Interviewing for an Internal Communication Role and Tips to Get Your Job


This week I have been interviewing communicators for an internal communication role.  I wanted to pen down my impressions from talking to a set of talented people, share do’s and don’ts and what I look for when it comes to hiring someone for a communications job. These ideas and recommendations I believe can apply for any profile and role.

 At the time of publishing this post the position is still open and the selection process is underway.

Although the role has a mix of recruitment marketing communication and internal communication it will require the individual to work closely with internal stakeholders to develop, synchronize, disseminate and measure messages.

Here is what I did before conducting the interviews.

First, I did my due diligence by reading the CVs carefully to understand how the individual structured his or her profile and the key words highlighted. I made notes of the elements of experience, learning opportunities and array of roles played within the communication portfolio.

I sought writing samples from the candidates ahead of the interview since I firmly believe creating content and key messages are essentials for any communication position. I sifted through the samples to gauge the maturity of writing and the ability to express ideas succinctly. 

Surprisingly, none of the profiles I reviewed included any element of social media to a) reference their background and, b) showcase their work.

When I called each of the candidates I ensured I provided the context, explained my role in the selection process and checked if they had clarity on the job description.

Strangely, only one of them had taken the trouble of finding out more about the role and how it correlated to the candidate’s experience. Interestingly, one asked me for feedback at the end of the interview – which to me demonstrated interest in growing and improving. I was asked what I look for when I interview a candidate for such a profile. I mulled over it and here is what came to my mind.

It boils down to what I call the ‘3Ds’ – is the individual driven, direct and distinguished.

Driven – is the candidate showing enough evidence of initiative and commitment?

Direct – is the candidate talking to the point? If you can’t explain your point crisply how can you communicate widely with your internal and external stakeholders?

Distinguished – has the candidate proved his or her worth in the domain?

If you have begun your career you may argue that you don’t have enough reasons and opportunities to make a mark. I disagree. If you are keen to make a mark and be recognized in your field of work, you should have begun early. Nothing stops you from building your portfolio of work even as a freelancer, enrolling for courses, joining a communication body, gaining experience with say, an NGO – without pay, penning articles for your local newspaper, writing a blog, hosting a photo feature, showcasing your video skills, demonstrating your leadership skills your college event or building your personal brand online.

Now coming to the questions I prefer asking during an interview. I try to holistically gauge the candidate at the following levels –

–          personal (education, interest, hobbies etc)

–          team (how they fit into the current scheme of things, how they engage with their team, whom they look to for insights and learning, whom do they report to, how do they manage work)

–          organization (how are they making an impact to your organization, how do they know if they are doing so)

–          career (expectations, understanding and awareness of opportunities available)

–          industry (how aware are they of trends and impact)

–          learning (what investment have they taken to grow, what are they doing to continuously learn more, do they have any mentors) and,

–          personal attributes (how confident are they, is there clarity of thought, what are their impressions on ethics)

–          community (what are they doing to improve things around themselves, in everyday life, what steps have they taken to make a difference)

At this point let me share some pointers on what one should avoid when applying and interviewing for a position.

1. Stating an incorrect designation and role: I noticed one CV which changed the current designation and role to suit the profile applied for. I only discovered this when I probed further that the candidate didn’t have the relevant experience.

2. Never bad mouth your current firm: When I asked what would make the individual switch companies, the answer that I got shocked me! The candidate used phrases like ‘lax attitude’, ‘not going anywhere here’ and does not matter how long I stay, nothing will change’.  Which organization would want to hire someone who has such an attitude? Even if you are getting a raw deal in your current workplace, be thankful for the opportunities you get everyday to influence people and the work you do everyday.

3. Unclear about what the industry wants: If you are keen on making a mark in your area of work, you should positively know what is going on in your industry and the impact of regulations and governmental interventions. I made it a point to ask every candidate about recent trends they observed and I never got any convincing answers. If you don’t know of recent shifts in the way communication is evolving, how do you plan to value-add to how communication is done in your role?

4. Lack of clarity on career progression: It is the candidate’s responsibility to find out career paths and opportunities that exist in different organizations from literature that is available. There are tons of materials which one can refer to.

5. Beating around the bush: If you don’t know an answer, say so. No one is expected to know everything but the least I would expect is that the candidate tells me that he or she would find out, get my contact ID and let me know. When the expectation is to give simple, direct answers nothing can be more frustrating that listening to a candidate who beats around the bush.

