In a tough economy, communications jobs become scarce. How can you ensure that you find and/or maintain your place in a competitive profession? Here’s how.
1. Know the business.
Of course, communicators must excel at communications practices, but this will be impossible without also acquiring a thorough understanding of the business and industry in which you work. Do your homework. Read the annual report. Talk to someone in accounting or investor relations who can offer insight into the company’s financial statements. How does the business turn a profit? What challenges do the business and the industry face?
Interview people in operations, customer service, marketing – wherever important work is being done, and don’t limit your discussions to senior executives. Talking to those “in the trenches” will provide clearer perspective and greater operational detail. An additional benefit: This research provides networking opportunities and helps to develop “go-to” sources for when you have questions. Work to maintain these relationships.
2. Don’t wait for permission – lead.
Communications people often complain about being treated like order-takers. Why? Because so many communications people take orders! Accepting responsibility only for that which is strictly communications work is the fast track to becoming irrelevant. Do what needs to be done regardless of whether it’s a communications function. Take on organizational responsibilities – especially when the stakes are high. Your work will get exposure; you’ll prove your value to the business; and, you’ll have an opportunity to build relationships with those outside the communications team.
3. Be a better writer.
I have an undergrad degree in English and a master’s degree in communication. Which is more useful in business? The degree in English. The number of people working in my profession who cannot write is astonishing. This skill should be nonnegotiable in the hiring process, and yet so many nonwriters slip through. For me, it is simple: If you can’t write, you can’t communicate. Take writing classes. Study reference books. Read good writers. Practice. Being a “people person” won’t help you when the page is blank.
4. Keep studying and stay on top of the technology.
One of the best aspects of working in the communications profession is that there is always something new to learn, whether in the realm of the strategic or the tactical. And, the technology changes constantly – from desktop publishing to video and social media – the shifts have been seismic. Even if your organization isn’t putting a particular channel to good use, how can you – as a communications professional – not be familiar with it? Just because your company doesn’t have a Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence or a Twitter account doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.
Don’t wait until you need a network to start building one. Join professional associations – the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), etc. – and attend the meetings. It’s an easy way to stay up to date on industry issues, and you’ll meet like-minded people facing challenges similar to your own. Further, should the communications budget be slashed and you find yourself out of work, you’ll have a network already established when you start job hunting.
It’s tough out there. The opportunities are challenging, but the work is rewarding. Up your game, and you can continue to play.