How to (and how not to) land a job in PR

Author // Doug Shields
Posted in // Opinion, PR

The Interviewer:

We recently advertised a vacancy on LinkedIn, Hold The Front Page and a couple of local media job websites in the Bristol area. We were inundated with applicants from all over the world, including Estonia, Russia and three from the U.S.

In total I don’t think I would be exaggerating when I say around 50 to 60 people applied for the position. Among those were a civil engineer and someone who had a biology degree, obviously people who are being forced to apply for anything to return to, or begin their working life.

We whittled down the list of potentials to around eight or nine and invited seven in for an interview.

Two of them stood out, the rest were incredibly poor. While they had good degrees in subjects which are relevant to our organisation, their preparation, appearance and demeanour were a million miles away from the kind of person we were looking for.

On two occasions I was met by blank stares when I asked them to explain in a couple of sentences what it was exactly that we did. I asked another couple of interviewees if they had read the 72Point blog.

The response? An almost apologetic shaking of the head. I asked why they chose public relations as a career. Again the answer, when there was one, was quite obviously off the top of their heads.

The vast majority also declared their undying love for the Guardian newspaper, despite the fact a quick glance at our coverage page gives a definitive indication of the type of media outlets which cover the stories we generate, of which the Guardian, generally, is not one.

On determining the unsuitability of the applicant I did my best to cut short the interview and usher him / her out of the door. But the low quality of the majority of those who made it to the interview stage surprised me.

We are always coshed over the head with the importance of a degree, but my over-riding impression was that while a larger percentage of students than ever before are now entering the world of work with a degree under their belt, many still lack the personality, skills or determination to prepare effectively for an interview and then fully express themselves when given the chance.

Surely, at a time like this when millions of us who do have jobs are not feeling as secure as we perhaps once did, and when the number of graduates applying for a single position regularly hits the 15- 20 mark and beyond, a more detailed, thorough and polished approach is a must.

Luckily, amid the arduous interview process I received an email from the girl who went on to become the successful applicant.  She had relevant experience from the age of 16, a relevant degree and had clearly done her homework on 72Point’s business model.

She came across as the kind of person who was a good fit for the highly-motivated creative team here in Bristol.

In the end the decision was an easy one, but I honestly fear for the long-term futures of many of those who came to see us.

* We also asked Jess Macdonald, the successful applicant, to give us her views on the application process and what it takes to land a job in the PR industry. This is her response:

The Successful Applicant:

I’m quite surprised to hear of some of the poor applicants who applied for the job of Account Assistant. I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all but my recent experience has proven that you can’t just “blag” your way through an interview anymore, especially when you’re a recent graduate or just starting a new career. I’m sure that many people would agree with me.

When I applied for the job at 72Point, I think I only used a few of the pointers given to me by my university lecturers, but I believe they were the most important.

They were to research the company and the job description, treat each job application individually and never stop reading or watching the news. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to work in journalism, PR or marketing you’d be silly not to do any of these.

From the moment I read the job description, I had a good feeling about the role and the people behind the advert. I suppose this gave me a lot more confidence when it came to writing the cover letter.

I was sick and tired of the whole job application process. I was writing letters containing words that I rarely use in normal daily life and in a tone that really isn’t “me”, only to get the “sorry you’ve been unsuccessful” reply the very next day.

When I read the 72Point advert I thought I’d have a go at writing my cover letter a little less formally and speak in a way that would show the prospective employers what I’m like as a person.

I didn’t just focus on my education and work experience either. How you fit in to a team is just as important as what you know or can do. For example, when listing off reasons why I should be given an interview I wrote:

“I’m ridiculously organised – sometimes people close to me like to make jokes and tease me. I make lists of lists and then re-write the lists to make them look nicer. (I do complete the tasks on the lists too!)”

Reading my cover letter back, I’m cringing at the amount of exclamation marks I used, but I was pretty chuffed when I got a really positive reply at 10:45pm the same evening.

To stop a long story from getting even longer, I just want to say that because I prepared, didn’t get ahead of myself and made sure the team had the chance to see the real me, I have now landed myself an amazing job with a fantastic team – go me!

It’s not just me that this has happened to though. I’ve got a friend at a large beauty organisation in London who landed her job in exactly the same way and another Graduate PR Account Manager who knew her industry inside out when she applied for the role.

I’d like to hope that recent or upcoming graduates will read this and take it on board before embarking in the world of job applications.

By Doug Shields and Jess Macdonald

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Comments (1)

  • Audrey Manchester
    January 16, 2013 at 3:44 am |

    Congratulations Jess and well done.

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Well done to you all. What a great start to the year and I'm really pleased with the coverage


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