How did I do? Eight questions that applicants should ask at a PR job interview

It's January, which means job boards ploughing money into ad campaigns in an attempt to give us all itchy feet...

There's plenty of advice around about what hiring managers should ask, and how interviewees should respond.

But what should you do when, at the end of an interview - or even sooner - you, the candidate, are given the chance to ask a question?

Here, eight senior comms professionals tell us what would impress them, and what a smart candidate needs to find out.


'Why does half of the PR industry think it's in rude health while the other half is worried about its future?'

Suggested by Jim Hawker, co-founder, Threepipe

He says: "This is important because it would show they had been reading around reports about the vitality of our industry and the role of PR in a growing digital media landscape, and the challenges that this brings."


'How can small start-ups compete with big full-service agencies when it comes to integrated campaigns?'

Suggested by Vanessa Pine, director, Atlas Partners

She says: "It should go without saying that you need to research the company you’re interviewing with, but I’ve been surprised by that lack of consideration some people put into their applications. Ask us something thoughtful about the challenges facing our business and you’ll get our attention. Plus, few people are immune to the pleasure of talking about themselves."


'Can I offer your team a free training session?'

Suggested by Rikki Weir, board director, Cirkle

She says: "Our answer to this was 'Er, yes please!'.

"It was less of a question, more of an offer from a senior digital candidate we were setting up an interview with. It was impressive because we hadn’t yet even met them; because we could then test their mettle in a real-time scenario - with our teams benefitting at the same time; because they used their initiative – sadly still missing from a lot of senior candidates I’ve interviewed; and because they had confidence in their ability as puts them totally under the spotlight. Nice one."


'How have I done?'

Suggested by Chris Blackwood, partner, Third City

He says: "Why this would impress me is that it shows both a confidence and an honesty, as well as being a clear sign that they care about getting the job. There’s nothing worse than interviewing someone that you think is just looking to build up a list of job options.


'How do you see this role evolving as the team/company grows?'

Suggested by Alex Deane, MD and head of public affairs UK, FTI Consulting

He says: "You don’t just want to be a brick in the wall, filling an immediate need without prospects for advancement. This is a good question because it shows that you’re trying to see what your future with them would be like – and it's telling if they don't have a sense of the role beyond the short term.


'I was fascinated to read X about you/your company, how did you deal with that?'

Suggested by Liam Mulvihill, European HR Director, inVentiv Health

He says: "If we have a candidate who shows they have done extensive research, we get excited. Firstly, if it is industry- or company-specific research that enables the individual to ask an insightful or probing question related to an emergent topic.

"But the real bonus points come when it is an emergent or business-relevant issue related to the individual they are interviewing with. For example, if they are in an interview with [European MD] Julie Adrian, something like: 'So Julie, how did you deal with the integrated approach through your client's recent merger?'. Background research on the individual leader, combined with deep knowledge of industry challenges is the real sweet spot."


'What is your current ownership structure - and what are your plans for growth?'

Suggested by Angus Campbell, head of corporate and financial, Stature PR

He says: "With this question, the candidate can get a feel for whether they think the agency is being set up for being sold to a bigger agency so the shareholders can cash out, or whether perhaps it’s one or two founding partners who’ve established the agency and want to really see it grow over the long term and pass onto others to run when they retire.

"In conjunction with this, he or she should never fear asking about what equity share is on offer as part of joining or whether this is something to be discussed at a later date. If at a later date, it's always wise to ensure this is noted in the employment contract."


'How will you support my professional development in the role, as I consider this an opportunity for both me and your organisation to advance?'

Suggested by Laura Sutherland, chief, Aura

She says: "It’s not a question anyone has ever asked me. In my view, applicants need to be thinking about commitment to professional development to demonstrate they want to be the best, which in turn will benefit the business/organisation. Both work hand in hand. It’s also a question that can open up further conversation around others areas, such as growth plans, which may not have already been covered."

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