This post was originally written for Allison Ralston’s blog.
Some people have lifelong dreams of living and working in New York City. They fall in love with the city (sometimes never even having visited) and are determined to make a living. To paraphrase the great Frank Sinatra, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
However, I was not one of those people.
I hadn’t fathomed calling NYC home until two months before I graduated college. New York City was just a place I saw in the movies; It seemed fun and all, but wasn’t really “real” for me. In the Midwest, where I’m from, the big city you move to is Detroit or Chicago. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have moved 800 miles away from home to live in a city I could barely navigate. And now, this month marks my one year anniversary of living in New York, NY.
The first time ever stepping on NYC soil was the March before my graduation when I came out during Spring Break to spend a few days in the city and New Jersey job shadowing my good friend and mentor, Deirdre Breakenridge.
The more friends I made in NYC, the more I considered giving the Big Apple a taste. After all, as the media hub of the nation it made sense to start my PR career in the City. So on May 12th, 2010, only five days after I graduated college, I got on a one-way flight to New York, NY.
But it wasn’t as easy as just deciding to make the move and hoping for survival. Looking back, here’s a few things I did, both intentional and unintentional, that helped me out:
Find people who are doing what you want to do
Because I was pursuing a career in PR, I used social networking tools to connect with people in the field. Chatting with people on Twitter was one way I got to know NYC PR pros; especially in Twitter chats like #PRStudChat. Setting up my own blog and guest posting was also a good way to establish myself as an ambitious student looking to break into the PR industry. However, I wasn’t active on social networks for the sake of just getting a job: I tweeted with people I genuinely enjoyed talking to, even if it wasn’t about PR, and blogged because I enjoyed writing about my questions and thoughts regarding the industry.
I eventually created an online digital portfolio so I could include a link in an email or cover letter to potential employers since I couldn’t hand it to them from hundreds of miles away.
Capitalize on your network
As every PR professional knows, it’s all about who you know. I felt skeezy asking people if they knew of any openings. I soon came to find out most professionals expect these questions as graduation nears. However, the key is to establish those relationships early on and be genuine. Nobody wants to feel “used” by an acquaintance who only talks to you when they need something. When I began my hunt I reached out to “contacts” that were actually friends, and even if they didn’t know of an opening themselves, they knew people who might know of one.
Refine your materials and write a kick-ass cover letter
Your resume is a paper version of you. Call me OCD, but I can’t count how many hours I spent agonizing over every single word that went on my resume.
Ask a professor or a friend with mad writing skills to proofread your resume. I even had a graphic design student give me suggestions on how I can use fonts to make it more visually appealing. The cover letter is just as important as the resume. It shows that you’ve done your research on the company, have skills that make you qualified for the job and give a damn about getting the job. If you don’t care enough about the position to spend time on the cover letter, why should the potential employer spend time on you?
Set up interviews beforehand
Don’t come to NYC for a few days expecting to walk in to a PR firm, hand them your resume and land a job on the spot. However before you book your flight, ask the company if they would be willing to do a phone or Skype interview for the first and/or second round of interviews. That way when you are in the city, you can go in for the final round and blow them away in person.
Book the flight
You have to make the effort to do an in-person interview if you really want the job. I know, I know, you’re a poor college kid. So was I. I’m certainly no trust fund brat and paid for college all on my own. This is where priorities comes into practice – cook your own meals for a week, do your drinking at home, ask your parents for an early graduation gift of a ticket (and not an iPad), etc. You can find the $400 (or less) you’d need for a (train or plane) ticket or gas money.
The unfortunate reality is that competition in the PR industry is fierce, and it’s even tougher in New York. I missed classes (notifying my professors of why I would be absent, of course) to conduct in-person interviews I had scheduled beforehand. As a result, I got offers from all the firms I interviewed with and was also asked to interview for a position higher than one I had initially applied for at one agency.
The bottom line here is that making the effort to go out of your way to be there in person says volumes about how seriously you’re taking the process.
Send thank you notes
Some people send e-mails, but I prefer a hand written card. I feel it takes more effort and shows your appreciation. Plus it’s a physical reminder that demands attention instead of just another e-mail waiting to be read on their Blackberries or iPhones during their commute in the morning.
Following up is the most important thing you can do after getting your resume perfect. If you don’t follow up about your interview why should your employer believe you would follow up on any other project once they hire you? Following up also forces the HR rep or PR pro who interviewed you to give you an answer or at the very least reminds them that you’re still waiting for an answer.
So that’s how I made it. Would love to hear comments from anyone else who has done it or is planning to make the move.