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Podcast: How to recruit an internal communicator

Are you recruiting an internal communication professional?

Do you know how to describe the type of person you’re looking for?

Is this the first time you’ve tried to hire an IC pro?

Have you researched the job title accurately?

This week’s episode of the Candid Comms podcast is for you if you’re searching for a job, adding to your team or recruiting a Comms pro.

Candid Comms Podcast. How to recruit an internal communicator

I cover:

  • How to recruit an internal communicator
  • What skills to look for
  • How to describe IC roles
  • What I use to help Comms teams recruit
  • Resources you can use
  • My own experience of recruitment.

As ever, you’ll leave with one thing to know, one thing to do and one thing to think about.

Do let me know what you think of this episode and don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.

The episode is available to listen to now. You can find the Candid Comms podcast on your favourite player including Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify and Podbean. Or you can listen below.

 

Thank you to my Producer Debbie West and the Seren Creative team for producing this episode.

Do let me know what you’re taking away as a result of listening. You’re welcome to comment below or find me online @AllThingsIC on Twitter, @rachelallthingsic on Instagram or Rachel Miller on LinkedIn.

You can also subscribe to my monthly email newsletter, The Water Cooler, via this page.

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Resources mentioned in this episode:

Transcript of this episode

You’re listening to the Candid Comms podcast with Rachel Miller. Join me every week for practical advice and inspirational ideas to help you focus on all things internal communication related.

Hello, and welcome to the show. Today’s episode is focused on how to hire an internal communication professional. And as ever, you will leave with one thing to know, one thing to do and one thing to think about. Are you ready? Let’s get started. How can you hire an internal comms pro? This is the conundrum that we are going to be unpacking today. I’m going to kick us off by looking at what we need to know. So let’s imagine that we are in a situation where we are ready. We have the budget and we have the resource plan to hire an IC pro. Brilliant. What do we need to know?

The number one thing I think we need to know is exactly the business problem that we’re trying to solve through this hire. So why is this person being recruited? Now, it may well be that they’re simply replacing somebody else. Simply the whole hiring process is not simple. But simply, we’ll go with it, simply replacing somebody else. Or it may be that you’re creating an internal comms team for the very first time. And maybe there’s just you in place currently. And you have got the permission to add to your team. Well done, if that’s you. Because I know from experience how tough that is and how hard you have to work to be in that position to add on you.

So what do we need to kick off with? Well, actually, when we’re thinking about the business problem that we are trying to solve and exactly why we are hiring a particular person, that gives you the clarity that you need to be able to therefore write a really fantastic job description. So be really clear, is it that you are recruiting an internet manager? Is the business problem that you are solving, you need somebody to come in and create fantastic content for your internet? That’s pretty straightforward. It gives you a really solid structure there and foundation to build on. Or are you recruiting somebody not to be a specialist, which is what that type of job is, but to be more of an internal communication generalist?

So somebody who can turn their hand to things like content creation, perhaps for an intranet, maybe for an app, maybe for posters, whatever that might be, town hall agendas, and also maybe things like events perhaps, or helping other members of the team. So be really clear in terms of the level of skill that you are looking for. Within the wonderful world of internal communication we really don’t help ourselves because it’s often a real lack of clarity when it comes to job titles. So you could be the most senior person inside an organisation and your job title could be internal communication manager.

And then you could go to another organisation and you would be at the bottom of the rung, the bottom of the ladder, if you like, and you have an internal communications manager, and then you have a senior one, and then a head of, and then a director. So there could be multiple layers above you. And if your job is IC manager, and whether that’s internal communication or internal communications, if you’ve listened to this podcast before, you’ll know that I talk about that a lot. I’ll include a link in the show notes, at allthingsic.com/podcast to the show notes for this episode of the difference between internal communication and internal communications. But I won’t digress onto that topic today, but I’ll include a link so you can read more about it. And what the difference is. So I’m going to stick with IC as much as I can today.

And when you’re thinking about what you are hiring for, are you really clear in terms of what exactly the level is? Let’s put our cards on the table, a fantastic job advert is not impossible to write. There’s lots of advice and guidance out there to help you. However, the very best thing that you can possibly do to hire an IC pro and attract the right source of person to your job is by publishing as much detail as possible. In particular, I am talking about the salary. The reason being, because we don’t have a consistent approach when it comes to naming what sort of level an internal communicator is working at, it means because there’s that disconnect between an internal comms manager in one organisation and another, the pay could vary wildly.

