Platform: Please spare me another people person - Too many graduates, especially those with degrees in PR, have poor A level results and little business sense, says Gareth Zundel

I am a little weary after this year’s round of graduate recruitment interviews. The homogenous nature of application letters and CVs is becoming almost suspicious (has someone written a book called How to bluff your way in job applications?) And if I come across another candidate hell bent on a career in PR on account of being a ’people person’ I shall scream.

I am a little weary after this year’s round of graduate recruitment

interviews. The homogenous nature of application letters and CVs is

becoming almost suspicious (has someone written a book called How to

bluff your way in job applications?) And if I come across another

candidate hell bent on a career in PR on account of being a ’people

person’ I shall scream.



As candidates talk more about relationships than business, I have a

growing suspicion that PR is being seen as the cleaner, more respectable

side of a grubby commercial world. Perhaps students feel that a PR job

title has a built in apology for being in business rather than one of

professions.



What we employers want is candidates who seek PR as a means of realising

a commercial career, not escaping from one. I have just completed a

process which began with 300 CVs, proceeded to 60 telephone interviews,

30 face-to-face interviews, seven interviews and finally three job

offers. Within the written applications, good old-fashioned commercial

nous was seldom visible. We were showered with the usual qualities: a

good communicator, a good organiser, enthusiastic and yes, a people

person. No candidates stated that they wanted to be part of the

profitable growth of the agency, few saw their role as facilitating the

commercial growth or profitability of their clients.



Future account managers and directors will need commercial awareness to

the point of a real passion for what makes a business tick. Experience

has shown that teaching this awareness, nurturing this passion is a

virtually impossible task.



Given the uncanny similarity of graduate application letters, I always

take time to test a candidate’s commercial spirit at the interview

stage.



My question: ’would you say you are a commercial animal?’ is usually met

with incredulity. Perhaps they feel the question belittles their worthy

aspirations. Perhaps they think it’s a trick. But just occasionally they

shrug their shoulders and say: ’Yes, I think I probably am’. Music to my

ears.



Then comes the thorny problem of identifying the good brains. In my

experience, degree classification is less than helpful. For one thing,

around 70 per cent of our candidates seem to receive an upper second.

There is the occasional lower second but overall these scores have

proved to be a poor indicator.



Certainly the degree subject is little indication of aptitude or

academic excellence - expect in one disturbing respect: show me a first

degree in media studies or PR and I’ll show you a pretty poor sprinkling

of A levels. Is a degree in PR the refuge of our less gifted students?

In this country the answer certainly seems to be yes. Getting onto a PR

degree course in Australia, on the other hand, ranks alongside a law

degree in terms of the standards you need to achieve at school.



While a BA in PR is a warning signal, so a higher degree or diploma can

be just the opposite. The post-graduate qualifications in PR seem to

spawn excellent candidates: a good grounding in core skills, practical

and commercial.



So, ironically, the brightness test I tend to apply is a quick glance at

A levels. One of the most successful trainee account executives we have

taken on in recent years was an individual who achieved three sparkling

A levels at grade A in ’proper’ subjects (no sociology or media studies

here) and then went on to Oxford where he achieved a limp third. Under

cross questioning he left me in little doubt that he was indeed bright

as a button but couldn’t wait to leave Oxford to get his teeth into

commerce.



More music.



Gareth Zundel is group PR director at Harvard Public Relations.



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