Laura Petrolino

Land Your Dream Job with These PR Interview Tips

By: Laura Petrolino | August 7, 2017 | 

Land Your Dream Job with These PR Interview Tips

No matter if you are applying for your very first PR job or a veteran in the field when it comes time to find a new job, you most likely wish you had a checklist of PR interview tips.

You know, those things you should remember and do, but don’t.

Either because you just don’t think about it, or our nerves get in the way.

You might even turn to Google to see what tidbits you could scrape from the web

(And if you found this article through a Google search for “PR interview tips”….HEEEEYYYY, welcome friend! You are going to ace that sucker! We believe in you.)

So settle in and let’s start.

Know Who You Are

People always make fun of the classic interview questions:

  • What’s your greatest strength?
  • What’s your greatest weakness?

But as cliche as they are, those questions are valuable because they provide the interviewer insight, not just on who you are, but also who you THINK you are.

And that’s equally as important.

The perfect answer to these questions is one that is authentic to you.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, knowing yours and how to leverage them is what’s important.

Strengths and Weaknesses: The Double Edged Sword

My philosophy is our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. And so if you feel uncomfortable outlining your weaknesses, start to think of them from that perspective.

Here are how that works for me, for example:

I’m extremely extroverted.

  • The pros: I’m social, a people person, tend to get along well with people, put relationships first, and am comfortable in almost any social setting.
  • The cons: I’m an external processor, I need to vocalize things to others to think through them properly, I can become depressed if I spend too long without interaction, I am affected by external circumstances.

Here’s another one:

I have an (ahem) strong and engaged personality.

  • The pros: I’ll quickly own projects and situations, I’m not afraid to lead a group, I’m not afraid to share my opinions (and I have them, on everything).
  • The cons: I have opinions on everything and I’m not afraid to share them. I can be “bossy.” I struggle with delegation. I have issues with control (as in, I want it and I don’t like to give it up).

See how that works?

I’m sure if you look at your pros and cons you’ll see similar patterns.

Think about how that interaction between pro and con, strength and weakness, affects your work life.

That will help you answer these questions in a thoughtful and useful way.

The only wrong answer is one that shows a lack of self-awareness.

Be Prepared with Examples

This PR interview tip is one of the most important, yet one of the most neglected.

While you might have grand, theoretical ideas about how the PR industry should work and how you *should* do your job; theory doesn’t pay the bills.

We want to know what you’ve done.

We want to know what you’ve actually done.

  • How successfully worked on or led projects?
  • How have you dealt with obstacles?
  • What do you do when put in a position to lead a team?
  • How do you react when pushed out of your comfort zone?
  • What campaign are you most proud of?

The more specific, the better.

Try to add numbers and data.

While you may not know what type of situational questions your interviewer might ask, you should come prepared with three to four stories.

How Do You Choose Them?

Try to find ones that serve as examples for the following:

  • Your strengths
  • Your weaknesses
  • How you overcome obstacles
  • Successes you are most proud of
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • How you manage a difficult client or team member

You can choose three to four stories that speak to multiple points simultaneously.

Be prepared with data, numbers, and lessons learned.

Not all interviewers ask situational questions (although I always do), but that’s OK. You can still use the stories to tie into your responses.

Think about the power of case studies in communications and sales when you think about this PR interview tip.

When you use stories to answer questions, it provides the same benefit to the interviewer and allows them a better look at how you operate in vivo vs. in vitro.

Be Human

Unfortunately, the field of PR isn’t always comfortable. We are put on the spot, placed in challenging situations, and we need to manage.

Long story short, nerves are not an excuse to come to an interview and forget your personality at home.

Most interviewers will try to make you feel as comfortable as possible. It isn’t a war, it’s an interview, and we’ve all been there. That said, you need to take a deep breath and remember that relationships and communication is what we do.

PR interview tip shocker: People want to hire humans they feel they can get along with and fit in the organizational culture.Your personality is important to how you fit with the organization’s culture, as well as how you do your job.

If your personality doesn’t fit with the organization, it will be best for both sides to figure that out in the interview.

“Let Your Personality Shine Through”

Now I know it’s hard to tell someone: “Let your personality shine through,” because you often don’t even know you are a different version of you on the interview.

Here are some PR interview tips of what to focus on instead (that will create the same result).

