PR TECHNIQUE: Recruitment in a downturn - Last year it was a toughtask just getting the best people to interview. Now, PR managers arefaced with wildly different recruitment challenges. Allen Houstonreports

The newest nightmare for corporate HR people and specialty

recruitment firms is sorting through the huge pile of resumes flooding

their offices to pick the most appropriate candidate.

Eighteen months ago, agencies practically had to beg candidates to fill

positions that were available. Students straight out college were able

to negotiate hefty salaries, stock options, extended vacation packages,

and other perks that normally would have taken years to achieve. But now

that the downturn has stabilized the market, HR people are facing the

opposite problem.

Since the natural order has reasserted itself, agencies now have the

opportunity to find better talent. "There is clearly a tremendous

difference in the availability of quality people that are in the market

now," said Joseph Hamilton, president of Citigate Cunningham, a

technology PR agency that is currently hiring. "A number of people in

the industry were pushed into positions that they weren't ready for. Now

firms have the daunting task of sorting real experience from job


People who were hired below the skill level that agencies were looking

for were the first to be given their pink slips. "A lot of people got in

over their head and were shook out during the layoff," said John Fry,

president of the Fry Group, a New York recruitment firm specializing in

corporate communications. Distinguishing real experience from the

accrual of titles that were given over the last two years is a

difficulty that faces agencies and recruitment firms.

Right or wrong, employees who used the prosperity of the last few years

to aggressively climb the corporate ladder may find themselves among the

first victims of the new job market. Loyalty has become the buzzword of

the industry. People who skipped from one job to another over the last

five years have set themselves up to be locked out of the new, more

selective job market. "Agencies are looking carefully at the level of

commitment that employees have given to their past companies," said

Susan Flesher, president of Flesher & Associates, a corporate

communications specialty recruitment firm based in Silicon Valley. "Job

mobility has become a negative badge of honor, and a lot of employers

that are hiring want to steer clear of those employees."

If job mobility is one way that agencies are using to narrow down

potential employees, experience, flexibility, and multi-tasking have

again become some of the most important characteristics that agencies

are reviewing in making new hires. "People want a flexible generalist,

someone who can do three jobs at once," said Barry Shulman, principal of

Shulman Associates, a national search firm for corporate communications.

Agencies and recruitment firms can further narrow the job search by

examining the different levels of job experience, multi-tasking and

strategic experience that an employee has. Are they able to do corporate

PR, product PR, and employee communications?

How well would the potential employee perform if you engaged them in a

number of different tasks? If the answer is probably not very well, then

the resume can be flipped over to the next one.

Being able to clearly list the qualities that you are looking for is yet

another way to decrease the amount of resumes that you receive, and

ensure that you are hiring the optimal candidate. "Smaller agencies that

haven't done a lot of communication searches need help developing a list

of skill levels and salary ranges," said Ben Long, president of Travail

Executive Searches, a recruitment agency that specializes in corporate


Now that choosing the right candidate has become more important than

attracting people to compete for it, the more traditional job

interviewing process has restated itself. Recruiters and agencies that

are taking resumes say that real experience working with the press,

academic background, tangible success that the potential employee can

prove, and a list of contacts, are all things that are helping them sort

the wheat from the chaff right now.

Good writing and communication skills have once again come to the


A pure lack of experience was what helped drag down agencies over the

past few years. Also beware of resumes where the potential employee

isn't able to succinctly represent him or herself. "The worst comment

that a potential employee can make is if they can't represent their own

message," said Wendy Tarizian, president of Tarizian Search Consultants,

a Chicago-based communications search firm.

And don't limit your list of resumes exclusively to people who have

worked for top companies. Just because the employee hasn't worked for

Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, or a large PR agency doesn't mean they

don't have the ability to perform the job.

"Companies are looking for good all-around brand recognition," says


"Agencies are interested in more standard companies and employees who

have experience working in communications for these companies." Agencies

tend to give too much credit to company names on a resume rather than

look at the real practical experience a client has. "We know that a guy

who is hidden in the bowels of a gigantic company may not be as good as

someone who learned real-life experience working at a lesser known

agency," said Fry.

The fact that companies have cut their PR budgets nearly 29% this year

(Harris/Impulse) makes selecting the right person for the job even more

important. So if you're not sure how to whittle that enormous stack of

resumes down to a manageable shortlist - now is probably the time to

call your HR department.


1. Do take into account experience working with the press, educational

background, and "multi-tasking" ability

2. Do examine writing skills and an employee's ability to represent

himself in the resume and cover letter

3. Do know exactly what skills you are looking for in your

communications search

4. Do look at an employee's loyalty record - loyal staffers will reduce

a company's recruitment costs

1. Don't examine a candidate solely on whether they have worked for a

large agency or corporation

2. Don't waste your time considering people who don't have the level of

experience that you are searching for

3. Don't put pressure on yourself to find the perfect candidate if you

have limited experience in hiring a communication team: work with a

specialty recruitment firm.

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