Eight Character Skills That Make a Better PR Hire



  • Liberal arts students' broader knowledge and analytical training are useful in public relations efforts
  • Overall understanding of a communications program and a company's broader business goals more important than simply writing press releases

A few years ago a top executive at one of the major PR agencies said they no longer had success hiring graduates from PR degree programs. They had better luck hiring liberal arts majors because these students came with broader knowledge, a worldly mindset and better analytical training. He felt these graduates offered better analytical abilities and could easily be trained in the “trade school” skills of media relations, employee and crisis communication, community relations and the latest social media fad.

While some might differ with this assessment, the truth remains that public relations firms and in-house PR departments need more than “PR 101” skills in writing press releases and pitching stories. They should be looking for someone who understands the role those tools play as part of a communications program, and at a larger view, in achieving the organization’s broader business goals.

For a PR pro who can integrate quickly with real-world business operations, hiring directors need to seek the following attributes:

  1. Networking Skill: Will the candidate succeed in face-to-face business and social relationships beyond the Internet?
  2. Writing Strength: Few skills are more important than the ability to communicate concisely, including editing and spelling.
  3. Collaborative Aptitude: Watch for signs the person can successfully work in teams, recognizing different personal abilities and roles appropriate for each team member.
  4. Analytical Foresight: PR pros must be analytical and able to solve problems, to “see around corners.”
  5. World Awareness: Is the candidate knowledgeable of the surrounding world? Is he or she immersed in relevant timely information and competing opinions relating to clients’ business and issues?
  6. Ability to Prioritize: Successful team members must be able to wade through the crap, be aware of all sides of an issue and decipher how to balance actions and advice to clients.
  7. Organizational Adeptness: Communication today is warp speed and situations change quickly. PR people need to abandon a project and change directions quickly if it is not working.
  8. Strength of Character: The best practitioner will generate many great ideas that will be rejected by clients, for many reasons, including cost. Rejection is part of PR’s DNA, and good hires have the ability to accept that and move forward.

As an educator I know that not every PR graduate combines these crucial skills, but there are significant efforts, certainly here at The University of Texas at Austin, to structure teaching experiences that provide as much real-world experience as possible. Good curriculums cover current issues and crisis situations, and campaign classes solve real companies’ issues and needs.

The best PR programs today offer or require:

  • Interdisciplinary curriculums
  • Basic business courses (such as our Business Foundations Program at UT Austin)
  • Integrated classes with advertising, journalism and marketing students
  • Multiple interning opportunities

At the end of the academic pipeline, the skills and attitudes that employers most value are the curiosity to research and solve problems, hard work, a positive attitude and a well rounded life of diverse personal and professional activities.

Most students today are smart, motivated and work hard — but — PR educators need to push students beyond their comfort zone and not coddle them. The beauty of today’s student is, “they don’t know what they can’t do” and are fearless.

That kind of spark can work wonders in any organization.


The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily The University of Texas at Austin.

About The Author

Terry Hemeyer

Senior Lecturer, Department of Advertising, College of Communications, University of Texas at Austin

Professor Terry Hemeyer is one of the few public relations executives that have attained C-suite status beyond typical communications functions....

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