  • Smile: Smiling instantly connects people. It helps your interviewer better relate to you, and it chemically makes you feel more confident. It’s science. So just smile.
  • Know your tendency: People will follow one or two routes when they get nervous. They’ll either stonewall and become robotic, or they will become manic and over the top. Almost obnoxious. Know which tendency you have so you can be aware of it when you start to go down the slippery slope either way.
  • Accept you are human: You make mistakes. You might say something the wrong way or fumble over your words. You might trip on your way into the office, or have a button pop off of your shirt. Own it, accept your humanness, laugh it off, and move on. The interviewer will probably laugh with you because we’ve all been there.

Stop Talking and Listen

When people get in an interview situation, the first thing to go is almost always their listening skills.

Instead of listening, they spend their time preparing for their next response.

So please take this PR interview tip to heart: You need to stop, take a deep breath, and listen.

You will be able to respond much better if you just wait and listen to what the interviewer has to say.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve asked a question and had the interviewee answer a different question. That’s annoying AND shows me a lack of communications skills.

Which, you know, is sort of necessary for a PR pro.

Practice your listening skills and make sure you use them in your interview. This is the time you want to listen more than any other; it will make or break your interview.

Final of the PR Interview Tips: Do Your Research

You need to prep for a job interview like you used to prepare for a major final in college. Heck, I’ve even used flashcards before to prepare for interviews.

You should know about the company and the people in it:

  • What do they believe?
  • What makes them different?
  • What do they love and hate?
  • How do they view their role in the industry?
  • Who is their ideal client?
  • How do they differentiate themselves in the marketplace?

And let’s be honest: With the rise of the internet, social media, and blogs it is not difficult to do this type of research. You have no excuse.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve interviewed people and when asked about measurement they automatically talk about AVEs, which is just absurd. We write aboutPR measurement multiple times each week; we have an article on our site entitled “Die AVEs Die.”

When you don’t research the organization, you send the message that you don’t care enough to be a valuable addition.

Add a Personal Touch

Beyond just business philosophy, it is also nice to know about your interviewer. Again, easy to do with this crazy thing we call the internet.

It always adds a nice touch (and ego play) when interviewees bring up things I’ve written about, hobbies of mine, such as bodybuilding, or even make fun of my lesser traits (heeey absent minded, much?)

Do your research. Make it personal. Know who you are talking to and why you’d be a good fit.

Add Your PR Interview Tips

Which PR interview tips would you add?

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • Howie Goldfarb

    These are stupendous tips. I would add maybe find someone who is a mentor or an objective person in your life to also give you feed back. This is kind of what happens when you work with headhunters. They want to get you placed and will help you with the process via feedback.

    • Thanks, sir! And yes! Excellent addition. Mentors can serve as objective anchors and provide advice on things you aren’t far enough along in your career or experience to anticipate. Such a valuable relationship, if you can find a good one.

    • Lynn McConaughey

      That is an excellent point, and as I am currently trying to figure out my next professional move, I’m going to do that immediately.

  • This is a great list! The interview process is always a daunting one. For me, it’s always the “where do you see yourself in five years” questions that get me. Assessing where you fit in an organization now and in the future can be tough. I recently took one of those tests that outlines/identifies they type of team member, leader, collaborator, etc. you are. The way those tests determine those things is fascinating… casting me in a movie, that sort of thing.

    • I struggle with that five year/ten year question in both work and life. I was actually just talking to someone about that the other day. Part of what has made my life successful is being open to opportunities and not having a set plan, yet at the same time if I don’t have goals for where I want to be, I can’t set a plan to achieve it. I think finding that balance between being agile and being focus is a difficult one… yes (long answer) that’s a tough question. I love that test you took, I should take it myself.

      • Liz Reusswig

        @laura_petrolino:disqus That 5/10 year question gets more difficult/complicated as we get older! Or so I hear.
        And, I think we all should take the test!

        • It does!!! Because you start thinking, ok….If I’m going to make my mark, I really want to do it in the upcoming decade, so then I can build upon it for many years to come. It’s been something that’s totally been dominating my thoughts lately.

          • Liz Reusswig

            YES! That’s a much better thought than mine which was, “Gosh, I hope I’m still vertical & breathing in 10 years!” LOL

          • HAHAHA! This is why you need me in your life Liz!

          • Liz Reusswig

            So true! 😉

          • LOL, Liz!

          • Lynn McConaughey

            “I’d like to be retired” always comes to mind, but perhaps that indicates a lack of interest in the job. 🙂

  • Edward M. Bury

    If you want to work at the company, ask for the job.

