What really happens in a company is often of a secondary importance. What the public thinks and perceives, however, and how the employees see the events that take place within the company, has a huge impact on each business (think reputation, employee turnover, general atmosphere in the workplace, and other important things).
As a communications specialist you will manage both external and internal communication. You may cooperate with PR managers or with other professionals, and your work will shape the image the company has in the outside world, and its identity of the business in the eyes of ordinary employees.
This is no easy job, and you can expect a difficult interview. Managers realize very well an impact you can have on their business as a communications specialist. For this reason, they will choose their new hire carefully. They will try to assess your abilities and attitudes with tough situational and behavioral questions, and you may also deal with a test (to assess your real level of writing skills). Let’s have a look at the questions you may face.
Can you please tell us something about yourself?
This is typically an easy question, an ice-breaker. Not in this case, however. From the very first moment they are observing how you express yourself. Do you articulate clearly? Do you talk to the point? Does your story make sense? And what about your non-verbal communication? Can you sell your skills and abilities?
What’s more, they typically do not hire beginners for this position. You should prepare your work portfolio, and show them your best works (and perhaps prizes you got for your writing, or recommendations you got from your former employers) once you talk about your working experience (this doesn’t apply to entry level roles in communications).
Basically they should get an impression that you have something behind you already, know how to write and speak to different audiences, and feel confident that you would handle the job. It goes without saying that you should focus primarily on work-related stuff (education, experience, skills).
I’ve been always passionate about writing, and speaking, the way one can engage with their audience, and perhaps also change their opinion about some important issue. Already at high school, I’ve been reading works of Socrates, Plato, and other philosophers and speakers, trying to improve my own skills, because I understood that skills like communication, leadership, or persistence matter more in life than formal education. Logically I decided to pursue a degree in communications and PR, and enrolled in XYZ college. I tried my best during the studies, worked as an RA, and later I had a chair in a redaction of a small local newspaper. I worked a lot with social media and managed to quadruple the number of our followers. There were some ups and downs, and I learned my lessons. When I finally graduated, I applied for a job of a marketing trainee, and went through an excellent training program with ABC corporation. Now, after everything I’ve done and been through, I feel prepared for a role of a communications specialist.
Why do you want to work as a communications specialist?
You can try to address two points in your answer. First, why you want the particular position. In this case you can talk (ideally with some excitement) about a positive impact you can have on the business as a communications specialist, about your passion for creating content with purpose, content that can meet the goals of the company, in regards to both external and internal communication. You can also also explain how your past experience prepared you for this role, and say that you fell the time is right for you to progress the career ladder.
Second point is explaining why you want to work for them, instead of some other corporation (they may also ask about this separately). Praise can do wonders in this case. Tell them what you like about their company–it can be the final product, the level of customer service, working environment, the work of their PR department, employee benefits, anything.
Alternatively if the company has a bad reputation or image at the moment (perhaps that’s the reason why they are trying to replace their current communications specialist or hire a first one), you can point out the challenge. You’d love to board a “sinking ship”, and use your exceptional writing and communications skills to help them stay afloat. Needless to say, you should do a good research about the company prior to your interview.
In all honesty, I just love the job description. Considering my personality, goals, and what I’ve done to this point of my life, I cannot imagine a better role as the one of a Communications Specialist, at this stage of my professional career. What’s more, I’ve always enjoyed having impact in life, and see the difference a skilled communication specialist can make for an NGO like this one…
How do you imagine a typical day in work as a communications specialist?
This really depends on the seniority of the position, as well as the scope of your responsibility. Read the job description carefully and try to understand as much as you can about your future role. In general, you may be responsible for the following duties:
- Developing new communication strategies while trying to achieve the goals of the management.
- Creating (or participating on creation, or reviewing) newsletters, internal messages for employees, press releases, and other.
- Cooperating with members of the marketing and sales department, helping them to evaluate their sales copies and marketing materials (in relation to PR)
- Helping to communicate strategies or messages of senior management to ordinary employees (especially messages that aren’t clear, or the employees may find them hard to accept).
- Assisting in the process of resolution of disputes with big customers or suppliers.
- Arranging and coordinating press conferences, and other events.
Certainly as a skilled communications specialist you should try to describe your idea of a typical day in a more agreeable way. For example, you can say that each morning you’ll have a short meeting (or art least a call) with someone from PR, marketing, and management. You will try to understand what’s new, and identify matters that need your immediate attention.
Then you’ll work on your materials (press releases, newsletters, sales copies, etc) and will assist in any communication or media problem the managers may face on a given day. Ensure the interviewers that you expect to (and want to) be busy. Even if there aren’t any apparent tasks to handle, you’ll work on improving the existing communication in the company, or think about new strategies and plans in this regard.
To be honest, I do not think that something like a typical day in work exists in a job of a communications specialist. Of course I will try to have a daily plan, because one works more effectively having one than not having one. But each day may demand something else from you… One day I may work on an important press release, or on a speech for one of the executives. On other day I’ll try to address some confusion between employees, which resulted from a miscommunication, or I may stand in front of press and answer some uncomfortable questions. In my opinion this is a very versatile role, and it is one of the reasons why I like it so much.
What do you think about the work of our existing PR department?
Now I may say something contradictory to one of my previous answers. If they ask about the work of their PR department, you should not simply say that the guys do an excellent job at the moment. Think about it logically. If everything worked as it should, whether in external or internal communication of the company, they would not look for a new communications specialist…
Therefore it is important to do your homework. Check their social media channels, press mentions, their website, any messages they let into the outside world. Try to find some areas for improvement.
