5 Public Information Officer Interview Questions

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • October 24, 2023

A public information officer (PIO) plays a critical role in maintaining transparency and fostering positive relationships between an organization and the public. For such a critical role, the hiring process must be meticulous and thorough in order to find the right candidate.

To help identify the most suitable PIO for your organization, this guide provides five interview questions to ask your candidates to gain insights into their experience, communication skills, crisis management abilities, strategic thinking, and understanding of the balance between transparency and confidentiality.

The questions will help you evaluate each candidate thoroughly to choose a PIO who aligns with your organization’s or government agency’s mission, values, and communication objectives.

What is a Public Information Officer?

A public information officer is an individual responsible for communicating information about their organization with members of the public. They share messages via press conferences, press releases, social media posts, and other forms of communication.

Most public information officers work for state, local, or federal governments, but they can also work for nonprofits, NGOs, corporations, and healthcare and educational institutions. Whether they’re a city administrator or work for a nonprofit, their role remains consistent: communicating, managing public relations, handling crises, and maintaining transparency between the organization and its stakeholders.

Best Public Information Officer Interview Questions

Here are the best questions to ask candidates in a public information officer interview:

1. Can you describe your experience in crisis communication and managing sensitive information?

PIOs are often responsible for disseminating information during emergencies, disasters, or other crisis situations. They have to be able to stay calm, communicate the right message, and keep certain information confidential. 

This question helps reveal the candidate’s strategies and approaches to dealing with sensitive information and high-pressure scenarios. Understanding a candidate’s experience in these areas proves essential to ensure they can handle the demands of the position. 

What to listen for in the response:

  • Ability to adapt communication strategies to different crisis scenarios
  • Experience in developing and implementing crisis communication plans
  • Willingness to learn from past experiences
  • Compliance with laws and regulations related to handling sensitive data

2. How do you stay updated on current events and emerging communication trends?

The communication landscape is continually evolving, driven by factors like technological advancements, social media, and the globalization of information. PIOs must stay informed about emerging technologies and trends to communicate with the public effectively.

Your candidate’s response to this question will demonstrate their ability (or lack thereof) to provide timely and relevant information using the most effective communication tools. PIOs that stay updated on current events and emerging communication trends can adapt their approaches and tailor their messages for different audiences. 

What to listen for in the response:

  • Consumption of reputable news sources and industry publications 
  • Integration of emerging trends into communication strategies

3. Give an example of a time you had to communicate complex information to a diverse audience. How did you ensure everyone understood your message?

Effective communication is a fundamental skill for a PIO, as their jobs require them to disseminate information to diverse audiences. This question evaluates their communication skills, helping you understand whether they can articulate complex information clearly and concisely.

The candidate’s response provides insights into how they tailor their messages to different audiences and break down intricate details into digestible segments. The example demonstrates their abilities in action.

The question also illustrates whether and how the candidate uses feedback to understand the effectiveness of their communication approach to adjust and improve it. 

What to listen for in the response:

  • Usage of a variety of communication methods to ensure comprehension across diverse groups
  • Commitment to improving and refining communication strategies
  • Mentions of engaging with the audience to improve their comprehension and retention

4. What strategies do you employ to build and maintain positive relationships with the media?

Organizations and governments use media as the primary public communication channel. Positive relationships between PIOs and the media build credibility and trust, and provide better access to opportunities like interviews, feature stories, or participation in relevant news discussions.

This question assesses the candidate’s interpersonal and communication skills. Building and maintaining relationships requires effective communication, negotiation, and collaboration. So, their answer will showcase their ability to establish rapport, trust, and mutual respect with journalists and media representatives.

You can also use this opportunity to have the candidate discuss how they plan to leverage their positive media relationships to help you meet your communication objectives.

What to listen for in the response:

  • An understanding of media dynamics and trends
  • Effective communication and interpersonal skills
  • Integration of positive media relationships into broader public relations initiatives and goals

5. How would you handle a situation where your organization was facing negative publicity or a public relations crisis?

Asking candidates how they approach a crisis demonstrates their ability to assess, analyze, and respond appropriately under pressure. This is a critical aspect of a PIO’s role.

Dealing with negative publicity or public relations crises requires quick and effective decision-making. The candidate’s response will provide insights into their decision-making processes and their capacity to continuously improve their crisis management strategies.

What to listen for in the response:

  • Commitment to providing accurate information and acknowledging mistakes if necessary
  • Ability to manage media relations effectively, including controlling the narrative and handling tough questions.
  • Ability to minimize damage from negative publicity
  • Calmness under pressure

How Board Management Software Improves Public Information Officer Effectiveness

PIOs can use board management software to improve their effectiveness. Technology facilitates efficient communication, enables collaboration, automates administrative tasks, and ensures secure document management.

eScribe provides a comprehensive set of tools and functionalities tailored to the government sector. It can enhance the effectiveness of PIOs in several ways. And the best part, eScribe’s pricing works for city government budgets. Among its robust features are:

  • Meeting Manager: Simplify the process of scheduling, organizing, and hosting meetings and press briefings. You can also prevent meetings from becoming debates with the request to speak feature.
  • Meeting Minutes: Take meeting minutes directly within the platform. Effortlessly make notes, create tasks, track attendance, and mark motions as the meeting progresses. 
  • Reporting and Workflows: Gain a bird’s eye view of all operations in one place with comprehensive deadline management and status tracking.
  • Collaboration Tools: eScribe collaboration tools foster better communication and sharing of information to collaborate with team members like city managers

If you want to see a real-life example of how eScribe meeting software helps local governments streamline meeting management, check out the City of Greensboro Case Study.