If you are working as an IC manager, and that actually would be an equivalent to director of internal communication somewhere else. If somebody’s hiring for a director of internal communication, they may discount the fact when they see a CV with internal communications manager written on it, let’s be really honest. Or you may actually, when you are applying for a job, if you see a job being advertised and it says, internal communications manager and the salary isn’t advertised, you may therefore assume that it’s a junior level. I know we don’t really say junior and senior, but stick with me on this one. You may think it’s an entry level role rather than the fact that it actually represents a comms director role.

So that lack of clarity and that lack of consistency is incredibly frustrating. And it does nobody any favours at all. So we know that’s the case. If you are thinking about hiring an IC pro, one of the very best things you can do is indicate what the salary is. Now I know very often there’s reasons why people can’t publish the salary, but if you can offer to have an informal conversation, and that’s quite commonplace now where people put at the bottom of job adverts, if you’d like to have an informal discussion or find out more about the role contact Joe Blogs at X, Y, Z. In that sort of verbal conversation, you probably could disclose the salary if you’re able to do that. If you’re not able to publish it externally on a website, for example.

So do you know when you’re hiring an IC pro, do you know the level of skill you are looking for? How much experience do you want that person to have? Now, I introduced job adverts on the All Things IC website back in 2014 to fund my maternity leave with my boys, my twins. And I see a lot of job adverts. So over the past seven years, I’ve lost count of how many job adverts have come through our doors. And I read every single one. I’m really curious. I always want to know exactly how people are describing the roles that they’re asking internal communicators to do.

So if you are looking to hire an internal comms professional, I encourage you, something you need to know is how to attract the right source of person to that right source of role by being really clear in terms of, this is the level of skills, knowledge, and experience that we are looking for and does it match up with the salary expectations? So if you want people to have five or 10 years experience in a certain field, particularly if it’s specialized, if it’s niche, if it is one of those specialist roles, or maybe it is an internet manager, or maybe it’s an employee engagement expert, or a change communication expert, for example, you need to reflect that in the salary.

It needs to be really clear that you’re expecting this person to have all these skills and knowledge and experience. You need to make sure they’re rewarded for that because you benefit from what they bring into that role. So be really clear about the level that you are recruiting for. What’s the business problem that you are trying to solve through the creation of this role or the rehire into this role? And also when you’re looking at recruiting people, are you aware of how other people recruit? We’ll talk more about that shortly. But that’s why I want you to know exactly who you are recruiting for and how they fit in. If you are a team, even if you be a team of two, how does their job fit into your job as well?

What is the difference in the split between the activities that you’re doing? Operational activities that you are doing, all day to day content creation that’s happening? I’ll include a link in the show notes, but there’s a really good model in Bill Quirke’s book Making the Connections: Using Internal Communication to Turn Strategy into Action. It is a four box model. And it looks at the different types of roles that internal communicators have. And it’s split into things like tactics and strategy and advisory and operational, and there’s various activities that people do. Now, if you are a team of one, then you will be doing all of those activities across that four box grid I’m sure. If you’re hiring, if you’re recruiting into your team, where are the gaps? So, where’s the responsibility? What would you be doing and what would they be doing?

Is that reflected in the job advert? What I’d like to see is an indication of, who will be supporting this person? And do they have any direct reports? Where do they report into? What is your reporting structure? The clearer you can be on your job advert, the better it is for the candidate. Because the better it is for the person who’s looking to say, what’s this sort of organisation that I’m joining and what’s the setup? And what’s their investment in internal comms? What’s their maturity of internal comms? How are they describing what I would do? All of that gives you an indication of their culture through the types of words they’re using and phrases they uses and language they’re using. There’s often a few red flags for me.

When I see things like, you need to be a team player but also self-motivated and great working by yourself, fine. That’s pretty common standard commonplace language that we use. And you kind of see it. Well, yeah, there are times when you have to be really, really good working autonomously by yourself on your own initiative. And other times you probably need to be part of a wider team. So, yeah, that’s fine. But the red flags for me are things like, you need to work well under extreme pressure. Ooh, really? Under extreme pressure. So imagine this is you sitting at your store and inviting people in. The fact you’ve got phrases like extreme pressure, and I’ve seen that in the job advert very recently, not one that was on my website! What does that tell you about the culture of the organisation?

