Building a career in Internal Comms | S1 E24

First published: 17 November, 2020

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Building a career in Internal Comms | S1 E24

Building a Career in Internal Comms

In this episode of Engaging Internal Comms, The Big Picture People’s Craig Smith talks to Dureen Anwer, who is the senior Corporate Communications Manager at NHS organisation NEL, a role that involves both employee engagement and external corporate communications.

NEL is a commissioning support unit consisting of 1,500 people, which provides expert support and advice to clinical commissioners, and an extensive range of services such as contracting, analytics, finance, IT design, and digital communications.

Dureen has followed a phenomenally successful career path. After moving to the UK from Pakistan, she moved up from the role of communications officer to a senior IC role within five years. Dureen has worked in several organisations including the NHS and Herefordshire Council.

To achieve your career goals, it may be necessary to first step down the career ladder

When starting a career in internal comms (or other roles, for that matter), the traditional career ladder isn’t always the best way to view your path. Sometimes it is necessary to take a step sideways, or even a step down, to move ahead. This is how Dureen made her move into internal communications, by first stepping down from a senior management position.

I was moving from a PR agency to a multinational. I needed more stability, and I wanted to work on the client side instead of being on the agency side, where you don’t have enough room for creativity. I had to step down the ladder,” says Dureen.

Dureen describes how important it is to consider what you want from your role. If there is an opportunity that accommodates these factors, then stepping down the ladder will allow you to expand your experience and eventually allow you to climb higher in your career.

This does mean that in the early stages of building your career in internal comms, there may be episodes where you may feel overqualified, or your experience isn’t reflected in your authority, responsibilities, or salary. Dureen emphasises how this is all a part of steering your career into something bigger in the future. “I believe it’s always getting your foot in the door which is the most difficult bit. Then all I needed to do was to be proactive and prove my worth,” she says.

Whilst building your career in internal comms, you must play the long game, and concentrate on opening up the opportunities that allow personal development and growth. This will evolve into organic career growth in internal comms.

You must be resilient to build a career in internal comms

For many, moving back to move forward in your career is a difficult concept to grasp. It goes against the grain. Resilience is necessary.

Starting from the bottom again meant that I was looking up to a lot of other people who might not have had similar experiences, or had less experience compared to me,” explains Dureen. She says it is important not to allow a sense of being undermined become a barrier to your own future success.

I didn’t let that get to me because I looked at it from a different perspective that these people, they know the market,” says Dureen. “I reminded myself that I know my goal. It might not happen today, it might not happen tomorrow, it might not happen in the next five years. But ultimately, there’s no reason that I can’t achieve it. So that was my personal motivation.

As they are building their career in internal comms, comms people must utilise their key skills to learn and create new opportunities to advance their long-term career goals – they must invest in themselves.

Business acumen and key skills are critical in internal comms

To be successful in internal comms you must have a good understanding of the business before you attempt to act as a communication channel amongst its people.

You have to understand several areas of the business, from being an expert on the products, or the services of your organisation. You also have to have a good knowledge of, for example, HR issues or the business strategy,” says Dureen. “Anyone who works in internal comms needs to understand everything about the business, so we can communicate it to the audience in the concise manner.

Without that understanding and knowledge, communication clots will form. Additionally, Dureen clarifies the following skills required when building a career in internal comms:

Ability to multitask

You may be required to deal with multiple campaign launches and issues simultaneously.

Good writing skills

In-person communication skills are a key attribute for internal comms. However, writing skills are also imperative as a form of communication channel to your audience.


Empathy is an essential yet often underestimated key skill for effective communication. Empathy allows you to step into the shoes of your audience and view the message from their perspective. This helps you to recognise what is driving their behaviour.

It (empathy) can help us connect with our customers, our employees – who are the driving force behind any business – and even our competitors, because it enables us to problem-solve better by seeing and appreciating all sides of an issue,” says Dureen.

Organisational attributes that allow growth for internal comms professionals

Craig wanted to know if Dureen considers there to be certain organisational characteristics that are important for the growth of internal communications professionals.

She highlights the need for a strong and inclusive culture. This provides opportunities for career progression, allowing individuals to maximise their potential. The organisation should also embrace change and innovation, inviting employees’ ideas and volunteering responsibilities in order to realise a future or goal that may have remained undiscovered otherwise.

Having such a culture gains team camaraderie, which allows support for individuals to develop professionally and happily.

Once I saw that there was someone who cared about my career progression, and we shared the same work ethics, I thought it was sensible of me to invest my effort and commitment in this organisation, and get rewarded for it,” explains Dureen. This organisational attitude also shapes how employees go on to manage their own teams.

The skill of motivation and self-belief

Organisations must be proactive in discovering those who have the key skills required for an advanced career in internal communications. Often, individuals may lack confidence in building a career in internal comms, or not realise how effective their skills could be.

It is important to set goals, but Dureen recommends that you do so without a timeline. “I don’t put a timeline on my goals, but I know what I want to achieve in life,” she says. “Achieving that in the next three years, or the next five years, that’s not a concern – as long as I get it.

Setting goals without time limits helps you to play the long game. It helps develop the mindset that you sometimes need to move sideways or take a step down the career ladder to progress eventually. Such moves are sometimes required to enhance your skills, experience, and opportunities needed to reach your longer-term goals.

Replace self-doubt with self-belief

Self-doubt can harbour negative thoughts and imposter syndrome, which will hinder your development and leave your talent unrecognised. Dureen has a trick to overcome this.

I’ve created a folder in my inbox. Whenever I’m feeling deflated, I just look at the emails in my folder,” she says. “What you can do is file all the compliments, all the words of appreciation from your colleagues… every little thing needs to go into this folder. So when you look at these emails, whenever you are in doubt, remind yourself.

Self-belief is a key requirement for an individual to reach their goal. Added with the willingness to embrace change, willingness to invest in a long-term career path, and remaining positive and passionate about what you’re good at, you will confidently steer your way into a successful career in internal communications.

Useful links:

Link to Express Tribune: https://tribune.com.pk/author/10886/dureenanwer

Dureen’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/ConfusciousDee

Dureen’s LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dureen/

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