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The PR Job Interview

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That's what! There's an art to surviving a PR job interview. On one hand, the interview can land you one tremendous job. On the other, it can be a terrifying experience. If you happen to be applying for a job in public relations, you have to do a much better job of promoting yourself than if you were applying for a job, as, let's say, a bank trainee. A bank trainee doesn't really have to communicate with the public the way a public relations beginner has to. When someone goes for an interview for a job at a bank, he or she doesn't have to display the verbal skills that are expected of someone who is after a public relations job.

But a job interview is a job interview. There are all kinds of ways to make a fool of yourself. Here are a few; and though they may strike you as a trifle simplistic, they really happen:
  1. Sam the Sport is really very smart. He's done well in school. He has majored in communications and he wants to go into PR. He's got all the right qualifications but he shows up in jeans and sneakers and a loud sports shirt. His interview is a disaster and he doesn't get hired, not because he isn't qualified, but because he's managed to alienate the interviewer.



  2. Then there's Tom the Talker. He's bright. He has all the answers and he can talk about anything in the world. That's the problem. He talks. And talks. And talks. No one, especially in public relations, wants just a talker, because the people who do the hiring know that being too full of words can be dangerous. In public relations, noise is not the answer. Confidence is.
Three other sins to be avoided in an interview session are arriving late for your appointment, mumbling your way through the interview and being so shy as to appear almost comatose. Again, the name of this game is communication. Tardiness, mumbling or shyness just aren't going to help you land a job not in PR. What you're actually doing in a job interview is selling yourself. It isn't all that easy to talk about your strengths without sounding like a bit of a braggart. It also isn't easy to talk about your weaknesses.

Some job experts feel a weakness can be presented so that it seems to be a strength. But don't overdo it. You can say, "My weakness is that I tend to drive myself too hard." But that way of handling the question of weaknesses can annoy an interviewer. It might be better to be honest and simply admit that sometimes you try to do too much. After all, nobody's perfect.

Almost routinely, you'll be asked what you want to be doing ten years in the future. The standard, almost clichéd answer is, "I want to have your job." Don't try that on a PR person. It's far too flip and you'd be better off saying something like, ''I'd like to be handling some big accounts in a field that really interests me."

Another standard question is, "Why do you want to work for our company?" You'd better have a good answer for this one, too. A really good one, if you really want the job, is: "Because of your reputation. You're one of the best PR firms in the business today."

Preparing Your Resume

There are, according to most experts, at least three different types of resumes - the chronological, the functional and the combination.

Probably the most widely accepted of these three is the chronological, mostly because interviewers are most familiar with this style. Not only that, there are a lot of advantages to presenting yourself this way and such a resume is quite easy to put together. You simply start out by writing down your name, address and telephone number. Then you work from the present time backwards.

The functional resume, as in the preceding example, should stress specific skill areas as well as specific abilities directed toward public relations. It's a good technique to use if you happen to have a rather spotty employment record because you can camouflage a few missing dates. In the example we cited, of course, that wasn't necessary, but it's still a good technique to keep in mind.

Still using the same nonexistent Charles J. Jones of Bronxville, N.Y., here is the combination format-type resume. It's called a combination resume because it is a sort of blending of the chronological and functional resume. Generally, it highlights significant achievements and ignores earlier training, unless, of course, that's also significant.

In addition, for this type of resume you might want to include the standard items we mentioned before: your age, education, references, etc. The loose style of the combination resume lends itself to a description of a multitude of skills.

It will work for almost any kind of job you apply for, but if it's public relations you're after, stress any kind of writing experience you can legitimately claim, even if it's only a high school newspaper or a college yearbook.

Sometimes clippings from such publications will help, although there is the story of the man who went to a PR agency with a fistful of newspaper clippings, only to be summarily asked: "How do I know you wrote all this stuff? The world is full of working editors that are paid to make you look good."

Regardless, it helps to try to build up a portfolio. If you start out in newspapers, and many public relations people seem to do that even if they do hold degrees in such things as communications or PR, save your clippings. You may run into a hardened cynic every now and then. On the other hand, you might run into someone who will be impressed with your work.
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