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How to get (virtually) hired in PR

Whilst interviews are still mainly online, we asked PR recruiters and those that have succeeded in getting jobs after virtual interviews, for their top tips for shining on screen.

Prepare thoroughly

Will Cooke, head of strategy and creative at communications agency M&C Saatchi Talk: “The slight challenge of rapid agency growth means yet more time spent in Zoom-doom where everything can blur a little, and candidates must work even harder to stand out. The winners are the ones who can earn attention, even with a CV… Four key tips are to come prepared with:

  1. Attention-worthy work - this is less about what you did and more about why you did it - if you can show us a real insight then you’re already winning.
  2. Open-minded creativity - questioning our campaigns and approach might feel provocative, but it’s an attitude we constantly encourage internally. 
  3. Ambitious optimism - good ideas have potential to earn attention in any channel, so demonstrating how your work went further and made a real difference stands out.
  4. Be ready to react - come with questions, but with more flexible working you might find us in an office or even up a mountain (we had one infamous call disrupted by a flock of sheep!).”

Shine before the interview

Tom Mcloughlin, founder of marketing agency SEO Travel: "Do the heavy lifting before the interview. The last couple of hires I've made, I knew I wanted them before the interview because of their application. They stood out, showed why they wanted to work for us specifically and avoided the usual generic cover letter and CV format. Do something different! That might be a video, sending them something (even just post your CV in an interesting format) or putting something in an email that's a break from the norm. The interview was then just a formality to make sure they were nice humans and a good culture fit for the team."

Focus on details

Megan Turner, PR executive at agency Motive PR: “Getting the small details down in virtual interviews is so important… Make sure you have tidy surroundings, a good connection, a clear microphone, and a webcam angled to get all of you in the frame. 

"The people doing the interview will want to see how passionate you are about the job, so don’t be afraid to get a bit animated. It will show them how knowledgeable you are and how excited you are about working in the industry. Always suggest ways that you could add value to the company too. You will have a skill that the business never even knew they needed. Podcasting is my hobby and not particularly PR related. During my interview I translated these skills and offered them to make something interesting, that is related to the PR world.”

Dress up

Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, MD of agency Clearly PR: “We have recruited four new people this year and during the hiring process, I was truly astounded to see some candidates appearing on screen in casual dress. There was a clear assumption that because the interview was taking place online, presentation didn’t matter. “Additionally, some also appeared to assume that because we are a public relations agency then dress-down rules are part of our culture. While this is true on a day-to-day basis, when it comes to client meetings, for example, we are always suited and booted. Anyone checking out our website would’ve seen that we very much lean towards the corporate side things in terms of how we present ourselves and our brand. “How you present yourself during this first encounter with a potential new employer is imperative. You only get one chance to make a first impression, make it count.”

Highlight your originality

Estelle Boon, head of consumer at PR firm Grayling UK: “Having gone through a big period of growth, the consumer team has recently made seven virtual hires. This means we could be employing people who wear Crocs un-ironically. Not only is that terrifying, but it highlights one of the biggest challenges of virtual interviews: it’s much harder to convey your whole personality. 

"A weird formality ensues once you enter the virtual lobby and, given the intense nature of staring someone right in the face whilst praying no one rings your doorbell, you can easily feel uncomfortable. I want someone who is brilliant at the job, but to make an offer I need people to convey how they are different and will bring a new dimension to the team with their personality, interests and cultural understanding. Use the fact you are in your natural surroundings to your advantage and make reference to it where possible so that interviewers can see the real you.”

Be natural

Olivia Parkinson, junior account manager at agency Champion Communications: “Interviews via video call can often feel unnatural compared to in-person alternatives. With virtual interviews, there can be a temptation to have a script on screen alongside the interviewer. It’s important to interact with the person on the other side of the camera naturally and candidly to showcase your true personality. To do so, look into the camera, maintain eye contact and keep a strong posture - body language is everything.”

Ask to have a virtual coffee

Jo Preston, group board director and head of people at PR agency Teamspirit.: “If you are in the later stages of the process and want to find out more or understand the culture or feel of the agency, ask for an online coffee with some of your peers. It’s a great way to have a more informal conversation about the role and check it feels right for you.”

Case studies

How I won through

Nikhil Saglani, account executive at agency PAN Communications: “I may be going against the grain here, but interviewing for a PR job virtually was a great experience. Participating from the comfort of my bedroom was an obvious benefit, but having people’s name on screen prevented any embarrassing mix-ups too!

“I had interviews at two agencies that went especially well - the latter of which I joined in August, at PAN Communications. Both conversations were extremely light-hearted, and I don’t think doing them over Zoom impacted how enjoyable I found them.

“Overall, I’d say Zoom interviews hold the same weight traditional interviews with the added benefit of being within your comfort zone; which definitely helps with nerves. Wifi permitting, there’s merit in interviews - at least the first stage - being done remotely for all involved. It not only saves time and money - but opens the door to those who can, and want to, work remotely too.”

George Driscoll, digital PR consultant at agency Root Digital: “I was applying for PR roles in the final days of my backpacking trip so I could start earning as soon as I returned home. One interview got scheduled early and I didn’t want to let the opportunity go so I found a bench outside a public library in Adelaide and did the interview on my phone with a pen and paper.

“There was a bunch of extremely vocal lorikeets flying around and I had to make light of the situation angling it as me not wanting to miss the interview window. I was honest from the get-go and the interviewer likened it to having kids in the background, so it actually became a nice icebreaker. What worked for me: honesty and being human about the situation, virtual working might not always be in a perfect environment, most people can relate to that now.”

Amanda Ayres, digital PR executive at digital agency NORTH: “I’ve just started my position at NORTH and I had my interview over video call back in March, so here are my own tips from my experience.

“If there’s a presentation involved, do a practice run on the platform you’ll be using - I’d never used Google Meet before and this, combined with my not-so-tech-savvy abilities, caused a slight embarrassment when the slideshow wasn’t presenting yet I was waffling on as though it was. 

“Wear the joggers! Honestly, don't spend time stressing about what to wear like you would in a face-to-face interview - just wear something smart on top and keep the trusty joggers on - keeps you comfy, relaxed and gives you more time to spend prepping for the interview… and they’ll never know you’ve got them on!

“Pin your notes up on a wall directly opposite where you’ll be sitting - this is a total cheat's way, but you’ll be able to have a quick glance to remind yourself of what you want to mention!”

Toby Aiken, account director at agency MRA Marketing: “I secured my new role at MRA Marketing through two virtual interviews. Interviewing can be daunting at the best of times, but add in a virtual element and the usual non-verbal cues that you’d pick up on are greatly reduced. Eye contact is harder to maintain, as you want to watch the interviewer, not your camera, but as long as you listen and take in everything, virtual interviews can be just as productive… plus you can have notes pinned up behind your laptop!

“The important thing, more than ever, is preparation. Not just what you want to say, but for once you’re in control of your environment. I opted for a blurred background for a professional feel and made sure my kids weren’t going to make a cameo appearance. That said, for once, everyone’s in the same boat. Interviewing for a role in January, one of my interviewers did have to take a moment to deal with their son who wanted to know who he was talking to. Relax, be understanding of the situation and smile.”

Last, but not least…

Make sure your internet is working!

Tom Mcloughlin: “Make sure your internet connection is good - it's obvious, but if it's not then go somewhere else for the interview.”

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