I tried to see if there was a trend among the good candidates and the students/young pros I didn’t think would be a good fit.
There did seem to be a trend, in fact.
But before I give you the answer, here is a small list of things I do not want to hear from a candidate, either in an interview or on social media. (And if you think I didn’t find everyone’s Twitter and other public social media accounts, you’re crazy.)
- In a tweet: “Why do I need to learn world history—by June I’ll be a PR pro.”
- “I run a Twitter account for my uncle’s business, but don’t have my own—I don’t have anything interesting enough to say.”
- In response to “What if your executive didn’t have the bandwidth to handle X, Y, and Z?”: “Just reiterate to them the importance of the project and they really must do it.”
My initial gut responses to each of the above were along the lines of:
- “Because if you ever want to work in technology, fashion, the arts, manufacturing or any field of PR which includes elements beyond your own backyard, it is vital to have some kind of reference point for your clients’ business.”
- “You don’t have anything worthwhile to say? On any topic?”
- “Don’t tell me to completely ignore the obstacle. Tell me ways to go around it.”
Inquisitiveness is the key trait I found in good candidates, but many students lack it. Inquisitiveness is why I would rather hire a liberal arts student than a PR student.
Full disclosure: I hold a Liberal Arts B.A. Fuller disclosure: It doesn’t have to be a liberal arts degree—humanities, multiple majors, unrelated minors, etc., all count for this purpose. Fullest disclosure: Of course PR students can be inquisitive, but it’s not a given.
A liberal arts student—besides usually having dealt with intense writing requirements—demonstrates a level of inquisitiveness that goes unmatched. This peculiar student chose an educational path that does not guarantee a job and involves studying all kinds of material: literature, history, philosophy, art, and so on. This student achieves a level of competency in all of these areas with the skills to dive deeper if needed.
I can teach someone to “be social,” to work with the client, to create a media list, to structure a pitch, read basic analytics and more. But I can’t teach someone to want to know things just for the sake of knowing and learning something new. I can’t teach someone to revel in the discovery process. There’s more to a good candidate than what schools teach in a PR classroom.
The next candidate that comes in and mentions she read this post, or any post of mine, gets extra inquisitiveness points.
Nathan Burgess is an account supervisor at Bliss Integrated Communication where he counsels B2B clients in the development of social media and digitally-based marketing programs. He also is editor and publisher of the PRBreakfastClub blog, where a version of this article originally ran. This article first appeared on Ragan.com on November 2011.