How to not get hired by a public relations firm

May 9, 2011

The top 10 worst interview answers from prospective interns

Every semester Gregory FCA looks for young, talented individuals to join our team. Our program here is designed to give students a real world view of PR and to build a farm team for the company. Typically, we offer two or three top interns full-time positions once they prove themselves to be creative, high energy, acutely interested in the media, ready to learn and able to write.

Over the years, we’ve had a number of talented young people start as interns and emerge as top-tier PR professionals, including Lauren Rumsey, Emily White, Denise DiMeglio, Katie Nicolai, Meg Fayen, and Meredith Bogner.

We’re currently screening applicants for our summer 2011 internship program. It’s been fun, and we’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of smart and enthusiastic individuals looking to jumpstart their PR careers.

Then there were a couple of individuals who, let’s just say, unfortunately just didn’t make the grade. So in time for the summer intern season, here is my “stupidest things you should never say during a PR intern interview” list:

Q: Where would you like to be in next five years?

A: “I want to work until I can become a stay-at-home-mom.” Memo to interviewee: Most employers are looking for the career-oriented. So are we.

Q: Why do you want to work in a PR agency?

A: “So I can launch my own wedding planning business.” I hear David’s Bridal is hiring. You would be much better off at an events management company than a PR firm.

Q: What do you hope to get out of this internship?

A: “Some money so I can go to law school.” Honey, lawyers are just about as far away from PR people as Lady Gaga is from John McCain. Like most employers, we are looking for employees who are passionate about our industry and want to stay in it.

Q: What’s your greatest weakness?

A: “I get distracted easily.” Wait, are you texting during this interview? What few people know about PR is that it requires an ability to stay on point and on message, regardless of the distractions.

Q: What’s your GPA?

A: “I’m not really into grades.” Good thing, because our clients aren’t either. There’s no real answer here. If you go to school for four years and blow that time partying and playing instead of studying in your chosen field, there’s no saving grace. For employers, GPAs are one of the few ways to tell if a young person right out of college knows how to manage time and successfully compete.

Q: Why do you want to leave Florida?

A: “I am really tired of the whole Latino thing.” Thanks for letting us know you’re such an open-minded, cultured kind of person. Let’s face it, there are thousands of reasons for wanting to move. This isn’t one of them.

Q: You understand this is a paid internship and that we’re looking to extend offers for full-time employment to those interns who excel here this summer?

A: “I don’t know how that would work around my graduate school plans in psychology.” Gotcha. We just hate it when someone goes on and on about wanting to be in PR and then tips their hand that they really want some other career, in some other field.

Q: What are your greatest weaknesses?

A: “I care too much about my work.” Wait, didn’t Dwight say that last night on “The Office?” Tell us about a real weakness, but then explain how you are overcoming it. “At the outset of college, I hated speaking in front of people. So I forced myself to always be the one to present to the class. After a few times, I felt more comfortable and got an A in a public speaking class.” That answer demonstrates self-awareness and an ability to improve yourself.

Q: Are you moving from North Jersey to Philly for the summer?

A: “My mom and I share a car but she won’t mind me using it to commute two hours.” Oh yeah she will. Better have your living arrangements down pat before interviewing. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Q: So what is it that you think we do here in a public relations firm?

A: “You relate to the public.” Ah young, Skywalker, you don’t get points for restating the question in a new order. Do some research. Go to Wikipedia. Learn as much as possible about the craft before you interview.

So take heed. Come late summer 2011, we will again be interviewing interns for fall 2011. You’re forewarned. Stay on top of your interviewing game, and stay off next season’s list.

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