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PR training: when did candidates stop caring about professional development?

Posted by Chris King on 9th March 2023

We’re actively hiring for several tech PR positions here at Wildfire now so, as the person leading recruitment, I’ve spent the last few weeks interviewing A LOT of candidates.

I’ve been doing this for quite a few years and although I haven’t been keeping count, I must have racked up a fair few hundred interviews – certainly more than enough to have a good benchmark on norms and emerging trends.

For the record, there have been some genuinely excellent candidates. But my favourite interview so far this year — and probably my worst candidate ever — was the person who refused to turn their camera on for the Zoom meeting and gave me short monosyllabic answers to my questions. That is until it got to my question about their strengths when they went on a bit of tangent and talked in some detail about how they weren’t good at teamwork or research.

Naturally, I hired them on the spot!

Conspicuous by its absence

But back to the point of this blog. What’s slightly weirding me out right now is that not one single person has asked me about training so far.

There was a time when almost without fail every candidate wanted to know as much as possible about what kind of training we offered. Because you got asked it so often, the challenge was not to give the same canned comment. I had to muster up the enthusiasm to answer the question — selling how good we are at training and personal/professional development — like it was the first time I’d ever been asked.

Much as that tested me, I always knew that our training story was a great way to differentiate Wildfire from other agencies and reinforce our employer brand story.

And in fairness to us, I think we do training bloody well.

Our ambition for the team — at every job level — is always to go beyond simply equipping people with the practical skills to be capable ‘doers’. We want everyone to develop the confidence and ability to give clients genuine advice and counsel. However long everyone’s tenure at Wildfire is, we aim to leave them feeling like they’ve been suitably invested in.

That means we don’t just do the run-of-the-mill practical writing, pitching and time management training, alongside a few choice selections from the PRCA training course catalogue.

We offer international exchange opportunities through the PROI, teach development managers how to recognise burnout and mental health challenges in the people they manage, and the icing on the cake… our investment in the development of a yearlong CPD certified ‘How to build a consultant’ training programme. The bespoke course — developed with a professional trainer — provides a mix of group workshops and 1-2-1 coaching to give our team the skills to elevate their client relationships.

Like I said, I think we do training well… and I’m super keen to talk about it.

So where have all the questions gone?

I really can’t believe that people have suddenly stopped caring about training.

According to the data out there, it’s still important. For example, recruiter Premier Resourcing’s 2022 salary survey still cites training (paid courses) as one of the top five most important benefits to PR professionals.

One theory I have is that people have started to just see training as a given. A hygiene factor. An assumption: “what kind of people-centric business is going to hire me and leave me to rot?”

However, the horror stories I hear from some candidates suggest that this assumption is significantly misguided.

Another theory pulled from Reuben Sinclair’s 2023 PR & Comms 2023 salary guide is the idea that traditional levers like compensation, titles and training/advancement are much less important than they used to be.

The last three years have seen more and more people re-evaluate what they want from a job — and from life. Today, employees want to be seen as people, not just workers; value is more than a benefits package — it’s shared purpose and fulfilling personal priorities.

I don’t disagree with that. The questions I do get asked now are often about our culture, purpose, values, and our B Corp journey.

If anyone has any theories of their own about the sudden lack of interest in training, I’d love to hear them. Until then, I remain baffled.

Chris King

Chris’s extensive experience of agency PR, ‘can-do’ attitude and track record for achieving outstanding results time after time make him a firm favourite amongst clients. His natural teaching skills make him an expert mentor and respected MD.