Community Affairs-Is It for You?

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There are two basic considerations that anyone contemplating a career in community affairs should take into account.

First, because of its very nature, only large businesses are usually able to devote the necessary resources to support the activities of the community affairs function. Typically, smaller businesses ask someone to do this type of work in conjunction with their other responsibilities. So if you are interested in community affairs as an occupation, you should probably expect to work for a larger organization (either in business or in the public domain). Some people are uncomfortable working for a large organization. Internal politics, lack of recognition or appreciation for personal accomplishments, and simply being a "little fish in a big pond" are all reasons they cite as "negatives." If you feel that way, you may want to reconsider community affairs work.

On the other hand, of course, many people thoroughly enjoy working in the larger environment For salaried staff, pay is generally better, benefits are better, and they have access to resources oftentimes substantially larger than those available in a smaller organization. If you're one of the latter, welcome aboard!

The second consideration is the intangible nature of the work. Accomplishments, even some measure of progress, are often difficult if not impossible to tangibly measure. If you are more comfortable performing work that is readily measurable, which produces easily identified results, then this type of work is probably not for you. I believe that many people do not seriously consider this factor when thinking about a career in community affairs or relations. And you should.

The Education and Background I Recommend

There is no list of qualifications that are needed for every job in community affairs or relations. Specific qualifications will depend upon the nature of the particular position and its job responsibilities. Generally speaking, though, some basic skills and personality traits are important for success and happiness in the occupation.

The nature of the community affairs occupation has changed: We are more than friendly, nice people who enjoy taking people to lunch. The organizational demands made upon us require that we generally understand all facets of our employer's business, that we have a basic understanding of financial principles, production, human relations, sales, and marketing. Being an "expert" in the above disciplines is not necessary. Having a working knowledge of them is. We are expected to be basically knowledgeable and able to relate to these disciplines in order to effectively perform our jobs. We are often called upon to assist them in accomplishing their objectives or asking them to assist us in accomplishing ours.

Good or bad, a college degree is viewed as a necessity. To me, possession of a college degree means that an individual has demonstrated the fortitude and discipline necessary to accomplish certain personal goals. If a person has a degree, it is usually reasonable to expect that he or she is at least rudimentarily proficient in reading and writing.

A degree in journalism used to be considered a necessity in any public relations specialty. This seems to be changing. In my opinion a degree in communication, journalism, management, or business would be equally desirable.

In several cases, an advanced degree is thought to be necessary. Although I may be in the minority, I place much more value on experience than on an advanced degree.

Communication skills are imperative. These skills are the tools of the trade. Without them, it would be like a carpenter attempting to build a house with nothing but a hammer. The ability to make sense out of complex situations and clearly explain the situation is an essential one. Relating to people, both inside and outside the organization, is a daily task. Understanding-or at least attempting to understand-why people do and think what they do is valuable. In this field, you often have to put yourself "in the other's shoes."

Establishing and maintaining credibility within your own organization and within the community are a must People must be able to depend upon you for a truthful answer. They must also be able to expect that you will keep your commitments and that you will, in fact, actually do what you've said you will do. This has to be a part of your personality and style of operation.

Last, but not least, keep your skill levels current. Stay abreast of new developments in the field through reading professional literature, staying in touch with your contacts, and taking training classes. In this age of computers, with access to huge volumes of information never before readily available, staying up on what's happening is important.

What to Expect in Salary

What you can expect in salary will depend upon several factors. The nature of the industry, size and location of the corporation, whether it's in the public or private sector, size of the department, and the emphasis the organization places on the community affairs activity will all affect the salary level. On a periodic basis, professional publications such as the Public Relations Journal and Communication World publish pertinent salary information. My advice is not to pursue a career, any career, based primarily upon what it pays. A professional puts too much time and energy into his or her career to not find it challenging and enjoyable.

How to Get into Community Affairs

Simply stated, through work, persistence and, to some degree, luck. For some reason, a lot of people seem to have decided that this field, or one closely related to it, is the only one for them. That makes entry-level jobs very competitive.

I often advise people to first consider the type of organization for which they wish to work. Another important consideration is location. Living where one is comfortable and happy is very important. Sometimes it's not possible to live exactly where one wants because of the realities of the business world. This type of work usually requires working for a large organization. Most large organizations are in or near population centers. These are important things to think through when beginning a career search.
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