It’s that time of the year again — students are getting scheduled for interviews from companies and organizations for summer internships. I’ve been involved in enough interviews, both on the interviewee and interviewer side, to know a thing or two about how to get prepared.
At the Red Cross current interns are allowed to sit in on the interviews for the next batch of interns and ask questions. Our interviews are usually pretty laid back unless I am trying to intimidate the candidate by acting really intense. We ask questions about the applicants past work experience/PR classes and what part of communications and marketing they enjoy. Most of the people that I helped screen for the internship were driven candidates and had a great resume and personality. However, there was always one question that everyone seemed to mess up:
“What do you think about the programs and services that the Red Cross offers here in Chicago?”
Boom. An uncomfortable squirm and a half-hearted “I actually don’t know what the Red Cross does on a local level” was almost always the answer. You can imagine my smile dropping right here.
Why aren’t you researching the company you want to work for?
No seriously. Why aren’t you researching before an interview? Or even before you send in your application? How do you even know that this internship would be a good fit for you? You don’t.
Whether you are applying to work at a public relations agency or at a non-profit organization, there is almost always a difference between the work done at headquarters and the satellite office you are applying for. An easy of example of this is looking at the Red Cross. While it is assumed that we respond to large scale disasters, this is not the main relief that we offer in Chicago. The Chicago Red Cross responds to 3-4 fires a day, works closely with International Services connecting families together, is piloting a virtual International Humanitarian Law class, and has an extremely hefty preparedness department. We do not operate in a “hospital setting” and we do not fly our interns to international disasters. One look at our website will tell you all of this and more yet no one seems to take the initiative to read up on local programs.
If you are applying to a PR/AD agency, know that the office you are going to be working for might represent more tech or health care clients than the one in New York. Also, know if there are any new clients. Check press releases that are conveniently located on the agency website. This is not a game of hide and seek.
It’s the age of social stalking. You don’t have to pretend like you don’t do it because everyone knows you do. As Mark Zuckerberg would say, the age of privacy is over. Now I am not saying look up every employer in the office you are applying to, Google their name and create an excel spreadsheet recording links to all of their social media sites along with their past jobs and restaurants that they frequent on the weekends. That’s my process for finding a man (kidding… but I really try to date guys that have a LinkedIn profile). However, you should be checking out the LinkedIn profiles of employers at the company, especially if you know that you will be interviewing with them or that you would be working directly with them. Checking out their Twitter feed and blog wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Values/Corporate Social Responsibility
If you don’t know the values, mission and corporate social responsibility programs that the company you are applying to supports, how do you know if it is going to be a work environment that you can relate to? Even if CSR is not something that you really care about, you should know what the company advocates. Employees embody company values and with today’s social media presence hanging onto employee-company relations, it is always a good idea to know what type of company you will be representing.
Remember, good public relations is founded on in-depth research. Don’t let your lack of knowledge on the company defer your chances of getting the dream job. Good luck to everyone who is applying and interviewing for summer internships and full time positions! Please see The Oatmeal’s “The 6 Crappiest Interview Questions” for a good start on prepping for the big interview.