Questions PR Grads Should Ask In An Interview

It is that time of year again. The PR world has gained new fresh college grads eager to join the workforce. While searching for possible internships or entry-level jobs is exciting, it can also be overwhelming. Or even frustrating. According to Glassdoor, the average interview process from first contact to a possible offer can last up to 23 days – varying of course based on the industry.

Interviews are a conversation between candidates and employers to understand their experience better. Resumes can often look the same but they don’t necessarily tell employers about the person beneath the experience or how she stands from the crowd. It’s the interview where a candidate can show a company why they’d be an amazing addition to their team. 

One nerve-wracking part of any interview is when the employer asks if the candidate has any questions for them. PR grads, be prepared to ask questions! This is your opportunity to get to know a company better. With this in mind, what are the go-to questions aspiring public relations employees should ask in an interview?  

Why do you love this company and why should I want to work with you?

If a future employer cannot answer this question, that’s a big issue.  What is it about this job that would make others want to work here and with you? What is it about this company that sets it apart? Do they offer great benefits, fun and innovative clients, or is it the co-workers that make them stay? Future employees should be able to list several things they love about their company to make it appealing. If someone has to think about it, maybe that’s a sign.

Is there an opportunity to grow in this position?

One of the benefits of working in a small PR agency is the relationships you build with your co-workers and senior management. In larger agencies, you could be just a name on paper and get lost in a corner somewhere. Working in a smaller environment, an entry-level PR person should have an opportunity to work closely with team members across many levels. It’s also a fast way to learn your own strengths and preferences. Are you a strong writer, social media whiz or maybe have a special touch when it comes to media relations? It’s best to make sure you hear from team members who have been at the agency for a while to hear how they have grown and evolved.

Can you describe the company culture?

Culture can be hard to describe, but it’s important. In a traditional workplace, days can be filled with non-work talk or catching up with friends on downtime between calls and meetings. It is corny to say, but your co-workers become like family since we spend so much time together during the work week. Think about what’s important to you in a company culture. Do you want a place that values their employees as much as their work? One way to explore those values is to ask how a company stayed connected during the pandemic. At Crenshaw, we made a vow to continue up on Thursday happy hour Zooms where we have an activity planned. (Some of our favorites were Family Feud, Pictonary and Jeopardy.) 

Where do you see the agency in the next five to 10 years?

Growth is extremely important in any company. The PR industry is constantly changing with strategies, platforms, and tech tools. You want to be in a learning environment, and one that fosters that environment through growth. Does the agency plan to hire more talent? Expand horizontally to offer new services? Open new office locations? Things and plans that are working today but may not be relevant in the future. This can be a very open-ended question but it is good to get a sense of where the agency sees itself in the future and if that sounds like something you want to be a part of.

What is your timeline for next steps?

This is a valid question, and it shows interest. The interview process can be long and tedious. It can be a lot of back and forths of internal conversations evaluating candidates. Understanding the interview process can help ease your mind and manage your own expectations for the process. After hearing next steps, maybe offer writing samples or additional references to help speed the decision. If nothing else, it means you are serious.

To all the new PR grads, good luck interviewing and if you’d like to hear more about life and opportunities at Crenshaw Communications, get in touch @colleeno_pr

PR Tips for Interview Prep

A former colleague once told me that she “interviews recreationally” – that is, she actually enjoys going on job interviews even if she isn’t actually looking to make a jump.  She interviews for sport – to see what else is out there, remain savvy about the PR marketplace, and stay competitive within the field.

Assuming you’re in the majority who don’t rank interviewing among your top hobbies, you probably get apprehensive the night before an interview.  The what-ifs can be killer, especially if you’re new to the interviewing scene.  Below are key tips borrowed from PR media training as well as life experience, to help you prepare for, and ace, your interview.

Nail the “tell me about yourself” question. Set yourself up for a successful meeting by “wowing” your interviewer when asked an open-ended question about yourself. Think of three major points you’d like to convey about yourself and your background and memorize them. Then supplement each with anecdotes or supporting points that you can use throughout the session. If you’re a publicist like me, you might list media relations as one of your greatest strengths, but take it a step further by sharing an example of heroic work.

Anticipate difficult questions. You’ve agency-hopped three times in the last year?  There’s a mysterious time gap on your resume?  Know how you’ll tackle these questions, because they will be asked.  For tough queries, honesty and brevity are always best – if the company wasn’t a good fit, say so.  Follow your response with a genuine reason why you’re interested in this company.

Practice out loud. What sounds good in your head might not sound as compelling out loud, and the last place you want to learn that is during your interview.  Sure, you’ll want to talk about brilliant accomplishments or ideas, but delivery is the differentiator between confidence and arrogance.  Practice reading in front of a mirror, or better yet, in front of an audience. If all else fails, call your mom, whose unconditional love for you will force her to oblige.

Like the company. On Facebook, that is. And follow them on Twitter.  And Pinterest.  Many companies have a newsletter and/or blog – sign up for it.  Social media is a great way to obtain information that can’t always be found on the company website, including icebreakers like hometowns or sports team favorites.

Prepare intelligent questions:  Always have questions.  I once met with someone who rocked the interview until I asked “Do you have any questions?” and the candidate said, “No.”  Really, nothing?  So you’re telling me you know EVERYTHING about this agency and this position?  This was a red flag that may have signaled a lack of interest. To play it safe, prepare roughly ten thoughtful questions (in case some are answered during the interview).  Don’t ask about salary or benefits until later in the game.

And finally, remember that it’s just an interview: Think back to a time you were mortified beyond belief.  Chances are this interview pales in comparison.  Even if this is your dream job, the worst thing that can happen is you bomb the interview, learn from it, and move on.  And, you’ll have a funny happy-hour story.

Don’t Say This In A (PR Agency) Interview

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.