How to Find a Great PR Hire
This is a guest post by Holly Regan, managing editor of Software Advice.
As our PR role has evolved here at Software Advice, so has our hiring process. We’ve learned a lot about what qualities and capabilities make someone great for this position, how to identify these characteristics in candidates and how to get them on board. So I spoke with our Director of Marketing, Houston Neal, to discover some of the tactics that work for us–and could help your company hire for PR more effectively, too.
What to Look For
Obviously, there are a few qualities that any successful PR person must possess: communication skills; attention to detail; extroverted personality; and the ability to effectively sell, to name a few. Thus, many of the characteristics that make for an effective PR specialist are simply twists on the old classics.
Every company is different, and the necessary core competencies for your PR specialists will vary depending on your business, your market and the role you’re trying to fill. But to give you an idea, here’s what we look for when hiring PR people:
- Competitive nature and drive to succeed. Our PR people are financially-driven and aspire to be the best. They’re eager to succeed, and are highly motivated by the opportunity to grow our business and their career. They compete with themselves by setting goals, and have the intrinsic motivation to crush them–and they help their teammates do the same.
- Thick skin and persistence. They aren’t afraid to make cold calls or jump on email, and are willing to be persistent when the first answer they hear is “no.” No job is left unfinished, no matter how difficult. Rather than being crushed by criticism, they accept it as an opportunity to improve; they aren’t easily discouraged.
- Focus on execution. Our PR people genuinely care about getting stuff done, and do not tolerate missed deadlines or procrastination. They are proactive and self-motivated: you won’t have to tell them twice to complete a task or assignment. They’re always moving things forward.
- An outgoing, charismatic personality. These professionals know how to win friends and influence people. They are outgoing, personable and charismatic: they can establish trust and rapport and build strong relationships with industry experts. We find that prior sales or fundraising experience helps with this.
- Tech- and Web-savviness. Obviously, PR people must know how to use a computer efficiently. They can quickly differentiate between low-quality (or “spammy”) and high-quality Web design, Web content and Web marketing tactics. They can answer their own technical questions, and are comfortable in Web page source code.
- Maintain high standards. They are willing to sacrifice individual achievements for the greater good of the company, when necessary. They expect only the highest-quality work from themselves and their team, and are genuinely frustrated when that is not achieved. They also uphold a high ethical standard, and are honest and forthright.
- Organization and efficiency. Our PR professionals have a zest for using and maintaining rigorous, repeatable organizational systems. They are attentive to detail, with an eagle eye for spelling, punctuation and grammar. And they are efficient workers, capable of producing significant output with minimal wasted effort.
Again, the specific core competencies you’re looking for will depend upon the role you’re hiring for–and an effective PR team requires a balance of roles and responsibilities.
How to Identify Them
Once you know which qualities you’re looking for, how do you identify them in candidates? We follow The A Method in all our recruiting efforts: it works well for us, but there are plenty of effective hiring methods out there. The important thing is to adopt a rigorous and structured approach that allows your company to consistently evaluate candidates, identify the “A Players” and get them to join your team.
Through the A Method, candidates must complete a series of three interviews in succession in order to receive an offer. The first is a brief phone interview, meant to eliminate all obviously unqualified candidates. Next is a comprehensive in-person interview, exclusively focused on work and academic history and performance. The final in-person interview allows several members of your team a chance to discover whether the candidate has the required core competencies. Finally, a reference check and discussion with the candidate’s former employers is conducted.
Of course, it’s one thing to speak with candidates and their former employers about past performance–and another to see it in action. In order to identify essential skills that can’t be proven through conversation alone, you must test your candidates.
How to Test Them
When hiring for PR, we put candidates’ tech and Web skills to the test. This includes, for example, the ability to quickly build an online media list and craft well-written pitches to that list. Of course, there are many ways to test people, and the test you use will depend upon the position you’re hiring for, what your company does and what market you’re in. As an example, here’s our general testing process:
- Give them a typical project or campaign. This could be promoting a piece of content, a new product or the thought leaders at our company: the point is to let candidates do what they would be doing every day, if hired.
- Run through the campaign step-by-step. We accompany candidates through each step of the campaign. This could include everything from finding media targets, identifying the appropriate people to contact, writing drafts of email pitches and more.
- Observe how they work. When testing candidates, we watch how they work. PR people must know their way around a computer and be able to find information online quickly. We also look for the ability to quickly decide if a site is high-quality or relevant, and how quickly candidates can find the right person to contact. It’s surprising how much you can learn during this process to help inform your hiring decisions.
The Final Step
After candidates successfully complete their test, we invite them to spend “a day in the life” with their potential team. Here, candidates sit in with some of the team’s top performers, observe the work they do, get feedback and ask questions. This not only gives the team an idea of how the candidate might handle daily responsibilities, it also lets the candidate see firsthand if the role is something they actually want to do every day. Taking this extra step can help reduce turnover and ensure that everyone has a clear idea of what’s expected.
The PR field is constantly changing, and you may find that, over time, what you’re looking for in candidates may evolve, as well. You may also find you want to specialize within your team and within the role to keep up with the shifting demands of PR. But if you identify the core competencies your team members need, follow a rigorous and consistent approach to hiring and test candidates on their key abilities, you’re on your way to building a dynamic and capable team that can help you grow your business.
Regan is a Managing Editor at Software Advice, where she blogs on a variety of topics related to small business. Born and raised in Seattle, she has a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Political Science from the University of Washington. She moved to Austin, Texas in 2009, and is here to stay. Her writing has appeared online in The New York Times and The Huffington Post.
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