Whether you’re looking for a second internship or just looking to get your work placement for school out of the way, every PR grad faces two similar challenges when trying to compete for full-time opportunities—a lack of real experience and the stigma around being “just another intern” who worked at an agency for four months.
Internships, extra volunteer experience, CPRS ACE Awards and portfolio pieces are all fantastic tools to use to land interviews but in most cases, they are not nearly enough to compensate for what you really need to get a legitimate full-time job in communications, which is appreciable experience.
What I want to propose is that you should take a different approach to the start of your career. Instead of applying for that agency internship, consider finding a job that will give you many different skills. I’ll refer to these as “bridge jobs” because they create a bridge that connects you to better career prospects.
Internships are a good stepping stone
Just to be clear: internships do offer valuable exposure and networking opportunities that absolutely can help anyone kick start a career in public relations. I appreciated the opportunities I had during my internships to develop my skills in design, event coordination, media monitoring and shadowing media scrums.
If anything, my internship experience confirmed my suspicion that a career in public relations was really right for me. But I still needed a job and these common skills out of internships are highly redundant and not really that special to a respectable employer. But there are two reasons that I see “bridge jobs” as being ultimately better for you when you enter the job market.
The first is that when you’re an intern, people take it easy on you. That is to say, you’re not given serious responsibilities and you’re not the decision-maker. (Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone.) For the most part, you’re there to learn and, actually, make mistakes. And employers know this. They may see internships as more of an extension of your education than major employment experience.
The second is that most people walk out of their PR internships with exactly the same skills as every other PR intern. So how can you expect to stand-out when you dive into looking for a full-time, permanent job?
My experience with bridge jobs
Working bridge jobs helped to elevate my career prospects with the experience that employers could better relate to. Bridge jobs may not give you the coveted “Communications Coordinator” title but they provide valuable skills to make you more competitive. They also provide a pathway to moving up in an organization that does have positions available to communications and marketing professionals.
Bridge jobs can be either full-time or part-time positions with a focus on customer service, design, event marketing, promotions and more. An example of a bridge job is a Brand Ambassador, where you’d be working for different clients or a corporation. Dreaming of a government job? It can be notoriously difficult to get hired in a government organization in a permanent position, but they do often hire floating information counsellors or part-time guest experience representatives.
The range of bridge jobs like these are endless and are often a great way to boost your credentials as a communications professional. They may not sound like traditional public relations or marketing communications roles but the experiences certainly relate!
Bridge jobs also expose you to valuable skills in marketing, business acumen, customer service and beyond. They force you out of your comfort zone and help unlock experiences that a traditional PR internship will not. And frankly, you’re likely to be better paid at a bridge job and have a longer contract there than you would at an internship.
How a part-time job turned into a full-time one
I’ve had multiple bridge jobs earlier on in my career: from working in guest experience and events with the Toronto Blue Jays to conversing with thousands of tourists about the beautiful attractions and neighbourhoods for the City of Toronto. These bridge positions allowed me to extend my scope outside of traditional public relations and rounded off my skill set.
I got real insight into how a government arm operated and received exposure to the multi-layered tourism industry. The networking opportunities were also plentiful between colleagues and our customers. Having a powerful brand association (“City of Toronto”) on my resume also clearly helped me stand out from my competition.
Eventually, my part-time job for the city in their tourism division allowed me to apply for a communications role through their internal job portal—an opportunity I would not have had if I wasn’t already employed by the city. Now, I work full-time at the City of Toronto as a Corporate Communications Representative.
Regardless if you’re a fresh graduate or someone who is still growing their career, there really isn’t such a thing as “good” or “bad” experience. There’s just experience—and the more you have, the more talking points and insights you have to better propel your career prospects.
You don’t have to spend months trying to find an internship that would look perfect on your resume when you could be spending that time working somewhere that is helping you hone new skills and build your network. PR internships may be important foundations, but bridge jobs fill out the relatable experience employers are looking for. Give them a shot!