My top interview tips for PR grads

Interviews can be scary, especially if you haven’t had practise with many before. I’ve certainly had my fair share of interviews, some fun and some frightening. As a recent graduate fighting my way through the competition to get interviews and eventually a job (fingers crossed) I thought I would try and help some people out with tips I have learnt along the way. I hope that this post will settle the score on some interview myths and give some key tips that I wish I had been told.

From my experience there are three types of interviews that companies like to go for;

  1. Good Cop/Bad Cop,
  2. So laid back you could take a nap and,
  3. You’d think you were on The Apprentice (Complete with that annoying rival candidate)

I must say my preferred interview style is the Good Cop/Bad Cop and I’ll explain why.

The Good Cop/Bad Cop is normally held with two interviewers that go through some questions with you in a formal manner but nothing too strict. One interviewer will constantly smile and nod reassuringly at your responses, whilst the other (probably sprouting horns) grunts or exhales heavily to all answers. The good cop will normally ask you whether the journey to the interview was alright and whether you’re enjoying the weather, whilst the baddy will jump straight in for the kill with ‘so why you?’ My advice for this style of interview is to play their game. Smile and show a fun and friendly side with the Good Cop but you need to be able to switch to suit the Bad Cop. Be serious with your answers and keep eye contact, keeping in mind that they’re probably not trying to catch you out but are looking for a professional person. The first interview myth I want to settle is that you are allowed to enjoy it. This interview style enables you to show off your personality as well as your skills so make the most of it.

I personally have only encountered the second style once and it was… unnerving. I always say it’s better to be overdressed for interviews, however, upon arriving in a suit I was certainly shocked to find an almost beachwear attire in the office. It wasn’t even a Friday so Casual Friday was off the cards. Many digital and creative agencies have adopted a fun and relaxed working environment and normally consider smart casual as suitable attire, but I recommend finding out what they expect before attending any interview. The laid back approach to interviews can make you feel more comfortable but my advice is don’t forget why you’re there. You’re there to make a good impression and to sell your skills. If the conversation is informal and you don’t feel like you’re getting the chance to be serious about the role and your interest in working for them then it’s always good to raise a question about the role to keep the conversation in the right direction. The second myth I want to challenge is that there is such a thing as too nice. A survey by blah revealed that the most desirable personality trait wanted from interviewers was being down-to-earth. It’s good to have a bit of a backbone during interviews especially when discussing your expectations from the role. Interviews are very much about seeing if the company is right for you, not just if you’re right for them.

The final interview approach is possibly the worst. This type of interview is usually a group affair and a very competitive experience. Normally you’re set with a team building exercise (how many cups can you stack before it topples, etc) to show if you’re a team player. Sometimes, if they’re really mean they’ll ask candidates to leave after this first stage (don’t be in the team with the toppling cups) and the final stage will be one on one sessions. My advice for this type of interview is be the biggest show off. You’ll be watched all day during the team sessions and the one to ones so make sure you’re on the ball at all times. This sort of interview is the most frightening as the competition can be off putting but show off your skills and remember that you can only do your best. The final interview myth I believe to be irrelevant these days is that you have every right to ask what the salary is. If the interviewer hasn’t mentioned the contract type or salary bracket then you should have the confidence to ask this. It can be an awkward subject to discuss so I wouldn’t suggest firing it out first thing but if the conversation has gone well and you’re asked if you have any questions then this would be a good time to bring it up.

One final point of advice that may seem like an obvious one, it is to me at least, is that at no point should you be on your phone at an interview. Even if you’re waiting a long time (and you’re nearly onto the next level of Candy Crush). It looks unprofessional and gives the impression that you’re bored.

I hope that this advice is useful and wish all graduates good luck with your interviews.

I would love to hear your interview stories, funny or frightening, so leave a comment and let me know what your top interview tip would be.

Feature image:

Solent PR Graduate Conference

Last Thursday (6th November 2014) was the first ever Solent PR Graduate Conference organised by my course leader Sally Holland. The day consisted of industry expert speeches followed by a networking lunch.

