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How pre-employment tests can help you find the best PR job candidates

06 Jun, 2022 Staff recruitment

The public relations field has changed remarkably in the past decade. Hiring practices have also changed as a result – many aspects of traditional hiring practices are quite different now. As the pandemic has led to much more remote and hybrid mode employment than previously, recruiters no longer rely just on telephone and face-to-face interviews for filling openings because they can conduct many interviews over Zoom and other electronic channels. And pre-employment tests can help you find the best PR job candidates.

With these changes in hiring processes, employers now look more closely at ways to mitigate the risks of bad hiring decisions. Common methods of reducing any substandard hiring and avoiding early attrition rates are a key aim of recruitment because unsuitable appointments can lead to a heavy business cost. One of the steps they can take is to avoid jumping to a wrong decision and risking a subsequent raft of operational issues by leaving a position unfilled and restarting the recruitment process.

It’s important to remember that appointing bad hires tends to create a cascading effect because they can create productivity problems with their internal and external interactions every day. Organizations can improve the rate of successful appointments by using proven pre-employment tests to ensure hiring the right candidates. These tests are especially relevant for assessing applicants with limited experience, ie applicants for entry-level jobs in PR/Comms .

Entry-level job skills required

Collaborative researchers from two Virginia universities found the most common job titles advertised for entry-level PR jobs. Their survey findings from 1,000 US PR/comms entry-level job ads were published in the Public Relations Review in December 2020. The ads were for Communications Specialist (31%), Public Relations Assistant (22%), Public Relations Specialist (15%), Public Relations Coordinator (11%), Public Relations Account Executive (10%), Public Relations Assistant Account Executive (5%), Public Relations Associate (3%), Communications Coordinator (2%), and Public Relations Account Coordinator (1%).

The survey found that the skills in most demand in the [exactly] 1,000 PR/comms entry-level job ads were:

Source of table: Public Relations Review, December 2020. Also published in National Library of Medicine website.

4 types of pre-employment tests for PR jobs

Recruiters find that conducting online pre-employment tests for PR jobs helps improve the quality of new recruits, especially at entry levels. Four broad types of pre-employment tests can be conducted as an integral part of the hiring process:

1. Communication skills test (verbal and written)

Written communication skills. As found in the Virginia researchers survey, the overwhelming, fundamental skill in public relations and communication is the ability to write well. This is what employers seek from candidates. This is confirmed by a 2018 study of entry-level public relations job listings on the PRSA Job Center, which found that the ability to write well – whether for promotional materials, web content, social media, strategic plans, press releases or newsletters – was highlighted in job ads.

To evaluate these skills, employers can ask candidates to bring samples of their work to their interview, such as press releases, articles, social media posts or other written intended for a range of readers. Look for individuals with a firm command of language and meticulous attention to detail in writing and editing. In addition, to ensure hiring the right PR professional for your firm, you might want to follow this simple test procedure:

  • Ask your candidates to make necessary changes to a sloppy first draft of a press release.
  • Ask them to detect grammar and spelling errors. This would show how attentive and knowledgeable the candidate is.
  • Instruct the candidates to prepare a media pitch. In this regard, you might want to provide an executive-authored article on industry thought leadership and encourage the candidate to write a media pitch according to the target audience.
  • Another thought for when shortlisted candidates attend an interview, they are asked firstly to write a summary with a deadline, say, of 30 minutes, of their response to a given communication situation.

Verbal communication skills. PR practitioners and staffers are renowned for being good talkers, and interviewers can understand quite quickly the extent of candidates’ verbal capabilities and interpersonal communication skills. But an overlooked skill is to be a good listener. It’s vital to be aware of tone or emotion during a conversation, and show respect to the other person’s points so all parties can get some worthwhile results from the discussion.

Workshops can also be outsourced for testing and training new recruits  on their communication skills.

2. Reading comprehension test

Image, above.

