Flack in Training Vol. 5 – The Interview

Businesspeople in Meeting Room

So you’ve sent your resume to all the agencies in your area that are hiring (and hopefully some that aren’t, just in case!) and you’ve landed your first interview. Getting a potential employer to take that step from having your resume to actually calling you and scheduling a time to speak is difficult, but the biggest hurdle of the entire job search process is getting through your interview alive. Ok, so I may be exaggerating slightly, but going on your first PR interview and not knowing what to expect can be pretty terrifying. Since I spent the entire summer going on all sorts of interviews, I’ve picked up on some tips and things that you should know to help you shine, stand out, and hopefully get that coveted first job offer.

As a side note, there’s a reason why I keep saying “PR interview” instead of just plain old “interview”. I went on a variety of interviews this summer, including ones at PR agencies, corporate offices and even a couple for marketing assistant positions; I noticed that interviews at agencies were a different beast, and that there were things you could do to make them successful that won’t necessarily help in other places.

1. Know Thyself- If you’re anything like me, you took an interview process preparation class in college (how else were you going to fulfill those two leftover credits?). In addition to helping you write your resume, they probably told you to prepare yourself to answer questions such as “What is your worst quality?” and “Tell me about a time when you were faced with a problem that you had to solve”. Was I asked these questions during my job search? Absolutely. Was it ever during an interview at a PR agency? No. From my observation, agencies who are looking to hire an entry level candidate (as well as at any other level) are a lot more interested in hearing about your experience and what you have actually done than trying to trick you or put you on the spot. They want to know what you have done in the past that you can do once again for THEIR clients. On that note, be able to speak about yourself and your past job experience. Don’t hold back and don’t be modest; there’s a good chance that you’ll be interviewing with an Account Exec instead of HR, and they’ll want to know that you can seamlessly transition onto their team. It’s a good idea to spend the night before your interview reflecting on each individual position.

2. Know Social Media- Not every agency knows HOW to use social media successfully, but by now they all know that it’s important. This means that there are many companies who are looking for new, young people to bring in a different perspective and hopefully help them catch up with the future of the industry. So be prepared for the inevitable “what do you know about social media?” question. And when I say be prepared, I don’t just mean to expect it. If you haven’t been exposed to it in your internships, spend some time researching it and really getting to know it (at the very least). It could give you that little edge that you need to beat out another worthy competitor.

3. Know the Company- Every company is going to ask you the awkward “What do you know about us?” question where you’ll list every little fact that you pulled from their website. Why not really convey to your interviewer that you care by integrating what you know about the company throughout the entire conversation? It’s one thing to show them that you can read, it’s another to tell them what you can bring to their agency by showing them what you have in common (yes, it’s kind of like dating). For example: “One of the industries I’m particularly interested in is the food and beverage industry, and I noticed that you’ve recently brought on a bunch of new restaurant clients”. I’ve noticed that my more successful interviews have been for companies which I spent a lot of time researching and even starting to care about. It’s important to let that show.

4. Know Your Work (and show it!)- I can’t stress enough the importance of a clipbook/portfolio. There’s no better way to talk about what you can do than by actually SHOWING them. The sad thing is, a lot of flacks (and not just entry-level) don’t have one! I didn’t until certain mentors told me that I had to. A word of advice to all the students and interns out there: start making one NOW. It can be a daunting task, depending on how far along you are (mine was a nightmare). And make sure it’s organized; arrange it the way you want, there should be some method to the madness (by client, industry, or position). Someone wise once told me that the best clips should always be in the front. If you haven’t had the good fortune of having an internship where they let you pitch, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a portfolio. Instead of clips, bulk it up with writing samples, work from your PR classes, and any campaigns that you have designed or worked on.

5. Know Your Personality- There’s a common misconception that a job interview is strictly a business transaction. While you should be polite and composed, there’s no need to restrain your personality. In fact, you might be doing yourself a disservice if you’re overly formal or too quiet. Public relations is a social business, and agencies are looking for people who can be thrown into any situation and still be friendly and feel comfortable. It’s all about relationships, so you should show that you’re capable of relating to anyone. Don’t be afraid to smile and laugh- they want a person, not a robot.

