A Public Relations Specialist maintains a brand’s public image by acquiring media coverage, creating press opportunities, publishing valuable content, and generally promoting the individual or company they work for. They also closely monitor social media and develop campaigns that increase awareness and engagement.
Every Public Relations Specialist should be well-versed in communications, advertising and social media marketing. Their project management skills and attention to detail must bring every client a highly personalized level of customer service and positive outcomes. The best hires for this position will have extensive experience in PR as well as a background in journalism, brand identity and digital communications.
General interview questions (such as “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Why are you looking for another job?”) are a great way to get to know your candidate’s personal history, interests, and goals. However, be sure to add inquiries specific to the role they’re interviewing for, so you can gain valuable insights into their likelihood of success in that position.
Below are Public Relations Specialist interview questions to help you get started:
1. What are the most important skills every Public Relations Specialist should have?
What you want to hear: Strong communication skills, an outgoing personality, research abilities, flexibility and good judgment all contribute to successful public relations. The candidate may surprise you with their own insight, and you should prompt them for further detail or examples. Unique skill sets are a plus, especially if a candidate has experience to back up their abilities.
Red flag: Identifying core competencies ensures a candidate understands the fundamental aspects of the role they’re applying for. If someone cannot list the basic skills that are required to succeed, they likely won’t be able to recognize their own strengths and perform well on the job. This could lead to missed opportunities, brand deterioration and mismanagement.
2. How would you describe the difference between public relations and advertising or marketing?
What you want to hear: Although PR has crossovers with marketing and advertising, it functions on its own as a unique discipline. Public relations focuses on the publicity generated through advertising efforts, and it is a largely responsive role. Rather than controlling the type of attention generated by an ad or promotion, PR focuses on responding to attention while looking for greater opportunities to generate awareness.
Red flag: Many people confuse the roles of Public Relations Specialists with advertisers or marketers. Depending on the company, there may be shared responsibilities. However, a valuable candidate will clearly understand the boundaries of their role. This prevents miscommunication and oversight. Clarification is sometimes all that is required, but it’s important to ensure a candidate who is unclear on the specifics of PR has the skills required to perform the role.
3. What is interactive PR?
What you want to hear: Passive brand management is no longer the frontrunner of public relations. Today’s Public Relations Specialists use a process known as interactive PR to communicate with a client’s audience through the internet. Social media, blog posts, webinars, podcasts and videos can all be used to interact with the target audience. Interactive PR goes beyond identifying trends and helps a business become a part of them.
Red flag: Current knowledge on best PR practices is crucial to success, especially when it comes to technology. Not knowing the importance of interactive PR can also demonstrate a candidate does not stay up-to-date in their field, which ultimately leads to weaker results and reduced engagement.
4. What are some of your go-to social monitoring tools?
What you want to hear: Frequently tracking data across multiple platforms is important, and there are a variety of programs that allow Public Relations Specialists to do this easily. Programs like Hootsuite, TweetDeck and Postling are some of the most common. A strong response will include the fact that a monitoring software should be chosen based on the social platforms a client uses the most.
Red flag: Without efficient monitoring tools, your PR team can fall behind on its strategy. Social awareness is imperative to strong engagement; using modern technology ensures your company’s PR is always aligned with the best practices and apt to respond.
5. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in public relations?
What you want to hear: Whether it was a difficult client, poor press or a lack of resources, look for candidates who are able to easily identify where they’ve struggled in their career and how they have developed from their experiences. A good Public Relations Specialist will know how to acknowledge mistakes, identify areas that need improvement, and quickly implement strategies to create a positive outcome.
Red flag: Inexperience or lack of self-awareness can result in a narrow focus. In public relations, there is no room for oversight or tunnel vision. Candidates who cannot identify challenges are more likely to make mistakes or fail to grow in their position.
6. How do you write a good pitch letter?
What you want to hear: One of the most common documents in public relations is a pitch letter. This goes directly to journalists and includes a short, captivating headline that immediately grabs their attention. A good pitch letter should tell a story in and of itself, inspiring the journalist to write about the company.
Red flag: Candidates who cannot write pitch letters will not be able to acquire the type of coverage their clients need or expect. The pitch letter is pivotal to successful PR, and you cannot hire anyone who lacks the understanding of their purpose or how to make them stand out.
7. What is your method for acquiring new contacts?
What you want to hear: Industry research is the most effective way to determine what types of coverage would be most beneficial for a client’s public relations strategy. A Public Relations Specialist should first assess their client’s existing presence, find areas they need greater coverage, and move forward by identifying the most appropriate companies or individuals.
Red flag: Underdeveloped communication skills are detrimental to growth. Good PR requires consistent relationship management with high-value contacts. From journalists to influencers, your next hire should be someone who knows how to pinpoint the most relevant people and outlets for coverage.
8. A client you manage is in the midst of a PR crisis. What do you do?
What you want to hear: Whether it’s a scandal or scathing review, companies and individuals alike are prone to having their reputation tarnished online. Assessing the impact, acknowledging the topic and taking responsibility for any misdoings is imperative. The goal should be to respond as early as possible rather than letting the negative press speak for the client. Responsive action should be integrated from the initial response to demonstrate awareness and authenticity.
Red flag: Staying silent during a crisis or believing that “any press is good press” can ruin a reputation. Some companies never fully recover from a PR crisis that was mishandled. A strong candidate will recognize the importance of responsiveness and communication, especially in the face of criticism.
9. What has been your greatest failure and success so far in PR?
What you want to hear: Everyone will struggle at some point in their career, but they will also know how to rebound and ultimately achieve their goals. A good response to this question will demonstrate a candidate’s accountability and self-awareness, two attributes that are fundamental to communication and job success.
Red flag: If a candidate only focuses on their success, they likely aren’t comfortable with failure or admitting to their mistakes. In the business of PR, there is no room for arrogance or defensiveness; your next hire must know how to recognize faults and turn them into meaningful lessons and experiences.
10. Tell me about a time your foresight helped resolve a PR problem.
What you want to hear: Good PR requires the ability to read people and situations well. Rather than relying on reactivity, the right candidate will know how to assess a situation and use active listening skills to respond preemptively. They may have avoided a miscommunication, dispelled potential conflict, or strengthened a relationship by making decisions in line with a client’s values.
Red flag: Looking forward and having a fine-tuned perception enables PR experts to make well-timed decisions. Candidates who lack the ability to apply their own foresight can lead to impulsivity, negative reactions and impaired decision-making.
Every interview question can help get you closer to the right fit for your Public Relations Specialist position.
Be sure to keep an eye out for candidates who:
- Have experience in branding, reputation management and acquiring media coverage.
- Have an outgoing personality that suits your business or clients.
Possess strong communication skills and know how to leverage technology.
- Stay up-to-date on best PR practices, guidelines and regulations.