Tag Archives: recruitment

What makes a good PR internship?

INTERNS (1)Not all PR internships are created equal.  Some PR firms, and in-house comms teams, offer really fabulous internship experiences for students and graduates but there are others that are really below par and a disappointing experience for the intern.  I imagine they don’t add much value to the company either.  So here’s my quick and easy guide to offering a really solid PR internship for PR employers.

Why are you doing it?
What are you hoping to get out of offering interns experience?  Some firms like to use it as a tester before they hire junior staff, some feel that it’s their responsibility to help grow good talent for the industry so do it because they think they should, and some are really busy and need extra pairs of hands to help and interns are a good short-term gap fill for that.  All of those reasons are really valid, but you need to make it clear when hiring interns what your reasons are and whether there is any real prospect of a permanent role (or the opportunity to apply for one) at the end of the placement.

Should you pay interns?
The short answer is, yes.  Interns should be paid at least minimum wage by law* although it seems some companies haven’t quite grasped that idea.  Be aware that HMRC are clamping down on employers who don’t pay interns and there can be a hefty fine involved if your company is found to be employing them for less than they are legally entitled to.  Travel and expenses is not enough I’m afraid – they need to be paid properly. Both the CIPR and PRCA have campaigned for properly paid PR interns and it can affect your membership of both organisations if it’s found you are taking on unpaid workers.

*The exceptions to this is if they are volunteering to work for a charity with no benefits in kind (so no promise of a job at the end of it, for example), if they are undertaking a student placement for less than a year or if they are purely shadowing an employee – that means not working for the company at all and only observing.

How long should internships be?
This is pretty much up to you but I would suggest that anything less than a month is a bit of a waste of time for both parties.  It takes that long to really get used to doing a job and so for them to be useful to you, and for them to actually learn anything, three to six months is probably a better length of service.

How do you find the best interns?
Social media is your friend here.  There are lots of students and graduates constantly looking for PR experience so using your Facebook and Twitter accounts is a good first step.  The hashtag #PRjobs is also a useful tool on that front, you can advertise your internship on PR Job Watch – my PR recruitment Facebook page with 7,000 members for FREE and Future Rising is also currently free to use.

You should also consider using the university job boards as many of them are free to use as long as you are paying at least minimum wage.  Creative Opportunities from the University of the Arts London is a particularly good one.  There are also a couple of paid job boards worth considering; Media Argh charge only £30 so that’s definitely worth a punt.  The Guardian online can get some good results but at £480 for a week is a bit ouchie on the price side and PR Week is similarly expensive unless you already advertise loads with them in which case I suspect you’d be able to negotiate a deal.

If you’re looking to improve your company’s ethnic diversity you can also send your internships and entry-level job role details to me and I’ll pass them on to the alumni network of the Taylor Bennett Foundation and encourage them to apply.  We don’t charge a fee to hire one of our alumni, but we do ask that you make an appropriate donation to the charity should you take one on.

Ask for something specific during the recruitment process – 400 words on why they want to work there, a one minute video selling themselves, a campaign idea for a particular brand, proof of their social media prowess etc – it’ll weed out the applicants who just apply for everything and will make it easier to identify those candidates who really are committed to the industry.

What do you expect?
It’s important that you set expectations with your interns from day one and that includes very basic instructions like the hours they should work (and is it actually okay for them to walk out the door at 5.30 or is there an unwritten rule that everyone stays until the manager says to go… make it clear), what to do if they’re ill, what they should do if they’re going to miss a deadline, what they should wear (this sounds obvious but it worries many interns), when they should take a lunch break, are there confidentiality issues and non disclosure agreements in place, if they have a late meeting out of the office which finishes at 4pm are they expected to come back to work afterwards, should they contribute during brainstorming meetings or just be there to observe, if they speak to a client how should they introduce themselves and so on.

