CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: I've been an AE at a large PR agency for two years. Should I try to get a senior AE role? I've heard that employers think badly of you if you stay as an AE for longer than three years. I don't want to get stuck.

Ms. T, San Francisco, CA

A: I have always found that you know in your gut when it's time to move on, move up or move out, in all aspects of life. This certainly applies to your situation. If you're even considering it, you're probably ready to ring the changes.

However, there are issues to consider before you put the finishing touches on your resume.

Firstly, your time as an AE is one of the most important phases in your career. You might not think so when you're slaving away on its more mundane tasks, but this is the time when you are getting your crucial grounding in all aspects of PR.

Move on up too soon and you risk getting stuck in a more specialized area, one that you might not be truly suited for. This has been the temptation over the past few years, with the over-heated recruitment market leading to too many AEs being sucked up the career ladder to fill those more senior vacancies that have suffered due to a paucity of well-qualified candidates.

If you haven't had the headhunters calling yet, then you've probably missed out on the boomtime feeding frenzy. But count your blessings - at least now you've got the time to take a long, hard look at what you're good at, what you're not so good at, and improve those skills accordingly.

In short, you're nearing the point where you should think about moving.

Much more than three years under your belt as an AE and future employers might start to wonder why. But use the next few months to ask for feedback from your supervisor and make sure you've got all the experience you need before moving on.

Q: I'm a PR executive at a dot-com in Boston (yes, there are some left).

I'm keen to eventually get a senior communications role, and I was wondering if now is the right point in my career to do a part-time MBA, or a Masters in PR? What do you think?

Mr. F, Boston, MA

A: Hang on. Did I hear you right? You work in PR at a dot-com and you're thinking of asking your boss for time off to get yourself some training?

Are you mad, Mr. F., or have you just kept your eyes and ears shut for the past couple of months?

Now is not the time to be asking for special dispensations to improve your own lot. In fact, now is not the best time to go off and get a higher degree anyway. San Francisco recruitment consultant Judy Cushman advises waiting until you're far more senior before taking the time out to go for a Masters.

'I don't think that an advanced degree matters while you're building your career,' she told me. 'When you get to be a director - that's when you'll need the education that will allow you to think strategically, and that's exactly what a Masters will give you.'

Feedback is a terrific thing. Here's a letter from a Pandora reader commenting on one of the problems in the first column (PRWeek, February 5):

My dear Pandora,

Regarding your response to poor, apolitical Ms. B from Atlanta. My experience with bosses, having had them and been one, is that they are pretty simpleminded creatures. They tend to give the best assignments to whoever will get the best results. Period.

Ms. B. should forget office politics and improve her skills so she earns the plum assignments.


Maureen Crowe, Carl Byoir & Co. Los Angeles, CA.

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