Using your portfolio to ace an interview


As we enter summer, there are often good PR jobs up for grabs and it is crucial to stand out from the crowd.  Ensuring you interview well is essential.

As someone who does a lot of interviewing, take it from me that it can often be hard work to keep the conversation going.  A nervous or shy candidate, or someone who hasn’t taken the time to think about how they are going to sell their skills and practice talking about themselves, can make an interview really drag.  So a great way to help overcome the nerves without being over the top is to have a strong portfolio to present at the interview.  This immediately gives you a structure to talk about your skills and successes, plus, if done properly, it can make you memorable and give you the edge over the competition.

It is well known that the portfolio is the shop window for a candidate, so thinking about both presentation and content is essential:

The Folder

Buy something modern and eye-catching to hold your work that has stand out and a bit of style, but at the same time make it professional.  An A4 or A3 folder with plastic inserts is a good start.  The inserts will help to keep your work clean and tidy as well as lay out the work clearly.  Obviously it also has to be neat and fresh without scribbles or coffee rings all over it!  Keeping the work grouped logically will also help you talk about each project or role and will show how well organised you are.

Demonstrate planning

Using the portfolio to show how you have planned and executed a PR campaign or project will also underpin not just your writing skills and the ability to get coverage, but will also confirm that you are good to work with.  So for a campaign, include a copy of your PR plan, a release and other written material and then copies of some coverage and outcomes. Create a snapshot of how the campaign worked and why it was good.  If you are new to PR, use a similar approach to a project or job you have worked on while at university.

Be honest

When recruiting at graduate level, I would never expect candidates to have done ALL the work themselves.  It is perfectly normal to have written a release that was amended or to have played a role within the team that implemented the campaign.  So be honest about how much of the work you did, and be clear about your role and how it helped the team as a whole.  If you wrote the first draft of the release, but it was not the final version that was sent out – which is perfectly normal – then put both releases in so you can talk through the approval process and what you learned.  It stands out a mile when someone claims to have done everything when it is clear they have not.

Show variety and spread

In the digital age it is a good idea to demonstrate your social media skills as well as the ability to achieve print coverage.  If you secured blog coverage, great RTs or online reviews, put them in too.  Strengths across all social media channels are valuable to potential employers, so be sure you can demonstrate that you are active, that you understand the value of the various media and that you are ahead of trends. This shows a diversity of approach and is part of the value in the overall campaign results.  You might also want to include some evaluation statistics too.

Inspire me

If I want to see how someone will work within a team, understand their creativity and recognise their potential value to my company, a portfolio should be inspiring.  I still remember the successful ones: they achieved stand out, were different and definitely inspiring.  One particular online portfolio, creatively presented as part of the application process, was so impressive and different that it immediately secured the candidate an interview, and subsequently earned him a job.  Similarly, those who have researched the company, identified the clients they might work on and reflected that in a tailored and relevant portfolio, are very valuable.  So make your portfolio a living thing by giving it some thought and some pzzazz!

Show you can write

Writing well is so important in our industry.  Even if you are a graduate and do not have much PR experience, just being able to show you can write will help you get that edge.  I have talked before about creating a blog as part of your job search strategy, so if you are doing that, you could print off some of the blog and put that into the portfolio.  You might even bring your tablet with links to online coverage and blog material ready to show in real time.  Think about the kind of writing you would be required to do in a PR job: releases, reports, emails, brochures, blogs or even tweets.  Then just ensure you cover them all off in some way.

Work it

When you are satisfied you have a really good portfolio, you should practice by talking it through with friends, contacts or even just on your own with the mirror.  Think about what you want to say about each section and ensure you highlight the best bits.  It is essential to go through what questions you might be asked and what your responses would be.  When you come to present it, you want it to appear effortless, professional and at least in control of your nerves.

The plum jobs are out there at the moment – so if you want to get ahead of the game and find the perfect PR job, you have to work it!


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