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Job search and hiring tips with Nicole Balsam | On Top of PR podcast

By On Top of PR

On Top of PR podcast: Job search advice and hiring top PR talent with guest Nicole Balsam and show host Jason Mudd episode graphicGuest Nicole Balsam, former management consultant at Capstone Hill Search, shines light on how to make your resume stand out or fill an open job position with top PR talent.



Our episode guest is Nicole Balsam, former management consultant at Capstone Hill Search. Balsam has more than six years of experience placing director-level and above candidates in the PR, communications, and marketing space.



The one with Nicole Balsam on how job seekers can improve their resumes and hiring managers can fill open positions with top PR talent.



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Five things you’ll learn from this episode:

  1. How can I get a job?

  2. What does the current PR job market look like?

  3. What mistakes are candidates making in their resumes and job search approaches? 

  4. How do I find someone to fill an open position at my company?

  5. When should I hire a recruiter?


  • “Oftentimes, the best time to find a job is when you’re not looking for a job.” — @nicolebalsam 

  • “The larger trend I have seen is that there has been a real hesitancy for people to hire at very senior levels.” — @nicolebalsam 

  • “What you can do to stand out for opportunities you’re really interested in is tailor your resume so it’s specific for that role or company to make it clear why you would be a great fit not only for the role but for the organization.” — @nicolebalsam 

  • “If you post a job on LinkedIn and get back 400 resumes, I personally believe you should look at all of them. You don’t need to read every single one in great detail, but sometimes gems are hidden in there.” — @nicolebalsam 

  • “The great thing about using a search firm is you get to control the narrative about your organization in the marketplace.” — @nicolebalsam

If you enjoyed the episode, would you please leave us a review?


About Nicole Balsam:

Nicole Balsam is a former executive search consultant for Capstone Hill Search with more than six years of experience placing director-level and above candidates in the PR, communications, and marketing space.


Contact Resources:

Additional Resources:

Presented by: ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving and promoting online customer reviews.




- [Narrator] Welcome to On Top Of PR with Jason Mudd presented by ReviewMaxer.


- So welcome to another episode of On Top Of PR, I'm your host, Jason Mudd. I'm joined today with Nicole, Nicole, introduce yourself for our audience.


- Hello everyone, My name's Nicole Balsam, I am a managing consultant at Capstone Hill Search, which is the number one PR and recruitment executive search firm in the US.


- Excellent, well, we are glad you're here and I'm glad to be here and excited to help our audience learn more about how to hire and recruit and when needed, lean on a resource like you to do it and do it well. So thank you for joining us today, Nicole.


- Thank you for having me.


- My pleasure, my pleasure. So Nicole, we find ourselves, while we like to do these recordings evergreen, we find ourselves and where I think is right smack in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding economic environment that we're in and while many companies are hiring, many companies are not and then there are a lot of companies who are also making cuts to help them survive the current environment and I'm sure that as we talk today, people are gonna be hearing, listening for a couple of different ways. One, how do I get a job? Two, how do I find someone to fill an open job that I have? And probably three, what can I do to make sure that I have the employment security that I need and I'm building the relevant skills at the same time in case I find myself on the other side of the equation? So, Nicole, I'm glad you're here. First of all, I wanna give you an opportunity, you said your company is the number one in your space. That's based on what? How did you get to be number one?


- So we're the, we've made an effort since the beginning of our firm, it's presence in the US to really be a member of this industry. So not just performing our regular search tasks but also sponsoring industry events, kind of being part of the larger conversation. So we have partnerships with the PR Society of America, we've done programming with Color Comm around diversity and sponsored, sort of Fireside Chats with major industry leaders. So we like to think of ourselves as consultants to our clients and candidates. So it's not always about placing the role that we're gonna have right now, it might be about where you are five years from now and how we can work together then.


- Okay, excellent. So tell me, let's just start right off. If somebody is concerned about their employment right now in the current environment, do you wanna hear from them sooner? So that they can begin working with you to build a resume and get established? Or should they wait until they have a little bit more sense of what's going on at their company? What's your take on that?