Making these things clear from the outset means that both of you are aware where you stand.  You should also keep in mind that for many interns this may be their first and only experience of working in a professional environment and so they will inevitably make mistakes.  This is the whole point of interning – better to make mistakes then than when they go into their first permanent role.  Be prepared to make allowances and let them learn from those errors – although making them more than once means they don’t listen very well.

What should interns do?
This is an interesting question and of course the answer will vary from company to company.  As a rule of thumb you should treat them as a trainee account exec/press officer.  The whole point of the internship from their point of view is to find out what it’s like to work in the industry and so that means doing an entry-level role as much as possible.  You might want to task them with a particular project that they can concentrate on for the entire length of the placement, which they can work on in between the daily tasks they’ll be given.  This will also mean there’s less chance of them sitting around bored when there’s not much for them to do.

It’s also a good idea to give them some training or induction of some sort.  The graduates I speak to about their internships mostly complained that they didn’t mind doing the junior work, but it would have been useful to know why they were doing it.  If you can spare someone to give an overview of the company, the clients and campaigns and why junior work is vital to the running of the team that would be helpful.  It also might be a good idea for them to fill in daily timesheets or write a daily blog so that at the end of the internship, you can use those to help them write about the experience on their CV.

It’s also okay to ask them to make tea and coffee – just as long as you’re prepared to make them one too.

Who should manage interns?

You might use taking on interns as an opportunity for your most junior staff to manage someone and that’s absolutely fine, there’s nothing wrong with that otherwise how will they learn?  But it’s a good idea to have some back up management plan in place to help guide your AEs when managing interns and to make them aware of what is expected both of them, and of the intern.

What happens after the internship?
Some firms use internships as a kind of ‘try before you buy’ scheme to see if any of the interns really shine and stand out as solid performers.  It’s not a good idea to promise a job at the start of an internship but the opportunity to apply for one, if available, will be a good incentive to get committed people on board.  Increasingly though, companies might offer internships with no intention of hiring one and that’s fine too.  In that case, it’s still a good idea to find a way to keep in touch with your intern alumni regularly – even if they go off to work for a competing firm you may decide once they have a couple of years of experience that you’d like to try and hire them so it’s best to remain on good terms with them and touch base regularly.  If they had a brilliant internship experience with you there’s every chance that they’ll want to work for you in the future and that opportunity might be many years down the line.






Filed under Careers, Graduates, PR, Recruitment

The truth about employment references

I write about a dozen employment reference each year for the Taylor Bennett Foundation alumni.  A well written reference can take some time to write and can make all the difference to whether or not you are offered a position.  Usually new employers ask ex-employers for a reference once they decide to offer you a job and often the contract is sent to you ‘subject to references’ – meaning that they have the right to withdraw the offer if the references don’t come up to scratch.

So, how should you go about getting a good reference? Continue reading

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How to explain job hopping and gaps on your CV

mind the gapOne of the things employers look for when recruiting a new member of staff, is how stable their work history is.  If a job applicant has jumped around from job to job over the last ten years, the recruiters first thought will be “why don’t they stick at anything?”  Similarly, if an applicant has a significant length of time out of employment, the recruiter may be suspicious about why.

When you’re in an interview, it’s often easy to explain away jumping jobs, or being out of work but you may not even get that far if you don’t make the reasons clear on your CV.


The first thing you should do is label any jobs that were short term contracts, seasonal work, or temp jobs, as such on your CV.  Make it really clear that the reason you left the job is because you were only employed on a contract basis.

If you were made redundant after a short period in a job, it’s OK to make a note of that too.  In the current economic climate redundancy doesn’t have the stigma that it had a few years ago, particularly if your redundancy was part of a large section of your firm being laid off rather than just your role being made redundant.

If you’ve job hopped because you’ve got bored in the roles, that’s much harder to justify and when you secure your next position you must think carefully about sticking it out for a decent length of time, even if it bores the socks off you. Similarly, repeatedly leaving roles due to a personality clash with a boss or team member can tar you with the “uncooperative” brush so it’s not wise to draw attention to why you left those roles if at all possible.

