Comms Exec I.S.O. Job: Career Management During a Downturn

Since the recession began in December 2007, the U.S. Labor Department has reported 5.1 million lost jobs, with almost two-thirds of those happening within the last three months. For communications executives who are still lucky enough to be gainfully employed, the pressures to stay that way are immense; for those who are searching for a new position, competition has never been greater. But there are a few bright spots amid such a dim outlook. According to Pepper Binner, senior client partner of corporate affairs with executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International, all business divisions are experiencing severe downturns, but communications is faring better than most thanks in large part to the new direction organizations are being forced to take. “Industries are rapidly transforming and redefining themselves,” Binner says. “Communications professionals are in the best possible position to advise/counsel/shape organizations’ strategies, messaging and positioning.” That said, the job market makes the term “best possible position” a relative one. But there are techniques communications executives can use if they find themselves back in the job market, or if they feel they are at risk of ending up there. IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A JOB … â–¶ Identify the opportunities. The first thing to do after you’ve recovered from the initial trauma of a layoff is to take stock of your industry in the context of your experience and skills. Conduct research on market and hiring trends to help identify the areas with the most potential. Job searches, especially in this economy, can be exhausting and discouraging, so you want to minimize the amount of time you spend pursuing dead-end avenues. Then, make a list that’s broken down into three categories: must-haves, nice-to-haves and not-necessary-to-haves. The items you include in the first category should be the focus of your efforts, as they represent things you aren’t willing to compromise on. But remember: These must-haves shouldn’t all be the same as those you would have listed when times were good, as unreasonable expectations will cause you to bypass viable opportunities. “Don’t hang onto the goals, aspirations and milestones you created during boom times,” Binner says. “Whatever you had in mind for rewards, including the money you think you should be making, your title and the types of projects you expected to be working on, you have to reset the bar.” Additional compromises that could increase your chances of landing a job quickly include: • Being willing to relocate; • Accepting a pay cut or title downgrade, especially if it’s at an organization that is likely to promote from within when things turn around. If you are still employed but working about being laid off, Binner says, communicate your willingness to make a sacrifice. “The management team is stressed about reducing the workforce and costs. If you proactively go to them with ideas, including compensation reduction, they’ll be open to your solutions and it can help you with job security,” she says; and, • Being open to interim positions, trial periods and consulting project. â–¶ Rethink your résumé. Given the influx of résumés to the handful of managers that do have open positions, it has never been more critical to make yours stand out. Binner offers the following tips for doing so: • Emphasize your future potential: Especially for younger professionals without decades of experience behind them, what you are capable of achieving in the immediate future with a small amount of training can be a key selling point. • Think in verbs: Active verbs that describe results-driven experiences are far more compelling than lists of adjectives, statistics or jargon. • Focus on two skills that will never go out of style: If you are skilled (or even simply competent) in social media and writing, then your opportunities just increased tenfold. Binner notes that many of the communications positions available today are social-media-centric, so any expertise in this arena should be front and center. As for writing, Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson put it bluntly in a recent New York Times interview, saying, “I think this communication point is getting more and more important. People really have to be able to handle the written and spoken word...writing is not something that is taught as strongly as it should be in the educational curriculum.” With that in mind, use your résumé and cover letter as opportunities to flex this muscle and list any past writing-related assignments and responsibilities. IF YOU ARE TRYING TO PROTECT YOUR JOB To prove you are an invaluable asset to your organization requires a strategic positioning of your skills—a task, Binner says, that depends on communications professionals’ ability to: • Evolve from being functional experts to trusted advisers; • Evolve their functions from that of a mouthpiece to a business strategist; and, • Become integrators by connecting, coordinating and enabling all stakeholders. All of these transformations sound easy on paper, but putting them into action is a different story altogether. (For a list of specific career management best practices, see the accompanying sidebar.) In the meantime, whether you are an employed communicator or an unemployed one, know that you have skills that are essential to the success of every management team and, by extension, every organization. It’s just a matter of making those skills apparent to the right people. “You need to be the one who is still motivated and driven,” Binner says. “That type of person doesn’t jump to the top of lists [when it comes time] for cuts.” PRN CONTACT: Pepper Binner,

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