Maybe they should improve the frequency or consistency of their messages. Or they struggle with engagement, or their messages do not really serve any apparent purpose. Maybe they aren’t using all possible channels, and are missing on an important market segment.
Try to find something they could improve on, or at least some ideas you can discuss in the interview. If you say that everything is perfectly fine and they do not need to change anything, you may end up walking away empty-handed from your interview.
All in all I feel your PR is a bit outdated. You do not cover the most popular social channels nowadays, and your messages lack the aspect of engagement of the readers. In my opinion your entire strategy needs a new look. Now, it doesn’t mean that you have to change your values or even the core of the messages. It just means presenting them in a more modern and engaging ways, and on channels people follow nowadays…
* Special Tip: To know how to answer a question, and to come up with a great answer on a big day, when facing a panel of interviewers, are two different things. If you want to be sure that you are ready for each question, and do better than your competitors in this interview, have a look at an eBook I wrote for you, the Communications Manager Interview Guide. Premium answers to all 25 questions you may face in this interview will help you make the best possible impression on the hiring managers, and stand out from your competitors. Check the samples on eBook page and see for yourself.
Management wants to communicate a message employees won’t enjoy hearing (for example salary cuts, reorganization of the company, necessity to work overtime, etc). How would you help to get such a message over?
This is no easy situation for anyone, and a one fits all answer to this question doesn’t exist. Certainly the atmosphere in the workplace, the position of the managers, the loyalty of employees, the situation of the global and local economy–it all impacts the way you should deliver such a message.
But you can at least suggest a few ideas:
- Picking the best possible time for making an unpopular announcement (sending the message). For example waiting for some positive news, and combining both messages in the same announcement.
- Being honest and clearly explaining (ideally with the help of numbers and fact) why the management had to take such an unpopular decision.
- Trying to communicate the message internally within each team, to avoid some group panic in the company or other form of overreaction.
In my opinion, we should consider each such situation individually. Because a one-fit-all recipe doesn’t exist here. In certain cases we may be forced not telling the entire truth–for example when the employees are already in a mood that’s far from ideal, or when the company struggles for a long time. On other occasions brutal honesty may work. In any case, the message has to be delivered, regardless of whether they will like it or not, and you can be sure I won’t be afraid of sharing the bad news with anyone in the company.
How would you define effective external/internal communication in the company?
I would say that you have several options for a good answer. First one consists in focusing on their goals. Managers should know what they try to achieve with the communication (can be many things, ranging from improving corporate image and securing governmental subsidy, to hurting the image of a competitor or attracting businesses interested in acquiring the company–these are just examples, and rather extreme of course :)).
Once you know the goals, the effective communication is such that leads the company closer to attaining them. Another description can be a transparent communication, clear to all involved parties, and one that induces sharing (when we talk about external) or feedback (internal communication).
Effective communication strategy helps the company achieve their goals. It is as simple as that. We live in 21st century, and everyone knows what a good PR, and a bad PR, can do to a company, or to an individual. For that reason Communication Specialist should always have the goals of the business on their mind, and decide accordingly in their job, to make sure the communication–both internal and external, helps the company achieve these goals, and not the contrary.
Describe a difficult negotiation with a supplier or customer you participated in. What role did you play in the process, and what was the outcome?
If possible, try to choose a situation with a good outcome, or at least one in which you demonstrated your excellent communication skills.
Your role can be pacifying the conflicting parties, or basically helping the managers to compose and deliver the right message. Ensure the interviewers that you did what you could for your employer. You tried to understand the viewpoint of the conflicting party, to find the way to convince them (or at least to reach an acceptable agreement). You held your ground until the end…
Other questions you may deal with in your communications specialist interview
- Describe your most successful and least successful PR campaign.
- What role do social media play in your work? Which social media channels would you utilize for our external and internal communication?
- What are your expectations on members of marketing and PR department? What about the managers?
- How would you define an excellent piece of content?
- If we hire you for this job, what will be the first thing you do in the office?
- What do you want to accomplish as a communications specialist?
- What is your knowledge of our products, our core business?
- If you hear the name of our company, what three words come to your mind first?
- How do you deal with setbacks and crisis of motivation?
- Do you have any questions?
Conclusion, great answers to all 25 questions
Interview for a position of communications specialist belongs to difficult job interviews, regardless of the seniority of the position.
For entry level and intermediate roles you will always compete with many other applicants (this is a fancy job title), and face some tough situational and behavioral questions (just like I explained in the article).
For senior roles you’ll have to demonstrate your experience with an excellent portfolio, and you will also face some tough questions (often related to your former projects, successes and failures).
If you want to succeed, you need to devote enough time to your preparation. Do a good research about your prospective employer, and try to prepare answers to all questions from our list.
And if you are not sure how to answer the questions, experience anxiety, or simply want to know something your competitors won’t know, have a look at a new eBook I wrote for you, the Communications Manager Interview Guide.
Multiple premium answers to 25 most common communications specialist (manager) interview questions (including tricky scenario-based questions) will help you to stand out and succeed. Thank you for checking it out, I wish you good luck!
* You can also download the list of questions in a one page long PDF, and practice your interview answers anytime later:
May also interest you:
- Behavioral interview questions – Interviewers use them to assess your attitude to various work related situations. You will surely get some in your communications specialist interview.
- Communications Manager interview questions.
- Relationship Manager interview questions.
- What is your communication style?