There are lots of reasons why you may have a gap on your CV.  The most common being taking time out to travel, raising a family, illness or bereavement.   Don’t leave those gaps on your CV blank – recruiters are a suspicious bunch and will think the worst – so make sure you clearly note what you were doing during those months or years.   If you have suffered with an illness it is important that you make it very clear that the condition has passed, you are fully recovered and it will not affect your ability to work.  If you took time out to raise your children, or simply to take some time away from work to reassess what you want to do with your career, then it’s a good idea to mention anything you have done to stay in touch with the industry.  Do you still have a good network of journalists in your little black book?  Do you read industry publications?  Have you take any courses to update your work skills?

By making it clear that the gaps are not anything untoward, it gives you a much better chance of getting to the interview stage where you may find the interviewer is sympathetic to your situation.

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Ten Golden Interview Rules

  1. Turn up. If you can’t go to the interview for any reason, call the interviewer to apologise and explain so that they can give your slot to someone else.
  2. Be on time. Not 30 minutes early, not five minutes late. ON TIME. If you are unsure where you are meant to be going, do a trial run a few days before. If you get there very early on the day, go to a coffee shop and hang around until it is time for the interview. If you turn up early, the interviewer will feel under pressure to interview you then, when they may have other things to do. If you are late, you are wasting their time. Being late says “my time is more important than yours”. Not a great start.
  3. Dress smartly. If you don’t have a suit, buy one or borrow one. Polish your shoes. Have brushed hair and pay attention to your personal hygiene.
  4. Take a copy of your CV, along with anything else you have been asked to take – a portfolio of work for example.
  5. Do your research. Make sure you know what the company does. Find out as much as you can about the person interviewing you too.
  6. Read the job spec (assuming you have one) and the job advert, carefully. These will give you an idea of the questions you will be asked. If the job spec says that one of the requirements of this job is “a good eye for detail” they may ask you to give an example of when you have demonstrated that skill.
  7. Practise your handshake. A wet fish in your hand is not nice. Likewise, don’t try and crush your interviewer’s hand. Firm, but not bone-breaking, is best.
  8. Be interested. Don’t stare out of the window when they are talking to you, or pick your nose, or stare at your shoes.
  9. Be prepared to ask questions. At the end of the interview you will probably be asked if you have any questions. They may have already covered everything you need to know, but it’s best to have something to ask. Good questions include asking about their training opportunities, what the next stage in the interview process is likely to be, or when you are likely to hear from them.
  10. Remember that an interview is a two-way process. It is your opportunity to decide if you want to work for the company, just as much as it is their opportunity to find out if they would like to hire you.

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Ten tips for job hunters

Whether you’re a recent graduate looking for your first break into PR, or a seasoned professional wanting to make your next move, job hunting can be a total drag.  Here’s ten tips for finding your next role.

1)      Set yourself a specific time for job applications.  If you’re out of work, then treat it like a 9 – 5 job.  Get up, make a cup of coffee, turn on your computer and start hunting.  Resist the urge to turn on the telly – Jezza Kyle is far too tempting.  Take a break for lunch and then get back to it until the end of the working day.  If you’re already in a job then set aside an hour every evening.

2)      Do your homework.  Before you apply make sure you understand the role and the company you are applying to.  Reflect your research in your covering letter and make sure each application is specific to that particular company.  Standard covering letters go in the bin.  If you are applying through a recruitment agency this is a little more difficult, but try to make your application as relevant to the role as possible.

3)      Keep a record.  A recent graduate once told me that he’d worked out it was taking him, on average, 33 applications to achieve one interview for a PR role.  That’s a hell of a lot of applications but it is not surprising.  Competition for roles, particularly at entry level, is fierce.  I generally advise graduates to aim for twenty five applications per week, and those people who are already in jobs to aim for one application a day.  With that amount of correspondence you need to keep a record of who you have written to, which position you were applying for, whether you had a response and any other info that might be useful – like a copy of the job advert or role specification so you can refer to it if you’re called for an interview.  Admin is tedious, but it will make your life easier in the long run.

