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The path of perseverance: Carving out a new career


March 1, 2012

Eighteen months after Wiley Henry lost his deputy editor/senior writer job at a Memphis, Tenn.-based African-American weekly, a PR agency hired him — primarily because he’s a strong writer.

His transition to The Carter Malone Group in Memphis after 28 years of working for the Tri-State Defender has been smooth, but Henry’s lengthy unemployment tested his faith.

Given the drastic changes in print during the past 10 years, many journalists have been making the transition from the newsroom to public relations with greater frequency.  While it isn’t a new idea for journalists to shift careers and become PR practitioners, the trend has accelerated because of marketplace pressures.

Here are three snapshots of PR pros who are successfully carving out new career paths and learning that there’s life after the newsroom.

Keeping faith

“I never stopped going to church and I rarely missed a Sunday, even though I was going through some hardships,” said Henry, a longtime member of Memphis’s Golden Gate Cathedral. “When you are going through a crisis, it’s always good to be with people who believe what you believe.”

Beyond attending Sunday services, Henry had a business relationship with his church long before his job loss. He was a founding member of the now-defunct monthly newspaper the Golden Gate Gazette and had also recorded church ser-vices.  To supplement his $247 unemployment check, he photographed special events at the church, which he still does today. Additionally, he picked up several freelance PR writing assignments through his church connections. In fact, freelancing gigs helped Henry land the senior account services specialist/writer position at Carter Malone.

After he did some consulting work for the company in the summer, Deidre Malone, the firm’s founder, president and CEO, hired Henry this past September. “He understands the mindset of journalists,” she said. “He speaks the language they want to hear.” 

Finding parallels

Four years ago,  Yolette Garcia left behind more than 25 years of news management in public broadcasting to accept a PR job in higher education.

“I figured I had had the maximum experience I could have after 25 years,” said Garcia, who started working at KERA Channel 13 — which serves North Texas — in 1983.

She received a telephone call in November 2007 from Patti LaSalle, a longtime acquaintance who is the associate vice president and executive director in the Office of Public Affairs at Dallas-based Southern Methodist University.

LaSalle called to tell Garcia that there was a new dean, Dr. David J. Chard, at SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development and that he wanted to meet her for a business lunch.  They arranged a meeting, and by the time that they had finished eating, Chard had offered Garcia a position as assistant dean in external affairs and outreach in his department.

Since starting the job in January 2008, Garcia has found parallels between this role and her background in public broadcasting and journalism.

“Journalists have a different way of thinking,” she says. “Sometimes I ask questions that might make them feel differently about what they are trying to accomplish.”

She admits to tackling a steep learning curve with education and the academic structure, but still feels ethically centered.

“To me, that’s very important,” Garcia said. “I would not have taken this position if I did not believe I could stick to a deep sense of ethics.”

Choosing carefully

Anthony Hicks,  APR, is a former journalist who worked as a reporter at the Arkansas Gazette newspaper. He currently serves as director of public relations and development at Shelby Residential and Vocational Services in Memphis.

He advises journalists who are considering transitioning to a PR career to “be careful about the company you choose — make sure it’s one you believe in and can advocate for.  You want to get on the company’s website, know what the CEOs are about and look at annual reports.”

Aside from researching your prospective employer’s news release archives and talking to peers about the organization, there’s a bigger question to ask, he said.

“Why do you want to be in public relations? It’s not just another job,” Hicks said. “You have to have a reason beyond just a need for a paycheck.”

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Pointers for a new career path

Ginger Anderson is a career development facilitator with ResCare, Inc. at the Richardson Workforce Center in Richardson, Texas. ResCare is the largest private provider of workforce services in the United States. Here, Anderson shares a few pointers for people thinking about changing careers.

What is the best way for someone who is looking to change careers to land a job interview?

Start with a list of your transferable skills, and know your strengths and weaknesses. Know what you have to sell. Research is key. Use LinkedIn and other websites to query employees at a prospective employer’s company. Networking is the No. 1 way to get there.
 
You must sell — not tell — the prospective employer on your résumé. For example, “I developed an inventory system for my company.” Be specific [when] stating how you helped the company make money or save money. For example, “I developed an inventory system that resulted in a $20K savings over a six-month period.” If you state a skill, then you have to prove it. We spend too much time telling people what we did and not what we can do for them.
 
Tailor your résumé to the job posting — there is no longer a generic résumé. Use the language addressed in the job posting in your résumé. Make it easy for the reader within 15 seconds to see that you have at least 70 percent or more of the skills required for that position. In other words, sell.

How can job candidates overcome perceptions that they are overqualified, too old or won’t fit in well with a prospective employer’s company?

You have to prove them wrong. Tell hiring managers they deserve excellence. You must sell your product — you. Convince them with an explanation of what was so great about the company that led you to apply there. Your great résumé will drive that interview. — R.L.B.

Copyright © 2012 Regina L. Burns. All rights reserved.

Regina L. Burns New media producer Regina L. Burns works for Dallas-based Harvest Reapers Communications. You can reach her at @Digiqueen0809 on Twitter. She also blogs at www.harvestreapers.com.
Email: rburns at harvestreapers.com



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