It’s common sense to come to an interview prepared, but what exactly should you be ready for during an interview for a public relations position?
First of all, chances are that you’ll have to hand over your resume before you get an interview – so we asked for advice on making the best possible first impression.
“Show results, not just tasks. Everyone puts – Wrote press releases, coordinated events, drafted articles, etc. Very few (especially entry level) actually show results. [Example - Secured feature story on the front page of the food section of The Tampa Tribune. Saw 30 percent increase in sales at the local restaurant.] Show HOW PR efforts can be measured.” ~ Sandy D’Elosua- Senior Account Exec at RFB Communications
“Resumes are useless to find opportunities. They are solely a cliff note to an interview. Resumes should be used as conversation cards for your interviewer. Resumes are lame anyway, use something more demonstrative that shows who you are and what you’re passionate about. Get a portfolio together – something that shows what you’ve done – how you did it, how it impacted people. If you don’t have materials for a portfolio, donate your time to a non profit and get them press ” Antoine Dubeauclard , President Media Genesis
“The most common mistake I see grads make when they apply for a position with us is not making the effort to find out who — by name — they should address their cover letter to. When I receive a cover and resume addressed to “To Whom It May Concern,” I don’t bother to read it, I just toss it. I figure if they didn’t take the time or make the effort to call our agency and ask to whom they should address their query, they are not someone I would seriously consider for even an entry-level job. I purposefully do not include HR information on our Web site for the simple reason that if you are really interested in working for our firm and have done your homework, which includes figuring out the proper HR person, then I might be interested in talking to you. The second most-common mistake is not putting your name in the title of the file containing your cover letter and your resume. If I am conducting a job search, I’m likely to get quite a few e-mailed resumes and letters. If yours is labeled “PR_Resume_Jan_09.doc” it’s going to get lost or I have to change the file name, which is a pain, and goes down as a mark against you in my little mental book. In college these days they spend a lot of time teaching how to write the perfect cover letter and resume, but they don’t spend five minutes on these two tips, which for me are opportunity killers because they demonstrate a lack of initiative and awareness. And don’t get me started on typos ….” Buck Banks VP NewmanPR
Dr. Michael Smith, Professor of Communication at La Salle University in Philadelphia says “Treat your resume like American Express used to have you treat their card – don’t leave home without it. Take a stack of resumes (or resume summaries) wherever you go. One of my former students got a good job in marketing while tending bar; a rep from the company he really wanted to work for came in and he “just happened” to have his resume with him. She got it–and got him in the door.”
Perfecting your resume is a great first step – but what about advice for the actual interview?
Susan Strayer has 3 pieces of advice for getting prepared to give a great interview. “1-Have examples ready about how you would get PR attention for a company’s product, service or event–you will likely get asked for an example on the spot in an interview. Do your research on the company so you’re ready to provide specific details. Be prepared to share why you chose that strategy too. 2-Review examples of crisis (think peanut butter and salmonella) or embarrassment (think Merrill Lynch CEO’s million dollar spend on his office) and how you’d respond if you were the company’s spokesperson. 3-Create a portfolio with releases, tearsheets, photos from events, quotes, etc. It doesn’t have to be extensive, but having something tangible you can bring to a networking meeting or interview allows you to share it live and get immediate reaction as opposed to sending a link by email later”
Allison Fogt, Account Manager for KiddPR similarly suggests that grads “Build a portfolio with samples of relevant class or internship work and any resulting media coverage.” She also says to “Make sure your personality shines through in the interview.”
“1-Really know the definition of public relations vs. advertising – 95% of the people i interviewed over the years could not give me a good definition. 2-Bring sample work even if its from a class you took. 3-Be prepared to take a writing test – writing under pressure and producing great work is a priority at a pr agency. 4-If you currently have a job and are asked when you could start working in the new position do not answer “immediately” as this will tell the interviewer volumes about your sense of loyalty, responsibility and sense of fair play. If someone doesn’t give their former employer two-weeks’ notice I won’t hire them. 5-Speaking of references – come prepared with a typed list including contact information and offer it even before you are asked. 6-Be prepared to ask intelligent questions – don’t ask who the clients are or what exactly the agency does – if you don’t know this cancel the interview – time wasters are not appreciated and most certainly won’t be hired. 7-Bring something to take notes on – have a pen handy – if the interviewer gives you advice write it down – the way you handle information intake is a good indicator of how you will function as an employee. 8-Read as much as you can – newspapers, magazines – know the media outlets – if one more person tells me that they only read “People” I will just scream and find a new industry.” ~ Dindy Yokel
And then there is the advice on what NOT to do. Sandy D’Elosua gives this advice that may be surprising to some grads. “Never say you are a “people person” when applying for a job in PR. This profession is all about writing, so it clearly demonstrates the applicant knows nothing about the profession when they walk in saying this. I remember my first course in public relations at the University of Florida, the professor stood in front of the lecture hall and asked, “how many of you are people persons?” The majority of students raised their hands. Then he said, “get out now; this is not the profession for you.” Also, “Stop saying, “I will be an asset for your company”… or “I will be a great addition to your team.” After the applicant proves his or her worth, let the team decide whether he or she is an asset. This could be viewed as off-putting to the person hiring.”
Jan Bracamonte, Director of Public Relations with Crosby-Wright sent us a DON’T for interviewing: “For many seeking jobs, they don’t take the time to learn about the agency before they apply. So, they send a generic cover letter and resume without first answering the most important question to the person hiring: “Why are you a good fit for my firm?” Yes, I want to know about you as a professional. But, know your audience and how you can benefit them.”
That’s it for today, tomorrow’s advice: Think Outside the Box