Reading comprehension is more than just comprehending the words written on a page. The process involves identifying the content’s primary concept and its underlying meaning, understanding relevant terminology, drawing logical inferences from the text, and determining the writer’s intent. The aim of reading comprehension tests is to ensure that candidates employ analytical thinking and reasoning skills to arrive at the correct answers.

Organizations can pre screen candidates with online reading comprehension tests to find applicants who have the necessary skills to fill the role. Such tests should enable candidates to analyze what they read, understand the content, and draw connections between the information supplied and the wider business environment context to reach significant conclusions.

Also, it is crucial to set a completion time for tests. Meeting deadlines is a major aspect of professional communication, and so it is essential to include timeframes in pre-employment tests for PR jobs.

When reading reports and other written communication mediums, successful candidates should be able to quickly digest and understand complex business jargon and its context.

So, which specific job roles should have these kinds of tests? Roles in PR and comms, especially editors, managers, social media specialists, and even entry-level roles, require high skills in reading, evaluating, and analyzing content. As many comms teams now work mostly in a remote or hybrid setting, they are communicating electronicallyvia email, apps and video channels much more often than in the past. Therefore, reading comprehension skills are important for successful distance communication.

3. Test social media knowledge

Increasingly, social media skills are becoming essential in public relations and communication, even at an entry level. For instance, the above Virginia study found that more than a third of entry-level candidates were expected to have a reasonable command of social/digital media skills. .

Image, opposite.

It’s important that individuals have a clear grasp of the fundamental differences between social media platforms – and their individual marketplace strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, potential employees must have a fundamental understanding of how to work with various types of media formats.

Here are some ways you can test the social media abilities of your potential new hires:

  • Ask your candidates to examine some social media content. Allow them to compile a list of your company’s and competitors’ social media posts in the categories of good, poor, and ugly.
  • Ask them their reasoning for allocating posts on the poor and ugly list, and how they could improve them.
  • Give your candidate a few examples of real social media complaints your company has received in the past. Then, ask them how they would respond.

4. Cognitive ability tests

Employers should should get job candidates to complete cognitive ability tests. These can be used to evaluate an individual’s thinking skills (reasoning, verbal ability, problem-solving, etc.) Research has shown that general cognitive ability influences job performance largely through its role in the acquisition and use of information about how to do one’s job. Individuals with higher levels of cognitive ability acquire new information more easily and more quickly, and are able to use that information more effectively. Cognitive ability is likely to be more important in complex jobs, when a person is new to the job, and when there are changes in the workplace that require workers to learn new ways of performing their jobs.

Here are two significant examples of how your organization can integrate cognitive ability tests in its hiring process:

  1. Problem Solving: This type of test can help determine if a candidate can handle certain scheduling conflicts, show information in the appropriate sequence, and make informed judgments based on the available data.
  2. Numerical Reasoning: Numerical reasoning can help assess a candidate’s ability to apply logic-based reasoning skills to address corporate difficulties in the real world.

The key advantage of including a cognitive ability module in online pre-employment tests for PR jobs is that it allows you to better understand the candidates’ ability to deal with difficult real-world mental processes.

The best way to fully evaluate your candidates’ cognitive abilities is to evaluate them based on their performance on tasks that are similar to those they are highly likely to face in their daily job. For instance, as PR goals and objectives are more important to understand than ever,  you can ask applicants to try writing a sample or two of typical PR/comms goals, objectives and tasks to see how well they are prepared for a real-life workplace.

Final word

Hiring the right candidate is a major step forward in potential achievement of workplace results. One more skill for shortlisting candidates is the extent of their creativity. It pays to hire someone who can help increase your productivity in PR brainstorming. Public relations professionals are constantly challenged to be innovative. Whether writing, coming up with a new approach to an old subject or finding a strategy to attract new clients, creativity is a key driver of the PR industry. If the candidate has provided a reference from a previous employer, you could inquire the extent of their creativity and in solving problems in their previous work.

Senior management will be happier if your team can think outside the box and come up with innovative concepts. So, think of ways you could test your candidates’ creativity before offering them a job.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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