Anyone have any other PR interview tips that they can share with students and first time job seekers? Leave it in the comments!

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  • A

    Good advice. On portfolios, I like to see them organized more as case studies. Don't just show me the clip, show me what it took to get it; a three-page section, for example, with a press release or article, the email pitch you sent to the journalist, and the resulting clip. Then you can speak to the strategy during your interview.

  • http://topsy.com/tb/bit.ly/3nKf99 Tweets that mention Flack in Training Vol. 5 – The Interview :PRBreakfastClub — Topsy.com

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Christina K and Jessica Greco. Jessica Greco said: I have a new post up today over at the #prbc. PR students and entry level job seekers will want to check it out! http://prbc.biz/5 [...]

  • http://twitter.com/jessisjuicy Jess Greco

    A-

    Thanks for the great advice. That seems like a really interesting (and I'm sure very effective) way to organize your clipbook. Definitely something I haven't heard of before. Is this something that you see often?

  • http://www.costadevault.com/blog Alexis

    Great post! I wish I'd seen this before my first agency interview (I think I blacked out from nerves right when it started because I don't remember much, but they hired me so it must have been okay).

    Looking back, I definitely agree with #4. As far as I can tell, agencies are really interested in what you can DO, instead of what type of fruit you think you would be (worst job Q ever). If you've done research — anything from media lists to competitive analyses — include it, and talk about it! Just because it wasn't a release or a placement doesn't mean it's not worth showing.

  • Becki

    I agree – I had press releases and corresponding clips in my portfolio and it really impressed. I'd also recommend being prepared to write a sample press release or pitch for the company with whom you're interviewing. It might not happen that day, but I was often asked to send one after the interview.

  • http://www.nkhome.com/ Monica

    Awesome post! I agree with including market/audience research projects. If you're doing in-house PR, there's often considerable intersection with PR and Biz development that can demonstrate a keen eye for finding opportunities thus reinforcing your competency as a PR whiz.
    @KestrelChick

  • Lori

    I also organize my portfolio as a series of case studies; I find that gives the clips more context than if they were just thrown together. By including the pitch letters and press releases, I'm also allowing interviewers to get a feel for my writing style(s) which they ultimately ask for anyway.

  • http://twitter.com/cassie_holman Cassie

    Spot-on advice. From my experience, agency interviewers (usually account execs) ask field related questions that really get to the core of your experience and knowledge of the PR field. Being interviewed by an HR person was completely different…they asked pretty awful questions that had little to do with my PR experience (The worst: “what was the last book you read and what did you learn from it”?)

  • http://www.shorepr.com/ John S. Shore, Dallas

    Very good advice. As someone who does a lot of courtesy interviews in this day and age, I am also looking for how they tell a story. That tells me how they will do when pitching. Also, I cannot stress enough not to wear those gold Roman sandals to an INTERVIEW. Dress as if you were going to a funeral.

  • http://www.shorepr.com/ John S. Shore, Dallas

    Very good advice. I am also looking for someone who can tell a story from beginning to end without stumbling. That tells me how they will pitch to potential clients and media. Also, do NOT wear those gold Roman sandals to an INTERVIEW. Dress in an understated business attire way as if you were going to a funeral. This is NOT “The City” people! :)

  • http://www.shorepr.com/ John S. Shore, Dallas

    Very good advice. As someone who does a lot of courtesy interviews in this day and age, I am also looking for how they tell a story. That tells me how they will do when pitching. Also, I cannot stress enough not to wear those gold Roman sandals to an INTERVIEW. Dress as if you were going to a funeral.

  • http://www.shorepr.com/ John S. Shore, Dallas

    Very good advice. I am also looking for someone who can tell a story from beginning to end without stumbling. That tells me how they will pitch to potential clients and media. Also, do NOT wear those gold Roman sandals to an INTERVIEW. Dress in an understated business attire way as if you were going to a funeral. This is NOT “The City” people! :)

  • http://www.dietstarts2mrw.com/ Lindsay

    This is great advice. Thanks!