Media recruiting: managing your career starts at the bottom of the ladder

 

This article first appeared in Press Gazette

At the end of last month’s column, I wrote: “That thing they always said about treating people well on your way up because you might need them on your way back down is really true. I can think of a number of people who struggle to get work because they burned so many bridges in the past.”

I have written little about the importance of maintaining good relationships in your career; cynically, it might be called career management. A great many people in business – not just publishing or media recruiting – concentrate all their efforts on pleasing those above them, and dumping on those below them.

There is, of course, a balance. Once you become an Editor – or even a section editor – your relationships with your peers change. You have executive power: you commission them, or edit their copy, or pass it fit for publication. But this does not mean you have to mistreat them.

I spoke to Phil Hilton – editorial director of Shortlist Media – who is often mentioned to me as an inspirational mentor. Widely respected and liked, Phil nonetheless has very high standards and expects the same of his staff. So how does he get the balance right?

“I try to be an enthusiastic fan,” he says. “Praise is your best tool. Journalists are all about confidence. If you can give them informed praise, give them a detailed understanding of why their stuff is great, they’ll listen to you.” Then you can talk to them about what they need to improve.

Hilton has learned from his own good bosses. “What you fear most is that you don’t want to disappoint them,” Phil says. “It’s all about keeping that smile on their faces.”

Certainly, you can attribute part of Phil’s success to his reputation as a good guy; even after rare setbacks (like Later), he never wanted for work. I would contrast his story with that of another Editor – who I will not name – who was famous for throwing back copy with the words “this is sh*t” scribbled on it. Fired after reports of their behaviour went to the board, they have struggled to find work in three years.

As a colleague noted: “We’ve all seen it. If someone’s been awful to people, once they start to slip – people are happy to help them slip faster.”

It is worth remembering that – like football managers – editors rarely get to choose the time of their departure. You never know when you’ll need support.

You have been warned.