Interviewing Tips for Aspiring PR Professionals

It’s time to take Comm 1000 and apply it – according to Forbes 60% of internship experiences turn into job offers. As an undergrad at UConn you have a great education, and are on your way to a world of possibilities. But if you’re like I was, you are fighting to find tangible field experience in Storrs, and the two PR classes offered by the Comm Department are more theory than execution. You’re jumping from that summer job selling ice cream at the Dairy Bar to working in a room full of VPs, and you need the company to take a chance on you.

Here are a few tips from a recent Alum:

Do your Homework:

We all skimmed the Comm book and cheated with our iClickers. But, in the real world you have to show up and be prepared to engage in active dialogue. Enter Google, I believe you’re familiar.

  1. Find your interviewer on linkedin. You’ve probably exchanged terse emails, put a face to those.
  2. Read through their website. Their about me section is great but don’t forget the “Our Team” tab, and their twitter accounts/linkedin. What are they about? Do they state their value prop? Company values? Try to get a sense of company culture.
  3. Clients. Open your interview by mentioning a few of these. Then you know what you’ll be working with and they are impressed you know their clients. Mix in big names with little names.
  4. How do they stack up in the industry? Have they been in the media recently and/or won any awards/recognition?
  5. Who are their competitors and how do they differentiate themselves? If you can’t tell this is an excellence question for later.

What to wear:

The generally accepted attire rule is grey, navy or black. Do your homework and look at the website. A lot of marketing/PR firms are business casual, in several interviews I have been told business casual prior to going.  Ultimately you have to be comfortable so that when you are at the table you aren’t worrying about your looks. Never dip below the business casual standard (no jeans, no low cut tops, no sneakers, no open toes shoes, preferably a blazer) and be aware that a classic grey black or navy suit is always safe. You stand taller when you feel good, so make sure whatever you wear you feel good – good enough to get the job.

During the Interview:

  1. Firm handshake and make eye contact.
  2. Sit up straight, and don’t fidget.
  3. Pregnant pauses are acceptable.
  4. Stay positive and roll with the punches. Try to remain relaxed and don’t talk too fast.

Killer Questions They May Ask You

Again, prep is key. Have a friend quiz you, and throw on a blazer for added effect:

  1. Tell me about yourself?  Have a quick personal value prop ready, it should be 60 seconds or less. Keep it high level and since you are an entry level/internship candidate, focus on what skills you would like to build on, and what skills you can bring to the position. What do you want to learn from this experience?  I.e writing skills, general industry knowledge, project management, etc. Some examples:
    • “I want to witness the problem solving, and decision making process.”
    • “I would like to enhance my ability to think creatively in a professional setting.”
    • If you do have a specific need don’t be afraid to say it “My goal is to find a mentor that can help me develop my career.”
  2. Why do you think you would be a good fit for this company? Focus on specific skills or previous experience you possess, company culture and how you feel you would be an asset to the team, etc.
  3. What experience do you have with social media? Hint: above average fb stalker status doesn’t count here. Talk about linkedin and twitter (the two most networks used most professionally). How do you use this tool in your personal life to learn? If you have experiences running a social account for a club, include screenshots of the twitter feed, and you can use the free twitter/linkedin analytics to pull graphs which detail engagement with your content.
  4. What are your weaknesses? Keep it as positive as you can. I [name flaw], but I am working to overcome it by…
  5. How do you handle pressure? The honest answer is eating nutella out of the jar, but you should probably say something such as: “I am a very organized person and find that when I am under pressure I like to simplify and take tasks one step at a time. “
  6. Can you explain a time when you dealt with a conflict situation and how you handled it? Get creative – this is an excellent platform for any group projects that you have worked on in Homer. Do not point fingers or place direct blame on any member, the teacher or the project itself. Focus on how you communicated with your team, how tasks were delegated, and how you facilitated a productive discussion to resolve the issue.
  7. What is the difference between PR and advertising? This is a doozy as they are similar. PR is about enhancing and cultivating a brand and its relationship with clients and reputation. Advertising is one way (a-synchronous) messaging that is used to create awareness and reach.
  8. Why do companies need PR? This is a question you think you know. But details and specifics count here. PR is often lumped with advertising and other communications jobs. You want to point out that PR is the process of assessing public attitudes, identifying the needs of an individual or an organization, before planning and carrying out actions to earn public acceptance and respect. PR changes perceptions, attitudes, and opinions, you are not just promoting you are cultivating.

After Interview:

Your questions to them are JUST as important as your answers to their questions to you. Internships are about learning, and this is an awesome oppotunity to both learn if this company is a right fit for you, and demonstrate that you will be an active learner if given the intern position. This is hard for prospective interns because you can be so focused on not fumbling your portion of the Q&A. But you MUST come up with a minimum 2-3 questions. Some examples:

  • Can you please explain how I would be incorporated into the team dynamic?
  • What kinds of projects will I be working on and who will I be reporting/collaborating with most frequently?
  • If I were hired tomorrow what would be the top priority on my to-do list?
  • Do you have a mentorship program?
  • Do you enjoy working here?
  • Is there anything that has stood out to you that makes you feel that I may not be a good candidate for the job?
  • Do you have time to show me the offices today?
  • Piggy-back off a question they asked you – especially if you feel like it wasn’t your strongest answer. Revisit the topic and demonstrate that you want to understand.

Remember that as an intern you are an asset and this is a mutually beneficial relationship. To a company you are a potential trained and ready future employee. Do your prep work, stay confident, smile, and don’t sell yourself short.

Good luck with your interview!

Additional Listicles/Resources:

About Scarlett

I graduated UConn in 2014 with a double Bachlelor of Arts in Political Science and Communications. I currently work as a Marketing/PR Associate for a Boston agency which specializes in digital marketing strategy for tech firms and startups. (Fun Fact I was their intern in Summer 2013, and was offered a full time position). I can’t believe they rebranded Thirsty’s, and I chose my current apartment based on it;s proximity to Wings Over Sommerville. Please contact me with any post-grad questions and I promise to answer in the least thought-cataloguey way as possible. I occasionally Tweet Here. And am often stalking companies I admire on Linkedin.

By Scarlett O'Sullivan
Scarlett O'Sullivan Marketing Associate