PR students: you’ve got the interview—now what?

As students of public relations, we are told time and time again about the skills we need to sharpen if we want to succeed within the industry. We’re told that skills in writing, networking and communication are sine qua non—or absolutely essential—to our careers. But what happens when you build a great resumé, and finally get a call back from an employer for a job interview?

Start your research

Good research skills are inherent in the PR pro’s nature, so it should be a natural instinct to research the company, their past campaigns, their mandate/values, their spokespeople and how they’re perceived by the media. While the employer will expect candidates to have done some digging, a young PR pro in today’s competitive job market should try to go above and beyond.

Consider asking around your network to see if anyone knows someone who works or has worked at this organization. This would be a great opportunity to gain insights into the organization and its culture, and help you build upon your ideas. This small step can help you demonstrate your interest in working for this organization in a big way.

If you’re short on time, research what the company is about, find out key facts about the interviewer, and  do your best to gain a basic understanding of the industry.

Practice answering situation-based questions

You know the employer is going to ask about your previous experiences, so practice how you will articulate your strengths and shortcomings as shown in your work or other life experiences. Highlight the actions or responsibilities that you took on, and the insights you gained from these situations in your responses. Remember to provide context and end results in your accounts.

Be honest

In a recent interview, I was asked a question that I didn’t have time to research, and my biggest regret in that situation was not being honest about the fact that I didn’t know the answer. I should have presented the knowledge that I did have on the organization as an alternative response.

It’s important to remember that while research is crucial, it’s just not possible to know everything about a company during an interview—and it’s okay to admit it. In a situation where you are presented with something you aren’t sure about, be honest, but also make sure to provide alternative solutions or ideas.

Be yourself

It’s important to be yourself, even during a high-pressure interview situation. If you’re not true to yourself, and do not express your genuine personality, you might end up working for an organization where sooner or later you start to realize that you don’t really fit with the culture. Spare yourself trouble in the long run by being yourself from the get-go! That way there are no mix-ups or promises to be someone you’re  not.

Don’t overstep and stay in control

Although it is beneficial to find areas of improvement within the company, don’t overstep and point out all their flaws. Be humble about your strengths and careful with constructive criticisms about the company. Most importantly, remember to breathe! Interviewers understand the excitement and nerves students feel in an interview situation, but they will respect your ability to remain cool, calm and collected.

Sharon Cheung

Sharon Cheung is a 3rd year student in the Joint Honours BA Public Relations program between the University of Ottawa and Algonquin College. She’s a co-founder of the University of Ottawa Public Relations Association. Her enthusiasm about the industry, coupled with her strength in defining a vision, show that this young PR pro is well on her way to making a mark in the PR world.

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