4)      Be persistent. 90% of the companies you apply to won’t even acknowledge receipt of your application let alone give you feedback if you’re rejected.  Don’t take it personally.  Replying to job applicants takes a huge amount of time and administration and for some firms it’s really low on their list of priorities.  As a rule of thumb, if you haven’t heard back from a company in two weeks, you are unlikely to be called to interview.  Don’t give up though.  It may mean you’re not right for that role, but other positions make crop up that are more suitable so keep applying.

5)       Apply speculatively.  If you apply for a specific job you are competing against all the other people applying for that role.  If you write to a company speculatively here is less chance that you will be competing against others and that your letter will stand out.  Make it clear what you are available for – full time, part time, temporary, permanent, contract, internships etc.  Ask them to keep your details on file for any suitable vacancies and if you haven’t heard back from them in three months, write again.

6)      Network endlessly.  Use social network sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to follow influential PRs and get yourself noticed.  Go along to Tweet Ups, conferences and social events – lots of which are free to attend.   Make a point of collecting business cards and connecting with the people you have met after the event.

7)      Be realistic.  If you’ve got two years of experience and are currently paid £25,000 a year, don’t apply for Director level roles paying £100,000.  You’ll be wasting your time and that of the recruiter.

8)      Dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s.  Attention to detail is incredibly important when applying for jobs.  Make sure you address your application to the right person, and spell their name correctly.  Don’t just rely on spell check to pick up errors.  Proof read your CV and covering letters several times before you press send, and make sure you attach the relevant documents to your email.  Good writing and proof reading skills are required for most PR roles so it’s essential you can prove you have mastered the basics.

9)      Pay it forward.  If you spot a vacancy that would be great for a job hunting friend or acquaintance send them the link to the advert.   Hopefully, they will return the favour.

10)   Say thank you.  If you get a personal response to your application – even if it is a rejection – write and say thank you.  If you get an interview – even if you don’t get the job – write and say thank you.  If someone introduces you to a contact who then offers you an interview, write and thank the referrer.  Such a simple courtesy will make you stick in their minds and will make them more likely to recommend you again in the future.  Thank you letters and emails are rarer than you might imagine and are a really easy way to build your reputation as a thoughtful and friendly person to work with.

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Are your followers for sale?


I have an on-off love affair with Twitter.  Sometimes, I use it loads.  Sometimes, I forget it’s there and then there is a delight in re-discovering it.  I use it mostly for business, although I do follow a few friends (and a couple of celebs, but I’m embarrassed about doing that so let’s not dwell on it).  I don’t live in London and am only in the Shoreditch office two days a week so there are few opportunities to network face-to-face.  Twitter is a nice way of finding out what’s going on in the industry, and building relationships with practitioners.  These relationships are useful to me in three ways; firstly, I edit espresso, a weekly e-bulletin which we fill with PR and media news and feature career tips and industry insights.  Quite often I find interviewees or industry spokespeople through Twitter and I also use it for leads on industry stories.   Secondly, I used to be a recruiter.  I no longer recruit directly but I do have connections with Unicorn Jobs and Taylor Bennett and run their diversity internship programme. Relationships with PR practitioners helps me raise awareness of the programme, and have led directly to donations of time, money and training to the interns.  Thirdly, it’s good to just know who is out there, who are the influencers and who is the young blood to watch.  And sometimes, I get to give a little something back – like last week when a student asked me to give some advice on how to get into the PR industry.

Yesterday, I received an email from a Twitter account.  It was anonymous – in that I know which Twitter account it is but there is no way to know who runs it.  I am not going to disclose which account contacted me, as I’m rather interested to see if anyone takes them up on their offer and so will be keeping an eye on them.