- Well, I think it never hurts to be prepared. I don't see a reason why you would put off at least starting, if you have the time to do it, starting a resume. I always think having sort of a living document of it that you can constantly be updating with like your latest achievements or links to press that you've received or clients that you've worked with, that way it makes it easier in the end for you to just have something ready to go. That's the other thing that I think people don't always think about. Oftentimes, the best time to find a job is when you're not looking for a job.


- Right, absolutely, for sure.


- You don't wanna be caught in the situation of, Oh my God, I just got laid off, I don't know what I'm gonna do. It's good to sort of like, keep your mind open at least to possibilities. 'Cause oftentimes it's when you're not looking that that really fascinating thing that is like, oh, I never even would have thought of this but I'm so interested. That's when, of course that's when those things often come up.


- Sure. A little bit of commentary I'd add to that though, is yes, it's good to be approach for an employment opportunity when you're not really looking but at the same time, you don't wanna, I don't think as an employer, I don't like it when people mislead me that they're still with the company when they're really not if that makes sense.


- Oh, a hundred percent. I completely agree.


- I see that a lot actually.


- Really?


- And I'm often surprised by it. The person will tell me, well, I'm not currently there I'm on severance or whatever but their LinkedIn still says they're there and so then it becomes kind of a little bit of uncertainty to me of, what exactly is the situation there?


- I agree with you because I think it just sets you off on the wrong foot. I mean, the best thing you can do is just be transparent, especially now, given that there are so many, so many talented people who have been laid off or are on furlough,


- Right.


- Circumstances completely beyond their control, I think people are really being very compassionate about that and I just think if you go in lying, that's not a great look for a long term


- Yeah absolutely.


- for your employer to trust you and wanna to hire you, so.


- Totally agree. So back in early June, we were actively hiring and yet we were finding that the candidates we were interviewing or contacting for the first time would say, hey, I would love to interview with you, I'm very interested in Axia and then they would tell us but you need to know I've got three other offers right now


- and I sensed that


- Wow.


- and that was just not one candidate, that was several candidates so at least in early June, we were finding it to be a very competitive marketplace and so, our preferences, we go through a very thorough vetting process when we hire people so it's not like we move very quickly when we hire. So for most of those people, I very quickly say, if you've got offers, please take those, explore those but we are not gonna make a quick decision and so we felt like that was very important. What are you seeing on your end as far as what the marketplace looks like right now?


- That's really interesting. I wonder if that's like a regional differentiation. So my practice is primarily in New York. We also obviously cover the other major Metro areas, Boston, Philly, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Washington DC, some stuff in Texas as well. What I've been seeing is broadly B2B is doing pretty well. So people with experience in financial services, technology, especially on the B2B side of those things, still hiring, still doing pretty well. People who were solely segmented into consumer and obviously hospitality, travel, luxury, all of those kind of not a lot of action happening.


- Yeah, the more the discretionary area, discretionary income and discretionary spending space.


- Yeah and I think too, that like those clients have, especially at the beginning of this, I think there was some hesitancy about how to communicate with their customers at the beginning of the pandemic. I do think that's coming back now, I'm starting to get on a few more like lifestyle, consumer oriented opportunities for people. So I am seeing that come back on but the other sort of larger trend that I have seen throughout this time has been a real hesitancy for people to hire at very senior levels. So most of the work that we're seeing is that either in the mid range, I'd say starting at about three to five years experience going up to under 15, I think that for a lot of clients, especially on the agency side, just given the uncertainty of cashflow, I think people are more willing to invest in somebody whose salary is $130,000 versus somebody who's salaries $200,000.


