Getting to know people

I have been in the PR business for 25 years, and during that time, I have hired upwards of 400 professionals, drawing on talent from the media, agency world, politics, business, and law.

I have been in the PR business for 25 years, and during that time, I have hired upwards of 400 professionals, drawing on talent from the media, agency world, politics, business, and law.

In running a small to midsize independent firm, I have made it a regular habit to interview an average of four to five job-seekers per month. I know a lot of my colleagues have wondered “why is he devoting so much attention to this?” because, often times, there was not a job opening for the interviewees I met.

Well, my reason for doing so serves a variety of purposes.

First, it pulls back the curtain on what the talent pool looks like, and often I will meet with someone who truly stands out as a strategist, thinker, writer, or manager. Those people then either meet with other key people in the firm, or we keep them in mind for future positions, or we have a situation where we can recommend them to a client, company, or organization looking for top talent. Once in a while, we are wowed by the person, and they are hired soon after a few interviews.

Second, these meetings can often shed light on an interesting skill or technique that may be evolving in our field, and I am fortunate enough to learn something new.

Third, many of those I interview are looking for that first professional job out of college. My time with them gives me a perspective on what their focus was in college, and how well that college experience might transfer to the work setting. It also gives me guidance for the volunteer advisory boards I serve on with two East Coast communications schools — the George Washington University and West Virginia University.

Often, in these interviews, the recent grad who just received his bachelor's degree or that mid-career professional who is contemplating a new move will ask me what value I place on a graduate degree.

And, my response is: don't seek the graduate degree if you think it is going to dramatically alter your salary status, because it's not. What the graduate degree will provide is additional education in a given field, and if you are going for a law degree or an MBA, it can give you a new perspective that can provide benefits in your career.

But, as I tell others, it will also saddle you with another $100,000 in college debt that can take 10 years or longer to pay off.

Instead of automatically defaulting to a graduate degree, look at professional development courses offered by a university or reputable organization, online programs, or a speaker series that is focused on topics of importance in a given field. Or, get yourself nominated for a leadership program that runs between nine and 12 months and gives you a birds-eye view of what makes the community or region you live and work in tick. These are huge career builders, and most PR firms, companies, and larger nonprofits will support you.

Scott Widmeyer is the founder of Widmeyer Communications, and currently is managing partner of Widmeyer, a Finn Partners company.

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