Anyway…. this is the email:


 I am writing to see if you are interested in taking over the Twitter account ******, including its large follower base of job seekers. The account can be renamed and rebranded, giving your brand and jobs a huge audience, saving time and advertising costs.

 The account can be found at ***** and is followed by a community of PR professionals who are actively searching for their next role through social media. These job seekers have the online skills PR employers are looking for and are engaging with this Twitter account to find their next job. The account is currently tweeting a feed of job postings from various sources, and followers are clicking through to the job postings to find out more. For this demographic, young UK-based PR job seekers, this is the largest Twitter community I am aware of.

 Taking over the account would put your jobs in front of the right people without having to spend money on advertising. It could also significantly help to establish your brand on Twitter. Twitter allows changing the names of accounts, and the followers will be transferred over to the new name.

 Please get in touch if you would be interested in discussing this more.


This is my reply:

No thanks.  I run a Facebook group, PR Job Watch, with over 3,000 members.  We don't need to buy Twitter accounts, we can develop our own.  Twitter is all about building relationships.

I'm not sure it's really in the spirit of social media to be "selling" your followers.



And their reply:

Very true. Some do a great job, like Unicorn Jobs, but others look for shortcuts.

It is unfortunate, while there are those looking for shortcuts, there will be a market for things like followers. And when there's a market, there are those desperate enough to feed that market. Still, it isn't like it is being sold for spam. I am targeting relevant people who will take care of my followers. Atleast, that's what I keep telling myself.

Thanks for getting back to me and keep up the great work.

ps. I love your esPResso newsletter


I mentioned it on Twitter last night and a couple of people expressed outrage at the thought of followers being sold.  I actually *am* a follower of the account in question, and I am not that happy about being sold myself.   But maybe I am behind the times?  Maybe it is acceptable to build up relationships and then sell them on?  Perhaps the likes of The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den are encouraging such entrepreneurial spirit?

It still doesn’t sit quite right with me.  I will be watching with interest to see if a PR recruiter takes them up on it though.

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Filed under Recruitment, Social Media

Omigod I’m back

Remember me?  You probably don't as I've commited the ultimate in blogging crimes, I stopped blogging.  I know I know, the law of blogging says you must engage with the online community, write pithy and interesting content regularly and refrain from libelous content.  I've still been writing, just not on here.  Mostly on here:  http://www.unicornjobs.com/ask-the-unicorn/ and also on here: http://www.financetalking.com/pages/resources/careers-uk.php

So what's happened since 2008?  On the professional side, I am now self employed.  This means I have to religiously put money aside every month for the tax man or face jail.  I don't think I'd cut it in Holloway so I dutifully put my 25% away in an untouchable account and moan about it regularly.  So to make ends meet I write (see above) and I am the course director for an incredible internship programme devoted to addressing the lack of ethnic diversity in PR, which you can read more about here:  http://www.unicornjobs.com/diversity  This means I teach employability and office based skills (like how to write thank you letters, seriously) to graduates, I also manage the day-to-day running of the programme so if you would like to know more about it feel free to ask.

My teaching and writing skills are up for hire so drop me a line if those interest you.

I also bake cakes.  This is what interests most people.  My cake website is undergoing a bit of a revamp so when it looks respectable I will introduce you to it.  I have sold cakes at lots of farmers markets in and around Essex, but as my more serious job pays better and takes up more of my time I have put it  on the back burner for the moment.  I do still knock out the odd birthday cake or batch of cupcakes but it's not my main source of income. That said, there will be a few cake related posts in the near future so this blog really is going to be relevant for those people that have a love for PR careers or a love for cake.  Off course a lucky few will love both in which case you've found nivarna.

Pony cake 1

On the personal front; I'm still married, no kids, 1 dog, 2 cats, live in Essex right by the beach, still dieting and I joined Twitter.  I'm @gooorooo if you want to follow me.


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