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3 Essential Ways to Evaluate Your PR Job Candidates

Erika Heald

Jul 9, 2017

As a hiring manager, you’re not only looking to fill your PR job requisition. You’re also trying to identify PR job candidates who will fit your company’s culture and the role’s demands.

Even when you’ve designed a solid recruitment process, including writing a job description that brings candidates an insider’s view of the job, you can still end up with a new hire that doesn’t work out. Like the PR director who lacks strategic planning and budget management skills. Or the entry-level PR person who can’t write a strong press release or backgrounder. Sometimes, a candidate talks a great game, but doesn’t have the practical skills to deliver.

If candidates who ace interview checkpoints lack what it takes to make the day-to-day job work, how do you filter them out before making an offer? Here are three ways to get a better feel for a candidate’s skills and capabilities before committing to bringing them on.

Conduct Skills Testing During the Interview

A PR professional needs to be able to communicate well at the moment, and on-the-spot. Unfortunately, when you evaluate a portfolio and writing samples, you can’t be sure how much third-party editing and strategy went into it. This makes having on-site skills testing an important part of the interview process. 

A few easy ways to test writing, editing, and business judgment skills include getting a candidate to:

  • Edit a messy first draft of a press release. Insert grammar and spelling errors that a PR pro should be able to zero-in on, such as deviations from AP Style.
  • Draft a media relations pitch. Provide a piece of industry thought leadership authored by an executive, and ask the candidate to compose a pitch, including who they’d target and why.
  • Vet social media content. Compile a collection of good, bad, and ugly social media posts from your company and competitors. Ask the candidate if they would post them or not and why.
  • Respond to social media complaints. Provide the candidate with a handful of actual social media complaints your company has received in the past and ask them how they’d respond or react to them.

It’s important to make sure the candidate knows this test is simply a way for you to get a read on their in-the-moment communications skills. It’s not an attempt to get free work out of them. 

Which brings us to the next testing tactic…

Give the Candidate a Paid Freelance Assignment

Once the candidate has passed your in-person interview and skills test with flying colors, it’s time for a freelance project. If your candidate is currently employed full-time, you’ll want to keep it small. Asking for an evaluation of a specific social media channel would fit the bill. Or, writing a piece of contributed content for a specific publication, with the abstract provided.

If the candidate is a consultant or currently between jobs, you can consider a more significant freelance project, such as putting together a PR plan for a survey or in support of an industry conference sponsorship. However, since your objective is to get the job req. closed, you won’t want it to take place over too long of a timeline.

Make the Position Contract to Hire

I’m sure some of you reading this post just said: “No way would anyone agree to that!” But I can tell you from personal experience many people will—and have—done just that.

Before I took the full-time head of content role at Highwire PR, I worked as a contractor for them over three months to make sure it was a good fit. And I agreed to do that despite having been employed full-time. In fact, if they hadn’t asked if that was a possibility, I would have asked THEM for the trial run. You see, despite having worked as an independent consultant, I had never worked as an agency employee. I wanted to make sure it was the right fit for me before signing on permanently as a full-time employee.

While this may not be possible in all situations, it is a good way to give both the job candidate and the company to see if the fit is there. Often, companies are reluctant to give an unconventional job candidate a chance because the risk is too great. But by having a 90-day contract, either party can walk away at the end of the contract if the fit isn’t there.

There’s still no silver bullet to ensuring you don’t end up with a fly-by-night new hire who can’t meet their job requirements, but building in a series of skills testing into your hiring process decreases the chances of that happening. At the same time, it also helps you narrow your candidate pool. Giving you time to focus on those candidates who are interested in working for your company specifically, versus someone looking to make a quick career change.