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Getting ahead in your comms career: key takeaways

2 July 2019

As someone who has been part of the charity sector for 20 years, freelancing for 10 and a mentor to the new generation of charity communicators, I understand the importance of self-directed career development.

So, naturally, I was excited to attend the recent Getting ahead in your comms career conference and really pleased that CharityComms had put together a day for people to think about their future development. Here are my top takeaways.

1. The world of work is changing

Teams are changing. Organisations are bringing in freelancers or contractors for projects or to fill skills gaps rather than recruiting to permanent roles. Others are moving away from office-based teams with everyone working from home.

The way we work is also changing. Flexible working is rising as employers can see the impact it has on retention and wellbeing. This YouGov research found that working hours are shifting and different ways of working (such as compressed hours) are increasing. I know of several people (all women) working compressed hours or doing job shares once they have had children. I know more who have gone part-time or freelance to have more control over work / home life balance.

So collectively this means that there is a growing autonomy over how we work and different models for how we work are becoming more common. Are you seeing this where you work? Are there more empty desks on a Friday? What does your ideal working week look like?

2. It is time to manage your own career

If working is moving away from the 9-5, full-time, permanent roles, we all need to spend some time thinking about how we market ourselves to secure meaningful projects. We also need to build networks.

A clear message from the conference was that we each need to be in tune with our own development, no one else will do this. Do you have an idea about your next role? It can be hard to see if you work somewhere with no obvious roles to develop into. Or are already at the top. Or have been stuck doing the same thing for a while.

Spend some time understanding yourself. Understand what makes you get out of bed in the morning. What are the causes which motivate (or don’t motivate) you? What are you good at and what you need to get better at? How does your personal life affect how and where you want to work? Will your job even exist in five years time? Make some plans about what you want to do and how you want to work.

Then take time to check in with yourself – are you developing and growing? What can you do to reach your goals? If opportunities present themselves to you, do you take them or watch them go past? Sometimes you have to be brave. If it doesn’t work out, at least you tried and learnt something.

3. Use every opportunity to learn

Use all the learning opportunities you can, it doesn’t have to cost anything. Don’t just think about in-person training courses and conferences but online courses, online conferences and blogs. Learn from other people, for example get feedback, do team retrospectives to review what went well or shadow someone.

Keeping your development plan going can be hard, so find ways to be accountable to someone. Checking in with a coach or a mentor or peer-to-peer support group can really help you to do what you said you were going to do!

Don’t wait for someone to give you permission. Get on and do it! Be the leader of your own career. There are all sorts of opportunities out there and that’s exciting!

As keynote speaker Lara Roche said “Careers in this complex landscape don’t happen by themselves. We need to shape our own career paths. Our employers won’t do this as they don’t expect us to stick around. So you need to have a plan. A plan helps you to focus and be accountable to yourself.”

More like this:

Getting ahead in your comms career: slides and tweets from the day

Want to improve your leadership skills? Consider booking one of our workshops for comms professionals

Check out our careers advice articles from people across the sector

Have you seen our My Career section?

Image: Emma Matthews on Unsplash

Madeleine Sugden

co-founder of Radio Lento, freelance

Madeleine Sugden is a digital content specialist with over 20 years of experience in charity communications. She delivers training, research and consultancy to help charities improve their digital skills, strategies, processes and output. She works on projects and does interim roles to cover skills gaps in teams. Her blog shares best practice and monthly digital round-ups.