Posted on December 4, 2015, at 6:30 p.m.
by Mackenzie Lyng.
Just imagine: You’ve submitted your application, résumé and cover letter to the PR agency of your dreams. A week later, the agency contacts you to schedule an initial interview. You crush it and know that you are on the brink of getting that job offer. But just when you think you are home free, you’re assigned one final task: a writing test.
Having almost graduated college, you might have assumed your test-taking days were over. But in today’s highly competitive job market, agencies require their employees to possess a wide range of skills. Writing is a nonnegotiable skill for all PR practitioners. The ability to communicate key messages concisely with proper punctuation and style distinguishes candidates from the pool of applicants.
Unlike standardized tests, writing tests vary from agency to agency. Most firms will require you to produce various writing samples — such as social media content, press releases, media pitches and company backgrounders — within a designated time frame. Writing submissions will be checked for AP style, originality, creativity and an applicant’s overall ability to effectively communicate concepts and ideas.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for, navigate and conquer such post-grad exams:
Master AP style. PR students know this requirement more than anything. The Associated Press publishes a new AP Stylebook each year as a guide for grammar, punctuation, and the principles and practices for journalistic writing. A proficiency in AP style is essential to developing professional and quality content.
Know your formats. Most agencies don’t expect college graduates to produce immaculate press releases and media pitches. However, employers require candidates to have a baseline understanding of how press materials are formatted and written. Read up on current PR fundamentals and familiarize yourself with published press releases. Review current examples on distribution service websites such as PR Newswire and Business Wire.
Practice writing quickly. Working with deadlines is a standard for most PR professionals. Depending on the agency, those that issue writing tests in person require candidates to produce materials within a certain amount of time. Others may send the test digitally, but require applicants to submit the test on a specific date and time. Although timed writing can seem torturous, candidates have the chance to showcase core writing competencies and creativity within a limited amount of time.
Prepare to get graphic. In today’s industry, traditional news releases are dying. Visual content rules both traditional and social media, and agencies know it! As visual communication becomes more of an industry standard, agencies require employees to accompany their written content with engaging graphics and visuals. Some agencies ask candidates to complete a design portion of a writing test to evaluate a candidate’s ability to produce visual content.
Be unique! Yes, correct grammar and punctuation are important, but they do not make candidates stand out. From showing creativity and passion to demonstrating knowledge of an agency and its clients, candidates who go the extra mile attract agency recruiters. Many agencies require candidates to complete a creative writing portion of the test. Recruiters could care less about the content, even if it’s made up, as long as it’s creative, thought-provoking and unique.
Following these simple tips should help you prepare for whatever exam a potential employer throws your way. So, when you’re eventually asked to take a writing test, have no fear! But just in case, bring a No. 2 pencil.