Posted by: Kristen Ridley | March 24, 2011

Comms people have A LOT of invisible hats!

HatsAs a currently “available” communicator – Since I finished a 12-month contract role at the end of November 2010, I am now “actively seeking new opportunities” i.e. participating in the job-search process. This process, if you’ve been happily employed for a while and haven’t experienced it recently, involves quite a lot of elbow-grease and commitment, networking and social-media site participation . . . in fact, I would say if you’re doing it thoroughly, it’s pretty much equivalent to having a full-time job. At least, that’s how I’ve been approaching it.

But this isn’t a post about job-search strategies, so stick with me if you’re asking: “Where’s the communications focus” I just had to set the scene, now, here’s the comms stuff:

During an interview with the recruitment consultant acting for a large, successful and well-known company, who are looking for a communicator to handle all internal communications, as well as provide writing, strategy and support services to the CEO and other members of the senior executive team, after about 30 minutes of the usual discussion about my skills and past business experiences, and the organization’s needs and the focus of the role, the consultant mentioned that the reason he had been hired is because after some months of attempting to fill the role on their own, the company had not found the right candidate.

When asked what the challenge was, it turned out that all the candidates interviewed were excellent writers, but their demeanor and personalities suggested that they would be happiest closeted away in a quiet room, just writing things. Now, if you have done any communication jobs that involved supporting any member of the executive team, you know that this is probably not the best kind of personality to do the job with everyone involved being happy. I mean, Hemingway was an undisputed genius as a writer, but I don’t see him and his personal communication style fitting in terribly successfully at an executive meeting within the current corporate environment, you know??

So that conversation got me to thinking about a topic I think about a lot when it comes to our job [I’m assuming if you’re reading my blog you’re a communicator since that’s what I gab about in this space] which is: “why are we still not respected and valued for the contributions we make?! And one of the reasons I think that, is because some of us still haven’t gotten good at understanding and developing the “extra stuff skills” a truly successful communicator needs to have if your goal is to work and move-up in a corporate environment.

I mean, when I was told about the writers who weren’t exactly what the company was looking for, I got an immediate picture in my head of a very attractive, creative individual, with probably what I’d call “cutting edge” fashion sense [i.e. I doubt they wore a power suit to the interview] and an understated at best, and a completely shy at worst, presentation of themselves, but absolutely KILLER writing samples to share with the interviewer.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I am absolutely not knocking writers who simply want to write – not AT ALL!! There is nothing wrong with knowing what you’re really awesome at, and finding a job where you can do that. The challenge comes if you want to sell yourself as a “communications person” because most recruiters or HR people who are hiring for comms jobs are looking for more than fabulous writing skills, or they would describe the job “writer/editor” instead.

Through the 10-plus years that I’ve been working as a communicator, in a variety of companies, industries and work environments, I’ve realized there are other skills that you really need to work at cultivating to be seen as more than “the writer” [again, let me reiterate, there’s nothing wrong with being a writer, but it’s different from being a communications person] and some of them aren’t things I would have necessarily anticipated I’d need at the beginning of my career.

Here are some of the “extra stuff skills” I’ve worked – admittedly with varying levels of success at varying times! – on developing and which I think are really necessary if you want to get [forgive me – but I have to use the proper lingo!] “a seat at the table” and be seen as a truly valuable team member by your executives:

All the really successful communicators I’ve known have been psychologists, whether they took Psych in school or not, because doing what we do, for the variety of personalities and people we do it for, means we have to be extremely good at quickly and accurately getting a handle on all aspects of the needs and motivations of the people in our businesses. I mean, let’s face it – most people aren’t going to tell you what their own personal little “idiosyncracies” are, but if you can figure them out on your own, it will make working happily and easily with all those folks an awful lot smoother!

Do I REALLY even need to explain this one??? Okay, just in case you’re new to the comms field. Every corporate environment I’ve ever worked in has had some level of political wrangling that goes on. This VP doesn’t get along with that VP, the IT department feels like it was hung out to dry by the marketing people in a past project and is looking for payback, like that! The really tough part of this, is that typically, the communicator has to work with ALL these people at one time or another, and so you HAVE to be able to convince them to work together when necessary to move the overall business objectives forward. I’m not saying that you HAVE to go to United Nations negotiator school to be a great communications person, but seriously – it couldn’t hurt!

Kindergarten teacher
Once again, I do not want to offend anyone, and I am not suggesting the average corporate office is staffed by 5-year olds, but personalities DO tend to clash, and projects and objectives CAN conflict with one another in the course of doing business. And, just as a Kindergarten teacher cannot just scream: “Everybody shut the – Bleep! – up and get back to work! you, as a corporate communicator have to respectfully, and with understanding and professionalism, navigate those conflicting – but often equally valid – goals and priorities with your various business partners. Having the patience of a Kindergarten teacher is a very valuable skill for a communicator, that’s all I’m sayin’

Well, those are the three “special skills” that come immediately to MY mind when I think about it, but I’m sure there are others, so please add to my list! What special skills have YOU had to cultivate as a communicator that you think helps you to get things done successfully through the years?


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