- Sure, okay. Yeah. So what are some of the things you see? So our audience is probably gonna be a little bit more skewed towards the senior, level executive and probably some mid-level as well. So talk to me and we wanna speak kind of to both sides because I think that we should be sensitive that there's probably a good amount of our audience who are newly unemployed or at least seeking opportunities and then there's gonna be some who are currently employed and yet having to deal with either a freeze on hiring or maybe looking at even laying off some of their team members per management direction. So it's kind of all over the place I would say of who we're talking to today. So if you would, let's just start off with, what are some mistakes that you see candidates making in their resume and in their approach to their search?


- It's a good question. I think that it really does depend opportunity to opportunity but I would say overall, you need to present yourself within the culture of that organization. And so that means also targeting opportunities that are gonna be appropriate for you on that level. So just as an example, if you're very outgoing, like you have a little bit more of a salesy approach, maybe you're not gonna be the best fit for something that's a little bit more bookish or uptight. So I think tailoring your resume to the specific opportunity and I should say too, it doesn't mean that all of us don't have all of these personality attributes within ourselves but I think what you can really do to try to stand out is for opportunities that you're really, really interested in tailor your resume so that it's specific for that role or for that company to really make it clear to usually the HR person, why you would be such a great fit, not only in the role, but also for the organization.


- Okay. One thing I've helped a lot of people in my LinkedIn network, I've probably done about a dozen of them is a resume review for candidates or for contacts who are unemployed right now and so I've just said, hey, at no cost to you, I'm gonna review your resume or your LinkedIn, your choice. Me personally, as a hiring manager, I love LinkedIn and I would rather see their LinkedIn profile than their resume any day. What I noticed is when I came up, so I happened to work in the career center at University of Missouri paying my way through school and so I was giving advice on resumes to alumni, to students, to faculty to all kinds of people and so, I was trained how to do that and so I did that and so I bring I think a unique perspective, having worked in that role, having hired people for 20 years and the like and back then, I remember encouraging people to try to get their resume down to one page. And then two, if they had, just if they had, their professor and they had works, published works to site and things like that, I gotta tell you most of the resumes I was getting were like four pages long or maybe even more and I would just tell the people, there were two are three overarching themes every time I reviewed somebody's LinkedIn or their resume and number one, if it was a resume, it was almost always too many pages. And number two, it was very inward focused, what I did and the job and what that job looks like. And so I just tried to tell everybody, look, write this not about you but about the person reading it and express to them, here's the ROI you're gonna get from employing me, here's some of the KPIs I can cite in my employment history, show me how I, as a hiring manager, my life is gonna be better and my company's gonna be better and our ROI for employing you is gonna be better. And no matter how senior the person was or how junior they were, it was almost always absent from the resume or it would be like one job had it and then a job didn't and then another job had it and so I just said, look and it would be a simple and I wanna hear your feedback on this. So it'd be as simple as if it said, manage a team that produced PR for the company and issued news releases and managed social media and all that and sent out our email blast or whatever and wrote blog posts. So I would say, okay, tell me how many blog posts did you write a week or a month? How many were published a week or a month? And how many people did that reach? And so even if it wasn't a true measure of results that were brought to the table, at least it's showing the breadth and depth of the audience and excuse me, who you were reaching kind of thing. And so, I'm always trying to tell people to help quantify the data that's in there. Do you think that's important? Do you agree with that? And what would be your advice?


- I think that's great advice, especially for senior level candidates. If you're working for an in house organization on the brand side of things, or even potentially more so on the agency side, having those metrics is extremely important. So the things that I wanna know about or my clients wanna know about are what size PNL have you managed? How big was your team? What, as you said, what was the ROI on some of the work you did? So if you can point to, we increased sales by this percentage, or we got, even if it's just we achieved media placements in these specific outlets, those kinds of details are what will make you stand out from everyone else who just can do the job on paper. But again, what's gonna make you unique and interesting to the organization and you never know, like sometimes you may think, oh, this, nobody wants to know about this random blog post but I've had people link, you can hyperlink within the resume to YouTube videos or to some blog posts that got shared 30,000 times.


- Right.


- Those types of things can really like take you over the top I think into the category of people who will get the call for the interview.


