, engage, and grow a community around a brand.

Marketing Communications: Communicating to consumers is the chief function of a marketing communications professional, so it’s important to know how to best convey the brand itself, value propositions, and other important information through a variety of media channels to drive sales. You’ll use a blend of marketing, advertising, and public relations to get your message across.

These are just a few fields one could go in with a communications degree, so feel free to explore them and more to find the one that’s best for you. But no matter which field you choose, it’s important that you have the right skills to get the job done. Every communications professional who wants to succeed must have:

Having all of these skills will give you a competitive edge when it comes time to enter the professional world.

So, in the meantime, if you’re not quite sure of where you want to land when you hit the ground running, continue to develop these valuable skills. No matter where you end up, they’ll undoubtedly make you a valuable asset to any organization.

 About Mandy Boyle: Mandy Boyle is a graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional. As a Search Engine Optimization Specialist for Solid Cactus and published freelance writer, Mandy is no stranger to compelling storytelling. When she’s not at her laptop or in the classroom, you can usually find her in the kitchen. Cupcakes are her specialty. Follow Mandy on Twitter at @mandyboyle or visit her website (

5 Tips for a Better Online Portfolio

Written by Mandy Boyle

If you’re trying to land a position in communications, you need to have a portfolio; it’s just that simple. In my previous interviews with Deirdre Breakenridge and Gini Dietrich, these PR pros gave their insights on what makes or breaks a great portfolio. Taking their advice into account as well as the advice of other communications professionals, here are 10 tips for making your online portfolio stand out from the crowd.

1.)    Keep things simple. When putting together a portfolio, it can be easy to get carried away with putting in samples of work. Sometimes, you just want to include everything. However, you need to make sure that include only your best work. Choose 10-15 samples or show several campaigns. The key is to choose work that fully demonstrates your expertise.

2.)    Have a clear idea goal. Do you want to obtain a position in a particular agency or area of communications? If so, what pieces would a potential employer look for? Have a clear idea of where the portfolio is going and how it’s targeted. Play to strengths that can fit in well with the position you’re applying for and put together a portfolio with your goal in mind.

3.)    Make your portfolio accessible. Everyone agrees that digital portfolios can be much easier to find and navigate and if you want your talent to be found, and be prepared to share the portfolio in as many places as possible. Upload it to Scribd and display it on your website. Include links on your Facebook or Twitter pages. Add a link to your email signature. Just make sure that it’s easy to find and navigate. Can’t put it online? At least make it a PDF, which can be read by just about any computer.

4.)    Demonstrate your unique talents. Have experience making videos? Love audio editing? Passionate about graphic design? Find a way to show that in your portfolio by making it engaging to the senses. If your portfolio is digital, feel free to link to some of your best designs, videos or clips. If it’s not digital, include information on where to find some of your more sensory samples and be sure to make everything look neat. Show your personality but do it professionally.

5.)    Turn your portfolio into a website. This is a great way to ensure that all of your talents are showcased while making your portfolio as interactive as possible. Show off your web design skills with a sick layout. Then, upload your work samples into a cool gallery. Show off your writing chops with a built-in blog and About Me page, then finish everything up with a strong call to action and a copy of your resume. Display your knowledge of new communication technologies by syncing up your social media profiles with your site, adding a few podcasts, or even embedding video. Just make sure your contact information is correct and easy to find. Interested in giving this a try? Check out this post on Smashing Magazine for online portfolio tips and tools.

Do you have any other tips for young professionals and their online portfolios? Feel free to share them with us!

Mandy Boyle is a graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional. As a Search Engine Optimization Specialist for Solid Cactus and published freelance writer, Mandy is no stranger to compelling storytelling. When she’s not at her laptop or in the classroom, you can usually find her in the kitchen. Cupcakes are her specialty. Follow Mandy on Twitter at @mandyboyle or visit her website (

Implementing Yammer within Your Organization Using Twitter Best Practices

Written by Elizabeth C. Castro, Vice President, O’Malley Hansen Communications and Matthew Young, Communications Manager, Hanesbrands Inc.

There’s a joke in the Facebook community that says if you’re not on Facebook, you’re deceased. It sounds morbid, of course, but it speaks volumes about the power of social media: If you’re not using it, you’re not communicating with others or the world around you. The staggering numbers of individuals who flock social media sites from nearly all age groups continues to grow. They use these communities as the primary way to keep in touch with friends and family, connect with brands and companies and hear from news outlets. And with each post they read, they’re able to broadcast their support, or lack thereof with just a few strokes of the keyboard and a click of the mouse.

