How to get a job in public sector PR, marketing or communications

SimonCommunications, General9 Comments

This year I seem to have been involved in more recruitment than I can remember for a few years.

That means sifting through hundreds of application forms and CVs to select candidates for interview and then spending many hours meeting candidates. Some of the things I’ve read, seen and heard have amazed me.

There’s no magic bullet for securing a job, but here are a few tips to help those looking to secure a job in public sector marketing, PR or communications. Many of the tips will apply to private sector roles too, but there are a few that are particular to the public sector.

Application form / CV

  • Spelling – check your spelling, double check it. Don’t just rely on a spell checker – it can miss American spellings and out of context words.
  • Missing information – provide the information asked for. If you can’t for any reason do that, then say why. If you don’t it looks slapdash or, at worst, like you’re trying to hide something.
  • Sell yourself – most public sector jobs are advertised with a job description. In this you’ll find something like a person specification – setting out the skills, experience, qualifications etc that the recruiter is looking for. Sell yourself with this in mind – don’t include irrelevant details – your application will probably be scored against the person specification and other elements of the job description.
  • Get the name right – an application form with the wrong organisation’s name on it (yes, I’ve seen it) is a bad sign. So is a misspelling or inaccurate version of the job title that your applying for. It shows a lack of attention to detail and that’s not a good start.
  • Your web presence – think about your online presence through social network sites, blogs, image sharing sites and the like. I often look up candidates on Google and it’s surprising what that shows up. There’s no separation between professional and personal content online – so only put it online if you don’t mind a potential employer seeing it.

At the interview

  • Dress appropriately – this might be a shirt and tie, it might not. However you need to dress appropriately. I’ve met candidates in jeans and t-shirts – for a role in a council communications team that’s not appropriate.
  • Use examples – when I interview I’m looking for real examples of what candidates have done – ideally as relevant as possible to the role that the candidate is applying for. If you haven’t got relevant experience just say so and try to give some thought about other related experience you might have (possibly outside a work setting).
  • Research the employer – I’m amazed how little some candidates research the organisation they’re applying to work for. Look at the organisation’s website, read its reports and publications, look what others are saying about it by Google or blog searching. Find out what it’s biggest challenges are. I often ask what research people have done – the best candidates show that they’ve researched in depth the job and the role. Some candidates I’ve met this year have openly admitted they haven’t looked at our website before the interview – not a good start.
  • Research the interviewer – find out who’s interviewing you and Google their name. Find out what they do in the organisation, their career history, their background. It may well give you some hints about the areas they’ll be looking to cover in the interview and help you establish some common ground to generate rapport during the interview.
  • Appear interested – ask follow-up questions if the chance arises. Have some questions prepared that demonstrate your interest in the role – that always impresses more than just asking when the interviewers will be getting back to you with the outcome of the interview.
  • Why public sector? – think about why you want to work for the organisation and why you want to work in the public sector – and be honest. I’ve met too many candidates that want to “put something back into the community” by working in local government – an answer that belies a lack of understanding about the roles of public sector bodies and annoys every interviewer I’ve interviewed with in my time in the public sector.

9 Comments on “How to get a job in public sector PR, marketing or communications”

  1. Simon, as ever some great advice here.

    I would add one more tip if I might, and that is to use your social networking community and skills to see who you know who is already working at the organisation and talk to them about the company, the role if they know, the challenges, who did the job before, strategic direction etc. As much information beforehand helps produce a compelling interview.

    The other thing that has annoyed me with interviews is I often ask people to prepare a presentation – 5mins on a given topic – it helps if people dont just read out the slides and shows forethought if they have it on a pen drive and a disc, and printed out… Last round of interviews 3 of my shortlisted 6 did not have a presentation ready to give when the laptop rejected their pen drive! 2 of them did not stick to the tight brief I had given them… so only 1 person performed well at interview.

  2. thanks for the comment Caroline – two more helpful tips I wish I’d thought of myself!

    On the theme of powerpoint, it’s also worth thinking about versions of Powerpoint to make sure your file is saved in a format that works on the PC you’re presenting with. And of course, reading from powerpoint is a big big no…

  3. I really appreciate your advice on how to sale what we have. I am a public sector employee . I was worried if the experience of working in public sector has a demand on market. Now I am feeling confident that by advertising myself will provide a good job.

  4. I found your comments from “the other side of the table” very useful. I am approaching redundancy sometime in the new year and am getting back up to speed on the whole process of applying for jobs.
    Can you tell me if an employer would take the ability of a potential employee to walk to work as a plus point, both from the green perspective & time-keeping?

  5. Hi John – I can only advise from my point of view – being able to walk to work wouldn’t count in your favour I’m afraid. We recruit to a person spec, and while we have a green travel plan, it’s not a consideration in recruitment decisions.

  6. Hi Simon

    I really want to work within Rural Development. I have had some recent successful experience within this feild on a self employed consultative basis and can display my knowledge easily enough at interview.

    My problem is actually securing the interviews. I owned and ran a successful search & selection business which I believe has many transferable skills; however, I get the impression that my self employed background is working against me.

    Am I being unrealistic in expecting to cross over from the private to the public sector? How often does this happen in your experience?

    I understand that there is some cultural differences although I think these can be overcome easily enough. I have held voluntary posts and done the common purpose course. Any ideas would be much appreciated.

  7. Hi Jayne,
    I can’t speak for colleagues in rural development, but in communications I don’t see a problem going private to public sector – in fact we’ve employed more people from private sector comms backgrounds than public sector ones.

    The key to securing interviews is clearly identifying in your personal statement on the application form all the skills/experience that meet the minimum criteria specified in the job description – whether that’s using voluntary or paid work experience.

    It’s always worth asking for feedback on unsuccessful applications – to see if there are any areas on your application forms that could be improved next time around.

    Good luck!


  8. Hi Simon

    That is really encouraging, I’m very grateful for your advice. I do try to match my skills with the job / person spec, saying that, I’ve only applied for 2 jobs so I’m probably being a bit premature! What can I say? I just expect to be snapped up!

    Blimey – I’m meant to be a recuitment expert, although to be fair I did did very little public sector work – they won’t pay the fees!! It is therefore very reassuring that you actively recruit from the private sector….

    Many thanks – Jayne

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