What does it tell you about the team? What does it tell you about the expectations for that person? Massive red flag that one for me. You’ll have your own examples. When you look through job adverts, what is it that jars and doesn’t resonate really well with you? If you’re thinking about hiring an IC pro, what is the perception that you want to communicate about? This is the way we do things, our culture, and there’s a whole separate episode on culture. If you’re thinking about that, then actually, what is it you want to get across to that person? What is it you want them to understand about the way that you’re working and the sort of organisation that they’re joining.

And in order to attract the right person, you need to know what is their level of skill you are looking for? Are you looking for someone who is great with tactics, or are you looking for someone who is all about the thinking, all about the strategy? And clearly you can be the better. The second part of our conversation today is what do you need to do?

Now, if you are hiring an internal comms professional, there are lots of resources out there to help you. I’ve been writing at my All Things IC blog since 2009. And back in 2021, I asked VMA group who are our recruiter to write an article for me. Because they had just published a hiring guide alongside the Institute of Internal Communication. IOIC.

IoIC Hiring Guide

Now, VMA group came and wrote for me on my blog. And I’ll share a link in the show notes at allthingsic.com/podcast in the show notes for this episode. But in that hiring guide, it was packed with some really interesting information, particularly if you’re looking to benchmark and understand job titles and how much people get paid, it’s a really worthwhile resource, I encourage you to check it out. But in particular, something that people need to do when you’re looking to hire an internal comms professional, if you are already clear about the level of skill, or you have a sense of the level of skill and whether they’ll be working strategically or tactically or operationally, then what you need to do is be incredibly clear in terms of the behaviors you want them to have, the knowledge you want them to have, the skills you want them to have.

One of the very best ways I know how to do that is by using the profession map from the Institute of Internal Communication. I’ve mentioned it various times throughout the seasons of the Candid Comms podcast, because it really is on a page. Everything we need to know in terms of, what are the skills and what are the behaviors that you need to have. What’s the expertise that people need to have when they work in internal communication. And even better than that are the levels that it then drills into. There’s a really great framework as part of the Institute of Internal Communications professional map on their website. In the article the VMA group wrote for me, which is alongside the IOIC, it helps you to understand how to do that.

So the hiring guide that VMA group produced includes things like, how to write a great job advert, which is really useful. It’s a really, really useful recommendations in there. And there’s so many examples online of other job adverts that you could look at. So, if you want to assess against the IOIC professional map, I think that’s a really good thing to do. Why? Well, frankly, it helps you understand whether you’re being unrealistic. If you are offering to pay an internal communication manager and the skills and the knowledge and the experience and the behaviors that you are asking for at that role and in your role, it’s quite an entry level role, but actually you expect people to have oodles of experience and various professional memberships and all sorts of very technical knowledge, then there’s a real disconnect there.

You’re not going to be able to find somebody who has that amount of experience for that amount that you are aiming to pay, for example. And the opposite is true as well. Where if you are trying to hire a comms director, for example, have a look at the profession map and really be clear in terms of, what’s the depth of knowledge that this person is expected to have. Because if you don’t write that correctly within a job advert, then you are going to get people come through your doors or into your inbox who don’t have the required depth of knowledge, skills and with the right behaviors, potentially, because you haven’t been clear enough.

So I find it a really good check and balance. I’ve done this with clients where I’ve helped them restructure their comms teams. And I’ve looked at, what do your job descriptions say now? Let’s map out how we want the team to be in the future. So what are the business priorities? And what’s your business strategy? And therefore, how do we need to restructure your comms team to help create a shared understanding and a shared meaning amongst your workforce about who we are, how we show up in the world, what our vision is, what our purpose is, what we’re here to do? Whether we’re curing patients, selling widgets, transporting people, this is the source of comms team that we need to have in place.

And then let’s get back into the job adverts. So all of that graph, all of that thinking is really important. And I did a whole separate podcast episode on how to create an internal comms team. And I’ll link to that in the show notes. But it’s a really important consideration for you to have, it’s a really important activity to do in terms of looking at your job description that you’re creating or aspiration what you are trying to do, understand what are the required skills, behaviours, knowledge, experience that you’re asking someone to have. And if there’s a real mismatch between the levels that you are pitching at, and you have unrealistic expectations of exactly how much experience you want somebody to have for the amount of money that you’re paying, you’re not going to get great people through the door or you’re not going to get… You might get great people through the door, but it might not translate.

