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There are few people who have successfully helped over 1,000 employees, interns and students gain employment. Jennifer Lee Magas is one of them.

As Vice President of Magas Media Consultants, LLC, and Clinical Associate Professor of Public Relations at Pace University, Magas has over 20 years experience of experience developing and executing media relations, corporate communications, as well as human resources strategies to communicate to both internal and external audiences. She speaks regularly on writing, workplace and PR topics, and has been quoted or featured in over 45 articles and blogs in The Wall Street Journal, US News & WorldReport, Monster.com, TIME Magazine, Careerbuilder.com, LinkedIn Pulse, and CommProBiz.

In an exclusive interview with ROOSTERGNN, Magas reveals key tricks for aspiring communications professionals, including social media advice and how to pitch reporters! Read on to find out.

Jennifer Lee Magas

You have successfully helped over 1,000 employees, interns, and students create professional job search documents such as resumes, cover letters, elevator speeches, portfolios and LinkedIn profiles to obtain employment. That is impressive!

What are five common mistakes that students make when creating these kinds of documents that absolutely NEED to be corrected?

It’s no secret that recruiters and hiring managers are quick to throw the vast majority of resumes, cover letters, and portfolios into the trash. For every mistake you make on your resume, there’s someone else who has it done perfectly. Some mistakes to avoid when writing a resume include:

  1. Avoiding buzzwords, like “problem-solving skills” which is an umbrella term even toddlers fall under, or “Go-getter” which tells rather than shows that you are driven. Don’t randomly toss out that you “think outside the box” but rather use action words and sturdy examples of how you are unique, creative, and motivated.
  2. When writing your resume, keep in mind the PAR acronym, or Problem, Action, Results. A common mistake is to just list your accomplishments or past work experience without proving how valuable you were in that position. Organize each of your bullet points in this format, illustrating your worth as an employee by outlining the problem you faced, the action you took to solve that problem, and the quantifiable results that benefitted your organization in terms of saved money or time. This is a great way to avoid the buzzword “problem-solving skills” and actually demonstrate your problem-solving ability.
  3. Another mistake students can make is underestimating the power of an online resume and portfolio. By making your resume accessible online, you’re providing the ease of speed and availability for any possible employer. It also gives you space to be a bit more creative with how you display your work and accomplishments. You can also attach it to your LinkedIn profile for easy discovery by potential employers.
  4. Common mistakes on resumes and cover letters are actually oftentimes as simple as grammar and spelling errors, or repetitive verbs and adjectives. Every document you send to a possible employer should be proofread by you, a friend, and anyone else whose hands you can get your work into. It’s easy to misjudge how much you can miss proofreading your own work, but a recruiter will catch any simple errors immediately and your resume will be promptly tossed into the garbage. Don’t undersell yourself with poor grammar and word usage.
  5. Many students don’t realize that application materials are not a “one-size-fits-all” deal. Every cover letter should be a comprehensive letter designed specifically for the company you’re sending it to, filled in with carefully crafted statements that show you’ve done your research on the business. It should be addressed to someone specifically, avoid fluff, and explain why your skillset makes you a good candidate for this particular position. Your resume should also reflect skills and past experience that is relevant to the job you are currently applying for.

Even though presentations are common in college, many students still graduate very shy about speaking in public.

How can students improve their public speaking skills and specifically, their elevator speech?

Public speaking is something I’ve found that almost everyone has trouble with. Not everyone can just waltz up in front of a crowd and deliver an earth-shatteringly good speech.

Public speaking comes with practice. I always recommend that students should start small. Try joining a local Toastmasters, which hosts regular speaking and leadership workshops.

Alternatively, join a business-networking group that requires you to present an elevator speech of who you are and what you do to potential clients, customers, or even colleagues. When it comes to actually presenting a speech, take 3 deep breaths before you begin speaking. To avoid starting right away and conveying your nervousness, breathe and begin on the right note. Keep it conversational and smile and laugh – you should be enjoying yourself and sharing your passion. If you have fun presenting, your audience will have fun listening.

