Dear Flack….Leadership Skills

Dear Flack –

I’m currently at a very small agency with no departments or divisions. The boss handles all new business pitches and project management and has for years (decades). It works for her so I don’t really blame her. Even when something is “delegated” it’s still micromanaged.

The problem is that with the number of years I’ve been here all the openings at other agencies seek demonstrable PR (or related) leadership skills and/or business pitching skills. That, of course, makes sense.

The problem is I can’t get those skills at the job I have and from the job listings I’ve seen it seems I’d likely have to take a step back (in both pay and title) to get a job at an agency where I can develop those skills. I’ve worked with some non-profits helping them with their press work, but even in the leadership roles it’s not the same day-to-day work and, as you can imagine, working with all volunteers it’s a very different ballgame on the management side.

What are my options?

Leader of the Pack

Dear Leader of the Pack,

Before I dive right into your question, lately my inbox has been flooded with numerous questions related to job hunting. Are ya’ll miserable out there or something? I will try to to answer all of your “help’ get me outta here” questions in upcoming columns.

Now back to the dilemma at hand. This is an interesting question, one that warranted some assistance from Brian Phifer, Founder of Phifer & Company, a global executive recruitment agency that exclusively works in advertising, public relations, marketing, and new media.

According to Mr. Phifer, the first step is to let your present employer know you want more responsibilities, or ask what you could do to get to that level. If the answer is an absolute NO, then it’s time for another job no matter what. Do not waste time if you have already learned everything you can at a company. It’s your career too; don’t be loyal to a company if they’re not going to help you reach your own personal goals.

Once you’ve decided it’s time to begin the hunt, Mr. Phifer suggests that it is time to apply for new opportunities:

  • First and foremost, apply, apply, and apply. Don’t let the exact skills in a posting dictate on whether you send your resume or not. Most job descriptions are the “pie in the sky” wish list and the majority of the companies do not find the individual with the exact laundry list of their needs.
  • Second, when you submit your resume for a position, it is being seen by human resources or hiring managers and they might know of another position on the radar that your qualifications would be perfect for. Companies keep detailed databases of resumes received and there might be another match down the road.
  • Third, taking a step back to move ten steps ahead is never a bad thing. If you take a step back now, take a new job in a bigger agency, master the position and get promoted in six months. You’re going to be a on a progressive track for your career. If you do nothing, you could be writing this question again next year.

In addition to Brian’s helpful advice, I just wanted to make a few quick observations:

  • Go with your gut. It seems that the large majority of publicists are always on the hunt for something better. You want out of an agency, you want to work in-house, you want to move to another agency, or you are completely fed up and want to do something completely different. I, myself, have been guilty of this constant search for the perfect gig. Before you commit to leaving your current PR position, always go with your gut. If you are about to turn in your two weeks, and something deep inside yourself is smacking you on the head saying “No, no, no don’t go,” listen, will ya? Money, promotion, the dream of a corner office with Manhattan skyline views is all nice, but it’s important to be happy first.
  • You got mad skills. Just because you haven’t taken the lead on pitching new business or managed lots of junior executives, doesn’t mean you don’t actually have those skills. Concentrate on what you HAVE done rather than what you haven’t done. Have you led client meetings? Have you been instrumental in strategic planning? Have you been responsible for interns? Do employees come to you for advice? Take a step back and really look at all that you have accomplished. You may be surprised to discover that you have exhibited certain skill sets already.

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Dear Flack is written by Marie V-B, a seasoned public relations professional. Advice is based on both personal experience and input from members of PR Breakfast Club and outside expert sources.