10 ways to land your next communications job

Don’t drop off chicken pot pies after your job interview. Do think about your personal brand. And stalking the HR director is a no-no.

Trish Shortell, a recruiting executive, once interviewed a job candidate who hailed from the same town in New Jersey where her brother lived.

Shortell asked whether the candidate had ever visited a gourmet shop there which made the world’s best chicken pot pies.

“Ah-ha! A connection!” the eager candidate must have thought.

So she later returned and dropped off six gourmet pies at the front desk—in August, when Shortell was off. A colleague stuck them on a shelf and forgot about them.

You guessed it: In time, a lovely scent filled the office.

“Don’t do things like that,” said Shortell, senior vice president at the global marketing and communications company WPP.

Shortell was part of a panel “Getting Your Next Job” at the International Association of Business Communicators world conference in New York. Apart from the wisdom about avoiding dinner drop-offs, here are some tips from the experts:

1. Pick up the phone

Amid all the emailing, LinkedIn networking, and social contacts, it’s easy to forget the value of a conversation—in person or on the phone. Recruiters and human resources folks often wade through thousands of emails a week, and a call can be humanizing. So can an invitation for a cup of coffee, but don’t be pushy.

One candidate landed a job because he got stuck in an elevator with the organization’s chief executive and hiring manager, says Peter McDermott, senior associate at Heyman Associates. Luckily, smartphones didn’t work in the elevator. So they talked face to face, the way humans once did.

2. Email, but don’t overdo it

Yes, recruiters and hiring types are often willing to stay in touch if you look promising. No, a biweekly email nudge is not appreciated, McDermott says. Once every two months is sufficient. Another panelist said that one email per quarter is the limit.

“Don’t be a stalker,” McDermott said.

3. Know your personal brand

Your brand is who you are—what you project—not what you want to be someday. As an exercise, Shortell tells people to approach their colleagues and bosses and say, “How do I deliver the work?” and use the response to describe their personal brand.

When Shortell did this, she went to her boss, the Boy Scout (his brand). Amid the praise, he told her, “Trish, you come at things like a fully baked cake.” He explained that he could trust her to get anything done, “but there’s no room for me to participate.”

That’s important to know.

4. Examine and plot out your 10-year plan

It’s not good enough to think about just the next job. Think about where you want to be a decade from now, and work back from there. What experiences do you need in order to reach that goal?

Organizations, too, need to give people permission to state their ambitions, rather than forcing them to sneak off secretly to write up their résumés.

“Your decision about taking a job should not be about the here and now,” Shortell says. “It should be that, ‘I’m doing this because it will lead me to the next thing.”

5. Simplify your résumé

That online résumé with the animated flowers that open up and send bees of information buzzing across the page? Clever, but what if it spreads out over 100 pages when the hiring manager prints it on her antiquated printer?

Don’t get too fancy, and keep it to two pages. We’ve all heard this before, yet many of us can’t seem to nail it.

“I know you’ve done so, so, so much, and I can’t wait to hear about it,” said panelist Cathleen Graham, vice president of human resources for Clever Devices. “I want to hear about it live and in person. I don’t want to read five pages of résumé.”

6. Be careful: That cover letter won’t help much, but it could torpedo you

That 900-word cover letter or email? Not worth the effort. Most hiring executives glance at the letter, then turn to the résumé for the real meat.

That said, make sure the letter doesn’t look cut and pasted—where the only thing that’s different is a company name. Oh, and watch for typos and Freudian slips.

One candidate wrote to Shortell meaning to say, “It was a pleasure meeting you.”

Instead she wrote: “It was nice to pleasure you.”

7. Practice telling your life story pithily

You should be prepared to present a compelling, five-minute life story, said Graham. This includes your name, education (not merely academic), skills, passions, and what makes you feel that you’ve earned your martini or ice cream sundae as you head home for the day.

“Like your résumé, your five-minute life story should be the movie trailer,” Graham said. “It should not be the movie.”

8. Don’t trash your company

We know: You’ve been treated cruelly. Your bosses gave you work to take home every weekend. You have to polish their sports cars and babysit their kids. But do not trash your (former) company.

When asked why you want to move on, however, it is OK to express ambition and explain why the new position will help you meet your long-term goals. (See the 10-year plan.)

9. Use interviews wisely

Don’t just sit there waiting for questions, panelists said. Rather:

  • Make interviews a dialogue. Ask about the organization. Show you’ve researched it.
  • Approach interviews with confidence: Are they worth my time, my intelligence, my energy? Is this the place I want to be? Is this going to set me up for success?
  • Send follow-up messages (emails are fine; they’re easier to forward) to everybody who interviews you, not just the decision maker. It creates ill will for someone who took time to interview you but didn’t receive a personal thank-you.
  • If they choose someone else, ask why you didn’t get the job. Maybe you’ll get some valuable feedback. The worst the interviewer can do is decline to answer.

10. It’s OK to make your ambitions clear (in a good way) at your own workplace

You got a sit-down with your chief executive. Great! Your career is set—unless you neglected to mention your hope that you’ll land that promotion. You can’t sulk afterward if you neglected to tell the bosses what you wanted.

Bonus tips: Baby Boomers will be retiring in the tens of millions over the next 15-20 years, opening up the job market for youngsters. Health care and technology are growing fields; those fields will need not just nurses and programmers, but communicators, too.


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