The 10 Worst Rookie Blunders Recent Grads Make When Applying for Jobs

No one actually cares what you talk about in an interview—as long as you exude confidence

If you’re submitting a ‘cold’ application—meaning you haven’t locked a warm introduction from someone at the agency—you’re doing it wrong. Unsplash/Jeremy Wong

In my role with SSPR, I look at more PR job applications than is healthy for a single human being. I see the good, the bad, and a whole motherlode of ugly. Some applicants convince me that they shouldn’t be representing anyone else to the public. Others make me dance in circles to imaginary music, which my co-workers find slightly distracting and very disconcerting. The best applicants are scrappy.

Here’s what makes a PR job application unusual: It actually illustrates how you might do the job. If you don’t exercise good taste (and guts) in your resume and cover letter, what will you do for our clients?

With that in mind, let’s discuss what does and does not work. And, by the way, this goes for pretty much every industry!

The ONE-PAGE Resume. I know—your career counselor told you, your Uncle Mike the CEO said it, and the career guru on LinkedIn also confirmed: Cap your resume at one page. Well, I’m saying it again because most people ignore the advice. While one page is an arbitrary number, staying within that parameter proves you know how to be clear and concise. PhDs with 20 years of experience get multiple pages. Recent grads only get one.

Tip: Keep your relevant experience and leadership roles—cut the babysitting and your stint as a fast-food cashier. What doesn’t help your case hurts it.

Font Abuse. Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, and Helvetica are accepted because they’re easy to read. Papyrus, Comic Sans MS, and Edwardian Script ITC are one-way tickets to deletion. Need more space? Change your font! Times New Roman is smaller than Calibri, which is smaller than Arial.

Show vs. Tell. If you tell me you’re the best, smartest, hardest working, most innovative, most creative, etc., I’ll call B.S. Those are gloatwords. For example, there is nothing worst than a cover letter that says, “I am an exceptional communicator.” Really? Because, if you were, you wouldn’t have written that. You would have told stories that show your communication skills.

Surprise me. Of all the applications I’ve seen, one stands above the rest. We ask applicants to write a sample pitch, and one person made a YouTube video pitching herself. And she wrote less than 100 words, just like a real PR person would. She got the internship. And… Now that you’ve read that, don’t send me a video! Imagine what we haven’t seen—then create it.

The cover letter is a pitch. This is true whether you’re applying to a PR job or an engineering gig. A cover letter convinces readers to get in touch and learn more about you. Likewise, a pitch convinces reporters to find out more about your client and the story. Answer this question: Why should we hire you? If I’m convinced just from your cover letter, I can’t wait to interview you. Make the first line so good I want to read the next one. And make the second line so good I want to read the third one. And…you know what comes next.

Show me your results. If I know what you’ve done, I’ll understand who you are professionally. Describe the social media campaign you ran in your internship. How many followers did it pick up? Woah, you got Jay-Z to retweet?! Tell me about the campaign you ran. Forbes, Fast Company, and VentureBeat bit? We want you. And we want hard numbers—not grandiose adjectives.

Subject Lines. Most job applications arrive via email, which means they come with a subject line. These ones have worked:

  • 3 Reasons You Should Hire Me
  • Why SSPR Needs [Name]
  • Referral from [Name of SSPR employee]

Make sure we can read the whole subject line in Microsoft Outlook.

Warm up. If you’re submitting a ‘cold’ application—meaning you haven’t locked a warm introduction from someone at the agency—you’re doing it wrong. Thanks to LinkedIn and Twitter, you can absolutely find a way to connect with someone at the PR agency you want to join. When you scout for that person, look for shared interests. Maybe the person went to your college, grew up in the same town, or also has an obsession with Japanese rock gardens? Reaching out on LinkedIn shows the PR firm that you have what it takes to build relationships with reporters.

Don’t beat around the bush. If you’re going to apply to the firm and want an intro, make that clear. You’re not just messaging to “ask some questions about PR careers.”

What you say v. How you say it. In an interview, no one cares what you talk about as long as (1) It answers the questions and (2) Exudes confidence. You could talk about your choo-choo train set for all I care, as long as it has a purpose. In a PR interview, we’re assessing how you’d get on with high-powered CEOs, sharp entrepreneurs, out-there marketers, and all the other characters we serve. Look up media training videos on YouTube and apply the tactics to your interview.

Survival of the scrappiest. When I applied to SSPR more years ago than I care to remember, I found the agency on Craigslist (that dates me, doesn’t it?). I applied, got an unpaid internship and, eventually, they insisted on paying me.

PR opportunities show up in weird places. When you start talking to strangers or wandering odd corners of the internet, things happen. You rescue some dude from staring at his smartphone for a 30-minute subway ride and find out he works in PR—or for a company that just hired the most badass PR firm out there (SSPR, obviously).

Scrappiness—having an unstoppable, combative spirit—will land you jobs and help you thrive once you arrive. As SSPR’s official job hiring filter, I want you to knock my socks off. I want to sense that scrappiness. Make me believe you are the grad that every PR firm will fight over. Pretty please, don’t make me use the ‘delete’ button.

Mallory Vasquez is the Director of Media Relations at SSPR, where she specializes in enterprise B2B PR for companies seeking strategic exit—like an IPO, acquisition or merger—or an aggressive customer growth-track. She has established technology media relationships across all industries, especially in the logistics, manufacturing, supply chain and packaging spaces.  The 10 Worst Rookie Blunders Recent Grads Make When Applying for Jobs