It is my aim in this blog post to provide an honest overview of my graduate scheme search and how I landed my upcoming graduate role at Red. This is an extremely “transparent” post which covers my experiences precisely.
It would be dishonest for me to say that the only graduate scheme I applied for was Red. Such an act would be lunacy in an economic environment drowned in talented graduates. For the last 3 to 4 years it has been necessary for upcoming University leavers to apply for as many job roles as possible. Graduate unemployment has hit its highest level since 1995; members of my class were not able to leave all their eggs in one basket.
The approach I took when applying for graduate schemes was to ask myself if they filled the below criteria:
- Would the role suit my interests?
- Does the organisation “feel” right for me?
- Will I be able to live on the salary?
When I started applying for schemes in January I made sure that I could answer ‘yes’ to each of these points. Thanks to a superb list of 2012 graduate schemes by Ben Cotton I had somewhere to start. Yet I only applied to organisations who appealed in some way to me. Each scheme I applied for provided me with different processes, different experiences and I am going to share some of what I learn’t within this post today.
Firstly it is important to note that the majority of public relations graduate schemes are not exclusively open to graduate public relations students. Indeed a graduate from any discipline can apply for a PR role. This doesn’t undervalue the worth of a PR degree (we are at an advantage with the skills taught to us) but instead makes the process a lot harder.
I was one of the lucky thirty to make it through to the Edelman assessment day. Their process involved the initial application, telephone interview and finally the assessment day. Needless to say making it through to the assessment day alone was a an experience which I was thankful for. On the day I was interview by three individuals within the company, took part in a written assessment and did a presentation to a panel of eight employees. On the whole it went well, especially for my interview as I was rated in the top five.
Edelman was tricky though. Even though most of my assessment day was ranked highly I was considered to be ‘too good’ for their apprenticeship scheme. To this day I disagree with this observation as an experience in a multinational agency such as Edelman would have been extremely valuable. Yet it may not have pushed me considering my already in-depth experiences at Microsoft due to the structure of their scheme.
They clearly value their potential employees as HR assigned me to be interview by their Digital Team – a role which would have put my 9 months ahead of the apprenticeship scheme. Whilst my interview with them went really well I did not get the role with them – competition was too high and another individual (not necessarily a graduate) with more experience obtained the role.
Instead saw my skills to be better aligned in analytics (I did try and convince them that my maths aren’t that good!) so asked me for another interview but with the analytics team. Due to my experience at Microsoft doing Online Advertising I knew that an analytics based role was not quite right for me, after much thought I graciously declined the interview.
Edelman are a forward thinking agency who tried to find a part of their business to plug me into but at this time it did not work. Everyone I met at the agency in London were delightful, very bright but what they could offer me was not quite right in the end.
An undisclosed smaller agency
Out of all the agencies I applied for my most confusing experience was with a smaller agency based in London. Their assessment day involved a group task and presentation, successful candidates were then invited back for a final interview. In particular I found the group assessment nerve racking as one of the candidates (who studies law) recognised me from my blog. Whilst this gave me a push to perform to prove my ‘real world value’ to this follower, it did cause me to worry. Living up to people’s expectations can, at times, be worrisome.
Nevertheless I managed to obtain a final interview with this agency which went incredibly well. By chance I had already seen clients of theirs in the media and could rehearse the media impact of them in 2011 without strain. It is remarkable what stress, focus and the desire to please will do to the mind.
I left the interview almost certain that I would get a job offer from them within the next week. Whilst this delighted me I knew that I was still waiting back from Edelman and had yet started Red’s graduate scheme processes. I’ve never been one to settle for the easy option if a better choice existed and at this stage I was not certain this small agency was right for me – despite the friendliness of its staff.
After a couple of weeks though the agency didn’t get in contact – rather confusing as after a final interview the decision is usually quite quick. I then found out from the manager that the agency had already done some hiring and had yet to make a decision about me, to help make their decision I agreed to do two days work experience for them. Those two days seemed to go well although obviously, being a work experience student, most of the time you tend to feel like a spare part.