Two-Way Conversations are Now the Norm

Without a doubt, social media has vastly changed the way we communicate, creating an environment where two-way conversations are the norm. We expect it. We demand it. A similar expectation has translated into how employees want to engage with their employers. Employees are no longer satisfied with simply “being in the know”. They also want to ask questions about decisions being made within their organization, and voice their opinions – just like on social media platforms.

So what does this mean for internal communicators? Well, the traditional models of internal communications, such as employee newsletters or intranet news sites, while still valuable, fail to allow employees to speak their minds. But that is starting to change. Now, internal communicators are turning to social media platforms to open up the lines of communication, which are creating more engaged workforces.

Behaviors that Demonstrate Engagement (and that Social Media Can Encourage)

Surprisingly, past research on employee engagement* and how employees internalize organizational values reveal some important findings that still hold true when using social media for internal communications. The lesson is that if you get people talking in the right way, engagement and demonstration of core values will be revealed and enforced. Here are a few highlights that relate:

  • The power of the “water cooler” – Story sharing helps employees stay connected, forge relationships and learn more about your organization.  Internal communicators have continually tried to harness the power of informal networks or the “water cooler effect” with hard-won success. We’re not saying that social media can replace in-person relationships – they can’t –but social media can provide the next best thing to the water cooler, especially for organizations with global workforces.
  • Simply guide the discussion – Internal communicators already have the tools in place to push one-way information out to employees through newsletters and intranets, but they can also foster the right water cooler conversations by providing gentle cues. Simply provide guidance on issues and topics that show their voices have been heard and employees will “internalize company values and embody them on their own and in a personally relevant way.”  In strong cultures, employees are motivated – in part — by the actions of their peers.
  • Public recognition by peers builds engagement – Who knew the U.S. Navy’s internal communication structure was so effective! They have a system of public recognition amongst peers that motivates and encourages employees to live the organization’s values of honor, courage and commitment. The result: recognition of successes taps a desire to be part of something successful and creates an environment where collaboration toward a common goal is an inherent part of their daily lives.

The Implementation Process

In mid-2009, Hanesbrands Inc. looked at these behaviors as the results they hoped to achieve with an enhanced internal communications program that included use of a social media platform. After reviewing possible platforms to pilot, Yammer seemed like the right solution. Yammer is a Twitter-meets-LinkedIn micro-blogging platform used by more than 60,000 companies of all sizes. The primary draw was that it could create a secure, non-public social network that employees could use for quick conversations and clever collaboration.

The company felt this was a good starting point. But it wasn’t a completely smooth process. At first the team tried to restrict discussions to a particular topic and a particular team. Subsequently, the test quickly failed. Few employees used Yammer at all, dubbing it “boring” and “useless.” Then, the team decided to apply proven social media principles. The result: usage soared. Soon, any work topic became fair game for any employee to converse about and two-way conversations between management and employees started appearing regularly. It was exciting to see the success.Here are three critical tactics (and lessons learned) to get a social media tool off the ground within your organization:

  • Gain leadership support – Show leaders (even if it’s just one or two!) the value of micro-blogging within their teams by applying it to their favorite initiatives. Employees will be pleased to see their managers are part of the process and even more pleased when someone on the leadership team responds or comments on their posts.
  • Partner with your IT function early – The issue of security and safety will be a key concern for your IT function. So do your homework and include IT early in the process to ensure the platform meets your IT group’s requirements. Also ask about accessibility for all employees via the Web, e-mail, iPhones, BlackBerries, or an Outlook plug-in.
  • Help employees use the platform and see the value – A little training goes a long way. Help orient employees with a brief presentation (live or documented) on how to use the platform (be specific!) and share success stories from its use. Give explicit next steps for employees to take when getting started. This will ensure that open conversations are interesting, relevant and appropriate.

The Five Guiding Principles for Success

Once your internal social media tool is in place, get maximum value by following the best practices already used in external social media tools outside of work. Here are the guiding principles:

  1. Content is king – Focus on the conversation, not the platform. Conversations with relevant content create value and drive continued involvement. Over time, employees will naturally gain a better understanding about your company and begin to build a stronger sense of pride in it.
  2. Openness rules – Organizations should be prepared to hear it all: the good and the bad. Communicators should coach leaders and subject matter experts to address any negative comments in an open fashion through honest, two-way conversations.
  3. Be personal – Social media is not mass media – the megaphone mentality just doesn’t work. Employees expect answers from real people, not one-way corporate dispatches.
  4. Input = engagement – Create opportunities for employees to feel more engaged by asking for input that spurs discussion and could drive your organization forward. Think of it as a virtual suggestions box.
  5. Recognize them – Social media is hands-down the easiest way to recognize the achievements of employees publicly. Make good use of your social network by doing this often, and coach leaders to do the same. Also encourage others to recognize their peers.

