Internal communication recruitment sometimes feels like the lawless ‘Wild West’ with no agreed or universal standards for what an internal communicator is, or does, what we should know and if we should be even qualified or accredited. No wonder some recruiters don’t know what ‘good’ looks like.
Last week I took a few calls from recruiters, as I’m currently on the hunt for new in-house, interim or freelance internal communications work.
After months of pandemic induced paralysis, it seems that the market is finally starting to move and recruiters are again trying to fill internal communication roles, although many of them are on short term contracts.
I always slightly dread taking unsolicited calls from recruiters. I do have a number of really good relationships with recruitment consultants, some of whom I’ve known for years. They are always prepared to really understand my needs and those of clients and not bother me with roles which either aren’t suitable for me, or where I wouldn’t be a good fit for the client. So, I tend to benchmark the conversations I have with other recruiters who get in touch out of the blue touting roles, against these relationships.
Sadly, not all people working in recruitment are prepared to build a relationship with candidates and are more interested in treating us as CV fodder and getting a deal done at any cost. Unfortunately, I took a call from one of these recruiters late last week and I just had to share the experience.
The interview questions
I have a list of questions which I always ask recruiters when they contact me about roles they are trying to fill – my interview questions! Their answers to these help me to work out whether or not they properly understand the requirements of the role they are trying to fill, and also if they understand what internal communication actually is in the first place.
Unfortunately, many fail these interview questions and this was definitely the case last week, with the conversation descending into a near argument about whether or not Salford (the location of the job) was in Manchester City Centre (it’s not), a disagreement about my being a ‘really good fit for this one Martin’ and a virtual accusation that I didn’t understand the current market and was overpricing my skills and experience.
Internal communication is the ‘Wild West’
It was clear from my fractious encounter that this recruiter had little experience of communication and PR work and certainly didn’t really understand what internal communication actually was.
The thing is, in some ways, I don’t blame people for not understanding what internal communication is, or what it is for, because sometimes I don’t really think people working in it do either.
There are no clear universal benchmarks for what an internal communicator is, or does. No agreed levels of competence or typical tasks and responsibilities for junior, mid-senior, senior and director level roles. No clear guidance for job titles, meaning it’s difficult to judge where a job role sits on the seniority scale. No clear benchmarks for reward and recognition, or cross cutting standards for qualifications or accreditations.
Of course, there are some points of reference such as the excellent IoIC Profession Map or the GCS Competency Framework and our professional bodies such as CIPR, PRCA, IABC and IoIC, in the UK. However, most recruiters don’t even know that these exist, let alone reference them in job profiles and recruitment generally, or in a meaningful way if they do.
Internal communication as an industry and a profession is practically the Wild West, lawless and unruly, so it’s no wonder that some people don’t understand how to define or pitch a role in it.
Our alternate realities
Over the last few years, I’ve detected a growing gap between what professional frameworks and bodies say internal communicators need to know and do, and what recruiters look for when filling roles. A few others thought the same when I asked.
It’s almost as if those of us in internal communication who have made the effort to upskill ourselves, get qualified and become accredited are inhabiting some kind of alternate realities. The reality of striving to become better as a professional, and the reality of getting hired. At the moment, these two realities seem to be almost mutually exclusive, with qualifications, accreditations and continuous professional development not even on the radars of the people doing the referring and hiring of candidates.
You might say that this gap doesn’t really matter, but I think it does. If internal communication as a business practice is to ever achieve the goal of being regarded as a strategic management function, like HR or Finance, we need to stop inhabiting these two versions of reality and help others understand what the ‘real deal’ looks like when they are recruiting us.
The needs of ‘the market’
At the risk of appearing arrogant or pompous, I sometimes try to educate recruiters about what a good internal communicator looks like and why some things which are included in the job descriptions for us shouldn’t be there, and what really should be there instead. Some are prepared to listen but many do not, citing ‘the needs of the market’ as the only thing which matters, however random those needs might be.
Like being trapped in some awful Cowboys and Indians B Movie, internal communicators will be stuck working in the Wild West until recruiters change their tune and ‘the market’ is educated about what we really are, and should be for in organisations.