Sharp is a PR professional with over eleven years experience of
working for both in-house PR departments and for leading UK PR
agencies. In this blog Lucy gives PR job interview advice, CV
advice for PR candidates and questions for a PR job interview.
Covering her unsuccessful and more successful interviews over the
years, read on for a fascinating insight into how to get your dream PR job from
someone with experiences to learn from!
"I am delighted to confirm you have an interview", the words
that fill us all with joy…and a mixed dose of dread?
By this stage, depending on what stage you are in your career,
you may have written a cover letter and submitted a CV for the
role, or you may have gone one step further with a 'chemistry'
phone call and perhaps even a couple of online tests (writing
skills, personality, basic intelligence).
But this is make or break, right? The actual
interview! More important than top grades,
being popular with professors and students, the exams you sat that
once meant so much to you, the degree you earned with so much
effort…their worth all hangs in the balance of this moment in
After 11 years working in PR, I have attended A LOT of
interviews, and if I told you my success rate was 98%, would this
make me the expert in interviews? Not at all. I remember one
rejection (it hurt), as a Senior PR Manager at Morrison's
ironically, I was so sure I had it in the bag, but the truth was I
simply wasn't the right fit for them and retrospectively they
absolutely weren't the right fit for me!
Over the years' I've declined a number of offers, most for
incredible brands, because over time I have learnt that finding the
right fit is a two-way thing: that the employee needs to feel the
brand is right for them, not just the employer who is hiring. Every
company and every candidate is looking for something specific and
instinct and experience goes a long way to getting it right.
What I can share, is what has worked for me. I now approach
interviews filled with excitement for the challenges and the
prospects that lie ahead. My most recent role at Amazon involved a
mammoth 8 interviews (including a phone interview, face to face
chemistry meet, writing test, before 6 back-to-back one hour
interviews (including a video conference overseas) with different
Directors. That was my most challenging and satisfying experience
to date, but one that filled me with a great deal of pride and joy
once the offer came through.
Starting with the absolute basics…
In advance of your interview:
- Diary Date: Get the time, date and location,
google it and make sure you know exactly where you are heading. It
can be good to do a mock run so you don't feel stressed on the big
day! Give time for travel issues and aim to arrive 15 minutes prior
to the interview.
Preparation: Prep is key! For starters get onto the website and
read every page (certainly 'about', 'people' and 'press / news'
sections. Once you know who the key players are (especially your
interviewer) check them out privately on LinkedIn and Twitter. You
really need to research before you turn up at an interview. Know
the basics about your brand, know about who their competitors are,
check any recent press coverage about the brand to ensure you're up
to date with anything important that might have recently happened.
Double check with your recruiter if you need to prepare a
presentation at this stage.
CV / cover letter / Presentation: if you have provided info in
your application, take a copy with you for reference. Not only will
it give you the chance to point out anything key you might have
forgotten that is relevant to the questions asked, but it means you
can go in with confidence that you have dates, skills and thoughts
to hand in case you freeze.
- Questions: go to your interview with at least
3 questions to hand, it shows you care and that you are prepared.
Remember, this is your chance to interview them, not just the other
way round - about the job, the brand or the work culture (I often
find that asking what the staff turnaround is like, is a useful
gauge as to whether the brand is a nice place to work). You
shouldn't reference salary at this stage (you should have a guide
on application, so don't ask again until you receive an
On the day of you interview:
- Attire: This really depends on the type of
industry you are in. Don't be afraid to ask your recruiter to check
with the HR rep at the brand you're applying with. But common sense
goes a long way: smart-causal is a good start unless you'll be
working in a very formal office environment where suits are still
- Grooming: Being presentable is more than just
clothing. Looking like you walked off the street isn't a good look
for an interview - clean hair, neat shave, natural makeup - effort
counts and if you are going to be representing a brand, then
presenting yourself appropriately is vital to moving into the next
- Body language: During an interview, body
language is key. From the moment you walk in to the second you exit
the interview, your body language tells a future employer a lot.
Shoulders back, good posture, head held high and a smile goes a
long way to appearing confident and in control - even if you don't
feel it! A firm handshake and direct eye contact at the start and
end of an interview and with any prospective colleagues you might
be introduced to throughout the process.
Once you have these basics sorted, you're half way there!
It is likely you'll be meeting in the office environment where
you'll be working. This is preferable, a coffee shop is too
informal and distracting, and a bar is inappropriate. When you get
to the office and are walked through to your meeting room, make an
effort to take note of the environment around you.
When it comes to a potential offer, it is so important that you
are comfortable with the atmosphere you'll be working in. Is the
office buzzy? Do people look happy and engaged? Check out the
technology and the facilities. Everything that you think is vital
to a happy work life, because remember - you'll be spending more
than half your life there! Intuition is key, make a mental note to
ask your interviewer after the interview if anything is concerning
you about the office space.
Don't be afraid to ask for a glass of water, it gives you a
moment to relax and sit back and breathe! It is likely you'll be
offered a drink anyway, always say yes to water!
You may be seated across a table from your interviewer, I
recommend following the manners that you'd have for a Sunday lunch
with the parents! Sit straight but try to relax, smile and keep
shoulder back. Do not slump in your seat or cower under the table,
you'll look unconfident or indifferent. Hands on your lap or on the
table (just keep them still!) - and don't be afraid to gesticulate
when making a point if this is your style of speaking.
