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
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
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.