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

SimonCommunications, General

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.