Hawkins International’s Patricia Harper has been in the public relations industry for over 20 years. She began in advertising and quickly learned, and was prompted, to move over to PR. She just had a knack for it. From M Silver (now Finn Partners) to Orient Express, this PR professional knows the business like the back of her hand and has spent the last year perfecting the hiring world as she’s put on a new hat as Chief of Staff for Hawkins International Public Relations.
We recently sat down with Patty and probed her to share her wisdom on how she hires such amazing PR pros. She had a lot of useful insight and tips for anyone looking to begin their career in the PR world.
Q: What do you look for in a new PR hire?
A: I look for strong writing and oral skills, good problem solving and attention to detail. In this day in age, though, it’s important to have an eye for design and digital knowledge as that’s where the industry is moving. You also need to be creative and balanced—clients have sensitivities and idiosyncrasies and it’s important to be aware of that.
Q: What do you value more: experience or a willingness to learn?
A: While a willingness to learn is valuable, there is no such thing as a new situation. When something happens you want someone who has skills under their belt. It’s important to make your way up the ladder and experience it all. In the end it will make you a better manager because you’re able to see how every moving piece works.
Q: What makes a resume stand out from the pack?
A: A cohesive tone and solid grammar and punctuation are very important. I love when someone is proactive and attaches references from the get go. The other day someone sent me their resume and, even though we didn’t have an open position, I had to respond and praise her because she had an innovative design and additional content. Including social media pages is also helpful and can ensure that as much of your personality and voice is visible.
Q: What makes a cover letter stand out?
A: You have to share your passions through the page. Even if you don’t have a lot of experience, make sure that any skillset is evident: do you travel, paint or lead an organization in your time off? Let that shine through because those skills are transferable.
Q: What questions should a candidate ask in the interview process?
A: What is the team structure like? What kind of clients will I be working on? Is this a place where I can bring my personal interests?
If you have a passion—let that shine. In PR we assign projects and expand our scope because people bring to the table innovative ideas.
Q: What is a question a candidate should never ask in an interview?
A: What are the hours? It bothers me every time. Call me old school, but that should not be what’s on your mind in the interview. You need to hold yourself to getting the job done.
Q: What are some tips for anyone who wants to start a career in PR?
A: Bring a portfolio. Be aware of trends— and not just industry trends. Be interested in and read everything: The New York Times, Shape Magazine or The Economist. If you are interested in the world then you will be interesting to others.