6. Wanting to do other jobs within the company: While candor is appreciated, if you know the role does not suit you, explain it and drop off. I came across a candidate who wanted to play to her strengths in PR when the job clearly didn’t expect her to do so. You first need to prove your worth with what you are asked to do and then move to other domains if you get the opportunity.

7. Lack of interest in learning more: I was taken aback when candidates told me that they had absolutely no idea where to seek information on corporate communication or internal communication! It may have been excused 10-15 years ago when the understanding of communication was nascent. Today with a wide spectrum of options to source information from it is foolish to mention that one has no context! Even a simple Google search will get you all the content you need for a lifetime.

8. Do not place content in your CV that you can’t explain:  If you mention ‘objectives’ or ‘strengths’ in your CV be prepared for questions related to them. For example, one candidate included ‘networking skills’ and I probed further for an example. Unfortunately, the candidate wasn’t able to give me a good example of a networking skill she leveraged to improve her standing.  My recommendation is to drop these elements which bloat your CV length. Strengths will be discovered during the course of a conversation.

9. Don’t miss out on your manners: If you are in a place with a lot of background noise, excuse yourself and buy more time or do the call later. Also ensure you thank the interviewer for his or her time before signing off. Find out if you can continue keeping the relationship going in the future or if you can be mentored by the interviewer if you are convinced about the credentials.

What are your viewpoints? Do these recommendations make sense?

Do share your experiences and other ideas that you think will help a person interviewing for a communication role.

Town Halls and the Science of Getting Your Employees Aligned


Town Halls or All Hands sessions, if done consistently are powerful internal communication platforms for organizations to connect with employees, share plans, engage in conversations and gauge feedback. Some organizations invest a lot of attention in getting these interactions right and involve advertising and event management agencies to package the sessions, create a ‘wow’ effect and help audiences retain messages.

My personal take is that such sessions need to be managed and run in-house since the internal communicator has a lot more context, better relationships and insight into messages and key internal information. There are broadly three levels of content that employees are interested in knowing – company, office and team. Therefore the content and approach needs to address the company’s plans and strategy, the office updates and team events such as recognitions and performance updates.

Perched

 Knowing how to conduct such sessions is a science and I can safely say that I am still learning the ropes. However, based on my experiences of conducting such sessions at various Indian and multinational organizations, here are some best practices which I am able to distill and share.

Recently, I was closely involved in championing a series of such sessions that aimed at getting powerful content fused with even more compelling presentations.

 It is evident that any such exercise requires leadership maturity and their commitment to time and effort for making an impact. It takes a lot more energy and drive to inspire people to focus on the brand, the organizational goals and how each one can partner to make it successful. 

These sessions coordinated to time with public facing and client specific announcements had senior leaders from across locations delivering content real-time to ensure every employee was on board.

 I managed and witnessed numerous such sessions in my previous workplaces but nothing compares to the passion and drive to get people rallied together speaking the same language and aligning to the vision.

 Here are my top recommendations while planning and executing these sessions. One caveat – Town Halls or leadership-employee interactions are not a one-off exercise and requires the commitment of the leadership to ensure continuity and consistency.

First the basics, then the jazz:  Always get the ‘who, which, what, when, how and where’ of communication clarified upfront. It is safer to set up a pre-event call and run a high level plan with senior leaders on the process of rollout. One of the common mistakes I have observed is that internal communication teams invest too much time in ‘creating’ or ‘hyping’ the session as an event rather than focusing on the content and delivery. Finally, what matters is content and how employees perceive it. A ‘town hall’ or an ‘all-hands’ is not ‘show-time’ but an opportunity for dialogue. Remember your employees are sparing their valuable time to come and listen to you – make it matter.

 What you say is what you mean: Very often (and unfortunately), I notice the attention paid to developing key messages is probably only about 5% of the overall effort of running town halls. To me, it should ideally take over 75% of your time to get the messages right. Rather than ‘recall’ your messages (the analogy and pun related to Toyota cars!) it makes sense to get them right the first time.  Key messages development – here it important to understand cultural nuances so as to suit all geographies, locations and languages. In this specific rollout, effort taken to include India specific content and case studies helped employees relate better. Work out the ‘what’s in it for me’ perspective in every communication.

 Plan your Town Hall strategy: Planning is the most critical element of successful Town Halls. From the timing (avoiding sessions around holidays or close to long weekends) to frequency (having one large session or multiple sessions depending on the nature of content) it matters to think through the process of running Town Halls. Just like the way appropriate channels are critical to reach your audiences, similarly it helps to map the right presenter with relevant teams you are targeting. From my experience I have found that employees are able to relate to speakers who directly or indirectly affect their careers, growth and performance. Also people are able to speak more freely in smaller, close knit groups they are familiar with.