Internal vs. External

Since restricting social media use is less effective than allowing discussion on any topic, it should be noted that one big advantage of using an internal social media platform (rather than Facebook or Twitter) for company conversations is confidentiality. Creating a secure internal network for employees to discuss anything, especially non-public discussions, gives employees the latitude to make progress on any issue and add more value.

To be fair, there is a certainly a need for employees at companies to be active, honest voices in external social media. For internal communications, however, a secure social network, even with a small amount of expense, can add much greater value than the riskier alternatives – without compromising your company’s policy on information sharing.

External social networks are the perfect training grounds for using social media for internal communications. Following the same best practices found on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn with your internal social media is the easiest and most natural way to embrace social networks at work.

* Source: Communications Executive Council, “Guiding Employees to Model Brand Values” (2007)

Elizabeth C. Castro is a vice president at O’Malley Hansen Communications in Chicago. You can follow her on Twitter @Eliz_Castro. Matthew Young is the Communications Manager at Hanesbrands Inc., a leading marketer of apparel under strong consumer brands, including Hanes, Champion, Playtex, Bali, Just My Size, barely there and Wonderbra. You can follow him on Twitter @YoungComm. 

Interview with a Communications Professional: Gini Dietrich

By Mandy Boyle

As the founder and CEO of world-class PR firm Arment Dietrich, Inc., Gini Dietrich is no stranger to communicating effectively. Her blog, Spin Sucks, has made the 2010 Readers Choice Blog of the Year and the Top 42 Content Marketing Blog (#8.) Plus, she speaks at numerous events and has been named a top public relations influencer according to Klout and Tech Crunch. Gini knows her PR stuff.

Recently, I had the chance to talk with Gini about what it takes to succeed in a communications career as a young professional. (My questions are in bold.)

Hi Gini! Let’s start with a classic question: what made you want to get into communications in the first place?

Communications what?! I have an English degree. I wanted to go to law school and my mom (rightfully so) told me I’d make a terrible lawyer. So I was sitting at graduation with a degree that I could use either for teaching or law school and I wasn’t going to do either. And then I fell into a PR job at the now defunct Valentine Radford that had me making clip books all day, every day. I happened to be in a client meeting about six months into my job and they asked their account team a question no one could answer. But because I’d been making copies of all of their clips for six months (and reading them because it took FOREVER to make a color copy back then), I knew the answer. So I spoke up. And then I got promoted. And promoted. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What about starting your own agency? What inspired you?

I wish it were some great story about my always wanting to own a business or something romantic like that, but the truth is that I have a real problem with authority, especially when I think I’m waaaaaay smarter than the authority figure (I’m a bit too big for my britches, too). I got in a fight with the creative director I was working with for a client and decided I was smarter than him so I quit my job. Not on the spot…I thought about it. And then I had to figure out what to do. I was getting married so I freelanced for a couple of years and then I discovered I was actually good at making rain, but that meant I needed help. So I started hiring. And hiring. And hiring. And now I have my own agency.

What’s the best part about having your own agency?

When I was riding with my team on Sunday, my coach asked me this very question. You think you’re going to build a business to have flexibility and to be your own boss. The truth is, you have less flexibility and your boss is your employees and your clients. But I do love coming to work in my cycling clothes, if I’m running late, no one questioning why I’m late to the office (it’s either because I got in the writing or the cycling zones), changing things we don’t like on a dime, and doing what I think is best both for business growth and client service. We have a pretty strong vision and I know there are going to be great rewards when we achieve it so I keep my eye on that ball every day.

Since you’ve started your agency, what changes in the communications industry have you seen?

Oh my heck! I’ve seen overnight shipments change the way we got approvals from our clients. I’ve watched email go from “how will I make time for this” to “I can’t live without this.” I’ve seen all my reporter friends lose their jobs. I’ve seen the web completely change the way we communicate. I’ve watched my file cabinets shrink. And I’ve seen much smarter people coming out of school because they’re learning public relations instead of publicity.

What do you see in the future?

I think the way we do our jobs will be completely different in the future. I imagine someday telling young professionals that in my day we used this thing called email and the Internet to reach customers. I think we’ll travel less because the technology will be so good that we won’t need to leave our desks. I think most offices will be completely remote. And I think our smartphones will be embedded into our thumbs or index fingers.

