getting the pr job… The Toughest Interview Question that Shouldn’t Have Surprised Me by Janet Krenn

After I heard my interviewer pose the question, I felt stupid at not having thought of it during my interview practice. This question might easily be called a “classic”… or was it?

The Question

I was interviewing to work with an environmental agency, and I just told the interviewing committee that I was drawn to the mission of the organization. In short, I lobbed one at them.

“Clearly, you sound like you’d make a great advocate of our organization. But as a PR person, how do you balance advocacy with nonbias?”

For the first time during the interview, I sputtered. I should have seen that one coming, right? Journalism walks the nonbias line, and so PR does as well, if only by proxy.

Bias never became a problem with my PR activities in the past, but why?

I reasoned out an answer, admitting I was an advocate and adding I suppose bias never was a problem for me in the past because I don’t try to deceive anyone.

But I went home wondering, was there something in the question that I was missing? Did this question contain some trick that I missed, being a recent convert to the PR industry? This seemed plausible, as this was my first interview for a PR-specific position.

Consulting the Professionals

I decided to seek advice from our National PRSA LinkedIN group. The members of the National PRSA Group are very active, and very eager to help new professionals sort through their questions. I’ve posted to that group before and was never disappointed with the volume and quality of helpful responses.

Several professionals were kind enough to respond, including Alice Hohl who said, “I don’t think it’s really a valid question to ask of a PR person. Someone who is totally objective is not advocating for either side. That’s not really our role. That’s the role of the reporter…”

Other professionals confirmed her view, and made me feel better about the situation.

So, What Did We Learn?

How valuable is it to remain relaxed during an interview! Sure, I was nervous–and working on 4 hours of sleep on an overnight flight–but I was in control of my anxiety, and when the question of advocacy vs. nonbias came up, I showed I could think on my feet. (In the end, I was offered the position.)

You simply cannot predict every question you will get in an interview. Sometimes, you might think you should tell your interviewers what they “want” to hear. By the way the question was phrased, I was on guard, wondering if I soiled my integrity. If I was too nervous, I might have started backtracking. But remaining calm and relaxed allowed me to respond this left field question.

What Was the Toughest Question You Ever Got in and Interview?

I’m sure I’m not alone in getting tough questions during interviews! Leave some of the toughest interview questions you’ve ever received in the comments of this article. Between us, I bet we could build quite the list of interesting questions.

JANET A. KRENN is Communication Co-Chair of the New Professionals Section of PRSA. If you’re a member of the New Professionals Section, and you’d like to contribute to the New Pros’ blog, email her at janetqs(at)gmail dot com