Baby, it’s cold out there

Recently in the Executive Communication Report (click here to subscribe for free to this weekly e-newsletter), I asked my readers to tell me what the job market was like for executive communications pros. It was late January, and it was cold in more ways than one.

“I think the market for communications professionals sucks right now—no matter what particular specialty you are looking for jobs in,” said Canadian communication generalist Kristen Ridley said. Her temporary contract with her employer is up and she’s shopping for a job, but even with her diverse skill set and years of experience, “I’m finding virtually nothing to even apply for at the moment. I suspect that the companies who ‘might’ need communications people this year are playing ‘wait-and-see’ until they can determine just how bad it looks like things are going to get economically this year.”

Alex Tsigdinos actually hopes to take advantage of the contraction of corporate staffs; he’s hoping some of them shoot business in the direction of his executive communication shop, The Blue Chair Group. He sees the focus of leadership communications turning from outside to inside: “C-level executives will do more internal talks as they rally the troops, explain necessary actions, etc. They will accept far fewer external engagements, as few want to talk about business that’s 25% off or be perceived as not being focused on the business at hand.”

Perhaps John Barnes knows best how to navigate the executive communication job market, having been out there on and off for a couple of years before catching on recently as executive speechwriter for BP America.

He told me his story and offered some tips:

When I was downsized the first time in February 2007, the market appeared quite healthy. I had been getting unsolicited telephone queries from recruiters on a regular, if not frequent, basis prior to my being let go. Other gigs were listed on and I landed a new position less than two weeks after going off the payroll of my previous employer.

My second downsizing in February of last year presented a similar, if not quite so optimistic picture. There were still positions on the major job websites and I got leads on a few more from friends. But the recruiters seemed less eager to contact me that time around, I discovered. They simply weren’t getting the searches. Most of my leads came from my cruising the Web. The most effective job search engine, by far, is I got several solid leads using search terms such as “executive communications,” “speechwriter,” and “speechwriting.” I first was alerted to my current position on this website, so I recommend it highly.

The other job for which I received an offer was in the Middle East, and I was put on to it by a friend in executive communications. So don’t discount the personal network either.

I don’t think there’s any question the market has tightened dramatically since the bottom fell out of the economy in September. I actually got a call a few weeks ago from a friend who went to work writing speeches for the CEO of a major Fortune 500 company less than two years ago who told me he is concerned about losing his job and did I have any leads for him? I was really stunned, since his is a name that would be very familiar to many people on this mailing list. I also got a call from a well-known freelance speechwriter who is looking for a corporate gig since he is losing work to a lot of recently laid-off speechwriters.

The most frustrating part of my search (among many) were the jobs that went bye-bye in the middle of the interview process. One large computer maker strung me along for four months before they finally let me know they wouldn’t be filling the job. One Fortune 100 company that had advertised for a Director of Executive Communications position actually flew me halfway across the country for an interview, and then decided to split the position in two and hired two locals with no speechwriting experience.

Then, of course, there were the normal frustrations of going through the entire process and losing out to another candidate. The way things usually work, the [hiring] communications folks identify a preferred candidate and a “wingman,” in case the preferred candidate doesn’t pass muster with the CEO. I was the wingman on a Fortune 100 position (though I didn’t know it at the time) and lost out, which disappointed me greatly because I really wanted the job.

It’s not a fun experience and I feel for anyone going through it. But once you land the right job, the bad memories fade and you start looking forward.

We’ll be publishing similar war stories and advice from the front. Send us yours: [email protected].

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