Ace Your Next Interview by Avoiding These 3 Mistakes

June 1, 2016


I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing lately as I’ve moved into more managerial roles. And, to be brutally honest, I’ve been shocked at how many candidates botch interview practices that I thought were common knowledge. I’ve sat through multiple candidates making what I thought were well-known faux pas in the interviewing world. (Not just being late. Never be late!)

I’m here to save you the time spent on discussions that will go nowhere if you make the following three mistakes:

Not having an elevator pitch

Usually, the first prompt I give when interviewing is: “Tell me about yourself.” Those who aren’t prepared for this question will dive into their full résumés, line-by-line, rambling over all of the positions they’ve ever held. Ten minutes later, I still have no clue what their focus is and whether the role would be a good fit for them.

This exercise isn’t meant to cover your entire work history — it’s to obtain a high-level snapshot of your background and experience, why you’re looking for a new role and why you’re interested in the role for which you’re interviewing.

Keep it short — being concise goes a long way in public relations — and practice your pitch before the interview so that you can highlight what is most important for the job that you’re going after. Give the interviewer the opportunity to ask questions!

Telling, not showing

When asked what your experience is in a certain area, whether it’s building media relationships or managing social channels, never just say that you’ve done this as part of a previous job. Don’t just state: “I have experience in running my previous client’s Twitter account.” By saying that you have experience, you aren’t giving me any proof points to believe that you’ve actually done this. To show that you have experience, give specific examples in the PAR format — problem, action, result — also known as the STAR technique. (But I’ve found PAR to be easier to remember.) What was the specific problem or task that you were given, what was the action that you took (and why), and what was the end result?

PR professionals are results-driven, so demonstrating how you’ve achieved your goals and projects goes a long way. Even if the question isn’t necessarily open-ended, always provide concrete examples with real results to back up any responses that you give.

Not asking questions

I’ve saved this mistake for last, but it’s probably my biggest pet peeve when interviewing. If an interviewee doesn’t have any questions for me at the end of the interview, then it’s an automatic decline for me. Not asking questions tells me that the interviewee either hasn’t researched the company enough to come up with intelligent questions or that they just aren’t very interested in the position.

Even if a previous interviewer answered all your questions in a previous round, you should ask questions of every person with whom you speak. Ask different questions. Ask the same questions. It doesn’t matter. Each interviewer will have a different perspective on a question that can be valuable in your decision of whether or not the role and company are a good fit for you.

Questions that you can ask every interviewer include: describing company culture, what their role is in the company, how they got into that role, and what they love or would change about it. These types of questions are very telling about a company, regardless of what the specific position entails.

Learn from candidates who have gone before you. Avoid these missteps to help you ace the next interview and be first choice out of the candidate pool.

Heather Sliwinski
Heather Sliwinski is the PR lead at 6SensorLabs, a San Francisco-based tech startup. She is the immediate past chair of PRSA’s New Professionals Section. Sliwinski graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in journalism and mass communications and a certificate in business.


Grant Holmes says:

Good points all. As someone on the other side, it's very frustrating to have the panel act like they're really not that interested. They have the candidate they want and are going through the motions to say they did their due diligence. Recently, I drove HOURS for an interview and the head of the department asked, "Will you be moving here to take the position?" REALLY? Mindless. Most frustrating on my side is your last point. I have 10-15 questions on my list. We'll say half are common (what's corp culture like, etc) and the other half are job specific and show I've researched the company/position. Too often I've gone through 60 minutes or more of the panel interview, done the required presentation, etc. only to be asked if I have any questions. I always ask about corp culture first. I usually get to one or two more questions that they answer. Then the frustrating part; "Do you have any more questions?" said with the obvious point of: we have other stuff to do and if you'd wrap, we'd like to get to it. I've given them 60-90 minutes of everything they've asked and now they're losing patience with me after maybe 3-4 minutes? Just a thought to those that interview.

Aug. 2, 2016

Skye Gonzalez says:

Well said Heather, I often assume this is common knowledge too, but most don't take these recommendations into consideration. Great read!

Sept. 26, 2016

Julie Waters says:

Heather, thanks for these great tips! On your third point: I always have prepared questions but have found that often time runs out at the end of the session, and, per Grant's comment, the panel is already tuning out. Instead, I try to get my questions in throughout the interview, either as followup or as an opportunity to move the conversation in a direction that favors my strengths for the position. A more conversational interview is more engaging for both sides and, I hope, makes me a more memorable candidate.

Sept. 27, 2016

Adrienne Fairwell, APR says:

Overall good article, Heather. I agree with all but one of the points. The final point you make about asking questions being your biggest pet peeve isn't something that should necessarily knock a candidate out of the running for a position. In my humble opinion, this is a scenario that should be a case-by-case call after each interview session. I think asking questions is necessary when either there are points that have been missed or if there is a need for clarification. I don't believe a candidate should ask questions just to satisfy a pet peeve, and, I'm hopeful that you haven't discounted a potential good fit for your organization based on the above.

Sept. 27, 2016

Gabrielle Boyd says:

Thanks for this! I followed the PAR technique after reading this and found it SO helpful. I always try to follow STAR, but PAR was easier to remember.

Sept. 27, 2016

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