So what can a young professional do to stay prepared?

I always recommend using the available tools to connect with the people in your industry. Use Facebook and Twitter to connect with the companies where you think you’d like to work. Connect with the people who work at those companies. Build relationships with them. PRWeek does a nice recap of the top 25 bloggers you should read. Subscribe to all of those blogs, read them, engage with the authors. It’s amazing what happens when a veteran professional feels like they know you…they tend to help you find a job!

Besides taking classes that are in a communications-related major, what other classes should students be taking to get prepared for the industry?

We always like to see young professionals who are already using the social web on their own. This industry is not a M-F, 9-5 job and we like to see that you already understand how quickly the world moves. We like those who use the latest and greatest tools to build their personal brands and we’re big fans if you have a blog that you update consistently.

Outside of class, we know there is a ton of information out there on the internet. Where would you suggest students look for more insight and information about communications?

Other than the PRWeek required reading list I recommended, find blogs and print publications that you find interesting. I subscribe to SmartBrief newsletters because I find new bloggers and reporters in there that I wasn’t already reading. Learn how to use a Reader (such as Google) really effectively. And comment on blog posts and articles.

What about portfolio development? When should a student start putting together a portfolio?

I’d start your portfolio as soon as you have something to show. Every time you comment on a blog post or article, save the link to your portfolio. If you have a blog, feed it to your portfolio home page. Create a LinkedIn account and ask for recommendations. Keep feeding your portfolio; daily, if you can.

What sort of things should a student put into his or her portfolio? Should it be digital or printed? Focused or varied?

It may vary by company/agency, but we prefer digital and we want to check it out before you interview. We don’t really care if you’re blogging about tree frogs, we just want to see your writing style, your consistency, and your ability to engage with a community. Something else to note: Even if you’ve removed the body shot photos from your Facebook profile (and if you haven’t do it…NOW), we can find them. So be really careful about what you let your friends post about you online. It can come back to bite you when you join the workforce.

When you look at a prospective intern or employee, what qualities are you looking for?

We look for self-motivation, curiosity, out-of-the box thinking, and someone who has already taken the initiative to understand the social web and who uses the tools to build their personal brand.

On to social media. What can a student do in social media to be prepared for the industry, or better yet, secure his or her first job?

If you aren’t connecting with the people who work at the companies where you think you might like to work, do that now. Build relationships. Read their blogs. Subscribe to their newsletters. Don’t let titles scare you…these are human beings you’re talking to so treat them as such. We will not consider a resume from someone if they’ve not build a relationship with us online. I use Twitter. Connect with me there. I talk to everyone.

Do you have any words of wisdom concerning students and social media? Rules to follow? Things to avoid?

I always tell this story when I speak to students…

I was in Beaver Creek for Memorial Day weekend. The boys were at some beer and BBQ festival and the girls hiked all day. When we finished, we showered and met the boys for a drink. So imagine this, we’re hanging out, having fun, we’ve been hiking all day so we’re physically tired, and we’re at altitude so our tolerance isn’t very high. One of my very best friends is in LOVE with Keanu Reeves and we tease her incessantly about it because he’s homosexual and the whole idea of having a celebrity crush is that, if you happen to meet them, you get to do what you want with them without consequence from your significant other.

So, as is usual, we were teasing her and she and Mr. D had a bet that, if he won, she would have to publicly admit that she can no longer be in love with Keanu. Dumb thing, but huge consequence. And here’s why. I tweeted something silly like, “Mr. D just bet @erinbrumleve that, if she loses, she has to admit Keanu is gay.”

Well, a new client saw the tweet. And he read it as me being homophobic. I’m the furthest thing from it, but that’s not what he thought when he read that tweet. And we lost the business. The moral of the story: Be really careful about what you put online and what you let your friends put online. Or…don’t drink and tweet.

Once a student has that first job in communications, what can he or she do to keep learning?

I never stop learning…I consume as much media as I can in the form of newspapers, books, magazines, blogs, online forums, and eBooks. Do the same. Read as much as your brain will allow.

Finally, what is the one essential thing you think all young professionals in the industry should know?

You are not going to get out of school and plan parties. If you want to do that, you’re going into the wrong field.

Thanks so much Gini!