- [Narrator] You are listening to On Top Of PR with your host Jason Mudd. Jason is a trusted advisor to some of America's most admired and fastest growing brands. He's the managing partner at Axia Public Relations, a PR agency that guides news, social and web strategies for national companies and now, back to the show.


- Let's turn the tables now a little bit, let's say you're a hiring manager and you're in the market for hiring somebody. You may, I would imagine, potentially find yourself overwhelmed with applicants and candidates. So what's some advice you would give there?


- Unfortunately, yes, I think that's happening a lot. So my advice to hiring managers is always use your own networks first because if you can find someone who comes with a reference from someone you trust, absolutely, those can often be the best hires. If you don't know anyone, nobody on your team has anyone to refer, also, obviously very common. You put it out there on LinkedIn or something and you get 400 resumes, I personally believe you should look at all of them. You don't need to read every single one in great detail but sometimes gems are hidden in there


- Yeah yeah, diamonds in the rough.


- I like to at least take a look at every single person, it is a lot of times spent but you'll get into a flow of it and you can pretty easily know quickly who is or is not right. From there, I'd make a shortlist and then perhaps revisit it at another time. Because obviously going through all the resumes it's very draining, maybe look at it with fresh eyes in a day or two and of that shortlist, pick out the five to 10 people you wanna have initial conversations with, the other recommendation I make a lot to people is oftentimes, it depends if you're re-back filling a role, somebody left and you need to fill that exact position, you may be looking for something really specific but I also have clients out there that are like, I'm gonna to make this hire, I'm gonna invest in someone, I really want this person to be here long term.


- Right.


- I don't exactly, I could go a couple of ways with this. So I always recommend to people to have conversations with sort of a range of candidates. So I recently had a client ask for someone with four to eight years of experience. That's a pretty big range. So we had, we set up conversations with a couple junior people, a couple people more senior and one person who was above the eight years of experience just to get the full spectrum and from there, we were able to very easily sort of say, okay, we do wanna skew more senior, we're actually gonna adjust the job description, it's gonna be eight to 12 years of experience so that we could really try to. So I think having conversations, you can have a 15 minute conversation with somebody, start to get a little bit more sense of the market and ultimately sort of zone in on your targeting from there.


- Okay. So let's go back, I think your example was 400 applicants, you narrow that down to did you say eight to 10 initial conversations?


- Yeah.


- Okay. And then from there, you're just, the reality, the sad reality is you're just, you're looking for people to eliminate and as you're going through that process of eliminating folks, some stand out as folks that are like, hey, I really liked this candidate, whatever the case might be, then what do you recommend that a company does when they've narrowed it down, maybe to eight initial conversations? They probably narrow that down to four. What do you recommend they do from there?


- Well, I hope people aren't going in with the mindset of eliminating people, 'cause I always try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.


- Sure, you said that yeah.


- What are people's skills they can bring to the table, how they could add value.


- But the reality is the HR department or recruiter is really trying to screen and filter candidates.


- Yeah of course.


- And that's their job.


- Number one, I think, treat everyone well, because, get back to people as well. And just to back it up just quickly to the 400 submissions, the other thing that I would just recommend on that note is I have had people before say, oh, I got 400 submissions and now I have to look through all of them. If you can find a way to do it as you go, I think that's helpful. Also, if you can start to get back to people, in a timely manner, unfortunately, as you said, people who are out there actively looking like may have other opportunities in the works so you may lose out on someone if you don't act on it with urgency.


- Sure.


