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How are you?

I mean really, how are you?

by Harriet Small Okot

If you had prodded me further about a month ago I guess the answer would have been quite depressing. But we have to be honest about how we are doing and coping with things, especially in these challenging times.

I have a mentor and friend who checks on me from time to time. A kind human being who asks me how I am. Sometime I will get a text reminding me to take a break or an offer of support. This friend taught me a valuable career planning tip using job descriptions.

If playing your part to make society fairer is something you care about then stick with me for a while. If creating a more diverse team is a priority, then you definitely need to stay. I am hoping I can give you a starting point because over the years the emphasis has been placed on the candidate to write an exceptional application, but little has been explored on the other side which we know is the part of the problem that holds the power.

 Back to my friend who has taught me well over the years. The idea is that I keep a collection of job descriptions. It doesn’t matter if I plan to apply for the role or am remotely qualified, it’s about using it as a benchmarking tool. I am going to share some insights and lessons.

Call an officer an officer

The jargon, confusing language and fancy terminology for an outsider is an immediate turn-off. In 2019 at LG Comms Academy Polly Cziok the Director of Communications, Culture, and Engagement at Hackney council shared her experience of interrogating a job description further and discovered it was a customer services role that had been painted in layers of bureaucracy. There are so many decorative new terms being used to describe PR and communications roles but with no real explanation of what level they are. Is an executive the equivalent of an assistant, is a specialist the same as an adviser, where does a co-ordinator or associate rank in the hierarchy. To add to the woes, often no salary range is advertised. Look at the roles that your company or competitors have put out recently, what was the role called? Would they have been clear to someone new into the industry? Would role only make sense to someone doing the job already? If it is a technical role there is nothing wrong with this, because there is a time and a place. 

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Words and phrases

I am dyslexic and struggle with writing. I miss words, commas and am hopeless at spelling. Despite this, I love to write, even have a blog and do a job that requires me to write for 8 hours a day. 

It was my law and ethics lecturer on my MA Magazine Journalism course who first suggested that I get tested. At the time I cried a fair bit because it was a devastating blow. To me, it marked the end of any sort of media career that I had imagined for myself since seeing Sir Trevor McDonald on the telly back in the early ’90s. I saw all the adverts that I had created as a child crumble into a pile of dust because this was the end. I share this story because I recently saw a job description that wanted someone with “perfect writing skills’.  It was an Internal Communications role, which is something I enjoy. This consumer brand has headquarters in London, boast of having poor diversity figures across all protected characteristics, and was called out in the media for their virtue signalling in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement. In our industry, there is a debate that often breaks out of Whatsapp groups onto the timeline. Every so often a journalist or politician is hired into a senior role without any background or understanding of what we do under the guise of ‘gravitas’. While those of us in the industry have to contend with requirements that state we must have at least 10 years of industry experience in all the specialisms and disciplines to even make the shortlist.

Show me what you value

Employer brand is an amazing concept, which isn’t necessarily new but is getting more attention. I’ve written recruitment strategies that leverage social media, but some businesses have such a strong brand that their name alone does all the work. If only we could all be one of the unicorns. Being able to demonstrate the value proposition of your team and organisation is something to consider. Explain what your team values and be honest. Ask your team what would you want someone to know about us and our way of working. If it’s possible consider how you can share this during the recruitment process. “We are a diverse team” simply doesn’t cut it and that includes if you are an entirely white female comms team. How are you diverse? Why is this important? What is the organisations’ commitment to Diversity and Inclusion? An example of a job advert that brought me joy recently was by  The Unmistakeables, titled Are you unmistakable? Then please apply, yourself.

Where do you cast your net?

We are smart result and outcome focussed people, who think strategically and want to move the needle forward. Fantastic. Now let’s make a decision to post our job roles in different places that reach wider audiences. We’ve been told, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."

Being more calculated with the where, why and how question. Try alternative spaces and platforms because Linkedin, Guardian Jobs and Glassdoor are not the only places. Why not consider The Taylor Bennett Foundation, The Dots, Creative Equals, university job fairs, and maybe reach out to the network groups of our professional bodies, or the websites of content creators in our profession.

However, recruiting diverse candidates into a toxic culture will not solve any problems, in fact it will only create them. Think more deeply about what systematic changes need to be made. I have designed a workshop, Beginners Guide to Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging and the Role of IC to explore the part that we play in organisations and businesses.

Find out more information and book your place here

Harriet Small Okot is an Internal Communications lead at a London Council and curates the blog Commsoveracoffee.com. You can say hello on Twitter at @HarrietSmallies

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Pic via Kevan

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