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Heads of Communications – discover when you should leave your job

Posted: Sep 2023
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Is there a perfect amount of time to stay in a job? Is 3 years enough? Is 5 years too long? Deciding when to leave is a complex decision. The time, energy, and passion we put into earning a living is considerable.

As a Head of Comms, you are paid well, your role is seemingly secure, you are well respected. You have the ear of the CEO and the board; you have handled a huge volume of work and reinvented your skill set several times. Where next? Are you ready to explore a new trajectory on your career path? Amid ongoing economic instability and outgoings continuing to increase, is now the right time to leave a stable job?

A frequent request of comms professionals is to work for an established, ‘stable’ or growing company. But are those jobs as stable as we think? Just look at the swathe of recent unpredictable layoffs (Amazon, Microsoft, Meta, X, to name but a few). We also know there are several London comms agencies who are quietly letting go of a small number of comms professionals as they look to reduce costs, not having met their financial targets.

It’s a complex decision for a Head of Comms as it may have taken months, perhaps years, to secure their prized and sought-after role. However, in 2023, we have met many professionals who are now re-evaluating their careers. While it may feel safe to just stay put, there are plenty of organisations in relatively better stead than companies that are actively laying off employees, and they are latching onto this opportunity and hiring the talent being laid off. Surprise, surprise, this may well be a golden opportunity for you too!

The key indicators

Something’s telling you that it’s time to move on. Perhaps your passion and sense of purpose are dwindling? There comes a point in every job when you may start to feel that you are ‘painting by numbers’ and the excitement and challenge have waned.

Have you thought about what you want to do instead? How do you go about looking for a new role, and how long will it take to find one?

Look at yourself in the mirror and examine the signs that you may be approaching the sell-by date of your role. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you gone as far as you can go in this role?
  • Has your learning has levelled off?
  • Do you think you may have outgrown your role?
  • In meetings, can you sometimes appear frustrated, apathetic, or disconnected?
  • Are you frustrated with your pay and think you could be earning more elsewhere?
  • Do you think you are capable of taking on a bigger role and remit?
  • Do you find that you are getting angry or irritated with your manager?
  • Do you keep changing your mind about what you want as you are just frustrated and in need of a change?
  • Are you blaming your company or a person in your company for you not being where you want to be?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to more than half of these questions, you may want to read on. So many people move into a Head of Comms role and then stay for 5, 10, even 15+ years. They have finally ‘made it’; perhaps it took a long time to find the role in the first place, so they have no intention of going anywhere quickly. There’s also a huge reservoir of things that have gone well over the years, people they love working with, teams that they’ve helped build, and company successes they were part of. We find that many Heads of Comms and their teams take on all sorts of responsibilities – external comms, internal comms, stakeholder engagement, financial comms, ESG comms, social media, digital marketing, content creation. You name it, they can turn their hand to it, or find someone or an agency to support them. For many, being a Head of Comms is an important pillar of identity, and that’s hard to walk away from.

It can be scary leaving a ‘safe role’; it can take a huge leap of faith. However, having been in recruitment for a very long time, I can tell you this, very few roles are really ‘safe’. It only takes a new CEO to come in, a company take-over, or a change of heart about the value of comms and things can change overnight.

When talking to Heads of Comms grappling with this intersection of identity and frustration, there are four ‘deep-dive’ questions I ask them to help with making the decision:

  • Has your rate of learning significantly decreased? Even frustrating situations can be extremely valuable to you long-term, as long as you’re learning. It’s when the rate of learning starts to slow that you should get particularly concerned.
  • Are you consistently de-energised by your work? It’s normal to have bad days. It’s normal to have bad weeks. You will even have bad months. However, if things are consistently bad and you dread Mondays, then it’s time to consider change. Don’t trust your gut here, instead keep a journal of your daily energy level for a quarter. If you can’t find a trend of good days, it’s worth considering moving on.
  • Do you believe in the company vision and values? Every senior level comms professional I’ve met can give a warm, balanced, but optimistic view of why you should join their company. Even if you’re upset with your role or boss, you should still be able to turn the sell on. If it starts to feel dishonest to switch into selling mode and you no longer feel aligned with the company vision or values, that’s a sign that you’re not feeling engaged and passionate about your company anymore.
  • Would it be more damaging to leave in six months than today? Sometimes executives inadvertently create a values oasis, where their company’s values differ significantly from the wider company’s values. That oasis will feel comfortable for their team, but their team will acclimatise to the oasis’ environment such that they can’t operate effectively if the Head or Director of Comms leaves. If you believe your team is drifting away from the culture, and you’re unwilling to steer it back into alignment, then you should consider if you’re putting your team’s careers at risk by remaining with the company.

Food for thought

According to a recent poll we carried out on LinkedIn, 58% of senior comms professionals think that the perfect amount of time to stay in a job is 3-5 years; 23% think 1-3 years; only 2% up to 1 year. Yet we meet so many people who have been in their roles for much longer than 5 years.

Our Annual Salary Guide from 2022 found that the main motivators to move jobs are career progression, development and learning; money follows on from these two, but it doesn’t top the list by any means.

The money factor

If you have been in a company more than 3 years, your pay may be slightly behind market rate. Your employer may not have made any hires in comms recently and therefore doesn’t know the market rates. Perhaps your HR team isn’t doing annual benchmarking. Base pay can stay stagnant for years or increase only marginally. This can mean that your salary falls below market rate.

When we look at all the comms professionals we placed during 2022 (agency and in-house), we helped our candidates get a 16% uplift in their base salary on average. This is certainly more than most annual pay rises.

Final thoughts

Change is good for you and for the team who will bring in new ideas and ways of working.

If you’ve been in the same spot for years, striving to get that seat on the board, expressing your desire for professional development and asking for a pay increase, but things haven’t changed, and it feels as though no one’s listening anymore, it’s probably time to move on. Another employer might be able to provide all these things for you.

Any job can become repetitive when you’ve been doing it for a while. While repetition doesn’t necessarily mean boredom or exhaustion – it can put you in a comfortable groove – if you regularly feel uninspired and unengaged, you could benefit from a change.

If your company or industry is struggling, it could be another sign for you to venture to pastures new. You can’t always control the forces around you. Situations like a declining industry or a company that can’t make ends meet are clear signals to look out for yourself and seek a more stable work environment. A good comms professionals can change industry sectors and it can be fun to learn a new industry.

Fear can easily hold us back so take a deep breath and take the first step and update your CV. That exciting Director of Communications role could be just around the corner.

And finally… the Career Advice section of our website shares important things you should know to make your job seeking more targeted, efficient and rewarding. We hope it’s helpful!

For a free download of our full Annual Salary Guide 2023, click here.

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The Works Search: a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and are known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email:

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