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Finding a great role when out of work: Senior comms pros share their insights

Job search motivation
Posted: Jan 2021

We interview Fiona Kehily, Head of Communications EMEA at Neuberger Berman, and Matthew Thomson, Head of 5G Communications at Nokia

When you're at the top of the tree, finding the right senior role can be challenging at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a pandemic. There are currently many more comms professionals on the market than there are roles, and whilst it's tough enough finding a role in ‘normal times,’ this current economic climate is exacerbating issues.

Two senior comms professionals, Fiona Kehily and Matt Thomson, have very kindly agreed to provide their candid insights from first-hand experience of finding a great role when out of work, to help senior comms professionals who are now finding themselves in a similar situation.


Network, network, network

Anyone providing advice on job searching will say this to you, and for a good reason – it works! This is how Fiona Kehily went about her job search, firstly getting in touch with every recruiter she had been in contact with during her career, as well as making sure she knew the newer agencies covering her sector. “I left no stone unturned and at this stage of my search it was important that I kept my research and activity very broad”, she explains. “I didn't rule out any role as long as it was in the appropriate salary range and in financial services. Simultaneously I contacted everyone I knew - journalists, other comms people, senior managers - asking if they knew who was hiring.” This approach proved extremely fruitful for Fiona, as it was ultimately through networking that she secured her current role.

Matt Thomson conducted his job search in a similar way; “I contacted recruiters, responded to adverts in the trade media and LinkedIn, and networked through clients and alumni”, he comments. And, regarding the importance of networking, looking back, Matt feels that cold applications to job advertisements yielded little for the amount of effort involved. “I would have been better off using this time to double-down on networking”, he says.


Think out of the box

Were there any initiatives that worked particularly well for our experts? “As well as a CV, I created a portfolio website to showcase projects and campaigns I led in my former role” says Matt Thomson.

For Fiona, preparation was everything, and she comments: “I was really proud of my interview prep - I practised pitching my key selling points to exhaustion and I made sure I knew the points I wanted to raise myself so I could control the conversation. Also, a few third-party high-level recommendations don't hurt.”

Fiona was surprised by how many people really value tenacity, saying: “I thought perhaps I was being a bit too aggressive with my search but recruiters and hiring managers seemed to really respond to it. Gumption and enthusiasm is a part of the job description for any PR role I guess!”


Key challenges

“Even at the start of 2019 there were so many people going for the roles I liked”, explains Fiona. “Competition is always steep for senior inhouse investment management PRs and meaty agency roles. I made sure I practised my pitch for those interviews morning, noon and night. If you haven't interviewed in a while, consider hiring a coach if you have the resources.”

For Matt, a key challenge was his wish to pursue a slightly different career path. “I was seeking a move from agency to in-house and for some hiring managers this was a stumbling block,” he reflects. “Having come from a consulting background I’ve been used to winning business, but it’s much harder to sell yourself than it is to sell a company’s services. Creating a CV that properly reflected what I could bring to a new employer took much longer than I imagined.”


Staying motivated

So, how do you keep motivation and positivity levels up during a time like this? “After a fabulous career in the agency world where I had reached the role of MD, I knew I wanted to shift to an in-house role”, says Matt. “It’s pretty easy to be enthusiastic when you’re following your dreams and every meeting I had fuelled my ambition. I also took on freelance work and attended events which were great for meeting people and continual learning.”

But it can also be hard to stay positive, especially in the current environment. “I must admit that it was really difficult”, says Fiona. “I exercised a lot which helped work out the stress. A rush of adrenalin before an interview can be very useful as long as you can use it to show enthusiasm for a role or brand. Deep seated stress is impossible to manipulate. Try to be good to yourself - bake cakes, have a glass of wine or a pint in the evening, and don't feel guilty. Talk to your doctor if you feel like anxiety is overwhelming you - you do not need to suffer in silence.”


Final words of wisdom

What concluding key advice would Fiona and Matt give to anyone currently out of work and finding the job market tough?

Fiona: “You really have to keep an open mind and know what your priorities are. Remember: employers will know how difficult this period has been for everyone. If you go off the beaten track into another sector to fill a maternity leave position to bring in some badly needed funds, a future employer should understand and not rule you out of your dream role some time in the future. If they do, then perhaps they aren't the right employer for you. I think a certain amount of CV diversity is an advantage, not a disadvantage. Resourcefulness and resilience is always a good trait in a PR.”

Matt: “Be laser-focussed on what you want to do. Get input on your CV from recruiters in this space. Keep meeting people and set a target of a minimum of one introduction from each meeting.”


Thank you so much Fiona and Matt for your honest and valuable comments.


For our job search top tips, read our guides on creating a stand out CV and how to achieve interview success.

The Works Search a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email sarah@the-works.co.uk

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