How Not to Get Hired in 7 Easy Steps

October 1, 2014

I’ve been hiring and firing PR professionals since 1986. This article distills much of the core wisdom I’ve extracted from the process of reviewing countless résumés and conducting untold interviews.

1. Miss typos.

Don’t worry if there’s a typo in your résumé or cover letter. In today’s 140-character messaging environment, creative spelling and grammar is a plus.

Actually, no. Nothing will turn off a recruiter or potential employer faster than sloppy spelling, poor grammar, misused punctuation marks and other technical errors in your presentation materials. You can’t proof your own work and spell-check is worthless. Have someone who you trust proofread your piece to catch those little slipups that spell the difference between success and failure.

2. Make it all about yourself.

By all means, make this process all about yourself. Tell me why you’d be thrilled to have this position, how it’s your dream job and how excited you’d be to get it.

You know what, I don’t care. In today’s job market, getting any job in the public relations profession is a cause for personal celebration. Sure, I want you to be a happy employee. But remember I had to fight to get this position even approved. I had to explain to my senior management how filling this position will benefit the company. So don’t make it about you.

Instead, tell me how you’ll solve my problems. Tell me what experience you have that directly relates to what I need. Give me examples of similar work that you’ve done and how it benefited that organization, and show how that relates to the job that you’re applying for.

3. Don’t do your homework.

Come to the interview without a solid understanding of the history of my company, its corporate structure, the business environment we operate in, who our key competitors are and what recent challenges we’ve overcome.

Assume that I will only ask about you and your background. I mean, why should I expect you to have a significant knowledge of where you’re applying to work for a living?

Except, I will. I will ask tough questions. I will assume that you’ve read every news release that we’ve issued in the last three years and that you’ve studied our website. I will probe for a meaningful understanding of our business structure and products. I may even try to trip you up with a trick question, just to see how you react when you get it wrong.

So if you don’t want to look foolish, then be prepared — overprepared.

4. Dress or act inappropriately for the interview.

Sure, drag your Starbucks cup into my office. Don’t wear a suit or business attire. You could even chew gum.

In an interview, it’s not just the body of work that’s under scrutiny. With all of the eager applicants out there, you wouldn’t even be sitting in my office for an interview if I hadn’t already decided that you had the skill set that I need. Now, it’s mostly about you and how you speak, think and act under pressure. Are you charming without being obsequious? Confident without seeming cocky? Does your personal chemistry fit with me and my team?

Leaving the right impression is often more important than the sum of your résumé and experience. You can learn new skills. Personal style and chemistry come from within.

5. Have unprofessional photos and posts on your social-networking sites.

I love seeing pictures of you doing shots on the beach in Cabo on your Facebook page. I love reading tweets where you use bad language or express controversial opinions to the world.

But you need to understand that as soon as you enter the workforce, whether you like it or not, your social platform is linked to my corporate brand. One slip, one stupid post, and it’s not just your behind. It can ignite a social-media firestorm that could ruin years of priceless corporate reputation I’ve struggled to create.

So before you apply, clean up those social channels you’re on, and add a professional LinkedIn profile. Get involved on LinkedIn groups and discussions that relate to you professionally — because I will definitely be looking.

6. Never learn to write a concise sentence.

I know that writing is not your strong suit. Print is dead and social is the future. Everything is now video, digital stills and infographics, so why learn to write?

Writing crystalizes thought. It expresses a clear, undiluted message. It convinces, it motivates, it influences — but only if it’s clean, crisp and tightly constructed. Brevity is the soul of it.

Can you succeed without good writing? Maybe. But you’ll be far ahead of the pack if you can mix social skills with conventional PR writing.

7. Limit your objectives to only one type of job.

Tell me that all you want to do is plan social campaigns and develop content that goes viral. Admit that you have zero interest in old-fashioned media relations. Confide in me that you’re a “numbers” gal and that building analytic reports is your passion.

Well, did you apply for that specific job? In the real world, most entry-level jobs in public relations are for generalists. Sure, once you get hired you can evolve and grow into the kind of role that you envision for yourself, or job-hop to that position.

But for now, you need to learn the business — the whole business. You need to see how public relations plugs into marketing, sales, branding and management. Don’t cut off any future career paths because our profession is changing faster today than hipster fashions in Brooklyn.

David McCarty
David McCarty, director of global public relations for Cook Medical, has been hiring (and firing) PR professionals since 1986. His media and PR experience includes newspaper journalism, PR agency leadership and private consulting. Follow him on Twitter: @mcgroup53


Jacquelyn Goddard says:

Excellent tips for job seekers. Adding also the obvious: show up on time and be prepared to present professional looking business documents including a business card in pristine condition and a copy of your resume on good stock paper.

Oct. 3, 2014

Lowell Ludford, APR, Fellow says:

It would certainly help to be able to say that you are a member of PRSA (or PRSSA),noting chapter name, location and what you've be doing in the chapter.

Dec. 7, 2015

Chad Perry, PhD, Fellow PRSA says:

This article reinforces what I teach in my PR writing courses. Thank you! I tell my students "there is no ME in public relations."

Nov. 11, 2016

Jay Rayburn, APR, CPRC, Ph.D., Fellow PRSA says:

David: This article is so spot-on. I hope you don't mind if I share it with my senior public relations majors. It may very well be the best piece of advice they will have when they start the job search next term.

Nov. 11, 2016

Sallie Olmsted, APR says:

Very concise and complete. I still, in the days of SpellCheck, etc. receive resumes and cover letters where the candidate aspires to a career in pubic relations. SpellCheck does spell the wrong words properly. Add to strong writing, is be sure to send an old school thank you note to those you met with, expressing appreciation, and also re-stating how they can make an immediate contribution at the company.

Dec. 7, 2016

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