Interview with a PR Pro: Deirdre Breakenridge, Part I
Written by Mandy Boyle, graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional
If you’ve read the Young Professionals Guide to Internship Interviews, congrats! You’re well on your way to being prepared for that first foray into the communications industry – but let’s take things a step further.
I recently had the opportunity to get some insight from one of the best communicators in the biz and I can’t wait to share her interview.
Deirdre Breakenridge is the author of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations and PR 2.0 New Media, New Tools, New Audiences. She is the President of Mango!, a hybrid marketing agency, speaks internationally on PR and social media and blogs at PR 2.0 Strategies. Oh yes, and she actively contributes to the #PRStudChat on Twitter. If there’s on PR pro you want to ask about what it takes to succeed as an intern in communications, it’s definitely Deirdre.
When I asked Deirdre to give some insight into how interns can make the right impressions during interviews, I was amazed at all of the great tips she gave and simply had to share. (My questions are in bold).
First off, it’s fabulous that you donate so much of your time toward educating young PR professionals. Is this something you feel all communications professionals should do?
Yes, giving back to a profession, which has given so much to us, is imperative to the growth of our industry. Communications professionals will reach a certain point in their careers, and, as busy as they may feel, I believe they need to find the time to educate and invest in students and young professionals (who will be the future leaders in communications).
How can communications professionals help prospective and current interns?
There are several ways that we can help interns, before they come on board for an internship and while they are assisting us. For example, I think it’s great when a practicing professional agrees to an informational interview with a student. You should take the time to give at few hours or more if your schedule permits to discuss the “real” business of PR and communications. You can also have a student shadow you for a day or two. I did this with Mikinzie Stuart, who was a senior at Ferris State University, at the time. Mikinzie visited with me and my agency, Mango!, in March of 2010. She spent a couple of days going to client meetings, participating in conference calls and attending networking events. The learning experience was fantastic for both of us.
The other way to help an intern is on the job training. Show an intern as much as you can about your role and responsibilities within an organization. It’s amazing how much an intern wants to learn and how he/she can get involved. It’s up to you to make sure that the intern is included in daily PR/communications activities. It’s also important to remember that interns are on board to get as much experience as possible. However, without support, guidance and helpful critique, they will not know if they are succeeding in their training. Be open and honest, and let them know when they are doing well and what needs improvement. It’s best for interns to learn early on about the gift of criticism, especially as they grow in their careers.
Now, what kinds of experience do you look for in a prospective intern?
With respect to experience, I look at an intern’s involvement in school projects, how he/she gets involved in activities beyond the classroom and also what he/she has done with respect to other internship programs. Regardless of their educational experience or extra curricular activities, if they exhibit a passion to learn, and have the drive and determination to help, then this attitude will definitely open doors.
Name five traits you look for in every applicant.
The five traits I look for in every applicant include:
- Strong drive and positive energy
- Good speaking skills
- Good writing skills
- Passion to learn
Now on to resumes. Should resumes be on paper or digital? Do interns need to send a cover letter?
I think that you still need a cover letter and at times, a paper copy of your resume (depending on the individual preference of the interviewer). For example, it’s great to send a digital copy of your resume, when you first get a point of contact within my agency. We’ll pass along the digital copy of the cover letter/resume to review the prospect’s information. But, if you are interviewing with me in person, I don’t mind reviewing the print version of your resume too, which gives me insight into how you present your capabilities (right down to the paper you choose). Now, that doesn’t mean printing multiple copies (I do like to save the trees). I just want to evaluate how you handle the traditional and digital presentation or your qualifications.
Is it best to email a resume or mail a physical copy?
It’s best to provide a preview of your resume digitally before mailing or presenting a physical copy in person. There is no sense in sending a paper version, if the digital copy doesn’t spark interest.
Have you ever had an applicant send you a video CV or other creative introduction?
I don’t think I’ve ever had an intern send a video CV or another type of creative introduction. I would welcome any kind of creativity to get my attention, as long as it’s wrapped with the five traits that I mentioned above, and these traits really shine through.
OK, so a prospect has made the cut and it’s time for the interview. What should the prospective intern be doing before the interview?
Great question and very valuable for the prospective intern to learn. If the individual makes the cut, then he/she should schedule the interview with enough time to do plenty of homework on the company and the interviewer. The homework should include researching the following:
1. The company’s website
2. The company blog
3. Recent publicity on the company or news about the industry
4. Executive profiles (the key players in the firm)
5. The person who they are interviewing with (so if it’s me you should check out my author’s blog, PR 2.0 Strategies, as well as read the write-ups on my books to get the gist of what they are about).
6. A few of the company’s clients, partners, and/or associations, if they are included on the website
Try to find out as much intelligence as you can and even ask questions to show interest in what you’ve researched. This always opens my eyes to someone who takes the time to learn, even before they get the internship position.
How can an intern make a good first impression when he or she walks into the interview?
The best way to make a good impression is your overall appearance and presentation of information. You should be professionally dressed (at least until you know the organization and the dress code) and be very organized with your materials. Walking in with confidence and sharing materials that are neatly arranged in a portfolio show a sense of pride in your work. When you come in disorganized, it could be a reflection on your future performance.
In addition, a good strong handshake and a friendly smile really says a lot too, in terms of your confidence and personality.
Can you give some examples of questions you always ask in interviews?
A few of the questions you can expect from me are:
- What do you want to learn from this internship?
- Why did you select our company?
- How do you handle deadlines and a fast paced environment?
- Can you handle multiple tasks? Give me an example of a challenging situation where you’ve managed several things at once (this could be personal or a school project).
- Who has influenced you the most in your life?
- How do you think you can help us?
What about dress code for the interview? Should all interns go with a standard black suit or should they feel free to show off some personality?
I’m not sure it matters if it’s a black suit, a blue suit or a brown one. It’s the overall professional presentation. You could be wearing small checks or stripes, as long as your appearance is neat and you look prepared. In addition, your personality will come through in many ways, from the colors in your outfit, right down to the shoes that you wear. I also think a big part of your personality is realized when you look someone in the eyes, give a friendly smile, and extend your hand for a handshake.
Have you seen any interns who have crossed the line in terms of dress code?
I’ve seen interns cross the line by dressing down for their first interview. For example, if you dress like it’s a summer Friday, you risk not being prepared for your first meeting. It could also be a day when the entire office is wearing suits, because a corporate client is visiting the offices. At Mango!, even though we are a fun, progressive communications agency (so yes, jeans and black work well with us), you just never know who will be stopping by, on any given day. As a best practice, you should dress for success until someone explains the dress code to you.
Stay tuned for Part II of the interview with Deirdre Breakenridge next Monday!
Mandy Boyle is a graduate student and freshly-minted communications professional. As a Search Engine Optimization Specialist for Solid Cactus and published freelance writer, Mandy is no stranger to compelling storytelling. When she’s not at her laptop or in the classroom, you can usually find her in the kitchen. Cupcakes are her specialty. Follow Mandy on Twitter at @mandyboyle or visit her website (http://mandyboyle.com).