Published on December 6, 2017, at 3:14 p.m.
by Mallory McDonald.
You’re in the waiting room, silently praying that you have prepared all the right answers and are providing all the proper materials. For the last four years or more, you have been working up to this exact moment — a job interview.
The next thing you know, your name gets called, and it is time to sink or swim. The public relations profession is becoming increasingly more competitive with each graduating class. With this knowledge in the back of your mind, perfection in this interview is crucial.
But what if you aren’t prepared? What if the most basic interview question stumps you, and you’re left reeling from not knowing how to respond?
Many public relations job interviews will include similar forms of questions for which you can prepare. The more practice you have responding to different questions, the more composed you will be.
Here are some common questions asked in interviews for entry-level positions in PR and examples of good and bad ways to respond:
1. Why do you want a job in public relations?
Good: “The field of public relations allows you to connect with others and build strong relationships with your clients and their customers. A field where strategic implementation and extensive planning are required in order to successfully implement a campaign nationwide is thrilling to me, and I want the opportunity to create innovative and unique work for a client.”
Bad: “I work really well with people and didn’t think I was suited for other majors, such as advertising or marketing. I also HATE math so I wanted to avoid any majors with heavy math requirements.”
2. Why do you want to work here?
Good: “This company’s recent 2017 campaign “With Purpose,” which raises awareness for childhood cancer, inspired me to want to be in the health care public relations industry. The integrated communication plan used to drive the campaign created massive national coverage for the client — such as the article featured in New York Times and the segment featured on Good Morning America — that sparked my appreciation for and interest in the media relations division of PR. Seeing a national campaign of this caliber, I couldn’t help but want to be part of a team that values the reputation and brand identity of their client.”
Bad: “I want to work here because it is ranked as a top PR firm, and I think I have a lot to bring to the table. I have a lot of experience and want to be part of a nationally recognized PR organization.”
3. Where do you get your news from and what is a current trending story from this week?
Good: “Every morning when I am getting ready for school or work, I turn on the local and national news and listen for 45 minutes before I head off. On my computer, I have Google alerts set up for public relations trending topics and receive daily notifications.”
Today I saw an alarming story of a mom who is facing jail time for trying to protect her daughter from bullying. She illegally used a recording device to try to capture her daughter being bullied, and when it was discovered, felony charges were pressed. This is after she had tried to discuss this issue with the school, and no changes had been made.”
Bad: “Mainly all my news comes from social media. It is the most popular way millennials receive their information, and it is convenient as well, since I am already using the platforms. Public relations campaigns rely heavily on social media for awareness, and I think it is a great way to stay in touch. Currently, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez have rekindled their romance, and the NFL is still dealing with protesting during the national anthem.”
4. What areas of PR most interest you?
Good: “From a young age I knew I had a passion and a strong voice for writing. When I came to college and started learning more about public relations, I realized media relations suited me. I love how precise and clear your writing has to be in order to gain the attention of the media. The strategic planning and research that go into evaluating what the hook of the campaign should be, and how to tactically place the material into a pitch or press release to gain the most attention, are exciting. I was lucky to have found my niche early on and gain experience with various internships, honing my writing skills and practicing media engagement.”
Bad: “I really don’t know what area of public relations interests me. I am not very creative, and I don’t know how to ‘graphically’ design, so I don’t think the digital or creative sectors suit me. I was hoping to work in a starting position and learn over time where my home in public relations is.”
NOTE: It is OK to say you don’t know, but explain what you have liked about your experiences so far and what you hope to still learn.
5. What experience do you have working in public relations?
Good: “I had the pleasure of having a mentor on campus, who trained me to take on her internship with a health care public relations firm when I was a sophomore. During my three years at this internship, I have had the opportunity to run and monitor two social media accounts and run analytics on all of the clients’ platforms, create media lists with Cision, pitch the media via email and phone, work on national health care campaigns for HPV, epilepsy and childhood cancer, and create deliverables such as turn kits and media alerts to be distributed.”
I was also fortunate enough to attend a school that has a student-run, integrated communications firm on campus. I started as a strategist in the media relations department on a client team for the Higher Education Partnership of Alabama (HEP). During my time at Capstone Agency, I created deliverables for HEP, which I have brought with me. I finished as a senior strategist in media relations and became the department’s director my senior year.”
Bad: “I focused mainly on understanding my classes and getting good grades in my public relations courses. I didn’t have much time to intern, and the opportunities I was offered were not paid. I did join our PRSSA chapter and have developed strong skills such as nonverbal communication and time management by working and going to classes.”
This is certainly not a comprehensive list of questions that could be asked during an interview, but it is a start. Preparing for each individual interview is imperative to impress whoever is interviewing you. The more you know about your accomplishments, goals, failures, successes, the public relations industry/trends, and the establishment you are interviewing for, the stronger your chances are at nailing the dreaded interview.
Don’t forget … dress for success and practice makes perfect!