Do’s and Don’ts For The Next ‘PR Idol’


While the quality of resumes, cover letters and interviews continues to improve, some major gaffs continue to derail potential employment consideration.  

During my recent visit to Indianapolis, I talked with David Shank, APR, Fellow PRSA, CEO of Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc., who just completed his summer intern hiring cycle.  Among other observations, David asserted the TV talent show “American Idol” is a metaphor for internship selection. 

Beginning with a couple of major faux pas that put two candidates out of the running immediately, here are David’s observations:

Dear “To Whom It May Concern”…didn’t even get to the first graf of her letter.  A candidate has to know to whom the letter is sent.  This tells me they don’t care enough to do even the smallest amount of research about our company or didn’t read the notice carefully.

Dear Mr. Shank, “Advertising is the best way to communicate.  Only through advertising can you….”  This “candidate” got a sharp Simon Cowel-esque (“American Idol” bad guy) reply that said, the same as above…know to whom you’re addressing!!!!!!!!!  I didn’t even give her the benefit of the doubt that she got her form letters mixed up.  Not my problem…not my worry.

Follow the KISS principle – Keep It Short and Simple.  One candidate sent his entire 65-page thesis.  I printed out the first 2-3 pages and deleted the rest.  It might have been terrific but I don’t have time to plow through it all.

Write resume’s using active, strong verbs and tell me what you did with supporting documentation.

Bad: “I helped on a campus event for charity.”

Good: “I was coordinator for the STSC – Students to Save Chameleons.  In four days we raised $400, an increase of 90% from last year, which will save 28 feral chameleons.”  OK…that’s a little goofy but you get my point. 

Key words: “coordinator” shows management skills, gives timeline, results, increase is a proactive figure and finally identifies an outcome.

On the positive side I saw more real life examples of work outside of class.  More published pieces in campus media (including digital media) more in the campus paper, more brochures and promotions for actual events.  One candidate had numerous well-done pieces and photos from her hometown newspaper.

Candidates were more engaged.  Several knew more about us from our Web site than I did…almost.  To be fair, our site has been down for the past couple of weeks but all candidates made a point of demonstrating their research about our firm, our clients and what we do.  They asked good questions.

All candidates were confident without being arrogant.  In one case I noticed with a chuckle that the person took the initiative to sit at the ‘head’ of the conference table.

I often tell them that “American Idol” (note second reference) is a good metaphor for internship selection.  I’m looking for the next “public relations Idol”.  I’m looking for someone with the “WOW” factor that is reflected in their work, their strategic thinking, their attitude and their professional demeanor.  On Idol the winner isn’t the singer who sings a quiet little ballad sitting behind the microphone.  The winner is the one who blows the judges away with their talent, their theatricality and something they do that’s really memorable. Please don’t let your students take this to the extreme with their next interview, but they have to show me (and indeed their job interviews) why they have the equivalent public relations “WOW!”

3 thoughts on “Do’s and Don’ts For The Next ‘PR Idol’

  1. Interesting. Public relations firm MAVERICK based in Toronto is actually having an internship Idol competition.

  2. Interesting article! One quick point – spellcheck, review, recheck, edit. When applying for a job that requires writing talent, it’s important to not make mistakes in your cover letter or resume. Case in point — graf 7 in this article advises to “Write resume’s using active, strong verbs.” Since the word “resumes” is not possessive, it shouldn’t have an apostrophe! Thanks for the advice!


  3. Great advice! Just as all public relations should know: be clear and concise; always know your audience and channel communication accordingly. Even a simple Google search can help students get started researching who the key people are at the organization. I’ve also used Hoover’s database, a great resource.

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