You can find Gini Dietrich on Twitter (@ginidietrich) or at her blog, Spin Sucks

About Mandy Boyle:

Mandy Boyle is a graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional. As a Search Engine Optimization Specialist for Solid Cactus and published freelance writer, Mandy is no stranger to compelling storytelling. When she’s not at her laptop or in the classroom, you can usually find her in the kitchen. Cupcakes are her specialty. Follow Mandy on Twitter at @mandyboyle or visit her website (

Giving Employees a Voice in the Governmental Process

Written by Marsha Burton, manager of communications for a Chicago-based manufacturer

My love affair with our democratic form of government dates back as far as I can remember. I can recall staying up late as a teen to watch election results, wondering which candidates or political parties would come out ahead in the latest contest, and hoping the winners would be the ones who best represented my values. Today, I still thrive on watching political debates and listening to stump speeches.

So, when my company recently presented the opportunity to combine two things that I care passionately about—communicating with employees and being an informed and involved citizen in our political process—I jumped at the chance to make a difference.

As the lead communicator for the Government Relations team of a Fortune 500 company, I was asked to create a grassroots campaign that engaged our 15,000+ employees and our other stakeholder groups in our governmental activities. From pension funding relief to research and development programs to healthcare reform to defense spending, the government is becoming an increasingly important stakeholder in our company’s future success. Senior management agreed that a grassroots campaign would be the best way to ensure our stakeholders’ voices were heard on issues that had a direct effect on the company.

As I began to investigate the best ways of getting employees involved, it soon became apparent that “grassroots” efforts meant a lot more than simply encouraging people to vote or protest. According to Bipac, a group that advocates more business participation in the political process, “Grassroots activities are nothing less than direct citizen involvement in and interaction with their elected representatives—it’s what participatory democracy is all about…By first educating and then activating your grassroots network, you too can make sure that your message is heard on Capitol Hill.”

What I found was that companies with successful political involvement programs undertook a wide array of means to keep their employees continually informed about the issues of greatest importance and the ways they could most readily get involved. First, they established a baseline level of issues education, using emails and either an internal or external website to furnish their employees with information about the issues that matter to the company. In addition, as needed, these companies employed email issue alerts and issued calls to action to urge employees to make their concerns known to their elected representatives. The best sites also provide employees with suggestions for further action, such as writing a letter or calling a candidate.

Learning from these best practices, we initially created a user-friendly government resource center that makes it easy for employees to register to vote and contact elected officials via an automated letter-generating tool. Since then, we’ve found additional ways to get employees even more involved. We’ve created an expanded resource center that tracks issues critical to our company and identifies important pieces of legislation that are making their way through Congress. We intend to continue broadening the knowledge of our employees about the company’s positions on key public policy issues by posting position papers, Q&A documents and other tools.

Why have a grassroots campaign?

If your organization would appreciate a stronger, bigger voice in Washington, broadened employee knowledge of the company’s position on key public policy issues, and a site to post your position papers, a grassroots campaign is for you. It can also provide a more competitive advantage in the political marketplace.

Consider what Wake Forest University professor Michael D. Lord had to say in his 2001 paper, “Growing Broad and Deep Grassroots: Competitive Advantage in the Political Marketplace.” According to Lord, “Nothing is as valuable and influential in the political arena as a deep, broad, and healthy constituency base,” by which he means “a sincere and diverse group of stakeholders who are educated and informed on the issues and who are readily and effectively mobilized to engage in the political process.” Why is it so important? Because “whether out of enlightened altruism or out of plain self-interest—in most cases, almost certainly a bit of both—policymakers listen and respond to their constituencies. This is especially true for legislators, who must be periodically elected or re-elected.”

How to start your campaign?

So, you’ve decided a grassroots campaign is the way to go. Now what? Here are four simple lessons I learned while developing our efforts to mobilize employees on the company’s behalf.

  1. Educate. Identify the issues that matter and tell employees in a simple, clear and concise way how those issues affect them. Even if you operate in a complex industry, it is imperative to first get your employees up to speed on the “who, what, where, when and how” of the issue. We found that the better an issue was understood; the more likely it was that an employee would act.
  2. Support. Provide an easy way for employees to take action. Working with an outside organization, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or Bipac, you can develop a website that gives your employees a direct route to participate in the legislative process. Bonus: If you are a member of either one of these organizations, the service could be part of your membership fees.
  3. Personalize. It matters to employees that the request for action comes from an executive or leader who employees trust. We sent email alerts both ways—one from a generic mailbox and one from a vice president. During the solicitation, we saw 64 percent more participation from the executive-authored letter than from the generic letter.
  4. Campaign. It is not enough to just have a website. You need to take active steps to drive employees to your site and provide a compelling reason for them to become engaged. This fall’s elections are a great opportunity to get employees engaged with a website. Once they have become engaged with the website, it can serve as an ongoing means to keep them posted on your efforts to shape the public policies that make a difference to your business.

