The hard work is over — my professional portfolio is now gathering dust on a shelf alongside various study texts. The Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations is a memory that my conscious mind is working hard to repress. The certificate, suitable for framing, just arrived in the mail, and I still smile every time I sign something with the initials APR after my name.
As part of my 18-month APR journey (yes, I took the scenic route), I read every APR posting on this blog for advice and inspiration. Now it’s my turn. The following reflections break down the process and provide insights intended to help today’s candidates on the path:
- As you write, be thoughtful, reflective and honest … but also retain diplomacy and professionalism. This is a product that you will share with others; it is not a diary.
- For a product that is complete but brief, target one page per question. It’s harder to do than it sounds.
- Don’t overthink your responses. Through the process of answering, you can become deeply introspective and philosophical. Such insights are some of the most profound and unanticipated benefits of the Accreditation process, but they also can hamper the writing process.
- Work the questionnaire concurrently with your portfolio — especially Part II, which is essentially an executive summary of your comprehensive communication plan. Each will improve for it.
- Allow time for editing, editing, editing and copyediting. Enlist a colleague to help, because at some point, your writing will start to look like Ipsum lorem.
- Identify and then organize portfolio contents early — think strategically and in synch with how you anticipate presenting it to your Readiness Review panel.
- The heart of the portfolio is the strategic communication plan. Ensure you select a rock-solid plan that demonstrates excellent research, planning, implementation and evaluation.
- Your portfolio is a snapshot in time; resist the urge to continuously tweak it as aspects of your work captured in the portfolio change in the real world.
- Consider the portfolio as a product — a communication tactic that represents the best possible you. Establish a sharp, clear visual style and be consistent with it throughout. Ensure the final portfolio is as polished and as professional as anything that you would produce for clients or your organization.
- Treat it like an interview — with respect to your preparations, appearance and manners.
- Be thoughtful of your panel members, who will carve precious time to facilitate your success. For instance, while guidance suggests providing just one portfolio for your panel, consider providing one for each panelist, along with (branded) pens and a notepad. Make a plan to be naturally gracious.
- You will probably not get home-field advantage. Arrive early enough to set up the strange new room to your benefit. Control what you can, but be flexible about what you can’t.
- Plan and rehearse your presentation approach — especially because the “crutch” of technology isn’t an option. One approach is to place 4” x 6” lined sticky notes with talking points onto portfolio pages as tabs. The tabs provide bookmarks and a script to guide the presentation.
- Finally, have fun! When else will anyone listen to you talk about yourself and your work successes and challenges for more than a few minutes? Savor it!
- Individual study requirements vary widely by prior experience and education, study habits, test-taking ability and other factors. Know what works for you and use that knowledge.
- As you study, apply what you learn to your daily work: For instance, apply that new theory to the communication plan that you are drafting. You’ll remember the material better, and you’ll be a better practitioner for it.
- The Examination tests the application of knowledge, but you have to have good command of the knowledge first, so some rote memory, along with critical thinking to apply it, is necessary.
- The “Mark for Review” feature — used to indicate answers that you aren’t certain about for later review — is your friend. I used it for about 45 percent of the questions; it kept me from getting bogged down and allowed me to revisit questions with a fresh perspective later.
Bottom line counsel: Each candidate has to own this goal and the process for attaining it.
Accordingly, make a plan for accomplishing your APR goal; it’s hard work — a lot of hard work — and there are many personal and professional distractions that can pull you away from completing it.
If you want to become Accredited, you’ll do what it takes to meet the challenge. When you do, you’ll feel great about yourself.
And when you do, we look forward to reading all about it here.
Jeffrey M. Bishop, APR, has been practicing public relations for almost 20 years for the U.S. Air Force, in the corporate setting and now with the federal government. He is an active local leader for the Boy Scouts of America and is a member of PRSA’s Transitioning Military Public Affairs Task Force, a national effort to help recently separated public affairs service members with career transition and employment support. He blogs and publishes his short fiction and line art at ScurryTails.com.