Would you choose storytelling as a career?
Mary Pat Barry’s specialty is storytelling. Not the fairy tales you remember from preschool. The kinds of stories that reinforce a corporate brand, image and reputation. You can see her work at www.edmontonstories.ca.
She has applied her storytelling skills in a variety of corporate settings: with TELUS Corporation, with the City of Edmonton and now with Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures.
As a senior and award-winning communicator, she comments on the key skills for a junior communicator.
“I’d like to see you apply your common sense to enhance communications. It’s your ability to question what effective communications actually is that impresses me. I want to see some ability to reflect, consider options, determine what works and what could be adjusted to make something better. Be inquisitive – be demanding of the products you produce and that your colleagues are producing.
Another major skill I look for – teamwork. Increasingly, communication is all about networking, connection and exchange. I want to see that happening in the communication work that you do. I want to see you actively engaging with others on communication opportunities and challenges. I’d like to know that you are a person who jumps in and works with others. I don’t want solo acts on my team. I want people who will partner.
Best ways to break into the job market? Network. I’ve hired people I’ve been impressed with. What impresses me is attitude and willingness to help out. Volunteer with other communicators. The socializing is okay – but it’s not the social network that gets you the job. It’s the reputation you develop about the quality of service you provide. Your professionalism, your approach to communication is important to me. If I was working with you, through IABC in some capacity, what would make me notice your communication skills and abilities? Think about that… It’s a case of ‘show me’. Also, put the word out that you’re looking. Know what you hope to bring to the table… be confident and be purposeful in what you’re looking for.
Biggest challenges? I think one of the biggest challenges is knowing what you want out of yourself and your career. It’s knowing the kind of work environment that is good for your growth and your spirit. I used to think I could work in any environment. That’s not true. There are some work situations that don’t ‘work’ for me… You only find that out with experience. Be patient with yourself. There is learning to be done and it takes a bit of work.
Key issues and trends? With all the social media that is now available, I believe more than ever before, professional communication skills are required. The issues we’re dealing with are complex and require multi-disciplinary solutions. We need to be open and listen carefully. Social media is democratic – at least theoretically – are all the voices really being heard? Keeping up with the technologies is important – but even more so are the conversations and dialogue supported by those technologies. I’d be careful that we don’t get too distracted or overwhelmed with the technology. It’s considering the technology in relation to effective communication that is important. It might be wise to look back at disruptive technologies to learn from that experience. I believe we’re at a place of disruption now, and a step change will be coming in what we do and how we do it…
Final advice? Ideally, you should be constantly on the lookout and really shopping around for a mentor. Who can you work with and learn from? I don’t think this needs to be ‘formal’. There are some folks who just help you think problems through, some better than others. Work on your portfolio. Decide how dedicated you want to become to your profession – is it a job or is it a passion? Be thoughtful about where you spend your time. Don’t waste it. And, finally, professional communicators often describe their jobs as encompassing image, branding and reputation management. Think about that role from a personal perspective. What is your image, your brand and the reputation you are managing for yourself? The clarity you have about that will help you chart your course through your communications career.”
Mary Pat Barry is vice president communications for Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures. She is a colleague of mine in Edmonton, Alberta.