It might not convert if you’re not able to articulate the salary, if you’re not able to share what the salary is, then you just need to manage expectations all around. Hiring doesn’t need to be as complicated as it’s made out to be. If you can be really clear in terms of the structure of your job advert, if you give people an opportunity to get in touch and ask questions, if you have a page of your recruiting website, for example, that has a video of the person who’s currently doing the role, that’s ideal. It’s very rare that people do that. But when you go into a job interview situation, I certainly did this in my in-house corporate career. I would ask, why is position available? Is it a brand new position, or is there someone in it already?

Now, you can normally find that out. You can normally look on LinkedIn. And if you’re going for a particular title in an organisation, you may be able to find the role holder of the person who’s already doing that job already. So you might already have an indication that actually this isn’t a new role, but why is that person no longer there? Is it because they’ve moved up or is it that they’re moving on? I always find it really useful to know what the context is if you’re going into that situation. We are going to take a short break and when we come back I’m going to leave you with something to think about. See you in a moment.

All Things IC Online Masterclasses

Welcome back. In the final part of today’s episode, I’m going to leave you with something to think about, and this is where to hire an IC pro. So we’ve covered the level of skill, that potentially you’re looking for. We’ve talked about how to write a job advert, and I’ll share the resource with you for the hiring guide so you can check it out. But something for us to think about is where to recruit. Now, it may well be that inside your organisation you already have somebody who you could encourage to think about joining your comms team. It may well be that you have someone who’s expressed an interest in joining the comms team, who’s shown a good flare for writing, for example, and you think actually given the right advice and guidance, this person could be a brilliant internal communicator. I encourage you to do that.

So it’s not always about going externally. It’s not always finding somebody who’s already working as an IC pro. You may well be able to help someone rise up through the ranks internally or move across into your function, but you must help them and you must encourage them to learn well. So that’s giving them access to things like, “Well, oh my goodness, there are so many resources available to help you.” If you don’t have much budget, then my blog is a really great place to start. I’ve been writing it since 2009. There’s 1,600 articles on there for free. There’s no paywall. You can help yourself. There’s all sorts of articles about how to be an internal communicator, how to start out an internal communication.

How to be an internal communicator

 

What are the skills that you need to have to be an internal communicator? All of this content I’ve written over the past few years to help people understand what it means to work in internal comms and to support and guide them as they do. So that could be a consideration for you. But if you’re thinking about moving somebody into your function, then make sure, and I’m sure that you will, but make sure that you support them through training. I do an online masterclass called, how to be an internal communicator, which is really popular. And it’s for people who are brand new into the profession or have up to three years experience. There’s also another one that I do on internal comms channels to help people get their heads around, what does it mean to have an internal communication channel? How does it work? How do you decide how to use one? How do you organize them? There’s all sorts in there.

So that’s how to be an internal communicator or an introduction to internal communication channels as online masterclasses, or there’s also a face-to-face course that I run, which is, Effective Internal Communication. And that is for that same level, for people who are brand new. I taught that course in the back end of 2021. And in the room, I had people with two months and three months internal comms experience. And that was such a joy for me because they were so brand new into internal comms and their questions were amazing. Because they were challenging me and asking me, “Well, why do you do things in that certain way? And it was, oh, it’s just beautiful. I loved it. I absolutely loved it.

 

Comms Director Mastermind

That effective internal communication course is something that you could offer people to help them get a really good grounding in terms of, here is a day in the life and a week in the life of an internal communicator. In 2021, I actually did that as a bespoke master class for an agency where they wanted to help their team learn more about the internal communicators that they were supporting. So I created a bespoke version of that course where I tailored it to them and did a VIP option, which means that members of their team completed assignments and then sent them to me where I marked them all personally and came back to them with feedback.

So all sorts of things like that are possible. There’s so many things out there to support and nurture and encourage and advise brand new internal communicators. Another two places I’m going to point you towards are the Institute of Internal Communications Future Comms Network. This is for people who are new into internal comms. They’ve got a whole networking group there to encourage people to connect with each other and learn together. I’ll include a link to that in the show notes for this episode, at allthingsic.com/podcast. And also the lovely Daniel Holden who runs Horizon Communications, which is his website.

He works in house in a corporate communications role, but on the side, he has a brilliant blog and resources to really help brand new internal communicators. He also has a guild group, which is a closed network which is for people who are new to internal comms. So look him up. I’ll include links to Dan within the show notes too. So you could look internally. If you’re looking to hire an IC pro, you could look internally and inside your organisation, see if there’s anybody there who you think you could look after and train and advise so they could become a really effective internal communicator.

