Resume Advice From the Person Who Actually Reads Them

By Suzanne
May 16, 2017 , In Experience

So you want a job in Public Relations?

I get hundreds of résumés every year, from bright-eyed public relations majors – ready to take on and conquer the PR world.  Almost daily, there’s an email in my inbox from someone looking for a job, internship or career advice.  Sometimes I feel more like a career coach than a publicist!

I receive so many submissions – and it’s exciting to see the new crop of talent in my field.  I often think I’ve seen it all, and then one surprises me!

Here are a few of my words of wisdom – along with the good, the bad and the downright ugly – when it comes to applying for a job or internship in public relations.  Keep in mind that my insights are simply that. They come from my experience.  Every field and every firm has different standards.

Let’s get started…

Résumé Realness

Yes, getting noticed is good.  But, getting noticed for the wrong reasons?  Not so much.  Since this is such an important part of the job application process, I’m going to be frank here.  About 90% of the résumés I receive are awful.  I mean, like positively dreadful.  The good news is that I don’t think it’s you.  I think you’re getting some unsound advice. 

Colors and Curlicues

I’m not sure what college professor or counselor started telling students that résumés need a little jolt of color and flair. What I AM sure of is that the person giving this advice has never worked in the realm of luxury pr.  And don’t even get me started on the résumés that resemble newsletters in their formatting.  Or, the ones that include your photo.  True story, I once received a résumé with the applicant’s bridal photo.  My entire staff can still tell you the girl’s name to this day.  Your grandmother might love to see that, but your prospective employer does not.

Seriously, keep it simple. Let your schooling, experience, activities and accomplishments speak for themselves.  You can never go wrong with basic black and white.  All the extra rubbish only makes me think that you don’t believe you’re good enough without all the bells and whistles.  I’m going to bet that you are.   

Check, Mate

You know that typos are no good.  You’ve made it through college; therefore I think it’s safe to say that you accept that as a fact.  So I’m not going to spend another minute on this.  All I will say is that if you’re not smart enough to use spell check (or you’re not too keen on impressing me), you’re not the one for the job. 

Oh, and scented résumés are not good either. Only Elle Woods can pull that off.  And, yes, I’ve received those too.

Pet Peeves

There are a few things that I find hysterical – and push me over the edge – when I see them on résumés.  They can usually be found in the “Special Skills” section.  If you are fluent in Mandarin, I definitely want to know.  Or if you know how to code, that’s super cool.  But, if you are fluent in Facebook and Instagram – and you think that’s relevant information to share with me – I’m going to question your judgment, here.  Unless you were born before 1945, these are not special skills.

The second one that gets me every single time is when an applicant lists studying abroad or travel as a special skill.  If it was  legitimate coursework, absolutely include it in your educational information.  But, please note that it is not a skill.  Most likely, your parents footed the bill for your semester in Spain, or that week in Iceland to study whatever it is that you were supposed to be learning about.  So honestly?  Isn’t it really highlighting your parents’ skills more than your own?  We’re thrilled that they are successful and love you enough to invest it you.  How lucky to be the recipient of their generosity!  Go take a minute to thank them.  Really, you should.  Just please don’t consider it as a skill.

Build a Book

Chances are that throughout your college experience, you’ve had the opportunity to work on some really cool stuff.  I’m always impressed when applicants send a digital book (it can be a simple PDF) of their experience in the various realms of public relations.  Whether from a real life internship or a leadership position in your sorority, I’ll bet you’ve done some exciting things that relate to your future career.  Now is the time to show me. 

I often get questions on this point about creating your own website.  Candidly, that’s not going to sell me on you.  Unless you minored in graphic design and built your site from scratch, I usually find the standard template ones to feel clumsy. I want to see what you’ve done and how you communicate that to me.  We are in communications, you know!

Cover It Up!

You’ve created your résumé and built your book; now it’s time to craft your cover letter.  Again, this is a time for you to shine and to sell me on why I should want to hire you.  I need to be interested and intrigued enough to want to take the first step, which is inviting you in for an interview.  I want to hear what you bring to the table, and how you could be an asset to the company.  Sell me on you.

But, also let me know that you’ve researched my company and have at least a small idea of what we do.  You don’t need to flatter me.  Or tell me that working for Droese Public Relations is your dream job.  I want to hear how YOU are going to make my life a DREAM with your talents.

If you’re sending your résumé electronically, there’s one more step: your email.  This should be separate from your cover letter.  Do not use the same verbiage or cut-and-paste excerpts from your cover letter.  Make it fresh! A small concise email is always preferred; and if you can grab my interest in a quick minute, you’ve already crossed the first hurdle.  This shows me that you can pitch.

You’ve come this far. Don’t blow it now.

So you’ve sent your résumé and are feeling pretty good about your chances.  Yet, days go by and you’ve heard nothing.  I know this can be stressful.  This usually happens for a few reasons.  A) The company is simply not hiring at this point. B) The hiring manager has been busy and hasn’t had a chance to acknowledge you. Or, C) They’re just not that into you.

With a larger company, you may receive more immediate feedback.  With a smaller company or a boutique agency, that’s not always the case.  Usually the person doing the hiring has many other responsibilities that fall way beyond screening applicants.  It might be there there’s not a position now, but perhaps there will be soon. Seriously, there can be so many factors.

If you’re really interested in the job, definitely be sure to follow-up.  We like to know that you’re interested. But, if you don’t hear anything, take heart and take a deep breath.  Don’t start stalking.  It’s not pretty. In fact, it’s crazy.  It will never get you the job. Bottom line: It freaks us out (reference that bad attention stuff I talked about earlier).


EMTD is an acronym that I’ve carried on from my college days.  Enthusiasm Makes The Difference.  It’s especially true when applying for a job.  Remember, this is our first impression of you.

For a while now, I’ve received a random email or two from an applicant, asking if we were hiring.  They then go to say that if I’m interested, they will send me their résumé. Um, how am I supposed to know if I’m interested or not, if I haven’t seen your résumé?  This just reeks of laziness.  And if you’re not motivated enough to attach a document onto an email, I’m going to guarantee you I’m not motivated to take any other action other than “Move to Trash.”

One of my all time favorites was an applicant who in lieu of a résumé sent a link to his LinkedIn profile.  Seriously, people?

Let me explain a little bit more here, about why it’s so important to show initiative and enthusiasm.  Many of the people you will be sending your résumé to are from a different generation – when getting your first job was a little more complicated.  It usually involved multiple trips to Kinko’s to print out a résumé and cover letter – and that was only after having to call the company to get a name and title for the recipient.  Trust me, it was a chore.  And, it really wasn’t that long ago.  I know looking for a job is no cakewalk; but try to remember it was probably an even more excruciating and painfully slow process not that long ago.

Now go out there and land the job of your dreams!