Written by Michele Litzky
You’ve gained top-notch internship experience, compiled dozens of well-researched media lists, and ranked cum laude or higher in your graduating class. That’s all well and good – and truly impressive – but those accomplishments alone won’t get you the job.
While experience and academic performance may get a foot in the door, your personality and “fit” with the agency will actually land you that dream job.
But, before you go throwing away your resume and banking on personality alone, let’s back up a step. Resumes are still vital; they’re the first impression potential hirers will have of you, so double and triple check them to ensure you put your best foot forward.
Since founding Litzky PR in 1988, hundreds of resumes cross my desk every year. Some are cookie cutter and hardly stand out; some have typos or bad grammar, and are immediately set aside; others are colorful, illustrating a candidate’s design savvy as well as a sneak peek at their personality. And, then, there are some that break the mold entirely, such as the decorative box I received this year that held a sneaker-shaped cookie from a prospect who was trying to get his ‘foot in the door.’ This one definitely caught my eye, and it led to an interview.
Yet, while colorful – or edible – resumes may catch a hirer’s attention, it all comes back to personality, and even more so, agency fit.
Our boutique firm – like most small agencies – has a unique company culture that serves as a filter for those we hire. We have a dynamic group of energetic, creative “Litzky Ladies and Lads,” and we can’t just hire anyone; we need the “right” someone who’s not afraid to speak up and engage in our office culture, whether it’s contributing to agency brainstorms or competing in our agency-wide scavenger hunt (as you can imagine with an extra vacation day as the prize, the competition gets heated!).
Over the years we’ve found many young interviewees try to mask their personalities in order to appear poised and professional, and yet this personality “fit” is an integral piece of our hiring criteria. If you’re looking to work in the agency world, you need to let your true colors shine – but make sure those “true colors” also illustrate who you are as a PR pro.
Fear not: It sounds tougher than it is. After 30+ years hiring PR professionals, I can tell you without a doubt that these 7 character traits will help you show your personality – and your professionalism – to leave a positive, lasting impression on those interviewers.
1. Come with a buttoned up presentation
Yes, we want to see your personality, but if your personality lends itself to presenting sloppy materials, how can we expect you to deliver strong work to our clients? It all starts with your resume. Misspellings, poor grammar, and uneven formatting stick out like a sore thumb. We know you’re an intern or an entry level candidate – we expect you to be green. But we also expect you to be proud of your work and strive for perfection. A bad resume ends up in the trash, not an interview.
2. Overly prepared? Works for us!
If you’ve made it to the interview, congratulations – but it’s not time to get comfortable. First, don’t make us feel like we’re one of many interviews; we, as hirers, need to know you want to be at our agency – not just any agency. Find out everything you can about the firm to illustrate your interest in our work (which will simultaneously show us your research skills). Who are our clients? Have any of our campaigns resonated with you? Why do you want to work here? Also, look for ways to weave that newfound agency knowledge into the interview – don’t do all that research for nothing!
Over the years we’ve found many young interviewees try to mask their personalities in order to appear poised and professional. If you’re looking to work in the agency world, you need to let your true colors shine
3. Honesty really is the best policy
Don’t oversell yourself; we’ll see right through it. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses and be sure to tell us about an internship or assignment you’re proud of (the more passionate you are here, the better!). You may be asked about your most embarrassing moment or a time when you did not succeed. We’re looking for your honesty as an individual, and your eagerness to work in this industry as a professional. There are no wrong answers. This is your time to shine.
4. We’re seeking skilled conversationalists
“Social stalking” your interviewers may feel awkward, but it’s a great way to show your resourcefulness (we’re in PR – we have to chase down new contacts, after all!). You’ve already done your research (if not, go back to step 2!), now it’s time to see what these specific interviewers you’re meeting have worked on. Take to Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn to determine their specific roles, and find ways to weave their work and accomplishments into the conversation. It may seem odd or a little over the top, but trust me – this specific interest will help you stand out.
5. Confident – but not overconfident
You have limited time to make an impression. Deliver a strong handshake and – most importantly –make eye contact with your interviewer. Your eyes show your spark, your enthusiasm, and your excitement about the position – especially when you smile.
6. Be the energizer bunny in the office
To do PR right, you need an endless supply of energy, so why not exhibit your vigor in the job interview? Talk with your hands, have passion in your voice, and even if you feel uncomfortable, trust me – we prefer an engaged and entertaining conversation over a monotonous “pulling teeth” interview any day.
7. Practice extreme gratitude
Your interviewer took an hour out of her busy day to meet with you – make sure you say “thanks.” You’ve undoubtedly heard to send a thank you note following interviews, but I’ll take it one step further. Send two. The first one should be email, sent within 24 hours of the interview. The second should be a physical thank you card (yes, snail mail still exists – and works!). Go beyond cookie cutter in these notes; bring up specific things you talked about or inside jokes to show you really remember the conversation. You’ll want to send the first email quickly so they know you’re timely, with the physical card arriving several days later to remind them of your interest in the agency, your “above-and-beyond” personality, and the specific connection they had with you during the interview.
I always say that everyone brings something unique and special to our office. However, it’s the sum of all parts that make us an agency to be reckoned with.
As we – and most PR agencies – interview candidates, we’re looking for that special something you can contribute to our team. It’s not always the strongest candidate who gets the job – it’s the one who projects the confidence, exuberance, and “spark” that will truly assimilate into – and excel within – our agency.
Michele Litzky founded LPR in 1988 with just one client, Matchbox Toys. Today, she’s grown the agency to nearly 25 employees with a full client roster, ranging in categories from toys and baby gear to lifestyle brands and social good campaigns. Her family has grown, too. In addition to three nieces, Rachel, Alison, and Samantha, her grandchildren, Emma, Jack, and Henry are the newest jewels in her crown.
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