Public relations is an exciting field that attracts recent graduates from leading communications programs at universities around the country, as well as established professionals looking for a career change. With a wide range of opportunities and tough competition, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door and begin exploring the field.

Here, Courtney Berg, BERKMAN Account Supervisor and Intern Manager, shares her tips for getting started in public relations.

1) Identify firms that are a good fit for you.

Within the public relations field, there are several different paths one can take from agency to in-house. PR firms vary in size, the industries they represent and the services they provide. Small boutique firms are a great place to start if you are looking for a crash course in PR. You’ll get a broad introduction and real hands-on training in the field. Since support is often limited at these agencies, you’ll soon create the opportunity to take on high-level responsibilities, build your portfolio and meet industry professionals.  With that, unless you have 2-4 years of solid experience, most agencies prefer to hire from within for junior support. And yes, often times this will mean taking an unpaid internship, but you have to start somewhere!

2) In the application process, cut through the clutter and stand out.

Research potential employers to learn about the work they do. What types of clients do they represent? What kinds of services do they provide? Are you able to connect with the agency or its employees through social media outlets like LinkedIn or Twitter? As you sculpt your resume and cover letter, it can be easy to go overboard trying to impress, but you have to be real and demonstrate what skills you have to offer, as well as your potential for growth. “To really break through the clutter,” Courtney reminds us, “you have to show your personality and creativity—that’s what PR is all about!” Don’t be afraid to go that extra step: mail in a hard copy of your resume, show up at the agency, follow up via phone, and think of creative ways to present the content, and include samples from your portfolio.

3) Get familiar with social media.

Social media is absolutely vital in public relations. You may have personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, but using social media in the service of brands and companies involves a completely different approach. Start paying more attention to some of your favorite campaigns, contests you’ve recently entered or how you get your own news/information. Also, you can find a wealth of case studies and tips online to get you started. A few recommended online resources are:

–       Mashable: This is a great resource for news in social and digital media, technology and web culture. They have a specific section just on social media.

–       Ragan Communications: Ragan Communications’ social media information hub offers a wide range of tips, trends and news for public relations professionals.

–       Bulldog Reporter: Bulldog Reporter provides “news & intelligence for PR professionals”. You can also find interesting audio conferences and webinars.

4) Think of an interview as a conversation.

Hiring managers are looking for hard workers but also potential coworkers. Be honest about your experience and show a desire to learn. An interview is an opportunity to have a conversation with a representative of the agency and figure out how you might fit in. Show your personality and don’t fake it! Besides, if you can’t be yourself, do you really want to work there?

5) Make the most of your first job.

Once you’re in, “Seize it and soak up everything,” Courtney encourages. Do research, connect with staff for pertinent questions, and strive to understand how your work fits into the overall picture for individual clients and the firm as a whole. Schedule regular reviews and don’t take harsh criticism personal. It’s important to pay attention to details and try to refine your work in a way that makes it easier for your supervisors; it’s the same approach all PR professionals take when dealing with clients and media.

6) Do PR for yourself within the agency.

You’ve worked hard! Be proud of your accomplishments and share your successes with the rest of the team. Take time to connect with senior staff to discuss projects generally, get feedback and find opportunities for growth. Every job is a learning opportunity, no matter what level you’re at, and it must be approached in that way.

7) It’s all about who you know.

Relationships are everything in this business. Not only the relationships you build with the media, vendors, or clients, but the rapport you have with your fellow colleagues. Get to know who you work with, pick their brain, understand their past experience and don’t loose touch with those you’ve met along the way. You never know where it may lead you or who you could meet!

Best of luck!