- Strategic communications firms like WPP's Finsbury, Publicis' Kekst CNC, and Gladstone Place Partners work on high-stakes crises like WeWork's downward spiral and blockbuster mergers like Disney-Fox.
- These firms seek people who thrive under pressure and use the interview process to test job candidates' intellectual curiosity, commitment to their job, and if they're good culture fits.
- Current and former employees at these and other firms shared the toughest questions candidates can expect, which can include deceptively simple ones like "Why are you interviewing for a job here?" and head-scratching riddles.
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Strategic communications firms like WPP's Finsbury, Publicis' Kekst CNC, TrailRunner International, and Gladstone Place Partners specialize in high-stress assignments like clients' IPOs and shareholder revolts, and seek employees who thrive on pressure and are interested in business.
These firms use the interview process to test job candidates' intellectual curiosity, commitment to their job, and culture fit.
Former and current employees at these firms shared the hardest questions people can expect in an interview, based on their own experiences interviewing for a job or conducting an interview there.
The kinds of questions depend on the seniority of the role. Where junior candidates should expect questions about their academic experience, senior candidates can expect ones about how they've helped clients in the past.
But overall, the questions are meant to weed out candidates with a low interest in high-level public relations work, who are unwilling to work long hours, and won't get along with their colleagues.
Why do you want to work here?
Strategic communications firm usually ask candidates why they want to work there.
First, it shows if the candidates have done their research, said Karla Wagner, head of talent and human resources for North America at Finsbury.
It also demonstrates how much the candidate knows about and is interested in this PR niche, others said.
"I wanted to make sure they're really going to love what they do, because it's intense work," said a former Finsbury partner, who asked to speak anonymously to protect his relationship with his former employer. "You work a lot and you can't just phone it in."
Where do you get your news?
Candidates can expect to be asked about current events to gauge how informed they are, especially about the business world.
According to Glassdoor, Finsbury likes to ask job candidates about their media diet with questions like these:
- What is one news story you're following right now?
- What recent news story has jumped out at you and how may it be used at Finsbury?
- What story in the press has grabbed your attention recently and why; what would you have done differently?
Ross Lovern, principal at Kekst CNC, wants to know if candidates are reading the news on their personal time or if they're reading stories that have nothing to do with their clients.
"That's the kind of thing that's indicative of whether they're really going to be dedicated," Lovern said.
Tell me something about your previous job where it failed or didn't go to plan.
Candidates should be able to talk about a professional failure to show how they correct mistakes and what they learned from it.
Vanessa Esparza, SVP of human capital at Gladstone Place Partners, said these kinds of questions show how a candidate handles pressure, how they work with their colleagues, and if they can keep their cool when advising clients.
Similarly, Lulu Cheng Meservey, COO of TrailRunner International, said her firm asks them to describe when they delivered something that wasn't asked of them or something different from what was asked for to gauge how creative and proactive a candidate is.
How would you counsel a client in a hypothetical situation?
Strategic communications firms also want to know if a candidate grasps basic PR and can get their clients out of a crisis, so they ask candidates how they may handle a shareholder revolt, for example.
"We want to throw people off and see how they react when they're put in a bad situation," the former Finsbury partner said. "I want to see how they think and what their process is."
These kinds of questions require candidates to think on their feet and communicate. They're also commonly posed during the writing test portion of the interview.
Cheng Meservey said TrailRunner asks candidates what they'd you do if convinced a client is taking the wrong approach to see if they can respectfully dissent and if they trust their own judgment.
Candidates should also prepare for curveballs
One question Lovern likes to ask is: "If you are trying to start a brand new firm on your own and you can pitch any company in the world, what company would you pitch as a client and why?"
Many answer with blue-chip names like Facebook and Uber that have obvious potential reputation issues, but picking a lesser-known company will help them stand out, especially if they can highlight their PR acumen, knowledge of the business, and personality, Lovern said.
One person who interviewed at Finsbury said on Glassdoor that their interviewer asked: "if you had $100 million, what would you do?"
And TrailRunner sometimes asks candidates to solve a riddle to test their ability to think quickly and creatively.
"You're in a foreign country and don't speak the language," Cheng Meservey said. "The locals understand English but can't speak it. You ask a local, 'Is the train station this way?' He answers with a word but you don't know if the word means yes or no. By asking one additional question, you can find out. What question do you ask?"
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