- So to fast forward to, we've had the eight conversations, we wanna move four people forward. Number one, I would just get back to the four people you're not gonna move forward with, just to let them know. I think it goes a really long way. It also goes a long way for your reputation as an employer. You never know, this is a small industry. We will probably run into each other again at some point. So for the finalist candidates, let's call them that, I mean, it depends on what the role is. I think a lot of people like to do an assignment of some kind to understand a little bit deeper, what their skills are. So I often have clients do like, a, like a fake brief or something, write a press release for this or that or this is a new product that is coming to market, what would your media strategy be? And kind of come up with a little plan about that. And the other recommendation I'd have is like, assuming that they've talked to HR, they've talked to the hiring manager, I would definitely recommend that they talk to people at a variety of levels within the organization. So I think that's gonna really help the candidate get a better sense of culture and how they could fit into the broader team, the broader organization. So even on, for a brand side PR role, it's nice to talk to people who are in marketing or somebody on legal. If other people, people from other departments that you may end up collaborating with 'cause I think it gives candidates a lot more security about the overall culture and organization of the company.


- Yeah, yeah sure, okay. That's good. So, as you were talking, I started thinking about, one, well, first of all, let's go back to the comment about the assignment. You give somebody like a test assignment, where do you sense? Where does that become reasonable and where does that start to become unreasonable?


- Totally. It is, there is a line that you don't wanna, I think you need to be respectful of people's time. I think that's the main thing. And I think also when people are not working currently and are maybe doing consulting on the side, I think the other thing you have to be appreciative of is that's a work product that they would potentially normally charge thousands of dollars for. So you need to be sensitive to people's constraints in that area. So often what I've, one thing that I've had clients do that I think works really well is like if you're getting objections to doing the assignment or the assignment is, requires 15 hours of work and it's just a lot to ask of someone, to do it as a work session. So to have, give them the brief, give them the background info, allow them to do some research, kind of jot down their own ideas of what they think but then do it as a collaborative session.


- That's a good idea.


- So get them in a room with maybe one or two, exactly one or two other people. You kind of work through this hypothetical together. It also gives you a sense of how a person may collaborate on the team and I think too people appreciate that because it's not asking so much of their time.


- Yeah and it's a great way for the candidate to figure out how well they work with these individuals also and get a real sense for the culture and then you're not working on a company you're not familiar with on an island and trying to make some guesses versus even if it was done through a Zoom call, very similar to a video like this, where there's some back and forth, I think that's a very helpful way to do it also. So that's a really good point. One thing we've done that for some people that just, it blows their mind but we've brought people in and said, hey, come work with us side by side, shoulder by shoulder for a half day or a full day and we'll compensate you the equivalency of what you would earn for the salary that we're paying for this position and it really is a good way for that opportunity to see if there's a fit or not and a lot of people would just been blown away, wow, that's a great idea, that's crazy, I never thought about that and then in turn, they're probably also, maybe if they're currently employed taking a PTO day where they're still getting their regular salary and then they're getting paid also by you to do that shadowing day but I've just found it to be very helpful. So someone realistically sees this is the office I'll probably be working in, this is the team I'll be working with, this is the culture a little bit and there's, I've always said there's no better way to get to know a candidate than have them actually come and work and see what they're about and they can see what you're about. And there's no kind of wizard behind the curtain that you're suddenly surprised to have met and have interfaced with, after you've made the commitment of leaving your current employer possibly and putting your career and income at risk, so.


- I think that's a great idea. And it's true too for candidates, anyone who's ever interviewed for a new job, you get a sense pretty quickly once you're in the office of if this is gonna be a fit or not. So hopefully by the time you're inviting people to come do that shadow day, they already have a good sense of that this would be a fit for them but yeah, I agree. I think the sort of insights of the intangible things about the office is very valuable.


- So when's the right time to reach out and contact and engage a recruiter or a staffing company?


- From the client's perspective.


- Yes, absolutely.


- Yeah


- Yeah, from the employer.


- I think it depends on the urgency of your hire, I also think it depends on your ability to fill it yourself. So I am not ever going to advocate that everyone should use a recruiter and everyone should be paying for this all the time, I get it, it's a big expense. So if you can do it by yourself, I think you absolutely should. So do all the things we already discussed, use your own networks, get referrals, put it out there publicly, if you want, if it's not confidential.


- Right.


- If you exhaust your own options, that's the time to call a recruiter.


