Crash course in "communications"?
July 24, 2013 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a new job, and I find myself applying to a lot of positions with "communications" in the title. The positions seem like they'd be good fits, and I meet most of skill/experience/competency requirements, but I've never held a "communications" position, per se. What can I do to bolster my communications credentials and address this deficit in interviews?

Possibly relevant background: I am the administrative head of a research unit at a large university, and the positions in question are all elsewhere in the university. My hope is that my relationship with the institution and my familiarity with the material being communicated will compensate somewhat for my lack of communications experience.

The thing is, I think I have communications experience in everything but name. I was an English major and joined my unit as an editorial type. I've acquired lots of additional responsibilities over the years, but I've always retained this core writing-and-editing function, which is the highest-profile aspect of my job (I've published a book, several academic papers, and a handful of related general-interest articles). I'm the primary point of contact for all outside inquiries in my unit, and I'm the liaison to the university's marketing and communications departments. I manage large, complicated projects, written and otherwise, but I don't have any experience developing a communications strategy, which is surely something the hiring managers will be seeking.
posted by ndg to Work & Money (8 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest volunteering to get the experience. Seek out a non-profit that needs help with a communications strategy and help them organize one.

The other thing is to arrange for an 'informational interview' with one of the folks looking to fill these positions. Explain that you're looking to make a shift and are interested in these types of positions. Ask what they'd like to see on your resume to make a more attractive candidate.

I once sent a letter to the local school board with a copy of my corporate resume asking what they'd need to see to make me a viable candidate for a teaching position. My phone rang with tons of offers and I accepted one of them.

Don't rule yourself out before you even try.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:07 AM on July 24, 2013

It sounds like you have a lot of relevant transferrable skills. You would need experience/training in media relations, public relations, digital marketing, social media marketing management, graphic design and layout, print production, communications strategy, crisis management and so on. You'll need to know stuff like writing a media release, managing the media, generating media interest, managing and using social media, and so on. It isn't hugely difficult to crack into the field, especially if you took a few workshops. But if you are looking for something at a senior level, you may find that you have a knowledge gap. The right organization may be willing to take you on, but I think you need to do a lot of reading and take some courses to convince most employers. You may need to transition to something lower level for a year or two, then go for something more senior (which may be difficult, so look for a manager position, ot coordinator, as an entry level option). Volunteer experience can be an excellent way to build up experience and is likely preferable to taking a career dive to get experience, unless you need money right away.

Communication is a highly competitive field and the pay is not particularly great. Excellent people with lots of experience and great track records make six-figure salaries, but a lot of people sit at the $40-60k level for most of their careers. That is sometimes a choice, sometimes because of work-life or family-work choices, but sometimes it's because there are only so many jobs. Do some info interviews to find out what the job market is like in your area and consider building out a plan that will allow you to transition back to something less competitive and more lucrative if need be.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:11 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I returned to Canada after living and working as a teacher and small business owner in Japan, I had to change careers, and comms was where I ended up at first.

I had worked as a writer for trade and business publications, so I had a portfolio, but I didn't have any experience in comms or in government (which, in my town, is who actually has comms departments).

It was tough, so I had to develop a relationship with someone who would take a chance on me, and I eventually got a job.

The challenge is that I didn't know at the time how to write communications plans, or how to format speeches, any of that stuff. That's going to be a barrier to anyone that is going to hire you.

So either volunteer and pick up the tools of the trade, or get a certificate of some sort.

In regards to volunteering, this stuff is not exactly rocket science (although they would like to make you think so) so figure out the various tools and the language of the trade asap, and use your knowledge to bluff your way in.

I now work on the agency side, and often have to interact with "PR professionals." The emperor wears no clothes, but gets by on a fancy vocabulary.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:13 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm particularly interested in recommendations of particular books or other resources that could help me speak the language. Thanks for the answers so far!
posted by ndg at 10:18 AM on July 24, 2013

It's a vast topic. You asked about writing a communications strategy. While everyone and their dog has their own way of doing it, this WikiHow has the basics.

In regards to the intellecutal/Pro-Dev aspect of the discipline, David Meerman Scott has some great ideas, specifically about how online PR has transformed the comms discipline. His New Rules of Marketing and PR has some great concepts that might be useful when networking or getting that job interview.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:24 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got a job in communications with absolutely no experience at all, besides an English major. On the bright side, I feel like it is a field where generally people are more concerned with the quality of the work you've done than any general education requirements.

-Absolute most important thing, have a good portfolio of relevant published writing samples (press releases, op-eds, pitch letters, blog posts, talking points)

-Become familiar with "influential" people, press, blogs, resources, publication in the specific field you'll be doing communications for (sounds like you already have a good start on this)

-Become familiar with what sort of materials you will be working with- media monitoring software (Cision, Vocus, Meltwater), video or audio equipment for podcasts/videocasts, email marketing, et cet

-Be able to demonstrate that you are awesome at writing, editing, proofreading, whatever style guide you'll be using (AP or Chicago most likely) and researching

-Maybe read up on some syllabi from college courses on PR and read the relevant books. There was definitely a full PR class up on iTunes U a while ago that was pretty useful.

-I know that PRSA, one of the big national PR associations, offers a ton of really awesome resources on their website. Also might be useful to join the local PR group in your area.
posted by forkisbetter at 11:01 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you have great writing skills which is terrific. I know you're interested in speaking the language but communications means so many different things that it's hard to say. Some positions and organizations are very jargon-y and others less so. You can tailor your resume to highlight the experiences that you do have.

I think it's more important to come to an interview with ideas for the position/organization. You can learn the organization's style but creativity is harder to learn. It's good that you're interested in learning communications strategies. A lot of it is planning so if you've organized projects with multiple moving parts before, you can easily say in an interview how that experience would relate to executing a communications strategy.

I'd browse websites that communications professionals frequent - PR Daily, Mashable, PRSA, MediaBistro are some that come to mind. You can also check out LinkedIn for groups that post links. Don't worry about being very academic. Communications professionals need to be able to explain things to people in the language of their audience, not their own secret language.
posted by kat518 at 11:43 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Resources: I like Ragan and Ragan Training (webinars, online courses, videos).

posted by Lescha at 11:45 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

« Older That's, like, pretty deep, man   |   Short term (1 month) pocket hotspot recommendation... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.