You’ve just graduated and you’re looking for your first job in public relations.  Your first interview is approaching, and you want to make the second interview stage, of course!  You visit the company’s website, polish your shoes and get to their offices half an hour too early :-)

Now what?  Can you talk about your approach to press releases?  No.  Can you discuss case studies?  No.  Can you describe the work environment in which you’ll thrive?  Not articulately, without work experience.  Should the interviewer really ask you any of these?  No.  So what goes on beyond the “Tell me about yourself” opener?  How should you prepare?

Here’s my list of questions you should be prepared for, and the kind of questions you should consider asking.  Actually, I’ve just made my co-directors a nice cup of tea to persuade them to contribute to this list too, so thanks to Blaise and Jay.

Questions you should prepare for

“Tell me about yourself.”

A gift. A lovely open question inviting you to present your best facets.  If you can’t represent yourself in response to a question like this, then the interviewer will really wonder how you can represent their clients!

“What do you know about us?”

A simple tester to determine if you are really interested in the company rather than just interested in PR per se.  A relatively easy one to prepare for… just read the website, subscribe to the blogs, follow the Twitters, and conduct some searches.

“What makes you stand out from your peers?”

Coming back with one thing here probably doesn’t do you justice.  Coming back with six or seven things probably overcooks it.  Don’t think you need to stick to work life related stuff either, as you come as one whole person and should be valued as such.

“How organised are you?” / “Can you multi-task?”

What can I say?... obvious questions.  Can you prove it?

“What have you learned from part-time jobs / travels / sports / hobbies that you think will be an asset in your PR career?”

The interviewer is trying to extrapolate from your non-PR past into your PR future.

“Tell me why you’re interested in X.”

Whether it’s consumer PR, corporate, health, technology, youth, or whatever PR, you should be able to explain your interest.

“Walk me through your use of new technologies / your life online.”

As you will know if you’ve just been studying public relations, the profession has changed irrevocably in recent years, driven primarily by the rise of new communication and information technologies (scan the titles of my blog posts for a quick take on this), so the interviewer will want to understand your use of and fluency in social networking, blogging, micro-blogging, mobile phone apps etc.

"So what does your current employer think you're up to today?!"

Assuming you have a current employer, this question tests to see if you're the kind of person who pulls 'sickies'.  I've had plenty of candidates tell me they've pulled a sickie, and I respect their honesty (at least with me if not their employer), but they really really have to shine in every other respect to make up for this.  But saying you've taken a holiday when you've pulled a sickie would be a lie, and professional interviewers are adept at spotting the tell-tale signs of lying.

The best plan of action then, that also leaves you relaxed and guilt-free to focus on an important interview, is to take a holiday or arrange the interview outside of work hours.  As easy as that.

“Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about yourself?”

A good interviewer will return to this question to make sure they have the best understanding of your character, achievements and personality.

Questions you should ask

You should already know the basic answers to “When?”, “What?” and “How much?”.  That’s part of your pre-qualification process.  And everyone knows the last one is rather important indeed, so that also means it needn’t take priority in your list of questions.  In fact, as the interviewer will want you to focus on the opportunities the role offers and the future success of the company and your career, it’s advisable to leave confirmation of the package towards the end of the interview.  But do confirm if you’re uncertain.

Here’s some questions we would love to be asked.

“What makes you different? What sets you apart from the competition?”

A PR consultancy should know its own positioning and USPs!

“What are the company’s mission, vision and values?  Where are you taking this company?”

A clear, concise response will indicate sound company direction and management.

"Can I see the full job description / role specification?"

I'd hope the answer is affirmative.

“How will I be able to work with my line manager to plan my personal development?”

This is essential.  Look for detail and proof.  A vague response belies a vague future emphasis on your development, and that is not acceptable.

“Can you tell me about your training, learning and development programme?”

Dig down into the detail.  What’s the depth and breadth of the training resources?  Is training conducted internally or externally?  How many training courses can you expect to go on in your first year?

“Are you growing? At what rate?”

Obviously, the answer should be yes, and the rate will then vary from 1% upwards.  Growth in excess of 10-20% pa indicates a company that’s getting things right, the odd global recession aside.  Anything north of 40% and you could be in for a ride!

“Can you tell me what the last person you recruited like me has been up to?  Can I meet him / her?”

The interviewer may not be able to answer this themselves, but they should know someone who can, so persist.  At the end of the day, your personal determination will prove an asset as an employee, so being determined in an interview situation should be interpreted warmly.  And your meeting more people in the business should not be viewed as a hassle at all.

“Do you have any major plans for the company I should know about?”

The company will not be able to disclose things like upcoming mergers and acquisitions, but they could discuss the impending creation of a new youth marketing group for example, or an office relocation.

“What are you most proud / excited about yourself?”

If the interviewer isn’t excited about working there, should you be?

“What can you tell me about the second interview?  Any tips for how I can prepare?  Anything you’d like me to bring with me should I be invited back?”

Beware job offers after first interview.  Congratulations on receiving the offer, but you can’t determine after a 45 minute interview if this is the company in which you’d like to invest 2+ years of your life, and if they'r
e professionals how can they really be sure they want to work with you for that length of time off the back of one interview?  If anything, you should thank them for the offer, but then insist on a second interview anyway… which of course will then largely consist of you interviewing the company.  That’s a good thing.

Normally, the second interview may involve a different or multiple interviewers.  It will be lengthier, say two hours, and drill down in more detail to determine your fit to the role criteria.  It will (or should) offer you more time to quiz the company.  It may include a writing test.  It will be (or should be) well structured and organised.



Check out www.racepointgroup.com/careers if you'd like to find out about working at Racepoint. For our London office, you can call me (+44 20 8752 3202) or email me (philip.sheldrake@racepointgroup.com), and I'm also happy to put you in touch with our US offices (Boston, San Francisco, Washington) too of course.  Look forward to hearing from you.

[Photo courtesy of slushpup.]