  • Liz Reusswig

    Awesome interview tips! And I would never call you “bossy” – at least not to your face! #HowToKeepTheJobTips 😉

  • Great post, Laura! I’ve read (and written) a number of articles related to this topic. What makes yours SO much better is that you share real, personal examples. You make it easier to relate (and translate) to the reader. Thank you for sharing! =)

    • Oh you are so sweet! Thank you so much, that means so much to me.

  • Great tips, Laura! I’d add, prepping some work samples or a brief project proposal related to the company. There may not be an opportunity to present them, but if asked, “what would you do once you start?” you can show a concrete example.

    • OH yes, good add. I actually had that exact circumstance happen to me and when they asked that I pulled out a binder with a full proposal (this was before digital was our primary means of communications share #becauseold). The look on their faces was work all the work that went into it.

      Again, do your homework, is the key take away here. If a job is important enough for you, it’s worth putting in the time.

  • paulakiger

    I love these tips! I would add: 1) just like sales isn’t telling them WHY you are so awesome, nuance your approach by telling then WHY you can meet their unfulfilled needs 2) practice (seriously!) and 3) we were talking about speaking skills in the Slack group, and I brought up Toastmasters — TM isn’t just about learning to give formal speeches — at every meeting, almost everyone practices two minute impromptu speeches on subjects they didn’t know in advance — doing this (and getting feedback) is invaluable for those times in life (including interviews) when you have to respond, poised, on the spot.

    • I’ve searched for a Toastmaster’s group to join here, because of you. But they meet at unfortunate times (because no one in Maine likes to work), so I haven’t been able to join 🙁

      • paulakiger

        I’m so sorry to hear that! Tallahassee is VERY TM-heavy. There’s an earlybird club (yawn), multiple lunch clubs, multiple evening clubs, and a club that meets in prison (limited to, um, a designated population but I’ve been able to go as a guest and oh my goodness). I am not sold on the value of online TM (as compared to in person) but maybe that’s just because I haven’t experienced it. Anyway, here’s a list. #BecauseEveryProblemHasASolution

        • ohhh…I didn’t know those existed. Will definitely check out.

  • Great tips and reminders, Laura.

    I very much like the self-awareness one. With all the info at our fingertips there aren’t many people who embrace self-awareness. And that plays against them in the most important moments, such as when looking for a new job or challenge.

    I would add become great at networking and connect with someone inside the company/department you want to work in. You need the inside intel and it’s great to have an ally on your side.

    In all my previous jobs, I made it my mission to know someone inside. It made getting the interview and the interview process itself so much easier. And that was before social media and the internet.

    Now it’s so much easier.

    • Networking is key in so many facets of life. Good, authentic networkers have so many more opportunities. Good add.

  • Debbie Johnson

    These are great suggestions. I appreciate the “strengths and weaknesses” question. I have always tried to frame my weaknesses so that they could become strengths. After reading this, I’m going to refine that answer more.

    Research prior to the interview is incredibly important, and I’m amazed at how many people I’ve interviewed who don’t do that.

    I would add that not only is the company interviewing you, but you are interviewing them as well. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

    • Yes, I’m so glad someone added that. I wanted to but was already at 1500 words (because brevity is not one of my strengths, LOL).

      That’s so important to remember. An interview isn’t just one way. And that makes research even more important. You need to be able to know what questions to ask to make sure they are the right fit for you just as much as you are the right fit for them.

  • I was positive this stemmed from a bad interview you had last week. Alas.

    It drives me absolutely nuts when someone is interviewing with us, gets to the final round (me) and when I ask if they have any questions, they say, “I asked them all of the team.”

    I’m sorry. You have the CEO in the room. All to yourself. If you can’t come up with some questions, even if they’ve already been asked, you don’t get the job.

    • Oh yes, that’s a good one. On that same note, I was talking to someone the other day about the overriding lack of respect for seniority. You can have a casual work environment where everyone (at all levels) gets along and are friends and still respect your CEO and leadership team and value their time and attention.

      • I REALLY struggled with that in the beginning of this business. I was the same age as my team and I very badly wanted to go out with them after work. Didn’t work out so well.

        • That’s something I can’t understand. I’ve seen it happening a lot and it happened to me a few years back. Apparently going out after work, means the next day you are exempt from doing your job.

          What I don’t understand is the hard time people have in separating business/work from time outside the office. We may have a good time outside the office, but while at the office (brick and mortar, virtual, etc.) there are some rules to go by. And one of them is do your freaking job!