Dear Dr Heather Yaxley

About the author

Heather is a key member of our assessor team. PhD, BSc, PG, RSA, CAM  

This Ask Dr Heather Yaxley feature answers questions about early career moves. 

I’m working in my first PR/comms role after graduating and looking to gain a CIPR qualification. Which would you recommend for me?

The new CIPR Professional PR Certificate is a great qualification for those graduating in another discipline. You will learn practical skills, study the principles underlying these, and examine their application for a variety of real life situations and organisational contexts. The course assessments focus on PR planning, developing effective communication materials, and the evaluation of outcomes. These help improve your writing, creativity and problem-solving abilities. You can base your work on your employer or another organisation if you prefer. This means you are able put into practice what you’ve learned immediately and demonstrate the qualification’s value to your current and future employers.

What is the best time to make a career move?

My PhD research identified the importance of quality time in careers. So it’s not simply a matter of clocking up a certain number of years’ experience before making a move, but identifying the right time for you.

This reflects a Greek concept, καιρός (kairos) meaning, ‘defining moment’.

Most people recount that the times in their careers that are most rewarding are those when they are enjoying a richness of experience, gaining recognition for their contribution and building on what they have done previously. Being open to professional development opportunities whether in your current role or elsewhere is important. But be clear about the reasons why you want to make any move. Chasing promotions, higher salaries, or status job titles won’t necessarily offer you a rewarding kairotic moment in your career.

I’ve moved into PR from a journalism background and find that I need to know a lot more about management than I’d expected. Would the CIPR Professional PR Diploma help me to get to grips with my new role?

Yes it would – although you will be required by CIPR to have a journalism degree or an NCTJ diploma. The CIPR Professional PR Diploma develops the skills and knowledge required to work successfully as a member of an organisation’s management team. It is also ideal for senior account managers in agencies or independent consultants. The emphasis is on strategic planning, communications management and leadership capabilities. You will learn to write management reports, make proposals on the basis of research and analysis and recommend improvements for current practices. Key aspects relating to managing stakeholders, organisational reputation, issues and crisis situations are covered. Undoubtedly the qualification will help build your confidence and ability to meet the expectations of modern PR/communications managers.

What do I need to consider if moving from an in-house to an agency role or vice versa in my career? Is it helpful to have worked ‘both sides of the fence’?

It never hurts to understand another perspective regarding your chosen profession. Having worked in-house, you will understand the pressures faced by clients. If you have worked for a consultancy, you will understand what is realistic to expect from agency personnel. However, it can be difficult to persuade recruitment firms and employers that you are the right candidate when moving from one ‘side’ to the other.

You could consider the option of self-employment, project work or interim roles to gain experience before seeking more permanent positions. Indeed, it’s increasingly common to see fluidity in contemporary careers.

The key consideration when switching is to be able to demonstrate relevance in your experience, transferable skills and a clear ability to deliver what the particular organisation requires.

I work in an organisation where my best chance of being promoted will involve a move out of the PR/comms function. How can I convince the HR department to consider me for other roles?

Human Resources may not be the decision maker for such career moves. Do some research to understand the formal – and informal – processes that influence career development. Most organisations post vacancies internally and senior managers often discuss potential candidates. Fortunately, working in PR/comms roles offers the potential to build strong relationships with various heads of function and gain a reputation for being a reliable and pro-active person. You could also seek opportunities to join cross-functional project teams and look for possible mentors among your contacts, with the approval of your current line manager.

Ensure that your annual appraisal records your interest in developing a career within the organisation.

Seeking outside voluntary experiences that help to round out your experience may also be helpful. For example, you could learn about financial management with a local community group, or gain leadership experience as a school governor.