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4.0 GPA needed for entry level marketers/PR?

January 9, 2013

Recently (actually this was FOUR years ago – this post was sitting in my drafts and I just decided to publish), I participated in an ongoing Twitter discussion sharing advice to young PR professionals. A question came through asking the following: would you rather see a 4.0 or slightly lower GPA with more experience/activities?

My reply, in under 140 characters, of course: “need common sense & street smarts to be a crack PR pro, 4.0 GPA need not apply, they usually don’t have either.” As you may imagine, it ruffled a few feathers. (I also tweeted, “all the ‘A’ students wind up working 4 the ‘C’ students and the ‘B’ students end up working for the government” which was retweeted so guess people liked that).

Anyway, back to the ruffling of feathers and a few specific responses I received from a newly minted ’07 college grad who majored in journalism and PR. Here’s the Tweet stream, which started with my common sense Tweet

Him (newly minted ’07 grad): “I disagree re: GPA. I interviewed at one of the top PR agencies in NY. Lots of Ivy League and Public Ivy grads w/ high GPAs.”

Me (not newly minted grad): “give me some1 w/ grt attitude, confident, creative, willing to take advice, do whatevr it takes. more impt than undergrad GPA.”

Him (newly minted ’07 grad): “people with those qualities often have high GPAs.”

Me (not newly minted grad): “pls don’t misconstrue my pt, when u get in a position to hire staff and build a team, you’ll understand what i mean.”

Him (newly minted ’07 grad): “ok you’re assuming I haven’t hired people before.”

This back and forth got me thinking what I look for in a millennial when he or she comes in to interview for an entry-level account servicing position. And, in order to become a crack PR professional, is a 4.0 GPA required? Let’s take a look.

First and foremost, to get in the door to interview for an entry level account servicing role, we want to see a mix of communications related internships. The most desirable candidates will have interned in a few diverse environments – publishing house, broadcast TV newsroom, PR/advertising agency, and/or in-house marketing, to name a few. When I see these internships on the resume, that’s my jump off point for the discussion to find out specifics, how you handled a professional environment, likes/dislikes, challenges, observations. The ‘A’ you received in Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries doesn’t much interest me.

Once I hear about your internship experience, I’ll want to learn about what led you to those opportunities and the process in which you landed the internship. In doing so, I’ll get a small dose of your ability to sell, your drive, how you persisted. This is a great time to discuss your undergrad classes, mentors, professors etc. all of which may have been instrumental in driving your interest in the field. I want you to tell a story, to be genuine, to be passionate. If you’re not, you probably don’t want the job nor start a career in PR, even if you are a 4.0 student. Needless to say, the ‘A’ you received in the Philosophy of Human Experience doesn’t much interest me.

Now that I’m comfortable (or not) with your interest and dedication to the field, I want to understand what makes you tick outside of the classroom. So, you organized a campus wide flag football league, wrote a weekly column for your college newspaper, and participated in the school’s alumni event planning committee. Tell me about how you managed all these responsibilities and found time to be a college kid and socialize with peers. To me, this discussion should indicate that you’ll be willing to engage in outside extracurricular work activities to further your career, thus becoming more valuable to my agency. More importantly, I’ll get a great sense of how you work within a team environment. The ‘A’ you received in the Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Empire doesn’t much interest me (actually, yes it does, I love history, but I probably won’t ask about it).

So, what matters more to me on a resume than a 4.0 GPA would be:
1.  Demonstration of an in-depth knowledge of my company and client base – try to relate your internship experience with what you know about the industry and my day-to-day client work. Get the name of a client, read the recent articles in which they appeared. Tell me what you thought of those articles. Take a chance. Don’t come across as a know-it-all, but do make and effort to illustrate you’ve prepared properly.

2.  Mechanical perfection in the cover letter and resume presentation – this is your one shot to show you care. Attention to detail is critical in PR. If you’re a 4.0 student but misspell my company name or have an extra period where it shouldn’t be, that’s a shame.

3.  Collegiate sports / campus organizations – I’m not saying you need to be a Heisman Trophy winner, but I’m a huge believer in the positive outcomes when participating in team sports. Team sports teach individuals physical/mental fitness, competitiveness, discipline, socialization, how to succeed within a group, how to react to feedback, listening skills, respect etc.

Interestingly enough, when asked to rate the qualities employers find most important in a candidate, the 2007 Job Outlook Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), GPA was ranked number 17 of the top 20. Here are the top five most important skills to us employers – I agree completely:

1. Communications skills

2. Honesty / integrity /

3. Interpersonal skills / relating to others

4. Motivation / initiative / toughness

5. Strong work ethic

I’m not here to completely dismiss the “4.0 GPA.” I’m just here to provide a bit of real world insight into what I believe are the most important qualities in a potential entry-level PR candidate. So, if you’re confident you hold these qualities and can clearly demonstrate them through past experience, you’ll be well positioned not only in securing an entry-level account PR position, but succeeding in that role. Oh, and if you graduated with a 4.0, I suppose that’s pretty cool as well.

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