Diversity is the name of the game in office life these days, and while huge strides have been made in the inclusion of women, gay people and ethnic minorities, one major diversity issue that remains largely unmentioned in the industry is age.
Recently, I asked my readers what the biggest challenge in their career was, and I was shocked when a number of them came back to me saying something like this:
After 25 years in the industry, my biggest challenge is finding work at all. I’ve worked
with Fortune 500s and I have a lot of valuable experience. I got laid off last year,
and I’ve been struggling to find secure work since. I’ve got some project work and
consultancy going on the side, but what I really want is a full-time role. PR is a young
person’s game though, and I can’t seem to even get a foot in the door.
By and large, graduates take on entry-level jobs, become Account Managers by their mid-20s and often reach Account Director level or higher by their mid-30s. What does this mean for the job seeker at 50+? Despite the fact that more seasoned candidates are generally less likely to job hob, play politics for promotions, or go to a competitor in six months time for an extra $5,000 a year, there is a reluctance to hire job seekers perceived as “old”.
Lucy Kellaway wrote about this trend in the finance sector recently, and it’s clear there is an issue with ageism in Public Relations too. Here are seven tips and tactics for finding a new role as a mature candidate.
1. Don’t apologise for your experience – highlight it
In 1984, running for President of the United States at age 73, Ronald Reagan was asked if he was not too old for the role. He quipped: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience”. Reagan won the election by a landslide.
The need for senior counsel is stronger than ever. Although the Public Relations sphere is dominated by young people, there will always be a need for the experience of years. While technology changes and develops, the core principles of Public Relations remain the same. Few clients will want a 24-year-old graduate at the helm when a crisis breaks and they need to get a holding statement out immediately. Young people bring energy and enthusiasm to a team, but they need mentors and managers to steer them in the right direction.
Never apologise for your experience, use it to show what your Public Relations career can add to the organisation.
2. Use your contacts
After a couple of decades of a Public Relations career, it’s likely that you’ve got a lot of strong contacts in the industry. That’s a major advantage you’ve got over younger candidates. Can you ask one of them to hook you up with an interview? Do you have a phone book full of journalists for a given industry that you can bring with you to a new role? Are there clients you used to have a great relationship with that might come back to you if you’re working with a well-respected organisation? Your contacts could a major strength if they are leveraged correctly.
If you feel like your current contacts are not strong enough, start attending networking events. Local business brunches with guest speakers and industry events are a great place to start. Of course, online networking is important too – take part in Twitter chats for Public Relations and Communications, and reach out to people on LinkedIn on relevant topics.
3. Rewrite your resume focusing primarily on the last 10-15 years
Instead of opening a personal statement by saying: “A seasoned professional with 30+ years of experience in Public Relations…” try to narrow it down by saying something like: “With more than 10 years’ experience at Account Director level, I’m adept at managing teams, juggling budgets and creating impactful campaigns at the same time.”
For roles you held more than 15 years ago, there is no need to include a description of your position; just put the company name, job title and the dates you worked at the organisation.
Never put your date of birth, your marital status or details about your kids on there. It’s irrelevant, and it makes you sound out of touch. You can even leave the dates you went to school off if you’re concerned about that, leaving only your degree title, result and other relevant information like areas of research.
Do not put a photo on your resume. It’s bad practice at any age.
Remember, the only goal of your resume is to get an interview – once you’ve got that, you can explain any questions they have on your Public Relations career.
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4. Don’t fight technology
Digital natives have the upper hand when it comes to technology because they understand it intuitively. Don’t bother competing with millennials for trendy social media jobs that they are likely to be better suited to. You don’t need to become an SEO expert, but you do need to understand the basics. Stay up-to-date with tech trends, emerging social media sites and popular apps, and think about how they can be combined with traditional media to create integrated communications campaigns. This is the future of Public Relations, and practitioners who understand this and can demonstrate a combination of experience and expertise in this will be at an advantage.
Build a social following. Take to Twitter or build a blog – showing that you’re au fait with technology is a lot more credible than saying it. Understand the difference between a personal and professional social media account. Create your own content, or curate the work of thought leaders in your niche. Check out our Twitter account for ideas. Get on LinkedIn and get your former clients or colleagues to write recommendations for you – social proof is vital in getting your foot in the door.
5. Invest in your development continuously
Demonstrate a genuine interest in continuous development. If your last training course or workshop was in the 90s, that’s got to change. Consider going back to education. Getting a diploma or even a masters degree in digital marketing, social media or analytics could really turbo-charge your Public Relations career.
For those that don’t have the option of going back to education full-time, another great option is to take smaller steps more often; attend regular seminars and conferences to stay at the top of your game. Be willing to listen to those younger than you on digital and tech matters.
Take time every day to read what the top websites in the industry like Ragan are talking about. Subscribe to blogs that focus on the industry (like this one – shameless plug)
6. Consider all your options
Although becoming an independent practitioner or consultant can seem like an intimidating prospect after a Public Relations career spent at an agency or in-house, it might be a great choice. It can seem like a less secure path, but working with four or five clients can actually be more secure; you’re unlikely to lose all your clients overnight in the same way that you can get laid off from a job with immediate effect.
7. Money matters: Be upfront and realistic about your salary expectations
One of the things that holds companies back from hiring Public Relations practitioners who are highly experienced is the belief that they will demand much higher salaries than people with 10-15 years experience who are also able to do the job. If you’re vastly experienced, but your level of seniority does not correspond to the vast number of years you’ve spent in the field, you may need to take a look at your salary expectation. Look at what salary bands are in relation to the job title you’re going for rather than the number of years of experience you hold.
It may be the case that the security of a full-time, permanent role and the benefits that come with that are more important to you than a $100,000 salary. Be open and frank (at the appropriate point of the conversation) with the the companies you’re talking to when it gets to the point that they’re ready to make an offer.
Have you been impacted by ageism in your Public Relations career? What steps did you take to combat it? Leave a comment.
Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art is a practical guide to creating integrated communications campaigns. It’s all about achieving optimum PR outcomes using the PESO model. Pre-order it now.