As the owner of a boutique fashion PR, marketing and production agency, I have come to dread the hiring process.
I used to wonder what people meant when they complained about millennials and the difficulty in finding good entry-level talent, but with each hiring cycle I become more convinced that college is not preparing students to properly manage their entry or rise in the workforce.
If you’ve been struggling to land a PR position, here’s how to fill in the gaps. Take the PR Couture PRISM course this summer and put this article to memory. Here’s you the low-down, dirty truth about why you’re not getting hired.
Round 1 Eliminations
Whenever we have a job opening, we are flooded with applications. In order to sift through the deluge of resumes, I eliminate most of them with a quick look through cover letters and resumes. Here is what gets trashed.
You spelled the company’s name incorrectly
No joke, I receive several resumes a week with our agency name misspelled. If you can’t spell the name of the company you hope to work for correctly, how can I trust you to spell an editor or client’s name correctly?
You didn’t follow our application directions
We place very specific application instructions a few paragraphs into the job description. This helps us to eliminate those who are simply applying to anything and everything they find (and therefore not actually interested in working for us specifically), or are not detail oriented enough to read the entire description (a real problem for anyone working in a communications field). About fifty percent of job applicants are deleted from my inbox for not following the instructions listed in our job description.
Your cover letter is really long
Unless an employer asks you to upload a separate cover letter or you are uploading items to an application form online, your email to the address given in the job listing is your cover letter. There is no need to attach one.
Make sure that you keep this email short and focus on the skills and experience you bring to the table that will make you right for the position. If you don’t have the job experience listed in the description, getting the job is going to be a long shot, but at least clearly acknowledge that fact and highlight transferable skills and offer references.
About fifty percent of job applicants are deleted from my inbox for not following the instructions listed in our job description.
Your experience doesn’t match up
In an entry-level position, it’s a red flag to say you’ve been running your own agency, or directly managing clients. There is no sense in lying on your resume because when you get the job, if you can’t perform the task, you wont last. We recently had to let a new hire go after it became apparent a few weeks in that she had lied about her experience on her resume. You can bet we are even stricter now about vetting potential employees.
You’re missing a portfolio
If you are applying for a PR or creative position (graphic design, photography, social media) an online portfolio to show previous work (even if you are simply demonstrating your skills without any previous paid experience) is standard. It means more than your resume. If you are applying for a publicist position, you should have writing samples.
How to get a ‘thanks but no thanks’ interview response
If you secure an interview, you should pat yourself on the back. Your cover letter and resume have successfully communicated that you have the skillset needed to perform the job. The first interview is a chance for the hiring manager to see if you are a cultural fit, and to ensure that your previous experiences will translate to the company’s needs.
First, understand that fitting in personality-wise and temperament-wise is critical – and it’s something you don’t have a ton of control over – so if you didn’t get hired but know you have a lot to offer – keep applying until you find the company that’s a good fit.
However, if any of the below seem like a good idea, you’re ripe for elimination in round 2.
You aren’t prepared
True Story. I scheduled an interview with a really bright candidate who graduated from one of the top universities in the country. She emailed me the day before the interview and asked to change the time. I had no problem with the reschedule request and gave her exactly the time she asked for and was excited to meet her. An hour before the interview, she emails me and asks me if I can print out her resume because her printer is out of paper she is worried she wont have enough time to stop somewhere and print it.
My jaw dropped. Here’s a line to memorize: I shall not assign tasks to my prospective employer.
Not only did she assign me a task, but she also let me know she doesn’t prepare for things ahead of time. I ALWAYS printed out my resume and prepared my interview materials in my bag the day before an interview when job hunting. There are plenty of things that can happen that you can’t help like car trouble or here in NYC, subway woes, but anyone who is going to be right for a PR position will know that being on time and prepared for appointments is critically important.
FYI, I did print out her resume. She was ten minutes late. She did not get the job.
You’re coming off overly personal (rather than professional)
We are not friends. If you are hired I will be your boss, not your new bestie. A compliment is fine, and yes I want to know you’ve researched our company, but there is a line. I am fine that you stalked me on Instagram, but don’t use that information to try and suck up. I don’t care if you know me. I care if you can do the job well.
Here’s a line to memorize: I shall not assign tasks to my prospective employer.
You’re focusing on volunteer industry experience rather than real job experience
It is fine to give me some detail about an experience you had while in college or volunteering, but I don’t equate that with real job experience. Instead it is experience you gained without the pressure of paying clients and your own livelihood at stake. I don’t mind hearing those anecdotes, but I’d rather you talk about real, paying jobs, even if it was part-time at McDonalds in college.
Active listening isn’t happening
Active listening means that instead of waiting for your next opportunity to speak and impress, you’re calmly and intently listening to what is being said. Wait for a natural opening in the conversation, jot down a note if you’re afraid you’ll forget your point, but don’t interrupt. I don’t think I need to explain why this is rude and a downright bad idea, but it appears to be trending so I wanted to mention it outright.
Your expectations are out of alignment
The internet has readily available salary standards by industry. Be realistic about your previous experience and market rates. We always ask for salary expectations because we have a specific budget and range for salary for the position. We offer a range on par with average market rates for a fashion PR firm and are often shocked by the salary expectations of young professionals.
Follow through is lacking
Job hunting is exhausting and you might be thinking that once you’ve had your interview its up to the company to choose you…or not.
Your post interview actions are an opportunity to demonstrate your manners, gratitude and appreciation. It also gives you a chance to confirm your interest in the position and leave a mark that will get you an offer.
If you were sure you’d get the job but then nothing, chances are your follow through could use some work.
Where’s the thank you note?
Recently, we met with a candidate whose experience was spot on and we liked her vibe. I was ready to extend an offer and even meet her salary expectations, which were a little higher than what we had planned on paying. I waited for the standard follow up email which would thank me for my time and let me know she was interested in the position.
It never came.
Do not underestimate the importance of timely follow up. As a result of this interaction I assumed that she wasn’t interested in the position, never extended the offer and I wrote her off as rude and unpolished. I will remember her name forever and for the rest of my career she will be not get a job with me. That’s how serious I take thank you notes.
Even if you aren’t interested in the job, send a thank you email.a day or two after the interview and keeping in short and sweet and leaving out the key phrase every hiring manager looks for: “I would love to join your team.” Leaving out the line about wanting to join the team lets us know you appreciated our time, but the position isn’t right for you….and that’s totally okay. The world is smaller than you think and you never know when your path may cross again.
You’re overeager and it’s off-putting
I know you are antsy about getting a job and you have been told to keep following up until you get an answer. The problem here is that you risk coming on way too strong and it reads a bit desperate. Following-up once when you don’t get a reply is fine, but if you don’t get a response from that follow-up take a breath. Assume they went in another direction or are still reviewing your candidacy….or just got super busy. The rule of thumb is no more than two follow-ups with no response.
Now many of these steps may seem obvious, and you may be thinking, “I’d never do any of these.” I’m here to tell you that based on what I’m seeing, you are probably doing one or two. Put extreme care and attention into your job seeking and you will be rewarded with a great position. After all, chances are if you made it to the end of this article, you’re already way up on the competition.