Behind the interviewee’s mask

We’re on a big recruitment drive at the moment, so I’m interviewing lots of candidates. In general, PR consultants are good at being interviewed – they’re articulate, organized, current and polished. They are natural presenters and (self-)promoters.

I always say to candidates that an interview is a two way process. For it to be successful both parties must be candid about their capabilities, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses. For the right candidates, my agency offers excellent career opportunities, a global perspective and a highly competitive package. But our agency is an ambitious meritocracy full of talented, hard-working, motivated urbanites. Not everyone in public relations wants to be aboard that rollercoaster agency environment. And that’s fine by me, as long as we agree that in the interview, rather than twelve or twenty-four months down the line.

When it comes to interviews, I believe that no deal is better than a painful break up after a year or so. And so our relationship needs to start on the right footing – one based on a candid discussion during the interview.

Which brings me to a wrong assumption that many PR candidates make. They’re great presenters, and that’s what I meet; a presentation of what they think I want to hear, rather than what they are truly looking for. It’s the equivalent of the guy in the nightclub claiming to be a daredevil fighter pilot to chat up girls. Sure, it might work, but it’s a short-term strategy. She soon finds out he’s an accountant. And one day, the PR consultant will wake up and admit they don’t like technology or aren’t interested in the media, or find agency life too fast-paced. All those things are fine, just fine, but it’s so much better for both parties to have done that soul-searching and career planning before taking a position, rather than later down the line. Don’t make a career of one night stands.

So my advice to those who are considering a new position during 2005, is to think carefully about the sphere you want to work in, whether agency or in-house is best, and then what type of agency (independent or conglomerate, boutique or behemoth, global or local) fits your style. Then be honest in the interview. The interviewer doesn’t want to see the polished façade, they want to meet you.