You'll be asked a range of questions, you can never really know
the extent or direction they will take, so go in knowing as much
about the brand as you can, ensure your own background is accurate
and try to answer every question the best that you can. If you
don't know an answer, say you don't know! You learn on the job,
what you need to say is - can I come back to you on this question
after I have researched / that is really interesting and I don't
know the answer, please can you explain so I understand for next
The obvious questions: why have you applied for the role, why
would it be suited to you, what skills can you bring to the
company, what sets you apart from other candidates, tell me about
X, Y, Z job and how you managed X, Y, Z challenges.
The trickier questions: what do you think of the brand, what
have you read about us recently, what do you think we could improve
on, how have you dealt with a difficult client / colleague /
manager in the past, what mistakes have you made in previous roles
(focus on your learnings from errors, no one is perfect), what
issues have you dealt with in previous roles, why are you looking
to leave your current role. If you are asked a challenging
question, don't be afraid to take a moment to think. You don't have
to respond instantly. You can say: can I have a moment to think
about that or can we revisit this question later on once I have
absorbed it. Or if you don't understand the context say: can you
just rephrase that question for me. There is no right or wrong
answer and no shame in asking.
The interview is likely to include in depth questions about
things you have achieved in the past that you are especially proud
of, things you could have done better and ideas you might have for
this role. This is your time to shine. Have examples of things you
are proud of and how you achieved them, have examples of things you
could have done better and why, and how you would ensure better
results next time. Do not be afraid to admit to areas you are keen
to improve on - showing humility and offering solutions is key.
Anything you can say about the brand you are applying for that
shows your preparation is ideal, a prospective employer wants to
know that you really want the job and anything that sets you apart
from other applicants is key. Talking about a news article you may
have read about the brand recently, or something you think would
add to the brand, creative ideas…anything that allows enthusiasm,
proactivity and passion to shine through goes a long way.
Personally, I have always stayed true to one rule: be yourself
and let your personality shine through. If you are a bubbly,
smiley, passionate and infectious person, do not be afraid to show
it. Being bubbly should not be mistaken for being unprofessional. I
have always gone in to interviews with the mind-set - if they like
me, they can like me for me. If you try to be someone you are not,
you will ultimately be lying to yourself and your employer.
Other things I have found employers respond well to during
Eye-contact, open body-language, sincerity, humility,
confidence, listening, showing interest in the interviewer,
communicating concisely and effectively, asking intelligent
questions about the brand or field, answering honestly, showing
knowledge of your field, answering with common-sense, not being
afraid to challenge something you feel strongly about.
My big buzz word is passion! If someone is passionate, they are
compelling and if someone is compelling, they get buy in. If an
employer isn't moved by passion for their brand, then don't work
This is a decent check list of skills to reference when talking
Having a good work ethic, team-player, commitment to the role,
conscientious, passionate, loyal, willing to go above and beyond,
proactive, efficient, productive, willing to take critique, eager
to learn and develop, happy to help in other areas when required,
ability to lead, ability to manage up or manage down (depending on
N.B: you have to actually possess these qualities!
Going the extra mile:
Whether you are just out of Uni / applying for a junior role or
an advanced senior candidate, really standing out amidst the sea of
competitors can go a long way to bagging your dream job.
As a junior I would deliver my CV in person (as well as by email
or post!) with something creative to make it stand out. Back then I
think it was a tea bag attached with a paper-clip and a post-it
note saying 'Willing to make tea', or for a beauty PR role, I
sealed my envelope with a lipstick kiss, for a casino PR role, I
delivered it with a poker chip…these are just little ideas for more
junior roles. In the digital era, you can post a video or blog to
your employee doing something wacky holding a sign saying 'hire
Now, as a senior PR, I tend to be more strategic and think -
what would the founder want? I look at what I could bring to the
brand, and try to apply myself accordingly. My CV often gets me to
interview stage, so I might instead turn up to the interview with a
mini-strategy or a PowerPoint presentation, a little bit like a new
business pitch, talking about my background, skills and my ideas
for the role, of course customised and specific for the brand. For
Amazon, I did a special pack for each of my interviewees with an
'A-Z' of my skills (to sync with the Amazon logo), a focus group
that I undertook in the lead up to the interview with friends
(opinions of the brand both positive and negative) and a
presentation which included my bold bets and strategic ideas, ready
to apply if I was offered the role.
Whatever your level and whatever your feelings about interviews,
take every single one as a valuable lesson. There is no shame in
failing, only in not trying. You win some, you lose some.
Your interview maybe the first of many or the last, but it is as
much the candidate's opportunity as the employers. It is a mutual
opportunity for an employer to sell their brand to you, and for the
candidate to sell their 'own brand' to the employer. Over the
years, the few jobs I regret accepting were those where I didn't
ask enough about the work culture or notice the environment at the
interview stage because I was so eager to impress them.
Don't forget, you are the professional they are looking for, so
act like it. Do not compromise unless you are 100% certain the
company is right for you. There are always jobs for great
applicants, so don't feel pressure to accept the first that comes
your way unless you feel totally passionate and committed to making
it work. GOOD LUCK!