You’ve applied for the job and you finally got a call back from someone who wants to set up an interview. For college students like me, this is where we either shine or falter.
I have had a good many formal and mock interviews with companies within the PR and marketing industries this semester, so I've compiled the following interviewing advice for PR students looking to land that coveted internship:
1. Know the PR field.
You should be able to converse with an interviewer about the public relations field. Survey the job description for keywords that may not sound familiar. Look those words up. Subscribe to PR blogs and websites that cover what is going on in the PR field. It will make you sound good, and it will help you answer interview questions more intelligently and thoroughly.
For example, if an interviewer asks about how you would publicize a new gadget, you need to be able to pinpoint relevant modes of communication and explain why they are relevant to that gadget. Did you mention how you can contact bloggers to review the item? Everyone is going to suggest a press release, but it is important to know emerging trends in the PR industry, such as reaching out to bloggers.
2. Know about the company.
Public relations professionals are the voice of a company. You’ve got to prepare for that. Set up Google Alerts for the company’s name and read articles about it up until the day of your interview. It is important to know about the company’s communications efforts, financial standing, legal history, and more. Don’t limit yourself to communications.
3. Read up on the industry of the company to which you’re applying.
In addition to knowing about the company itself, you need to know about its competitors and industry trends. The library at your college should provide access to databases—such as IBIS World, Hoover's, Lexis Nexis Academic, and First Research—that house articles offering that information. I recently had a marketing internship interview for which I looked up industry trends and included the findings in my suggestions for the company’s marketing efforts, and it was a big help.
4. Come ready with recommendations for the company.
You need to prove you can think on your toes, and you can do that by having some recommendations for the company ready when you arrive. Find previous public relations, advertising, marketing, and communications campaigns, and evaluate them. Look at the company's social media presence. What can they improve? What are their strengths? Be warned, though: Do not volunteer unsolicited recommendations. Only provide them if asked.
5. Don’t list crucial PR skills as weaknesses.
Be honest in the job application process, but don’t purposely shoot yourself in the foot by listing important PR skills, such as verbal and written communication and time management, as weaknesses. It just won’t help you.
6. Have an elevator pitch.
I’ve been asked quite a few times to “sell” myself with a brief pitch. I would recommend including your name, your year in school, and your major. Emphasize why you want to work for the company and incorporate your knowledge of the company and its industry. State what you can bring to the company. This is where you can outline your previous experience.
7. Ask relevant questions.
When interviewers ask if you have any questions, don’t ask a question just to ask one. Incorporate some of the information you found through your research into your questions. For example, Microsoft has recently been under a lot of heat for Windows 8’s underperformance. A public relations interviewee could ask how they've handled the criticism from a communications perspective. Flip the question in your favor by showing you know your stuff.
8. Send a thank-you email.
This would be valuable advice for any college student applying for an internship. It’s important to thank interviewers for their time. In the email, once again demonstrate your knowledge of the industry and courteously reiterate what you can bring to the position.
9. Even if you’re not an expert, you can sound like one.
Don’t try to sound like a drone. Just use your research to answer the questions you’re asked. It is an easy way of showing knowledge and initiative.
I hope this list has been helpful. For the PR pros out there, what advice would you offer a college student going into an internship interview?
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Simone Banna is a journalism and public relations student at the University of Georgia.