After the two days were up a few days passed and the agency revealed uncertainty about my position due to client movements, eventually they were going to award me a role which would start in August.
To be honest my interest in them was dying at this point, not due to their business approach but because obtaining a graduate role with them was really drawn out. Even though I had spent in the region of £80 going to their various days (National Express Coaches and Oyster purchases) they seemed to find it difficult to make their decisions. Whilst everyone in the company was a pleasure to work with and meet I couldn’t commit any more time to processes and start dates were far too late.
Red’s campaigns frequently receive attention in the PR industry; creativity is their weapon and their approach should be inspiring for smaller upcoming agencies. All of their employees were pleasant to speak with, their flat structure even meant speaking with managers to be easy and they were honest throughout the whole procedure. I left the Red assessment day and final interview with nerves and high hopes I wished to suppress. Somehow I knew that they were the agency for me and if they decided against my application it would have dealt a heavy blow.
Thankfully I got the job and cannot wait to start.
I did get rejections
I’m aware that I have only listed three agencies who I managed to get into the final stages for. In reality I also got rejected from a handful of agencies in either the first stages or after telephone interview. The fact I eventually obtained a graduate role in the end shows that every agency is looking for somebody different for their organisation. Whilst you may not make it through one scheme, another organisation may find you suitable for an assessment day and may even offer you a role.
Throughout my graduate job search I have placed a large focus on my emotional reactions towards agencies. This is the first step into my career and so I must take every job offer seriously but at the same time I must make sure that I will grow.
In summary my graduate job search revealed these lessons to me:
1# Check that you keep your top button on your shirt done up. When I attended the Edelman assessment day it was warm so I had my top button undone. Unfortunately I forgot to do it up before the interview. Despite this I was rated in the top five who were interviewed that day but pictures taken on the day revealed the unsightly undone button. Thankfully they didn’t mind too much (some graduates on the day were not even wearing proper suits!) but it is worth remembering the top button.
2# Finding a graduate job is important but make sure the agency is right for you. Some agencies may do fantastic traditional PR but their digital approaches may be lacking. Everyone in the PR industry has to take digital seriously. Think of your CV – do you really want to work for an agency whose approaches are still set in the noughties? No.
3# Don’t take rejections personally. I was rejected in the early stages of Blue Rubicon and Hotwire – yet Edelman, the world’s largest PR agency, accepted me for interview. Agencies look for different sorts of candidates and sometimes we are not the perfect match. Keep applying.
4# When applying for graduate schemes it is important to only apply for those organisations you are actually interested working for. On that note don’t just apply for one or two schemes. Apply for every scheme which takes your fancy. Some applications are deliberately made long to cut down the amount of applicants. Each PR graduate scheme receives between 300 – 700 applications, play the numbers game and don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
5# Understand your role, contract length and salary before applying. Someone I know from my class was offered a job at a salary of £16,000 a year. Man cannot live away from home with bills, food and travel on this sort of pay. The minimum salary for a PR graduate these days is £18,000.
6# The chances are that members of your class will probably be applying for the same jobs as you. Your class mates are the competition but don’t let this deter you.
7# During group interviews (which usually involve a task) always remain the courteous person you are. On one assessment day a graduate on my team was incredibly rude, overly competitive and a pain to worth with. He didn’t get the role because no agency wishes to have someone like that in one of their teams.
8# If you have a chance after an assessment day spend time talking with other graduates. Everyone is usually very friendly and talking allows you to gauge your competition. Competition for new talent in the PR industry at the moment is very high!
9# Don’t forget the skills you have learnt at University. Those who do not come from a PR degree tend to forget the basics such as objectives, strategy, tactics and evaluation in campaign planning. Use structures like this to really make your ideas stand out. Make sure you use a mix between traditional and digital PR.
10# The final and most important point of all – RELAX. You have nothing to be nervous about. Nerves can hinder your performance so remain relaxed at all times, enjoy assessment days for the attention you get and before not too long you will land yourself a job.
I hope that this blog post has proved to be useful and that I haven’t upset any PR agencies in its publication! Let me know if you have any questions. I would also love to know your best and worst experiences of job hunting.