I recently had the opportunity to interview twice with Edelman Chicago, and I am happy to report that as of January 2013, I will be a full-time intern under the Media Services division with world’s largest, independent public relations agency!
I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to secure such an opportunity within three weeks of leaving active-duty military service. However, a lot of preparation, research, practice and networking went behind my successful search. After finally completing my first post-Marine Corps employment interview, I’d like to share some of the things I learned, as well as some of the tools that helped me during the pre-interview process, as well as during the interview itself.
Research the company for which your looking to work. Expect questions such as “What made you choose us? Why do you want to work here? What do you know about our company?”
Visit their corporate/company web site. Read, and re-read, their “About Us” or “Who We Are” pages. They usually contain the company’s mission statement, code of ethics, corporate culture, etc., and you should be ready to display your knowledge during the interview.
Stay abreast of current events affecting the company for which you want to work. If you can create and engage in conversation on past, present or future campaigns, accounts or events, the chances of becoming a “likely fit” will increase. The easiest way to do this is to add vital keywords related to the company to your Google alerts or Google news feed.
Find out who your interviewer will be, and research that individual. A simple Google search can pull up education history, previous work experience, and notable achievements, which you can discuss during the interview. You never know, the both of you might be fans of the same sports team, or share the same alma mater!
After you’ve drafted, formatted and edited your resume, invest in quality paper for your resume, and bring a few copies. There are often times when it will not be a one-on-one interview. You can place online orders at places like FedEx Office, and your print job will be ready for pickup within minutes. Resume/executive paper is an option, along with different shades and weights.
Draft and design a portfolio. You need hard-copy, empirical evidence of everything you say you have done in your professional past. I chose my media placements with a combination of screen grabs, placement analyses, PDF printouts of stories in which I was quoted and places where my photos were published. I also included some of my better news and feature articles, blog pieces, press releases/media advisories and even a college PR assignment. I am by no stretch of the imagination a graphic artist, but I used Microsoft Word 2011 to design and format my portfolio.
Some people choose to tape or paste their work on black story boards, or inside scrapbooks. I took my printed all of my selections, bought some color-coded document dividers and took everything to Staples. The reproduction specialists were able to have my work spiral bound and reprinted on double-sided, glossy photo paper with a hard backing and clear cover.
Look your professional best. Shave and shower (common sense, right?) Have breath mints or gum at the ready, and avoid food or coffee before the interview. You don’t want to overpower the executive vice president with Starbucks breath.
Invest in a suit. Nothing too crazy. This isn’t an NBA post-game press conference, so leave the eight-button suits and oversized, hipster glasses at home. For the guys, a simple gray/charcoal or navy suit will do. Add personality with a tie clasp, cufflinks, pocket square and even a cool-looking pair of socks that complement your suit. Remember the style basics, like matching your belt and shoes. Go with laced shoes instead.
Two wise men shared the same piece of advice — BE YOURSELF! Everyone has certain esteem issues, or complexes. However, a job interview is often a new chance to make a first impression. You get to control how you will be perceived. Amplify your best qualities for the interview.
If you have never taken a speech/public speaking class, I highly recommend it.
Maintain equal eye contact with everyone in the room, especially the person asking the question, if you are being interviewed by more than one person.
Monitor your tone, inflection and dialect. If you know that you have a strong New York dialect or Southern drawl, be cognizant of it. My “cawfees” and “wahtah” tend to escape when I am relaxed. If you usually speak at a rapid rate, practice your talking points and mannerisms beforehand. Don’t yell, don’t whisper.
For questions targeting your strengths and weaknesses, be honest. Do not lie and profess certain skills you do not have, like expertise in graphic design or video editing. Don’t give cliche, cheesy answers for weaknesses such as “I work too hard,” or “my weakness is that I have none.” If you can identify a weakness, share on how you plan on improving, or have improved in that area.
Ask questions. Walk into the interview room with prepared questions already in mind. This will display your intuition to your potential employers.
Be willing, ready and able to tell a story. YOUR story. Take advantage of every single question. Address all questions as open-ended. Do not respond with simple yes or no answers.
When the interview is over, do not forget to send thank you notes to each person present at the interview. It’s a small gesture, but one that could be visibly noticed by its absence.
It’s a lot of work for a meeting that may only last 30 to 40 minutes, with no guarantee for a job or intern position offer. You owe it to yourself to control as much of the interview process as you can, and that involves research, presentation and image.