Winning Over New Talent: Why “Purpose” Trumps the Paycheck



Shelley Spector - PR Masters SeriesShelley Spector, Co-Founder of The Museum of Public Relations & President, Spector & Associates

Since the pandemic began, I’ve had the chance to engage online with thousands of students throughout the US and abroad.  While most were PR majors, planning on careers in the field, a good percentage were “on the fence” about their career goals; they were weighing choices between PR and a host of other fields.  These classes, arranged by professors or the school’s PRSSA chapter, centered around virtual tours of the Museum, guest lectures, or presentations of the Museum’s research. Our talks about careers were often impromptu and informal conversations that occurred toward the end of class. Much of what I heard seemed to jive with research I’ve read about Gen Z’s career aspirations. And, I expect, many of their views have been influenced by the pandemic, as well as the many social crises that occurred since March 2020.

At a time when winning the hearts of young talent is more important than ever, the following three points may be of value:

1. The chance to make a difference in the world can make all the difference to young recruits. We’ve all been hearing about the lust to do “purpose-driven” work.  It seems that students are more socially conscious than ever before. Today’s headlines– especially those about public health and racial equity– hit home hard.  They are paying attention to current events more than ever, not because they “have to” for class, but because the stories have  become a part of their lives. Students ask: “Is there a role for PR in raising awareness and helping to solve these problems?”  Of course, that depends. But it’s important that we acknowledge their interest in working for the social good  and try to create opportunities to engage them in what they consider to be meaningful work. To demonstrate how PR has been used in such crises, we often give examples from history where PR played critical roles in managing behavior during past public health crises and creating awareness for greater social justice. We call it “Public relations for the public good.”

2. Your organization’s history has a big impact on its reputation today. It’s important to celebrate your organization’s history, no matter if that history is 5 or 50 years old. In the midst of such unsettling crises these past two years– George Floyd, January 6, Asian hate crimes, Omicron– students are yearning to work for a firm with a strong, reputable foundation—a proud legacy. They are attracted to firms that “practice what they preach,” and only serve clients from “ethical” industries. Showcasing your organization’s growth through the years– its founders, award-winning campaigns, its social advocacy– could well be what puts your firm ahead of a competitor in the mind of a job candidate.

3. Students want to work for companies that not just talk about DEI, but live DEI. Students tend to most attracted to firms that are vocal in their support for social justice, that donate money to good causes and have in place DEI policies that truly focus on inclusion. Despite attracting a growing number of diverse candidates to the field, employers find that retaining diverse staff is more challenging than ever.  While we don’t know for sure why this is happening, managers have told us that there is often a feeling of “not belonging,” of not seeing a future for themselves, of not being given equal opportunities to succeed and be promoted.  Thus, it’s critical to show new recruits a projected path of growth in the firm, and how the firm is going to support that growth.

The good news is that more and more students are majoring in PR and an increasing number of grad schools are offering PR programs. So while the pool of candidates is growing, so is the need to attract the best talent for your firm.

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