When it comes to an elevator speech, first and foremost know your worth. An elevator speech is a 30 second self-pitch of your accomplishments and skills. If you know what you’re capable of as a worker you should be able to confidently deliver this. To craft a strong elevator speech you must identify your goal (to get a job, gain new business, etc.), target your audience, list what you do, and illustrate you and/or your company’s values. Be concise, create a hook, use powerful words, and paint visuals to tell a story.

When it comes to social media, what are five things that students should do to clean up and optimize their profiles before applying for jobs?

  1. Make good use of your privacy settings. In today’s digital age, you are your brand.  Everything you write is public relations for yourself, so make sure you know what you want to actually be public. Potential employers will be searching you up on every single social media platform, so if you’d prefer privacy, make sure to change the settings on all of your accounts. It’s very hard to separate your social media and your professional life, so a good start is to make every profile private.
  2. Go through and purge any inappropriate posts. If you wouldn’t show or say it to your grandma, don’t put it online. Any pictures or posts that could jeopardize your career (or even a simple hire) should be deleted. Avoid over sharing on your social media past your purge. If you are the kind of person that makes posts when you are upset or inebriated, pass your phone off to a friend. Every post you make should be done under careful, levelheaded consideration.
  3. Use your social media to share things relevant to your professional work. Post about attending events or conferences related to your field of work to show interest and passion in your career. These posts will show future employers that you are a dedicated and involved worker when it comes to your job, and they’ll like to see that enthusiasm spread across several platforms.
  4. Track your digital identity. Google yourself and perform a thorough search of your digital footprint. Put your name in quotations and Google yourself again. Where can people see you on your multiple social media platforms? Make sure the sites that pop up are the ones you are okay with possible employers finding. Create a Google Alert that alerts you whenever you are mentioned online so you can see how you reflect on the Internet. By creating a Google+ Profile, you can access tools that will allow you to remove a page from Google Search or reach out to Google directly for help if you find something unacceptable popping up in your searches.
  5. Take those you are friends with/connected to on social media into careful consideration. Your connections on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are a direct representation of you, so make sure you’re not accepting friend requests and follows carelessly. The last thing you need is to be rejected by an employer for someone else’s offensive profiles or posts on social media.

What other tips can you provide for students looking to build their brand online?

Students looking to build their brand online should start with a LinkedIn profile. This should be fleshed out with their achievements and supported by extensive networking.

You are your brand online, and LinkedIn is the perfect place to showcase yourself. You can optimize your profile with keywords that show your motivation and passion in a certain field. Recruiters who Google these keywords may come across your profile and be able to see how you’d be a great fit for their company. Unlike other social mediums, LinkedIn is used primarily for the professional world, so it’s a great place to start networking and actually setting up the base for a career. On LinkedIn students should also be taking recommendations very seriously. If you’ve had a positive experience with a coworker, professor, internship mentor, etc., you should use that connection to help build up recommendations on your profile. Writing a recommendation for someone usually results in receiving one, so take the opportunity to write a recommendation for someone seriously, so that same person can vouch for you in the future.

You have lots of experience pitching to news sources. Can you provide some essential tips for future communications professionals when it comes to: how should one contact news sources?

What should the pitch include? Are there any tools/apps that we should know about?

Jennifer Lee Magas, talking to some of her students

What makes a pitch stand out? The timing, and whether you can relate your pitch to a current event or human-interest story. Basically, can you make it relatable? Your pitch should be sent in a way that makes it news worthy – editors are receiving hundreds of pitches a day, and if you want to get yours even considered, it should be relevant in some way based on current events. Make your pitch worth reading, and it will be read.

Other things to keep in mind include sending pitches to a beat the reporter actually covers. You’ll be emailing a lot of your pitches out, so take the time to find the email of someone who will have interest in what you’re selling. Don’t send out a pitch about a local soccer team to a reporter who covers fashion. Respect them as people, know their interests, and know how they like to be contacted. You’re way more likely to make headway with someone you send something they find personally interesting. In that same thread, make sure to explain why your story is relevant to the reporter’s readers. Personalize the pitch and know your audience – certain hooks only work for certain people. Study your audience and figure out your main talking points. This means rehearsing and researching everything you possibly can.