I have enjoyed giving my coworkers a stronger voice in Washington and the capitals of the state where we do business. It makes me feel like that teenager, who loved to watch elections and know about what was happening with our government. Maybe developing a grassroots campaign can help you capture or recapture an appreciation for what makes our democracy work.

An award-winning communications professional, Marsha Burton has extensive experience in journalism, public relations and corporate communications, including a stent as a financial news journalist for Dow Jones & Co. in New York and Chicago. A 19-year veteran, she currently oversees the communications for the government relations function of a Fortune 500 company. When she isn’t at work, you can find Marsha working in her garden or training for the next half marathon.

Interview with a PR Pro: Deirdre Breakenridge, Part II

Written by Mandy Boyle, graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional

In my last post, we heard Deirdre Breakenridge’s take on dress code, resumes, and first impressions. Now, it’s time to move onto portfolios, follow up, and what to do when you get the job.

Here’s the second part of my interview with Deirdre.

Thanks for staying tuned!

On to experience and skills. What does the ideal portfolio look like?

I’ve seen so many different professional portfolios from website versions to hard cover bound books.  The portfolio is an excellent opportunity to showcase your communications skills, from creative and news style writing to editorial coverage and your ability to organize projects.  Portfolios can be arranged to exhibit different areas of PR expertise, for example, you may have a section that shows your media relations work, or you can showcase an entire campaign and how the PR strategy and execution was integrated into a marketing program.  Of course, if you’re a student, then your portfolio may be based on your education, classes and various school projects.  Nonetheless, you can present your talent through your writing and creativity, in a format that clearly explains how you managed your assignment from start to finish and all of the challenges, strategies and tactics along the way.

Is it better to show off a wide range of pieces or should the portfolio be more specialized? 

There are different schools of thought on this topic. I think it’s important to show a variety of pieces. Although if you can present how the pieces connect to a program, then that’s the best approach. A wide range of pieces will not only show your ability to think strategically and creatively in different areas, but also how you’re able to wear many hats.  Of course, if you know that a particular company is interested in a specific niche area, or type of PR work, then you can include more examples in that specialized area.

Do you check out a prospect’s blog, website, or social media profiles before the interview?  If so, what kind of information are you looking for? 

I think one of the first things we learned years ago was the ability to Google someone to find out more information.  And, today, with social networks it’s easy to uncover a person’s background information, interests and overall brand personality.  Evaluating someone through their pictures and videos as well as their wall posts is commonplace.  It’s important that prospective interns and junior professionals remember that similar to what they should do prior to their interview (look up the interviewer to see who they are and what role they play in a company), we do the same thing when it comes to the hiring process.  You can gain a tremendous amount of information just from social networking profiles.  This should be a reminder to many that what they post on their Facebook and Tumblr is a reflection of their brand and quite possibly may influence a future employer’s decision.

How should a prospective intern conclude the interview? 

The end of the interview is an opportunity for some kind of action or next steps.  If the person who interviews you does not state the next steps in the selection process, it’s important for the prospective intern to ask about the the appropriate time frame regarding when he/she should follow up.  Of course, afterward the intern should always send a thank you email or card, and offer any additional assistance, information or a means to be reached with more questions.  As a communications professional, you will learn quickly that every meeting should close with an action item. The interview is no different.  The prospective intern should use this occasion to address what happens next in the hiring process.

What about follow up? Is there a preferred method? 

I think every interviewer is different, so the preferred method of follow up can vary depending on the individual.  Email should be sufficient, although I have to say that I’m often impressed when someone takes the time to send a hand written thank you note.

If the interviewer asks the candidate to provide additional materials during the meeting, then he/she should forward the desired information as soon as possible.  It’s important to be timely, so that the interview is still fresh in the interviewer’s mind.  Sending follow up information quickly may be seen as a positive reflection on the prospective intern’s future performance. Prompt follow up shows a sense of conscientiousness and an approach that will likely carry forward.  After all, as you advance in your career, you will always want to provide quick information, whether your following up with a client or the media after an interview.

What should a prospective intern do while he or she waits for a response?

If you feel the interview went well, you can do more research on the company to prepare for a call back interview, or to get ready for your first day, should the position become yours. If there was a topic of discussion that you feel required more information, then it’s a great time to gather the appropriate materials and send them over to the person who conducted the interview.  Sometimes, you will find that sending additional, relevant information to your interviewer will be helpful in the selection process and also make that person’s job a little bit easier.