Aligning your presenters: Once your content package is ready it is important to select speakers who can deliver the messages and rally employees. While a single round of sessions may only the ‘start’ of any conversation, understanding the personalities of each presenter is useful. Usually, a preparation call or meeting is driven by the internal communication team briefing them on possible questions that employees may ask and suitable talking points.

Packing a punch with your content: Create and make presentation material and videos available for presenters. They need all the ammunition to make an impact. From my experience interspersing video content with slides adds the much needed fillip and also allows for informed conversations.

Timing your communication: Employees need sufficient lead-time to plan their work and be prepared with questions to ask. Therefore ensure the calendar invites are sent at least a week prior to the sessions. Do call out that the Town Hall timings and venues may change while the team continues mapping the speakers’ availability with the venues. If there is a possibility of releasing marketing facing messages ensure you share them first with your employees before it hits the press.

Murphy’s Law and other factors: Conducting Town Halls involves people, technology and communication. While we can control most of these elements, factor in situations where your tools and resources may not function as planned. Have suitable back-ups for presenters, equipment and venues. Invest time to test and verify that the systems work before you engage your audiences. Most often, compatibility issues with projectors, microphones, sound systems and laptops can cause a lot of hiccups unless you test the set-up.  On D-Day, have a process for sending out the announcements and reminders, tracking session completion, conducting an exit poll and capturing questions that employees ask.

Take feedback to get better at Town Halls: I am firm believer in taking feedback on the content, presenters and format of the sessions. Also, take feedback almost instantaneously so that your audience can recollect their thoughts easily. Poll presenters to understand what worked well and what needed fixing. This feedback enables internal communications to revisit their plans, restructure content and include positive changes for improved communication.

Share your plans with your stakeholders: Depending on the content shared during your sessions there is a possibility that other stakeholders including new hires, partners, clients, agencies and alumni may need to be informed. Again to be consistent the internal communicator needs to work with relevant stakeholders to have suitable content for presentations, websites, portals and induction programs.  

I am interested in other suggestions you may have in conducting successful face-to-face meetings. Do share them here.

Best Companies to Work in India Study – New Approach, Different Perspectives


The Business Today -Indicus-People Strong Survey is out (February 7, 2010) and the top names sound familiar. Infosys ranks numero uno followed by Google. TCS, Microsoft also feature in the list. Noteworthy names missing are NetApps, Adobe, Cisco, Intel and HCL who were ranked highly in other studies last year.

twosome

With an all new methodology (Business Today reached out directly to over 8500 employees – current, former and prospects instead of organizations covering close to 1000 companies) it seemed like we might have some surprises. It did! A structured questionnaire covered the following six factors:

–          career and personal growth

–        prestige/company reputation

–           training/coaching/mentoring

–          Financial compensation and benefits

–          Good job content

–          Merit based performance evaluation

 Here are some of the key themes that I noted.

Career and personal growth ranked higher than compensation, often considered to be a tipping point. My take is that the recent economic slowdown may be the cause for this shift in mindset where stability and job security emerged stronger.

I believe companies which continued investing in employer branding and advertising during this slowdown got better mindshare. Therefore a better rank?

The study, while getting a makeover may have lost out on internal insight which only executives who have context can provide. For example, unique and creative best practices in human resources, planning, leadership and communication provide great ideas for other organizations to test and imbibe. I always look out for such case studies to not just share with students during classes but also to educate human resources and leadership teams at my organization on industry benchmarks.

Due to the downturn and rapid globalization, re-skilling and cross pollination of talent, wider spectrum of opportunities and leadership pool building were observed across most organizations.

Since the Fortune 100 best companies list feature other firms who have strong footprints in India, one can draw the conclusion that either the images of these companies may not be as strong in this geography or there are marked differences in the quality of employee relations across locations.

Strangely, Corporate Social Responsibility and opportunities for employee volunteering aren’t  mentioned as a factor for employee engagement even though research reports consistently point it out.

Also, the study does not seem to mention much on profit sharing and employee involvement in decision making. Two key factors that increases retention and engagement.

The cover story includes a helpful HR scorecard from Executive Board that takes a holistic view of the employee value proposition.

Overall, an interesting study and approach. Keen to know your views.