Five “Boxes” Entry-Level PR Candidates Must Check in Job Interviews

The-internship-posterCollege seniors are navigating the critical – and nerve-wracking – job-interview season. Underclassmen, too, are fighting for meaningful summer (and fall) internships in public relations and other areas of communications.

All have read about – and even discussed in multiple classes – the concept of developing and marketing their own “personal brand.” And they have absorbed an overwhelming number of interview-preparation tips and now know how to dress, walk into the room, sit, talk, present themselves … and more.

They are ready to move forward. And some of them will, recruiters and senior public relations and communications professionals say, because they also can successfully “check the boxes” on the following five key issues:

1. Media: still part of the discussion

Yes, the media world has changed dramatically – but not entirely. As a result, recruiters and interviewers are disappointed when candidates show up with little or no media experience. But they understand, to a degree.

What they don’t understand is when the candidate doesn’t even have an average working awareness of the media space.

Interviewers say only about one in six candidates have ever spoken with a reporter. Not surprisingly, then, the vast majority of them are not able to offer samples of past media-related work.

Net-net, candidates who have worked in communications departments have a clear advantage over those who did not.

2. The Fit (Part A)

And, so, many candidates try to mask media deficiencies by emphasizing their study-abroad experience, class projects, work-study programs and even sales jobs. But they forget a critical piece: they do no effectively link those experiences with what the companies do on a day-to-day basis.

Moreover, too many candidates don’t understand the company they are visiting.

It isn’t enough to have visited the website so you can recite what you learned on the home page. Interviewers expect candidates to have a fairly good idea of what the company does on a day-to-day basis.

But they don’t, recruiters say. When asked why they want to work at Company A, the answer that really doesn’t work – but comes back frequently – is this: “communications is interesting.” Parroting back something about “international reach” or use of “social media” isn’t scoring points either.

What an interviewer want to hear is the candidate’s well-thought-out opinion on why he or she would fit into the organization and/or what skills the individual could contribute.

3. The Fit (Part B)

Similarly, candidates tend to focus on how a company is a good fit for them, but not on how they could help the company. These comments, invariably, cause the interviewers and others to question whether the candidate would really roll up his or her sleeves to do what needs to be done.

4. Defend/animate your resume

Remember: your resume preceded your visit. And some of the people you are meeting with actually read it.

And now they will ask you about it.

Unfortunately, interviewers say, too many candidates seem genuinely baffled when asked to explain how they contributed to projects listed on their resumes. In one example, for instance, the student who had worked in a broadcast studio for an entire summer had no observations about media relations, how to pitch a reporter, what makes a good story, etc.

And then there’s the one who stated proudly that she “supported her agency’s media campaign” – but, when asked to elaborate, had nothing to share about the campaign’s goals or strategies. Yes, we all know that she was stuck monitoring the media. But, while doing so, she missed the important opportunity to ask some questions so she could actually learn about the assignment.

5. Find your voice before you get to the interview

The fact is, not all candidates have found the conversational “middle ground” needed to succeed in an interview. Many, in fact, need more interview practice in order to effectively portray a sense of confidence without being too full of themselves or (potentially even worse) coming across as being bored.

On one end of the spectrum is the hyper candidate who seems to be shouting and ready to leap across the desk. At the other end: the candidate who not only is unprepared, but uncomfortable as well.

Either way, it makes for a long day for all involved.