Application Tips

Application requirements for public relations jobs and internships vary widely. Some organizations require essays and ask for a certain number of writing samples and/or references. Almost all will ask for a cover letter and resume.

With each component, accuracy, correct spelling and grammatical precision are essential. Misspellings, gaps in grammar and factual errors will indicate to internship coordinators that you don't have the skills -- or are just too careless -- to be worth a second look. So have a trusted friend, professor or someone in your university's Writing Center proofread your work.

Let's review the basic parts of the application one by one:

Your Cover Letter: It's hard to come up with a cover-letter gimmick that an internship coordinator or hiring manager hasn't seen a dozen times, so instead focus on writing a straightforward, well-constructed letter explaining why you want the internship/job and what qualities you would bring to the organization. Avoid the tale of how you got interested in public relations; it's the grand cliche of the cover letter. Do demonstrate your familiarity with the organization to which you're applying, and if you've had campus PR experience or an internship, you might tell the story behind a significant project in which you were involved.

Your Resume: There's no one acceptable format for a PR resume (its content is much more important than its style), but here are a few guidelines:
  •  Make it brief (one page should be plenty), informative, accurate, consistent in structure, and simple. It's true that gaudy resumes with bright paper, photos and outlandish fonts do attract attention -- but for all the wrong reasons.
  • Include your name, address, phone number and e-mail address at the top, followed by a section that lays out your college and work/activities in reverse chronological order, including dates (high school experiences usually are not relevant after your freshman year of college).
  • If you speak a foreign language at least conversationally, list it as a skill. Many employers are keenly interested in your ability to communicate in other languages -- especially Spanish.
  • It's usually unnecessary to state an objective at the top, but if you do, don't indicate that you're interested in public relations as well as in teaching. That sort of uncertainty about your commitment to PR may land you on the discard pile.
  • Include your cell phone number if you have one -- you'll want to be as accessible as possible to internship coordinators who are considering your application.
  • If you're using a goofy e-mail address that seemed cool when you created it in the 7th grade, it might be time for a new one that's more straightforward. Similarly, make sure that voicemail and answering-machine greetings sound mature and professional. Don't give internship coordinators reason to doubt whether you're ready for their workplace.
Your Writing Samples: Select a variety of your best writing and PR work: stories for the school newspaper, press releases or posters you did for your student organization and assignments you did for your public relations classes or internships. For physical hard copies, mount them on 8 1/2 x 11 paper with production date and make copies on plain white paper. Don't shrink the type (intern coordinators might have a hard time reading it), don't send your originals and don't send oversize work that's difficult to copy or file. It's a good idea to staple the pages of a story together so that they don't get mixed up. For digital copies, save your files as PDFs or scan published materials and save them as a PDF file that you can upload online or email.

Your References: Provide complete contact information for three current/former job supervisors or professors who know your work well, are willing to recommend you (check with them in advance) and will call back when an internship coordinator inquires. If you can't fit this information at the bottom of your resume, enclose a separate sheet. Don't say "References available upon request" -- just go ahead and list them. This saves time for everyone.

Apply Online: More and more organizations are only accepting applications online, either by a Web-based application or through email. That means, you need to digitize your application materials. Work samples should be available as links. If you only have a physical hard copy, scan it and save it as a PDF file you can upload or email. Of course, if the organization specifies that you should apply via snail mail, then send your application the old-fashioned way. In general, avoid binders, report covers and other fancy packaging. Many internship coordinators throw these away so that they can copy your materials for a screening committee. Just paper-clip your materials together and mail them unfolded in a manila envelope.

Meet the Deadline: Get your application in the mail in plenty of time to meet the deadline. If you're snail mailing your application, don't assume that your application will be considered if it's postmarked by the deadline given in the internship/job posting. By the time your application reaches an internship coordinator or hiring manager a week or 10 days later, s/he may already have made a selection. Internship/job listings aren't always clear on this point, so it's best to assume that your application has to be received by the published deadline.