In the PR agency world, as in other industries, it’s tough to secure an interview for that first job or next best career step. So when you do nail it, you want to make the most of it. Employers differ, but I have a mental list of “red-flag” responses that make me wonder if the candidate is a fit for my firm, or even for public relations overall. After a straw poll of other employers in PR, I’ve come up with a short, and subjective, list of things not to say in a PR firm interview.
“I’m a people person.” It may be a personal quirk, but this one is the most cringeworthy in my book. Yes, relationship-building is important in our business, but “I’m a people person” is facile, smacks of naievete and does nothing to differentiate. It might make sense in an interview in hospitality or customer service, but I think it’s better unsaid.
“I’m the most qualified person you’ll meet!” This and similar proclamations could suggest an arrogance that isn’t appealing. It’s better to offer specific anecdotes that illustrate why you’re qualified, motivated, or dedicated. Sweeping statements, in general, are weaker than examples.
“How quickly can I be promoted?” Ambition is a good thing, as is having set goals. But the timing is wrong here. Save it for after you’ve proven your skills and work ethic. Talking about advancement prematurely, or in the wrong way, can make you look superficial or overly title-conscious.
“What kind of ads do you create?” You must ask questions, but make sure that they don’t betray a lack of knowledge about the industry or company.
“I wasn’t being given enough independence and creative freedom in my last job.” For some employers, this translates as, “I’m hard to manage.” While it may be important to offer reasons for your planned move, be careful to speak in positive terms, and whatever you do, be respectful of your current boss and company.
“I have lots of ideas for your clients X and Y.” This one depends on timing and approach. It’s wise to be ready with thoughts about the company, and, in the case of an agency, its key clients, but feel out the interviewer with some general questions (“What are your key initiatives for client X?) before you share your ideas.
“My last boss and I had a personality conflict.” This is a cliche, and it sounds hollow. You may be better off explaining a poor fit by saying something like, “I discovered that I work best as part of a team, but the agency structure wasn’t developed for that.”
“We just got an RFP from client X.” I can’t count how many times a junior staffer from another agency has volunteered information that shouldn’t be shared in a routine interview. If you’re working at an agency and interviewing at a competitor, take care not to divulge anything proprietary or inappropriate, including new business pending, confidential client insights, or office gossip.
You covered everything so thoroughly that I don’t have any questions. You must have questions. Even if this is your umpteenth interview at the company, have a question in your back pocket, or ask the interviewer to elaborate on something she said. It’s not fair, but having no questions can make you look incurious, passive, or disengaged.