And then the second option there is to go externally. Now, if you are recruiting via a recruitment agency, please, can I encourage you to use one who specialises in internal communication? The reason being, there are lots of great recruitment companies out there. I’m sure. However, the niche of internal comms is exactly that, it’s a niche.

So, some of my clients have had really quite disastrous experiences where they’ve used generic recruiters or standard recruiters who don’t specialise in internal comms. And therefore they don’t have great networks and they don’t have good avenues and places where they advertise, and therefore they don’t get in front of the right people who are internal communicators.

I had this experience myself, actually, my very first in-house corporate comms role was back in 2003. And I had been working as a journalist for four years. I knew I wanted to leave my job. I didn’t know where to go, what to do, where to look. I’ve talked about this before. I think it was back in season one of the Candid Comms podcast. And I was searching, read.co.uk and monster.co.uk. And I was just typing in all the things I love doing as a journalist, writing and meeting people and interviewing. And I came up with internal communication on a job advert, and I didn’t know what it was, but it really peaked my interest. And actually, if I’m really being candid with you, the recruiter was an automotive recruiter.

So when I had the conversation with this guy called John, he was lovely, he was really nice. I remember I contacted them and said, “I found this job. It looks all the things that I love doing. It looks fantastic. I’m really interested.” And John got in touch and he said, “Let’s have a chat.” And then when we did, I met him in person and he said, we’ve never recruited an internal communicator before. All the other jobs that they had on their website were all within the specialism for automotive.

This was for Visteon an automotive company who spun off from Ford. And everything else they were advertising with things like climate engineers and all sorts, but not as single other comms role. So, it was a real learning curve for me and him. I’d never gone through an agency before, a recruiter before, and he’d never recruited an internal communicator. It was a bit of a tricky situation for us both. We were both guiding each other as we went and it was okay. It was an okay experience because he was just really kind and really upfront and said, “I don’t quite know how to assess you.” So, that I thought was quite interesting in its own right.

But, luckily, the lady who ended up becoming my manager, Viv, was amazing. Absolutely amazing. And when we had an interview, I remember having a writing test and we had one of our leaders. It was a German chat with a really quite an unusual spelling of his surname. And I remember that one of the things that I was asked to do was to do a writing test to see whether I could take something from a press release and turn it into an internal story that would go up on the internet. And obviously they were checking that I could write a story, and they were checking for my accuracy as well, whether I would get his name right or wrong.

So the experience was okay because of John and because of his interest in me as a candidate and really trying to help do the right thing by me and give me the information I needed. I wasn’t even sure, really the questions to ask about the world of internal comms because it was such a brand new thing to me. I’d never heard of it. And let’s really candid here.

If that experience hadn’t have been great, there’s a chance that I would never have worked in the field of internal comms. I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you right now had my experience with that recruiter not been as positive as it was.

I mean, the fact, I still remember his name from 2003 until now, it’s because it was just such a positive experience for me. But his specialism wasn’t internal comms. So in hindsight for me, and if you’re thinking about recruiting, then why not choose a recruiter who really truly does understand internal comms, because it would answer the questions that your potential candidates have and help you hopefully attract the right people. So there are various options on the market, wherever you’re listening to this in the world, you will have recruiters that are local to you.

And I understand that sometimes you are constrained and you have to go with the specialist recruiters that your organisation always uses. But I would argue for things like internal comms, for the niche of internal comms, it’s important that you attract the right people. It’s always important to attract the right people, but within our jobs it’s so visible and that person is so visible inside your organisation. So why not go with people who do this for a living, who week in, week out, day in, day out, analyse and assess internal communicators CVS, and they know what they’re looking for, most importantly.

I hope you found this episode useful if you are thinking about hiring an IC pro. I’ll include links to everything I talked today in the show notes at allthingsic.com/podcast. I’d love to know how you get on. Are you going to make any changes to the way that you recruit as a result of listening to this episode? Did it spark something? Did it trigger a thought in your mind perhaps about doing a written test for your potential hires?

Do get in touch and let me know. You can Tweet me @AllThingsIC. You can find me @rachelallthingsic on Instagram. Look me up on LinkedIn, Rachel Miller. Or you can contact me via the contact form on my website, allthingsic.com/contact. And remember, what happens inside is reflected outside. See you again soon.

First published on the All Things IC blog 15 January 2022.

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