The hunt for the elusive mid-level pro

Hiring for the middle ranks is notoriously hard. David Ward finds some ways of attracting these pros

Hiring for the middle ranks is notoriously hard. David Ward finds some ways of attracting these pros

After enduring the slump of a few years ago, "it's the Golden Age of PR," Korn/Ferry SVP Don Spetner declares. And what's good for the industry overall is good for the PR job market. This is especially true for candidates in the five- to-10-year experience range.

Because of the feast-famine-feast cycle of the past decade, the people who got into the industry during the go-go late '90s and survived the downturn now find themselves in a buyers' market, one with far more available positions than there are candidates to fill them.

"The number of people percentage-wise with five to 10 years' experience is probably lower today than at any time," says Donna Renella, VP of talent at Weber Shandwick and chair of the HR roundtable for the Council of PR Firms.

So acute is the shortage that companies and agencies are finding the traditional ways of generating résumés of experienced pros simply don't cut it alone any longer.

"A lot of our clients are telling us they thought they could do this on their own in a month or two, but they're not getting results," explains Susan Flesher, founder and president of Bay Area recruiting firm Flesher & Associates.

Even with outside help, finding the perfect candidate for a job will never be an exact science. But one thing is certain: it's going to take more than it did a few years ago to attract talent in this experience range - and that includes salary.

"The salary you offer must be competitive or you won't even be in the game," says Flesher. "But you also must realize that people want to work in areas they deem exciting."

After five years, most PR people begin to take a long-term view about their career. "Someone at the five- to 10-year level is looking to get on the management track," explains Mariela Orochena, a senior associate with Heyman Associates. From the firm's standpoint, that may not mean they're ready - or even interested - in doing business development and landing new clients, but it does mean they're unlikely to be happy managing a single account. "You can't assume that being, or representing, a big brand will, on its own, make people want to work for you," Orochena says.

At this point in their career, most people also have a good idea of which side of the PR industry their future lies. One job-hunter with nearly 10 years' experience, Sarah Bessette, is adamant her next job will be in-house. Bessette has done extensive agency work, but her most recent job was at spirits company Allied Domecq, where her corporate communications department was laid off following a merger.

Bessette says she's been contacted by recruiters during the few months she's been actively looking. "The market seems to be good and I'm hearing of a lot of jobs opening up," she says. "But I'm more selective about the kind of companies I apply for because I feel at this stage of the game I have a ton of experience in a number of different genres."

Despite their coveted status, the one thing these candidates shouldn't be looking for is a flashy title. No one in the industry wants a repeat of the "battlefield promotions" that were used to lure talent during the boom of the late '90s.

"We see a reticence to do title inflation now because a lot of people felt it got out of whack," says Flesher. "What you're seeing is a lot of lateral hires, but they're better opportunities for other reasons. So it's not a director becoming a VP, it's a director becoming a senior director."

Without that obvious hook, companies and agencies simply have to work harder to sell both the position and its location. "We have a client in Jacksonville, FL, looking for someone in this range," Orochena says. "We've urged them to really make sure the candidates feel loved, wanted, and - once hired - that they keep their promises."

Finally, Flesher stresses that the PR industry must take the steps to ensure that this gap in finding experienced talent doesn't turn into a long-term problem. "We need to nurture the people currently with two and three years' experience so we don't have this same problem in a few years."

 
Technique tips

DO

Get creative in figuring out what's going to make a candidate excited about a position and then sell those attributes during the interview process

Articulate the career progression possibilities to candidates

Nurture the talent you currently have. Keeping talent is a lot easier than recruiting it


DON'T

Guarantee a candidate the world to get them. If you do, you better come close to delivering

Rely on accounts alone. Candidates with five to 10 years' experience have options, so the chance to work with an exciting brand isn't enough to woo them

Inflate a job title to get talent. Your office can't be full of VPs

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