Having just started my third year of university I am being given many opportunities to meet with potential future employers. However, I must say that it is rather scary to be able to attend ‘graduate’ conferences as it feels like first year was only last week. The day began with an introduction from Sally Holland and a brief outline of how the day would run. The keynote speaker was Ilona Hitel, MD and Founder of CommsCo with a talk about how to get and keep a successful career in PR. The main piece of advice that I’m positive most of the students will take away from Ilona’s speech was that ‘It’s all about work experience.’ Ilona also offered tips of how to get noticed by using creative applications, such as a video CV.It was interesting to here how Ilona carried out a Google search of Solent University before coming on the day and found that that latest story was of a drunken Solent student getting her head stuck in a bottle bin. ‘You are only as good as your last google result’ says Ilona when raising the importance of what we have on the internet that potential employers can see. Another piece of advice given from the founder of CommsCo was to know the news agenda and said “Journalists will only respect you if you understand a good story and are not just interested in getting your clients in the press.” ILona’s speech was full of useful advice for all PR students across the 3 years of the course.

Tomasz Dyl, founder of GottaBe Marketing was the next industry expert to share is experiences and advice with the cohort and told the inspiring story of how he started his PR Agency at the age of 17. The agency grew into GottaBe Marketing and Tomasz emphasised the opportunities available through LinkedIn when it comes to future employers. He said that it is important for us as third year students to identify which agencies and/or companies we want to work for after graduating and to start connecting with them via LinkedIn. He also pointed out that it is vital to give the person a reason to accept your connection by telling them a bit about yourself and why you think you would make a good connection for them to have. Tomasz shared with us that the most rewarding part of working within the PR and Marketing industry is seeing your work and the good that it’s doing.

Beth Ansell founder of Lemon Squeezy was up next to deliver her speech about what it’s like being a freelancer. Beth is a graduate from Solent herself and is only four years ahead of the current final year students on the course so it was good to see how much can bee achieved after graduating. The key points that Beth mentioned were being able to have control over your work timing but having the pressure of working until it’s all complete. She pointed out that as a freelancer there isn’t any other employees that will pick up the project and complete it for you. Being a freelancer sounds tiring but Beth pointed out that being your own boss means you can take afternoon naps whenever you like, which i’m sure has convinced many students to potentially take the freelance route.

The next industry expert to speak was Emma Hazan from Hotwire who gave advice about how to stand out and get the job you want. Emma is a great communicator and gave an inspiring presentation giving tips on first impressions and how to sell yourself.  Emma was very confident and it was clear that communicating with others is a key strength of hers and she emphasised the importance of knowing what you’re good at and to build them into a personal brand for ourselves. Own the room was a good piece of advice given from Emma as first impressions are important to future employers.

Mark Stretton, MD, and Michelle Williams, Account Director from Fleet Street Communications were the final industry professionals to speak to the Public Relations students, where they gave inspiring advice about how ‘you can really effect change through trade PR’ (Mark Stretton). Michelle discussed how it’s important to decided which PR path is right for you, however, don’t be afraid to try other paths. Mark told the group how he started Fleet Street Communications four years ago with only 3 people and how it has grown. For many students travelling is a big factor for their career choice and Michelle explained how bigger agencies could often give employees the opportunity to travel abroad to head offices in places like Dubai, Florida, and Hong Kong.

All of the industry professionals provided inspiring stories about their experiences and useful advice tips for us PR students trying to gain graduate job offers. It was good to see the students actively tweeting about the event and using the #PRconference to gain awareness of the first ever Solent PR Graduate Conference. The day was a success and a great opportunity for all of the students that attended. The talks were followed by a networking lunch where students could ask the experts questions and make professional contacts.

Here are some photos from the speeches during the day:

Ilona Hitel, MD and Founder CommsCo

Ilona Hitel, MD and Founder CommsCo


Beth Ansell, Lemon Squeezy Marketing


Emma Hazan, UK Deputy MD Hotwire


Mark Stretton, MD, Michelle Williams, Account Director, Fleet Street Communications