In terms of small tips, your pitch should include a hook, the who, what, when, where, why, and how, and bullet points of the main information. Stick to one topic, put your main point in the email subject line and opening sentence, and keep your pitch short. Imagine writing your pitch on the back of a business card – if it won’t fit, it’s too long.

Connecting with reporters should be a priority for those looking to pitch to the media. Look to build a relationship with them through Twitter, LinkedIn, and more. A reporter that you have a good rapport with is more likely to take interest in pitches you send their way. Use social media as your tools and keep up with certain reporters. They’ll take notice of you when you take notice of them.

What about when a news source does not respond to a pitch? When and how should one follow up? Should you pitch to multiple outlets at the same time?

When a news source does not respond to a pitch, don’t be discouraged. First, start a few days later with a follow up email, making sure the reporter received what you sent. If you don’t get a response, do not harass the reporter.

There’s a lot to be said for persistence, but if your pitch isn’t being picked up, it means something about it didn’t work. The idea here is to take a good hard look at your pitch and reformat it. Try to make it relevant and timely in a different way. Reformat it so a reporter at a different outlet will like it. Never send out mass pitches to several reporters in one outlet – it shows laziness, lacks personalization, and makes them way less likely to take interest in what you’ve sent. If you’re having trouble getting a pitch picked up, then by all means, send it to multiple outlets to see where you get a hit and where you get a miss. Every rejection is a new opportunity to learn better pitch-writing skills.

And general tips for cultivating relationships with news sources? How should communications professionals network (online and offline) to score media coverage?

Cultivating relationships with news sources can be tough – especially for someone just breaking into the business. Communications professionals should look for common connections – easily findable on LinkedIn – and try to build a relationship through others with reporters. Reporters also like to be your individual source for that specific media outlet, so make sure they’re always your contact when you’re sending out a pitch. Certain reporters may fix you up with other reporters when you have a pitch less related to their beat, and you may start to build up an entire team of reporters at a news source that can work with you for different types of pitches. Be kind, courteous, and treat everyone with respect and you’ll find that the connections will keep expanding once you’re inside a news source.

  • Work hard on your email subject line. The difference between an opened and an unopened email is the subject line. Make it short, intriguing, and to the point. Otherwise you’ll be left on unread in a reporter’s inbox.
  • Don’t fake it. Your passion for the subject should be clear in your pitch. No one will have interest in what you say if you sound bored with the subject. Truly believe in what you’re pitching and be sincere to seal the deal.

Wait until they bite. Pitching is like casting out a line into a sea of reporters. Don’t give out too much info in your initial pitch. Give out the basics, get to the point, and reel them in enough to ask for more. Then offer a press kit or press release upon request.

  • If you need to write to a reporter about several different points, either use bullet points for quick reference or don’t put them all in the same email. It’s best for everybody if you stick to one topic at a time.
  • Proofread like an editor. Check grammar, punctuation, and always confirm attachments before sending off a pitch.
  • Only follow up once on a story. You’re looking to make connections, but sending the same pitch over and over to someone is only going to annoy them.
  • Say thank you. You may be sending out a scoop to reporters, but so are hundreds of other PR professionals. Thank them for their time. They don’t have to open your emails, so show a little bit of appreciation that they actually did.
  • Always do your research. Research current events, research your reporter, and research your audience. The more you know, the more prepared you’ll be to send out a killer pitch.
  • Try not to “cold call” reporters. It’s hard to make connections, but try starting with a phone call with a new reporter to see if you can drop a quick 30-second pitch. Many random emails will be ignored, but a politely requested phone call at a time when a reporter is not busy may make a bit more headway.
  • Give reporters lots of time for a breaking story or a pitch. The more advance time you give them, the more likely they’ll be to pick it up. Sending them something with a deadline of “like, tomorrow” is not going to work for most reporters.

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