- Okay.


- Another scenario is, this is a very sensitive hire. Maybe we have someone in the role right now or maybe we're hiring for this brand new position but nobody on the team yet knows that we're going to be having this. In those scenarios, it's really useful to use a recruiter as well because you can be very targeted in who you reach out to and you can really control who knows what about what's going on. I mean, I've even had clients wanna do NDAs. So I contact the candidates, we arrange a time to speak, I have them sign an NDA before I even tell them what it is. So that's one. And then the third situation I'd say that you should probably call a recruiter is if you don't have time to do this. Because as you know, looking through all the resumes, making the time for the interviews, it's a lot of work and if it's a very urgent hire, you really need someone, hiring a recruiter is gonna be a great use of your money because you're gonna get the return faster than dragging it out and doing it all yourself and potentially ultimately even losing things because you didn't have, I have a colleague who says, "time kills all deals." I think you wanna have a sense of momentum with the search. So if you have a great conversation with someone and then you get super busy and you don't talk to them for two weeks, You know that it's not leaving a great impression and then finally, I'd say like similar to PR, the great thing about using a search firm is that you get to control the narrative about your organization in the marketplace.


- Right.


- So I also recommend not putting it out there to too many search firms because I've certainly seen that happen as well where we contact someone about a role and they say, oh, you're the fifth person to reach out to me about this.


- Yeah, that's not good.


- What's wrong with them? Why can't they fill this? But if you're selective about who you use and only use like your trusted vendors, I think you can go far in terms of your own reputation management by having somebody out there talking about your company in a positive way.


- Sure, yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. I would imagine to a recruiter is helpful because they're coaching kind of both sides of the deal or of the conversation and making for ultimately a more efficient process, I would think, for everybody and kind of less small talk and less, how do you say, less guidance. So, one of the best employees that's ever worked in my agency, I think I interviewed him like 10 times because he just didn't interview well and I always waked away like wanting more from the conversation or the experience but I saw the experience he had and I saw the results that he drove, I ultimately ended up hiring him and he was a great hire but just not a good interviewer.


- That's great, I mean, I love that you could see that.


- Yeah.


- I think too that, the other interesting thing that you can sort of do in using a recruiter in addition to obviously the coaching, making sure each conversation is sort of like tailored for whatever the client or candidate needs to have answered in that round is when it comes down to the negotiation. So it's very useful to have a third party. Now, ultimately, the recruiter represents the client at the end of the day, like that's who pays the bills. So, we're gonna likely advocate for the client but sometimes those conversations, if you do it directly, can get very awkward and it really just, I think helps smooth out the process, helps the new employee transition onto the teams smoothly if you have someone else who can go back and forth and have the hard conversations for you so that you can kind of be this great employer that they're so looking forward to starting their new job and they don't have to think about how they wanted 10K more but that's my job to tell them that.


- Yeah, there you go, that's right, that's good, that's good. Well, let's see, Nicole, unfortunately it looks like we have ran out of time, I think we could talk for hours about this topic.


- I'm sure.


- I find it certainly the Chinese proverb of Nicole, may you always live in interesting times is very true right now. And hopefully we return to a prosperous and growth economy very quickly as we are currently dealing with COVID-19 and seeing it's impact on the employment marketplace. But that is why, companies need resources like you to help them when they start hiring again and or when they come to you and say, hey you were a great recruiter for my company and you helped me find this job or you help me find this candidate now I'm back in the marketplace and I need some help. So Nicole,


- Absolutely.


- if our audience wants to get ahold of you, what's the best way to do that?


- I'd say, look me up on LinkedIn. I'm Nicole Balsam and I'm always happy to connect.


- Okay, that sounds good. Nicole, thank for being here today and if there's ever anything we can do for you, let us know okay?


- Terrific, thank you so much.


- Thank you.


- [Narrator] This has been On Top Of PR with Jason Mudd presented by ReviewMaxer.

Topics: On Top of PR

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