Corporate Career Ladder: Step 1

If you’re pursuing a corporate PR career, it is critically important to be clear about expectations of the job you are expected to perform.  In the past, there have been lots of gray areas where new employees had to fend for themselves in search of career measurement.  Even bosses were uncertain about required skills and progression of their subordinates, thus resulting in subjective judgment calls–some fair, some not so fair. 

Fortunately, an increasing number of companies are developing excellent career ladders and matrices that spell out the range of activities, skills and behaviors required to succeed at each level of the communications function.   

Most corporations have four to six job levels within their communications departments, ragging from entry-level positions that lead to manager to director to vice president with some senior titles thrown in occasionally.  Be sure to ask for an org chart to determine the pecking order within the department. 

Job descriptions generally are based on the skills matrix of the PR department.  One of my favorite spells out the purpose of the entry-level position, followed by scope, education and experience required and the typical time allowed to demonstrate skill proficiency and performance.  Expect a year and a half to two and a half years to be the amount of time in the early PR positions before moving up to the next rung on the corporate ladder. 

Some organizations go one step further by spelling out expected job activities and responsibilities for all PR professionals.  Those skills include:

  • Networking Internally
  • Business Acumen
  • Teamwork
  • Agency Relations
  • Crisis Communications
  • Measurement & Benchmarking
  • Financial Responsibility

For specialties within the PR departments, there are other required attributes.  For instance, in media relations you are expected to understand media policy and practices, how to gather information from within the company as well as monitoring, measurement and development of press materials.  Writing ability remains the core need for internal/employee communications, along with project management and consulting skills. 

If you land a corporate position or are in one, be sure to determine what is required for success.  Supervisors often are so busy with their other responsibilities that they forget to point out this valuable information until you’ve done something “wrong”. 

3 thoughts on “Corporate Career Ladder: Step 1

  1. I have a degree in public relations, and I can’t find entry-level jobs to apply for.

    How does anyone get started in this field?

  2. Tom,

    I just caught your comment for this post. You’re right, entry-level jobs are going to be tough to find in this economy. There is a large pool of recent or upcoming graduates, plus other entry-level folks who have recently been laid off.

    That said, there are still people who stand out and get passed through the pipeline. As part of Ketchum, I can tell you that I’ve referred folks to our HR team who are consistently at networking events (PRSA, PRSSA, others) and have prior experience that would be beneficial in an agency setting.

    If you can’t meet face to face at these events, there are also a handful of impressive students or new pros who embrace new technology to its fullest extent. For instance, a student at Ohio University has a Twitter account he uses intelligently to network with PR professionals from all over the country—many of whom he hasn’t met yet in person. That account links back to his blog, which focuses specifically on new media. So even though I haven’t met him in person, I can see the intelligence and diligence he could offer to our firm (and plenty of other folks can too). I imagine he’ll secure plenty of interviews when that time comes.

    Now more than ever, the relationships you’re able to create are necessary for landing that job. The sooner the better too, because plenty of ambitious folks have been building these for some time now.


  3. I’d also like to share my experience from many (many) years ago when I was searching for an entry level position in PR. It was in 1991 – the worst job market the country had seen in quite a while (sound familiar?) I thought my degree from the University of Michigan would open doors. It wasn’t quite that easy. I actually called the temp agencies in Chicago to see who had the clients that I wanted to work for. I also asked the agencies what specific departments they had placed their workers in – if any were Corporate Communications. Sure enough, I landed an assignment in the Corporate Affairs Department at Sara Lee Corporation. I started out as a part-time assistant and made it known I would do any kind of work they needed – quickly! Eventually, the Company bought out my contract and I got to work on some terrific projects that built my resume and my network. Of course, I also got incredibly lucky because I was fortunate enough to work for terrific people like Ron Culp who rewarded my hard work with increasingly high level and meaningful projects. So while this “back door” entry wasn’t completely conventional, it got me in the building and on stage and demonstrated to future employers that I was resourceful and assertive – two qualities that are particularly important in the world of Communications! -Paula

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