ATTN Managers, Prioritize These Four Traits When Hiring CommunicatorsDate - March 3, 2018 by Jennifer R. Farmer
By Jennifer R. Farmer
In any organization, hiring is always a critical matter. In his book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins noted that one of the first things great leaders do is “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Interestingly enough, they do this before they set the vision and the strategy for their companies. So, while we know hiring is important, it’s critical to exercise great care when hiring the team that will manage your organizational brand or share your vision with the world.
Based on my experience in the communications and public relations field, I’ve learned to prioritize these four traits when hiring communicators:
- Judgement. From deciding which interview requests to grant, and the underlying questions one should ask in order to determine if an interview is beneficial, communicators must have judgment. Open-ended questions such as, “what steps do you take to gauge whether an interview is beneficial to your organization? Or what factors should be considered when determining an organizational response to a crisis” can give you a window into a person’s thought process. Another way to assess a candidate’s judgement is to offer a “working interview” where the candidate works a portion of the day and you observe how they handle various situations. If you opt to do this, be sure to compensate the person for their time.
- Teachable Spirit. Regardless of how skilled a team member may be, you want a communicator who has a teachable spirit, meaning they’re open to feedback and willing to learn your organization’s culture and norms. There is a learning curve for every organization and for every position, so it’s critical prospective hires are willing to learn your organization. For instance, after years of working in politics, the communications tactics I was accustomed to were more aggressive than was warranted for most nonprofit organizations. Once I left the political arena, I had to discard those tactics, and develop approaches that were more suitable for my employer. In the end, it’s not beneficial to you or your organization to hire someone who is highly skilled, but unwilling to take feedback. Regardless of how much experience a candidate has, there is always room to grow, and there is always one more thing to learn. Without a teachable spirit, the staffer may be unwilling to follow organizational leadership or receive input from organizational partners. And trust me, this will not turn out well for you or them.
- Drive. You can’t teach drive. A person either has it or they don’t. “Drive” is important in many careers, but it’s especially critical in advocacy communications. Hire people who are self-motivated and passionate about the issues they’re advocating for and against. This will assure that the staffer meets your expectations, and goes about the business of setting new goals and priorities that will help advance your work. Without drive, you will likely have an employee who needs to be spoon-fed every detail and every assignment. In a 24-hour news cycle, executives need thought partners, rather than order takers.
- Solid Written and Oral Communications Skills. From press releases, to pitch notes, to opinion essays to communications plans to general office correspondence, communicators must write. You don’t need a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, but you do need someone who writes reasonably well, and someone who has an interest in writing. You can help a person grow, but they must have both the interest and a modicum of talent. Oral communication is important as well. Communicators must be able to communicate an idea and articulate your work and vision to the reporters with whom they interact. In an environment where reporters are bombarded with requests from scores of public relations professionals, a communicator must be able to, well, communicate.
My intention in sharing these tips is to help hiring managers better evaluate candidates, and identify those who might be good fits. Cultural fit is important as well, and perhaps I’ll tackle that in a future post.