Loyalty: A two-way street. With speed bumps. And roadblocks. And detours… Loyalty: A lot like The Amazing Race

Daniel Tisch, writing for PR In Canada, discusses loyalty and journeyman-ism. His thesis is that young PRtists lack loyalty and are looking to job hop their way to the top. As the self-proclaimed mouthpiece for PR youth in this fair nation, Stractical responds:

Journeyman or star? In PR, it’s about talent, effort and loyalty
If you want to work for a great employer, be a great employee

In a recent interview with a job-seeker, I noticed that she had moved around a lot, with several firms on her CV within a few years. “Oh, you know PR,” she said. “A new job every two years.”

In that moment, I realized the difference between a journeyman and a star.

I don’t mean to knock journeyman practitioners; like the veteran NHL player who’s traded from team to team to team, you can build a solid, respectable career in this way.

But as I read recently in the Brendan Wood Journal, which ranked the most influential people in the global banking business, “job hoppers rarely have influence.” That’s a fundamental truth in any industry.

Well, Michael Sabia might want to disagree with Mr. Tisch on that point but that aside, he does touch on an important truth: Companies (including PR agencies) hate to see good people go. They have invested time and effort into training their staff and want to see outcomes from their investment. Makes perfect sense.

With the circumstances of his job seeker unknown, we’ll have to improvise some scenarios.  Maybe she’s been working under contracts (many young PRtists find themselves working under shorter and shorter contracts) or maybe her last position was not in the field she ultimately wants to end up in, maybe the scope of her job changed from the time she was hired or maybe her last boss was a jerk.

The fact is, PR is a fluid, shifting industry. The pink elephant standing in every room (and Jobbing Out post) is that there is an over-supply of smart and savvy young practitioners fighting for very few opportunities.  In the GTA alone, there will be over 2,000 people graduating from PR diploma and certificate students and related communications degrees this spring who will all be vying to break into the industry any way they can. This environment doesn’t bode well for 3o year career progression plans, let alone two years. I think we can all agree that the age of the lifelong company man in a grey flannel suit spending his whole life with one company until he retires with full pension has passed. That age is gone because a) workers have become more creative and independently-minded (see the work of Richard Florida) and b) the companies choose to work with an elastic workforce where wages are kept low.

Most people we hire at Argyle want to be stars. They aspire to be at the peak of their profession. This means working for marquee clients, leading teams of talented colleagues, learning continuously, helping the firm grow and sharing in the rewards.

Aspiring to a be star is great, but it only works while the interests of the organization and the interests of the employee continue to dovetail. Predicting such stability and symbiosis would be quite a skill, but in reality we are forced to deal with the possibility of turnover led by employees chasing new opportunities and companies letting staff go to pursue new directions themselves.

So, how do you become a star?

Three words: Talent. Effort. Loyalty.

At the entry or junior levels of PR, we’re evaluating talent and effort all the time. We look for a blend of aptitude and attitude. And we look for people with a clear long-term vision of what they want: to be part of the growth of a mid-sized, entrepreneurial Canadian public relations firm.

At the intermediate and senior levels, the CV becomes very important in creating the right impression. Here, past performance is often a predictor of future potential. We look for a track record of long-term performance. Five years is a good starting benchmark.

If I see that someone has jumped around from job to job, never staying in one place longer than two years, the candidate must be able to answer why.

There can be good reasons: the work environment is uninspiring; the employer is unreasonable; the pay is below the norm for a firm of that size, with few countervailing positives; the company is stalled or in decline.

These are good reasons, but there are many, many more. A candidate may defend their job jumps or they may not — professional courtesy dictates we don’t bash our former employers and so a simple “I was ready to move on to new opportunities” may be the best answer you’ll get.

But look at any industry’s stars. Almost invariably, you see people who figured out where they wanted to be, helped their organization grow and thrive, and built their reputation over time.

Or they might have figured out how to advance their career at a faster pace than any individual organization could offer them.

Here’s a tip: when you meet a potential employer or employee, start from the proposition that you want to work together for five to ten years. Naturally, a lot can change along the way – but surely that must be the goal.

This point of view surprises some people. After all, not long ago you often saw articles in the careers media about the death of loyalty. Don’t buy it. It’s the most short-sighted thinking imaginable.

Loyalty isn’t dead. It’s simply no longer enough. With opportunities at a premium, rising stars are going to pounce when a new one arises.  Instead of condemning the ambitious, the company should work with its talent to address the changes they are seeking in outside employment.

Loyalty must go two ways. A great employer will see you as a long-term asset to the organization. He or she will treat you with respect, create a positive work environment and help you learn and grow. Would you like to work for such a person or company? Who wouldn’t?

Career preservation and advancement are a matter of survival. A crowded talent pool means the livelihoods of young PRtists are in constant flux. Sure, some people just get bored easily — in fact, the multi-tasking, hyperactive environments of professional communicators attract those kinds of personalities.

The bottom line: If you want a great employer, be a great employee. And if you have the talent and are willing to make the effort, your loyalty should be rewarded.

Let’s remember that many employers are looking for direct experience in often very specific industries: “We work with clients in the x industry, do you have experience working in x?” The ability to answer those questions with the necessary latitude may require a breadth of experiences that can’t be attained without job movement. It may make you appear less loyal but it definitely makes you look more interesting.

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks, Stractial, for your articulate and intelligent response to my article. I agree with most of your comments!

    Just to be clear, my thesis is NOT that young PR people lack loyalty and/or want to job-hop their way to the top. My point is to challenge the widely-disseminated myth about the death of loyalty as a smart career strategy, without reference to age or experience.

    In fact, the job-hopper in my story was actually a mid-career applicant for a senior consultant job; she had 10+ years of experience with (at the time) six different agencies. You’re rigt that it’s possible that her last boss had been a jerk; but smart employers look at the longer-term picture that emerges from the CV, the interview and the reference checks.

    I agree 100% with your point that “aspiring to a be star is great, but it only works while the interests of the organization and the interests of the employee continue to dovetail.” That’s why I make the point later that ‘loyalty must go two ways.’ Smart organizations will work hard to provide opportunity, respect and reward to their stars.

    Sure, there are many good reasons to make a move; I’ve listed several, and as you say there are many more. But I stand by my advice: whether you are seeking your first job or your seventh, there’s both fulfilment and financial reward in finding a great organization with which you can grow over the long term.. That’s the best way to show how good you are. And if you start every job search with that goal in mind, your chances of a successful search — and a successful career — will only be enhanced.

    I enjoy your blog! Cheers.

    Dan

  2. Dan,

    Thanks for the clarification!

    Adam

  3. […] Read this from PR in Canada […]


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