Not everyone who needs to hire a public relations professional feels comfortable doing it. CEOs and marketing directors in startups and smaller companies may have never hired someone with PR skills and experience before. Even seasoned PR agency professionals founding their own agencies may find themselves wishing they had a peer group in the office, as they used to, from whom they could get advice on how to hire the best public relations professional. (Yes, it is lonely at the top!)

PR Boutiques International (PRBI) member agencies are owned and run by senior public relations pros who know the ups and downs of hiring and are willing to share their tips. (The members also serve as a very valuable peer group for each other!) This post is the second part of a two-part article about finding and hiring the best PR talent. The first part can be found here: How to Hire a Stellar Public Relations Professional

PRBI member agency executives volunteered the following public relations interview tips and questions for making the most of interviews:
  • Chris Blake, account director at MSR Communications in San Francisco, makes the point that boutique PR agencies such as MSR must stay nimble and need to hire staff with the capacity and passion to learn and grow, to keep up with today’s fast-moving world. “To ensure we only hire people who fit that profile, we include a line of questioning in our job interviews that can quickly show which candidates make learning an ongoing habit. For example, we ask:
    • What books have you read lately?
    • What educational webinars have you participated in?
    • Where do you think PR (or tech) will be in the next five years?
    • How do you think PR firms have to change in order to meet evolving client needs?”
  • Most PR Boutiques International member agencies make hiring new employees a team effort. Candidates don’t only meet with prospective bosses, but also with some of the people they would be working with. This is helpful in several ways. Interviewees sometimes act differently, ask different questions and say different things to the boss than they do to subordinates. So the team’s input may illuminate a side of a candidate that the boss can’t see. These interviews also give the team members experience in interviewing and evaluating candidates, an important component in management training.
  • Notes Wendy Marx, president of Marx Communications, “One interview question that works well for me is to share a particular scenario and ask how the candidate would handle that situation. It gives me a chance to see how someone thinks on the spot – something a public relations professional has to do well to be successful!”
  • “We ask, ‘Where do you get your news? And if you could pick a PR department in any non-agency corporation to work for, which company would it be in?’” says Fred Russo, account director at Botica Butler Raudon Public Relations in Auckland, New Zealand. “The answers can be revealing.”
  • Shalini Singh, founder, Galvanise PR in India, values casual conversation for insight into the candidate’s personality. “I engage them in talk about their family and friends, which I’m aware you must avoid discussing in some cultures. The key is to listen intently to what they say.”
  • “We ask questions to better understand people’s cultural background, such as whether they read the newspaper every day before going to work, and what they studied in college,” says Cristina Cobildi, co-founder, Encanto PR in Milan. “We prefer that they have a background in liberal arts, such as literature, history, ancient languages or philosophy.”
  • Paul Furiga, chief storyteller, founder and CEO of Wordwrite Communications in Pittsburgh, offers a few questions his agency uses that he feels provide some insights into candidates:
    • Tell us about your heroes. Is there anybody you’ve admired throughout your life?
    • Would you share with us one or two areas of long-term curiosity in your life?
    • Please share with us an example or two when you sacrificed personally to maintain your integrity.
    • What’s the most inspiring, memorable conversation you’ve ever had?
    • What’s in your refrigerator? (It’s an unexpected question, and you want to see how they deal with something totally off the wall!)
  • “We try to have several people we like and we’ve networked with in each category (junior, mid-career and senior level) on a virtual bench so that when we have an opening, we ideally can turn to someone we’ve already been talking to rather than go through a mass hiring process,” comments Furiga.
  • Durée Ross, president of Durée & Company in Fort Lauderdale, Fl., has a similar philosophy: “We don’t try to fill a certain title, but rather look for individuals that possess the skills and strengths that are needed at our agency, at any level.”
Warning signs against hiring someone:
  • If they don’t ask you questions and they’re doing all the talking, that’s a sure sign they may be immature, not seasoned, or making things up!” notes Lee Weinstein, president of Weinstein PR in Portland, Ore.
  • Adds Furiga, “If they can’t provide a good answer to the question, ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ (versus any other place they could work), they either don’t know what they want, or they haven’t bothered to learn about our company, or both!”
  • “When they show disrespect to their earlier or current jobs or managers, it’s a sure sign that they should not be hired,” states Tarunjeet Rattan, partner, Nucleus Public Relations in Bangalore, India.
  • Says Russo, “Bad grammar, lack of enthusiasm, not having researched the company, lack of cultural fit or even a lack of fun extra curriculars are big red flags.”
  • “If a candidate is late for an interview, or not dressed professionally, that is very telling,” stresses Ross. “If they fail a writing test, that is also an immediate red flag. We need to see enthusiasm, passion, and most importantly, critical thinking from candidates.”
  • Marx adds, “The ones to avoid are those who don’t get back to you promptly or who bring up compensation multiple times. Or they don’t respond to a particular request, and do something other than what you asked for. For example, I asked one candidate for a social media position to provide me with a few specific case studies. She became snippy and claimed she had done so, when the case studies she provided were very generic.”
  • “During the interview, bad signs include being uninformed about the agency, being arrogant, interrupting the interviewer, lacking professional skills and having unrealistically high expectations regarding salary and work/life balance,” comments vom Hoff.
  • “In Italy, the way a job candidate dresses is a sign,” says Cobildi. “If someone comes to an interview dressed for the beach…I don’t need to say more!”

P.S. Public relations job seekers who stumble across this post should see certain common aversions held by PR managers who are hiring. You won’t get hired if:

  • You don’t do your homework about the company you’re interviewing with.
  • You don’t dress appropriately for an interview.
  • You are too focused on salary and compensation.
  • You talk too much and yet don’t ask questions about the company.
  • And last but not least, you diss your current or former bosses!