I usually speak in PR/communications classes at my alma mater Loyola Chicago at least once a semester, and I ALWAYS get asked about what I look for in candidates that apply for a job. As someone who was on the other side of the interviewer-interviewee relationship not that long ago, I’d like to provide some perspective to those who wonder about what makes a candidate stand out.
I’d like to preface this post by saying that this is entirely my opinion on what I value/look for when I want to hire someone. I’ve had this conversation with coworkers and I know they have different points of view. All I can tell you is what I seek when hiring for my own team.
The Cover Letter
I’m going to be bluntly honest here: Keep it on the shorter side. I want you to be able to tell me why you’re the right person for this job in a concise way. Chances are I’ll stop reading if it goes on to the second page.
You also don’t need to reiterate what’s already on your resume. Use an anecdote—tell me some kind of story about yourself that puts who you are into context. Everyone’s resume starts to look the same after a while. Your cover letter is how you stand out.
Most importantly, do NOT just use a template and fill in the blanks. It’s extremely obvious. Yes, I know you’re looking for more than one job and it takes a long time to tailor your cover letter to each position you apply for. But that’s how you show you really want this job and not just a job. It also shows me that you’re capable of tailoring your pitches to the media, which is going to be a large part of your job if you were to get hired.
Make it clean and as easy to scan as possible. Avoid being too wordy, but be specific about what you did at previous jobs. I’d prefer to see an actual example of a campaign you worked on instead of a list of the generic tasks you completed.
Emphasize your experience that’s most relevant to the job you’re applying for. It might not have been your most recent job, but it should be the most detailed section. Keep in mind that we need to assess whether you can do this job. While your marketing research experience is great, I’m hiring you for a PR (heavily media relations focused) position. Another example would be to include any agency experience you have—this is a PR agency so you’ll work on multiple clients. If you’ve done that before (even in advertising or marketing), please make sure we know.
One thing for the recent grads (or those about to graduate): don’t include coursework on your resume. Your major speaks for itself. If you emphasize coursework it tells me that you haven’t done anything outside of school. At the same time, if you worked on an actual “client” in class then you should include that on your resume. I recommend including it as “special projects” or in another category where you can show that you were able to execute a campaign on behalf of a client. That is a valuable skill to have.
This might scare you (and I don’t mean for it to), but I can tell if I want to hire you within the first five minutes of an interview. There’s just something that screams “yes, this person is a fit!”
But even beyond those first five minutes, these are usually the qualities that make me want to hire someone:
- You’re personable
- You look professional
- You can converse with me as an equal (even if we’re just introducing ourselves and talking about the weather)
- You’re confident
- You’re ready to talk about your experience without staring down at your resume in front of you
- You clearly did your homework on the company beyond just scanning the website
- You have stories and/or anecdotes about past jobs with specific examples. For instance, a candidate we just hired gave specific examples about how he was tasked with coming up with a story idea for a very dry B2B client. He told us the situation, how he solved it, and what the outcome was
- Anyone who can cite specific successes (i.e. I worked on X account and we did Y, Z with them, which resulted in ____)
- You can tell us about various news outlets and blogs that you read on a regular basis (it’s not helpful when someone says “oh, I read whatever comes up on my homepage” because we expect you to be a news junkie)
- You ask lots of questions about the agency, as well as the specific job/team you’re going to be hired to work on
- The “Q&A” part of the interview turns into a conversation vs. you asking random questions and not giving any feedback once you get an answer from us
The Follow Up
This one is simple. Always send a follow-up email within a day. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, but it just shows you’re capable of following up (a very important skill in PR) and that you care about this job.
Personally, I don’t care whether you send a cute card in the mail or just send an email. I’m a believer in “it’s the thought that counts” with the follow-up. Why do I say that? Because if I really want you for this job, I’m not going to give it to someone else because they sent me a handwritten card and you wrote an email. Just sayin’.
So, I hope that helps provide some perspective on applying for a job. Please feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section. I promise I’ll answer them as honestly as possible.