Yay! The position is yours! What should the intern do next? 

When you find out the position is yours, the first step is to give a formal acceptance in writing. You will also be very eager to get up to speed on any of the clients or projects that you will be working on during your internship program.  You should ask if there are any materials you should read or information that needs to be filled out in advance.  It’s easier to complete this beforehand, so that you don’t have to worry about the paperwork on your first day. Reviewing information and filling out employee documents prior to your start date says that you are excited, want to be prepared and already thinking about your first day.

What advice would you give to interns on their first day? 

Advice that was given to me on the first day of my internship included:

  1. Listen carefully to information on company processes and procedures.
  2. Don’t be nervous to ask questions, especially if you are unsure about a project or a directive.
  3. Use a note pad or journal and take notes in every meeting.  It’s also important to keep the same pad nearby should an executive catch you off guard and give you an assignment. You’ll be able to jot down the particulars quickly and not miss a single detail.
  4. Show up early on your first day (and every day after that) and don’t rush to leave.  And, if possible, you should check in with your supervisor or manager before you go home every night.  Discuss the day’s activities and ask if he/she needs anything else before you head out.  I did this almost every day of my entire career, until I became my own boss. It’s a good practice to ask what else needs to be done, which translates into an eager and proactive intern, who really cares and wants to be involved.

Thanks so much for sharing, Deirdre!

Deirdre Breakenridge is the author of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and PR 2.0 New Media, New Tools, New Audiences.  She is the President of Mango!, a hybrid marketing agency, speaks internationally on PR and social media and blogs at PR 2.0 Strategies.

Mandy Boyle is a graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional. As a Search Engine Optimization Specialist for Solid Cactus and published freelance writer, Mandy is no stranger to compelling storytelling. When she’s not at her laptop or in the classroom, you can usually find her in the kitchen. Cupcakes are her specialty. Follow Mandy on Twitter at @mandyboyle or visit her website (

Interview with a PR Pro: Deirdre Breakenridge, Part I

Written by Mandy Boyle, graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional

If you’ve read the Young Professionals Guide to Internship Interviews, congrats! You’re well on your way to being prepared for that first foray into the communications industry – but let’s take things a step further.

I recently had the opportunity to get some insight from one of the best communicators in the biz and I can’t wait to share her interview.

Deirdre Breakenridge is the author of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and PR 2.0 New Media, New Tools, New Audiences.  She is the President of Mango!, a hybrid marketing agency, speaks internationally on PR and social media and blogs at PR 2.0 Strategies. Oh yes, and she actively contributes to the #PRStudChat on Twitter. If there’s on PR pro you want to ask about what it takes to succeed as an intern in communications, it’s definitely Deirdre.

When I asked Deirdre to give some insight into how interns can make the right impressions during interviews, I was amazed at all of the great tips she gave and simply had to share. (My questions are in bold).

First off, it’s fabulous that you donate so much of your time toward educating young PR professionals. Is this something you feel all communications professionals should do?

Yes, giving back to a profession, which has given so much to us, is imperative to the growth of our industry.  Communications professionals will reach a certain point in their careers, and, as busy as they may feel, I believe they need to find the time to educate and invest in students and young professionals (who will be the future leaders in communications).

How can communications professionals help prospective and current interns?

There are several ways that we can help interns, before they come on board for an internship and while they are assisting us.  For example, I think it’s great when a practicing professional agrees to an informational interview with a student.  You should take the time to give at few hours or more if your schedule permits to discuss the “real” business of PR and communications.  You can also have a student shadow you for a day or two.  I did this with Mikinzie Stuart, who was a senior at Ferris State University, at the time. Mikinzie visited with me and my agency, Mango!, in March of 2010.  She spent a couple of days going to client meetings, participating in conference calls and attending networking events. The learning experience was fantastic for both of us. 

The other way to help an intern is on the job training.  Show an intern as much as you can about your role and responsibilities within an organization.  It’s amazing how much an intern wants to learn and how he/she can get involved.  It’s up to you to make sure that the intern is included in daily PR/communications activities.  It’s  also important to remember that interns are on board to get as much experience as possible.  However, without support, guidance and helpful critique, they will not know if they are succeeding in their training.  Be open and honest, and let them know when they are doing well and what needs improvement.  It’s best for interns to learn early on about the gift of criticism, especially as they grow in their careers.

Now, what kinds of experience do you look for in a prospective intern?

With respect to experience, I look at an intern’s involvement in school projects, how he/she gets involved in activities beyond the classroom and also what he/she has done with respect to other internship programs.  Regardless of their educational experience or extra curricular activities, if they exhibit a passion to learn, and have the drive and determination to help, then this attitude will definitely open doors. 

