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Ask An Expert: How to Avoid Interviewing Landmines

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Interviewing is a nuanced practice. What works with one recruiter, hiring manager or human resource rep may not be right for another. Navigating the tricky paths leading to a new job can be about as challenging as predicting the weather, but there are a few tactics that ring true no matter who you’re meeting with.

In our ongoing quest to get you hired, we’ve tapped Travis Kessel, director of recruitment at Edelman, to respond to your most pressing job search questions and offer his tips on what you need to do to land your dream job.

If you’ve already read last month’s post featuring Christine Godbey, it may come as no surprise that what you do on social media could hinder your job prospects.

Kessel identified having a “poor/unprofessional public facing social media presence” as the biggest faux pas that might cause him to eliminate a candidate. While he enthusiastically recommends that prospects connect with him on social, he also warns that it’s important to be professional and respect that too much communication may not go over well. He suggests thinking of a social connection with a recruiter as an extra touch point to stay in the mindof the recruiter and as a resource where you can showcase interesting work/social expertise.

Speaking of showcasing your expertise; when it comes to developing your resume, Kessel suggested showing your skills rather than just listing them – consider including links in your resume to blogs or other content that highlight your interests and writing ability. This tip is especially useful for junior practitioners and others new to PR.

“Show your skills through an online medium that will set you apart from your competition and essentially build your portfolio without having on-the-job experience,” Kessel recommended. One way of doing this would be to start a blog, for example.

For some, especially junior practitioners and those with limited experience in the field, blogging remains a great way to not only gain more experience writing, but also a good method of showcasing your personality and interests.

Kessel indicated that quality writing skills are paramount for landing a PR gig. It should go without saying that what you put out there should be spot on, especially when it comes to your resume. “Spelling errors will cost you a job,” Kessel said. Also, when crafting your resume, avoid objective statements and if you’re thinking about taking creative risks, keep in mind that there is a fine line between just right and overboard – “being creative is good, but overly creative can become distracting,” Kessel added.

Regarding new PR pros, Kessel indicated that after education and experience, leadership and involvement on campus along with cultural fit with the company are the factors that will move you forward in the interview process. So keep in mind that it’s important to not only do your research on the company that you’re interested in, but  also make sure you’re applying to a company that really is a right fit for you.

Both Godbey and Kessel agree that employment gaps don’t necessarily impede a candidate’s chance of being hired. Like Godbey, Kessel suggest that the best way of dealing with a gap is to be honest about the circumstances surrounding the extended layoff.

When it comes to those (dreaded by some) online job submission forms, Kessel pointedly highlights what many fear.

“In some cases, you’re simply not reviewed,” said Kessel about the submissions. He clarifies that there is still hope. “There are programs that have search capabilities and good recruiters will do key-word searches on requisitions with a high number of applicants to make certain they are being as efficient and as effective as possible.” That said, when it comes to getting your foot in the door “always remember that there is no better way to get an introduction for a position than through personal referral,” Kessel said. “Go to networking events and meet people in your profession!”

As we are all acutely aware, PR pros are expected to have a number of skills. We are also increasingly expected to wear more hats, but when it comes to the one skill, tangible or intangible that’s most relevant for new PR pros, Kessel indicated that curiosity tops his list.

“We hire people who solve problems in our agency, so while fundamental technical skills (strong written and verbal communication, social media savviness, media experience) are all important, you cannot teach someone how to be a good problem solver,” Kessel said. “Entry-level candidates who have a propensity to be curious tend to be good problem solvers in the long run.”

While interviewing is not an exact science, tactics that might be a perfect approach with one person might not work with another. If you’re able to identify a few of the key notes that resonate among most, you’ll be one step ahead of your competition. Use every interview as an opportunity to refine your skills and you’ll be more likely to land the job you’re looking for.


Travis Kessel is director of recruitment at Edelman. His responsibilities include overseeing the recruitment function for the central US as well as US Process and Operations for the Recruitment function at the agency. You can connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn

Have any good interview tips to share? Let us know in the comments below. You can also submit your own questions on this and other topics to with the subject “Ask An Expert.” 

Laurent Lawrence is associate director of public relations at the Public Relations Society of America


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Laurent Lawrence, APR

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