Lisa Johnson Kiefer met with PRSSA members for dinner on Wednesday, November 1 to discuss her background as a PR professional. She has more than a decade of experience in PR firms and in cutting-edge PR research as well as having run own consultancy. From her experiences gained as a UF Gator graduate in 2007, where she received both the Ruth and Rae O. Weimer Award and Scholarship, and the Florida Public Relations Association Award for Outstanding Public Relations Graduate, to her current role as a top executive at Wakefield Research, a top Washington D.C.-based market research firm today, Lisa shared incredible insights into the industry, tips on the job and internship application process, networking advice and more. For those who did not make it, here are Lisa’s biggest pieces of advice for students interested in all things communications.
1. Get Active
In today’s world, applying for a job is as easy as the click of a button. That means a much bigger applicant pool for jobs – making it harder to stand out. The way to set yourself apart, Lisa says, is to get active. It’s one thing to join a student group as a member and an entirely different, and more beneficial, thing to get active, such as by joining a committee or running for a leadership position. Taking a more active role on and off campus as a student gives you more “real-life” experience outside the classroom, and exposes you to professors and other professionals who could end up helping your career at some point. Lisa, who currently serves on the board of directors for the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter, noted that even in a chapter of nearly 1,200 members, there is a well-known core of those who are actively involved on a consistent basis. Being on the radar of industry leaders who are in hiring roles or might know someone at a company you want to work for can be a game-changer in your ability to get internships and future jobs.
2. Don’t rush over applications
Responsible for all hiring for her division, Lisa is attuned to the application and interviewing process, and she shared what she looks for most in applicants. First and foremost, she says you must read job postings carefully for special instructions, such as whether a cover letter is required or if you’re asked to use a specific subject line. This is often companies’ way of weeding candidates who can’t follow simple instructions out. And it works: candidates often don’t follow instructions to send a cover letter, and some don’t even send a resume – assuming just hitting “Apply” on LinkedIn will suffice. Lisa says and other leaders on the team immediately rule out anyone who doesn’t follow the instructions. Also, pay close attention to your documents and communications, especially when you’re applying to multiple companies. She often receives cover letters with other company names, or the wrong position cited in the document or in files names. She stressed the importance of tailoring materials to each company you’re applying to and proofreading your application, since it’s employers’ first impression of you.
3. After you land a job, practice humility and be an avid learner
It’s important to get involved as a student, and do well in your classes. It can often be the differentiator to your getting the job. But, Lisa says, once you and others have been given those jobs, it is often a much more even playing field – and there will be a lot to learn from peers and supervisors. Those who take a job on with humility, and are receptive and willing to learn, are very often more successful than employees who feel they already know what’s needed to succeed in the job and turn their noses up at opportunities to learn. No matter how far into your career you get, Lisa says there is always going to be something you need to learn, or learn how to do better.
4. Give it at least a year
If you have landed a job, congratulations! Lisa suggests trying to stay in jobs for at least a year before moving on. Of course, if you work in a truly toxic environment, have to relocate or have other extenuating circumstances, there are exceptions. But otherwise, Lisa says the year-mark can often be when you’re finally comfortable in a position, and what felt stressful in previous months because you were still learning the ropes of a new job or company can dissipate and leave you feeling more confident in your knowledge and skills. It can also benefit your long-term career opportunities, by gaining more recognition and trust with leadership and learning more advanced skills once you’ve moved beyond initial onboarding and “learning the ropes.”
It’s also useful in the job application process to show consistency in your resume. While an instance here or there isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker depending on how long someone has been working, Lisa often sees resumes where candidates have left multiple or back-t-back jobs after only a few months. This is typically a red flag in that it can signal someone is unable to commit to a job, and with companies usually spending a great deal of resources onboarding and training new hires, frequent “job-hopping” can result in a candidate being removed from consideration.
We thank Lisa for her generous advice and all the knowledge she has shared with us to prepare us for a successful career in communications. Make sure to come to an upcoming meeting with more professionals through PRSSA to connect first-hand with talented individuals in PR. Is there a specific sector or PR field you would like us to cover? Send us your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Laura Henschel