- Formed in 2018 through a merger between Kekst and CNC, Publicis Groupe-owned Kekst CNC is considered one of the most prestigious crisis and financial communications firms, with more than 250 employees and 13 offices worldwide.
- Business Insider spoke to a current employee and HR director to discuss what they look for in job candidates.
- Kekst CNC uses interviews with employees at different seniority levels and a writing test to assess candidates’ empathy and judgement.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Founded in 1970 by the late Gershon Kekst, Kekst and Company is one of the most prestigious agencies in the public relations industry.
The Publicis-owned firm pioneered a new space for PR — advising on mergers and financial crises — after participating in famous deals like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts’ acquisition of RJR Nabisco, which gained notoriety through the book “Barbarians at the Gate.”
In 2018, Kekst merged with CNC to create Kekst CNC, which has more than 250 employees and 13 offices worldwide. That merger jumpstarted the business, netting Kekst CNC business with WeWork during the office-sharing company’s downward spiral and Saudi Aramco as it restarted its IPO plans.
Business Insider spoke with Kekst CNC’s human capital management and HR director, Yumi Kim, and a principal with 10 years of experience, Ross Lovern, who shed light on what they look for in hiring people to work on those and other high-profile accounts.
Kekst CNC places high importance on a candidate’s cover letter
When a job opening appears, a Kekst CNC HR staff member vets all the applications and resumes. Those that pass this stage go to a committee made up of a half dozen people from HR and employees who work on accounts.
Much of the initial screening focuses on the cover letter.
“We are a business about written and spoken communications,” Kim said. “Everything you show is a chance to show your attention and care to detail.”
In a firm like Kekst CNC, where employees have backgrounds in law, journalism, finance, and other professional services industries, strategic communications or PR experience isn’t required for entry-level positions, but is more important for people in senior positions, Kim said.
Candidates interview with Kekst employees at their level
Typically, there are two or three rounds of interviews for junior roles and three or four rounds at the very most for more senior roles, Kim said. The HR team tries to pair candidates with employees in their areas of interest.
Candidates start off interviewing with potential peers to give the firm and candidate a preview of who they might end up working with. The thinking is that good chemistry is crucial at a firm like Kekst, where people can work long hours at odd times under stressful situations.
“Some people come in and say they’re looking for a job in PR because they like to communicate with people, and that’s very nice, but it doesn’t get to dealing with clients’ biggest challenges,” Lovern said. “I’m looking to see what business topics they’re interested in. Are they knowledgeable? In their personal time, are they reading the news or are they doing something else?”
Kekst CNC challenges candidates with deceptively simple questions and curveballs
One question nearly every candidate gets asked is: Why are you applying to Kekst?
“It’s how we measure if they’re dedicated and interested in the job and our industry,” Kim said. “It’s such a basic question, but it shows how much research they’ve done.”
Lovern also wants to see if a candidate can display judgment and empathy. He asks how candidates would handle a crisis, what they’re passionate about, and if they can think on their feet. He also wants to test the candidate’s knowledge of business and PR.
“There is one question I like to ask: If you are starting a brand new firm on your own and you can pitch any company in the world, what company would you pitch as a client and why?” Lovern said.
Lovern pointed out a standout answer as an example to this question: A candidate said they’d pitch for Barnes and Noble because they love reading, and walked through how Kekst CNC could reposition the bookstore company.
Candidates get a writing test to evaluate their PR chops
Halfway through the interview process, candidates will get a writing test presenting a made-up situation like a crisis, earnings call, announcement, along with some data, that calls on them to draft a response or communications plan.
More than just testing their grammar, the test demonstrates if the candidate can analyze and synthesize information, understand the data, write and think clearly, write in the voice of the given corporation and for multiple audiences.
“As a firm, we’re presented with complicated problems and questions, so you have to think quickly and pull in industry trends,” Kim said.
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