Thought you left formal writing tests in the college classroom? Think again. In the world of public relations, writing tests are a common hurdle in the job application and interview process. Especially if you’re working on the agency side, prospective employers will want to test your skills and make sure you can do more than string together a few sentences.
As someone who has weathered my share of writing tests, I’m happy to pass along a few tips that have helped me score high marks in this area.
Brush up on AP style.
Arguably the least exciting, but most inevitable, part of an agency writing test is the grammar exercise. This test can include such elementary tasks as revising incorrect sentences, choosing between commonly confused words like affect and effect, or accurately abbreviating dates. Though they sound simple, these exercises can be quite complicated. It’s always a good idea to grab your AP Stylebook and refresh your memory on these basics before you take your writing test.
Be comfortable with different types of PR writing.
An agency writing test might include a number of writing tasks: a press release, an email to a client, an essay on an aspirational brand or even a full-blown communications plan with objectives, tactics and key performance indicators (KPIs). Needless to say, each requires its own approach and style.
To prepare for whatever the writing test may throw at you, revisit your college textbooks. Talk with friends who work in similar PR roles about the types of writing they and their teammates regularly do. Search online for brand examples and case studies. Keep in mind that in this section, your writing does need to be strong technically – but you also need to showcase your strategic thinking and personal approach.
Practice, practice, practice.
You’ve heard this one before, but it’s true. You need to keep writing – every day if you can – to avoid becoming rusty. You can use just about any outlet to practice your writing. Create and maintain your own blog or contribute to a group blog like this one. Practice writing POVs on industry trends you notice. Give yourself writing assignments and produce mock pitches or crisis responses. Have an industry-wise friend or mentor read your samples to ensure you’re hitting all the PR checkpoints and producing clear, concise and brand-appropriate content.
What about you – how have you prepared for writing tests? What has been the most challenging task on a test? What have you learned from taking them?
Keri Cook is an assistant account executive with Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ consumer marketing practice in New York. She graduated from Liberty University with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and writes on topics ranging from media relations to marketing trends, to corporate strategy and crisis communications. While completing her undergrad, Cook was named PRWeek’s 2012 Student of the Year.