Unchartered Territory

By Alison Gallagher-Hughes.

There are probably many reasons why CIPR practitioners embark on the journey to Chartership: career development, advancement, management… but for me, it was personal.

I’ve worked in communications for more than 30 years – initially as a newspaper journalist and then in public relations, through a variety of different roles: in-house and agency, public sector and private.

I have climbed the greasy pole, achieved the ‘manager’ and the ‘head of’ titles, and undertaken professional development throughout my career to keep learning and stay on top of developments.

But sometimes it takes a step change to make you take stock, realign your goals and set your sights on new challenges. And so it was for me.

2020 threw us all into an ‘unreal reality’ and when I was furloughed back in March, I like many others, took the time to acclimatise.

As the months rolled by, I suspected that the writing was on the wall and that redundancy loomed. In many ways, this gave me a kick-start to consider what I had long been yearning to do… launch my own business, so when the inevitable happened I decided to positively embrace change, set out my stall and go for it.

This included doing something for me.

The absence from work had given me the chance to spend more time on my CPD and I found that there were great opportunities to network and learn, which provided support and a sense of achievement.

The CIPR was hugely supportive during this time of transition and afforded me opportunities to take part in #CommsHero week and put me in touch with other experienced freelancers. This spurred on my commitment and engagement. I decided to give something back and get more involved by taking an active role in the work of CIPR Midlands, which in itself is hugely rewarding.

Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce was also a great help, providing guidance and support as I took my first tentative steps to setting up the business and attaining professional development goals.

The planning and preparation gave me focus: I wanted to build on my CPD achievements and go for gold – Chartership.

So, as the year to end all years drew to a close, I downloaded the handbook, made enquiries, selected a date and paid my fee. A couple of weeks before the assessment date, I received the pre-assessment papers: background reading and corresponding questions on ethics, leadership and strategy.

These questions are not set in stone. They are the start of a discussion which springboards you into research around the subjects and their corresponding principles.

Having a working knowledge of the theory and operating frameworks is a given; all other leaning undertaken in readiness for day provides the additional layers of awareness and relevance.

Of course, there’s no substitute for experience and it’s important to dig deep and undertake a great deal of soul searching and self-analysis to draw upon the things that have gone before – the positive and the negative. Because life is about learning and recognising the mistakes, it is as important as acknowledging the accolades.

It’s this candid approach (Chatham House rule apply during the assessment) that allows you deliver your responses with honest reflection – pinning real-life experience to your research-led learning.

The assessment day – currently being delivered online – is intense. It requires total concentration and commitment to bring your ‘A’ game.

The assessors framed it beautifully at the start when they stated that you are not competing against each other… only yourself.

Your fellow practitioners provide not only a sense of camaraderie but deliver perspectives that enhance the quality of the discussion.

The three assessments lead into a peer review of your two-year CPD plan before we all return to the ‘waiting room’ for the delivery of individual feedback from the lead assessor.

To find out that I had passed with flying colours was overwhelming. It was a landmark moment – pure joy, immense satisfaction and pride.

We are all a sum of many parts – what we do is just part of who we are – but after a year which has rocked us to our core, connecting to our professional self is one way of validating what is important to us, and the values that we hold dear.

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