What Do Hiring Managers Really Look for in Candidates?

April 2022
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As the PR profession continues to rapidly evolve, it is expected that experienced comms leaders, hiring managers and talent acquisition professionals will likely deviate from, and expand upon, what they have historically sought in candidates for their strategic staffing needs. 

Specifics vary from the agency side to the brand side and everything in between, but the hard skills are often the same: exceptional writing and research skills, a keen understanding of media across various platforms, and a demonstrated strategic acumen to navigate all kinds of key moments for an individual, organization or brand. 

Soft skills, often much harder to vet for than tactical skills, are usually among the first things considered when reviewing an application and interviewing a person for a PR role. “Soft skills” is a commonly used term that captures intangibles, such as interpersonal communications capabilities, emotional intelligence or ability to take initiative. 

I spoke to some PR leaders for their thoughts on soft skills and the various gauges for success in today’s market.

The essential soft skills

“Two of the most important soft skills that I look for, and have found to be most indicative of future success, is whether the candidate is an active listener and innate problem solver,” said Annette Juriaco, managing director of the Office of the President at Rubenstein. “Good strategic counsel is never executed from a playbook or binder, no matter how well conceived. It’s executed by someone skilled in meeting the challenges of the moment, and who can listen, adapt and pivot in real-time. If a candidate seems too subscribed to their ‘script’ in an interview, then I will usually worry that they don’t have what it takes to be nimble for a client.”

In navigating the internal hiring goals of her clients, Carly Mednick, partner and founder at Monday Talent and vice president of membership with PRSA’s New York Chapter, says, “I am always looking for candidates who are open-minded, adaptable, loyal and eager to learn. These skills tend to translate into the best employees who make the biggest impact. In this crazy job market, where there is a lot of movement, loyalty has never been more important, as there is a plethora of job options for candidates to choose from and quite a lot of competition out there!”

Brandi Boatner, manager of digital and advocacy communications at IBM and PRSA Tri-State District chair, says, “With the expanding role of public relations over the past two years, professionals have gained new skills overnight. However, there are some skills that remain foundational and fundamental to those who are looking to pursue a career in the PR industry.” 

She looks for “the 5 C’s of soft skills”: clock-watching, creativity, collaboration, current events/culture and creating connections. 

Ensuring that the ways in which we deliver and tell stories remain creative, time management and prioritization skills, and a keen understanding of the importance of working as a team to execute tasks and achieve desired outcomes, are top of mind for Boatner. And she highlights, “Candidates really impress me when they know what’s going on in the world and understand the external marketplace. Bonus points if they know the cultural background related to current events and news happening globally.” 

A change in the media landscape

To that point, the media landscape is shifting just as rapidly as the PR profession, especially within the last three years of the COVID-19 pandemic. How important is it for a candidate to have a full list of media contacts? Are networking and relationship-building acumen more important now? 

Aaron Kwittken, founder and CEO of Prophet, founder and chairman of KWT Global, and president of PRSA’s New York Chapter, says, “Media relationships used to be paramount. When I first got into the business, I would spend a good portion of my days wining and dining reporters. This approach was waning long before the pandemic, but COVID all but shattered how we interact with journalists. It’s far more transactional, transparent and data-driven today. In other words, charm won’t get you anywhere, but doing your homework using tech-driven tools, will, as will resonant narrative.” 

When preparing to interview for your next opportunity, give thought to these sought-after soft skills, and be ready to highlight more than just your traditional skill sets and experience. 

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