Name five traits you look for in every applicant.

The five traits I look for in every applicant include:

  • Confidence
  • Strong drive and positive energy
  • Good speaking skills
  • Good writing skills
  • Passion to learn

Now on to resumes. Should resumes be on paper or digital? Do interns need to send a cover letter?

I think that you still need a cover letter and at times, a paper copy of your resume (depending on the individual preference of the interviewer).  For example, it’s great to send a digital copy of your resume, when you first get a point of contact within my agency.  We’ll pass along the digital copy of the cover letter/resume to review the prospect’s information.  But, if you are interviewing with me in person, I don’t mind reviewing the print version of your resume too, which gives me insight into how you present your capabilities (right down to the paper you choose). Now, that doesn’t mean printing multiple copies (I do like to save the trees). I just want to evaluate how you handle the traditional and digital presentation or your qualifications. 

Is it best to email a resume or mail a physical copy?

It’s best to provide a preview of your resume digitally before mailing or presenting a physical copy in person.  There is no sense in sending a paper version, if the digital copy doesn’t spark interest.

Have you ever had an applicant send you a video CV or other creative introduction?

I don’t think I’ve ever had an intern send a video CV or another type of creative introduction.  I would welcome any kind of creativity to get my attention, as long as it’s wrapped with the five traits that I mentioned above, and these traits really shine through.

OK, so a prospect has made the cut and it’s time for the interview. What should the prospective intern be doing before the interview?

Great question and very valuable for the prospective intern to learn.  If the individual makes the cut, then he/she should schedule the interview with enough time to do plenty of homework on the company and the interviewer.  The homework should include researching the following:

1. The company’s website

2. The company blog

3. Recent publicity on the company or news about the industry

4. Executive profiles (the key players in the firm)

5. The person who they are interviewing with (so if it’s me you should check out my author’s blog, PR 2.0 Strategies, as well as read the write-ups on my books to get the gist of what they are about).

6. A few of the company’s clients, partners, and/or associations, if they are included on the website

Try to find out as much intelligence as you can and even ask questions to show interest in what you’ve researched.  This always opens my eyes to someone who takes the time to learn, even before they get the internship position.

How can an intern make a good first impression when he or she walks into the interview?

The best way to make a good impression is your overall appearance and presentation of information. You should be professionally dressed (at least until you know the organization and the dress code) and be very organized with your materials. Walking in with confidence and sharing materials that are neatly arranged in a portfolio show a sense of pride in your work.  When you come in disorganized, it could be a reflection on your future performance.

In addition, a good strong handshake and a friendly smile really says a lot too, in terms of your confidence and personality.

Can you give some examples of questions you always ask in interviews?

A few of the questions you can expect from me are:

  • What do you want to learn from this internship?
  • Why did you select our company?
  • How do you handle deadlines and a fast paced environment?
  • Can you handle multiple tasks? Give me an example of a challenging situation where you’ve managed several things at once (this could be personal or a school project).
  • Who has influenced you the most in your life?
  • How do you think you can help us?

What about dress code for the interview? Should all interns go with a standard black suit or should they feel free to show off some personality? 

I’m not sure it matters if it’s a black suit, a blue suit or a brown one.  It’s the overall professional presentation.  You could be wearing small checks or stripes, as long as your appearance is neat and you look prepared.  In addition, your personality will come through in many ways, from the colors in your outfit, right down to the shoes that you wear.  I also think a big part of your personality is realized when you look someone in the eyes, give a friendly smile, and extend your hand for a handshake.

Have you seen any interns who have crossed the line in terms of dress code?

I’ve seen interns cross the line by dressing down for their first interview.  For example, if you dress like it’s a summer Friday, you risk not being prepared for your first meeting.  It could also be a day when the entire office is wearing suits, because a corporate client is visiting the offices.  At Mango!, even though we are a fun, progressive communications agency (so yes, jeans and black work well with us), you just never know who will be stopping by, on any given day.  As a best practice, you should dress for success until someone explains the dress code to you.

Stay tuned for Part II of the interview with Deirdre Breakenridge next Monday!

Mandy Boyle is a graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional. As a Search Engine Optimization Specialist for Solid Cactus and published freelance writer, Mandy is no stranger to compelling storytelling. When she’s not at her laptop or in the classroom, you can usually find her in the kitchen. Cupcakes are her specialty. Follow Mandy on Twitter at @mandyboyle or visit her website (


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