Q&A With Kara Corridan, Manager, Communications, Prudential Financial
By Chandra Turner
The best part of my role as Talent Fairy is that I talk to people constantly. I talk to talent and hiring managers who work in traditional media (which now includes digital publishing!) and those at consumer brands, non-profits, and corporations. I’ve found there is a massive knowledge gap when it comes to transitioning skill sets, understanding content roles and job titles, and adjusting to company culture outside of media. With this Q&A series, I attempt to bridge that gap.
My interview this week is with Kara Corridan, Communications Manager, Prudential Financial. I met Kara so many years ago I won’t reveal the number here because it’ll date us both! But I can say that she started her career at Redbook and then went on to editor roles at Child, Seventeen, and Modern Bride. We became close when we hired her as our Health Director at Parents about 10 years ago. Kara is such a talented writer and editor and had a grit in her reporting that I haven’t seen in anyone since. After Parents she went on to run Scholastic’s Storyworks Jr., a magazine dedicated to teaching young kids to love reading, before doing an about-face and moving to corp comms for a global financial corporation. She’s now been in her role at Prudential for 9 months and has already gained a lot of perspective about her move. In our interview we talk about what it’s like to work in comms after a career in traditional media, the magic word that wowed a hiring manager during her interview, and how to translate insidery corporate lingo. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
Talent Fairy: We go waaaay back, so I think I already know the answer to this, but can you explain why you were looking to make a move outside of traditional publishing?
Kara Corridan: Yeah, everyone has said it, and I will too: The industry I loved was gone. I didn’t feel inspired by where it was headed. I did enjoy my time at Scholastic. It was gratifying to work with teachers and students. But I knew I had something different in me, and I wanted to try something totally new that utilized my core skills. And then there’s no getting around it: the commute from NJ was unbearable! I was determined to work at a big company and find something close to home.
TF: Did you know what you were looking to do next at the time? There are so many different directions to explore!
KC: I definitely went down a lot of rabbit holes. I wanted to know, Where were people like me ending up? I did so many informational interviews with former editors and it seemed like corporate communications was a good path. I knew it was good for my storytelling skills. I wasn’t looking into branded or marketing work. I didn’t feel like heavy marketing was in my skill set. I was trying to stick to something that was as close to what I knew as possible — that ended up being the jobs where I could understand most of the job descriptions.
TF: Can you share what was in the job descriptions that you didn’t get?
KC: I think it was presenting “strategic plans and outcomes.” And that wasn’t the world I was coming from. I knew I could do that work, but I couldn’t speak to having done it. They were looking for proven track records of running successful campaigns, but I was afraid I wouldn’t have exactly what they were looking for.
TF: Did you find it difficult to get interviews for roles outside of traditional journalism?
KC: On the one hand, yes, it was hard. To apply cold, it was hard to never hear back. But if I spoke to someone in the field I was pursuing they assured me that my skills were attractive and that gave me the motivation and confidence to keep going. At one point, I was connected to a woman who worked in corporate communications at a hospital. I asked her if my [editorial] skills were transferable to roles like hers. And she said, “Not only are they transferable, they are desirable! You will know how to speak in plain language and in the way our audience can understand.” That’s one way I realized I was on the right track.
TF: Tell me a bit about Prudential. What was it about the company that was so attractive to you?
KC: I have a friend who had been there for more than 30 years. He had only had good things to say. And friends of friends had said it was a genuinely nice place to work. But it wasn’t my first choice because it was financial services, and I didn’t know anything about that! But then as I did more research, I learned they’d invested $1 billion in Newark, where they’re headquartered. And I saw the connections to the kinds of stories I’d covered at Child, Parents, and Scholastic. Prudential has partnerships with organizations that help children who don’t have access to education and jobs. They also have a massive program that honors youth volunteers all over the country that’s been around for 25 years. There’s a lot to be proud of.
TF: If I remember right you really worked your contacts!
KC: I heard about the job through a friend of a friend. My friend’s friend went from newspapers to Merck in corp comms and she set up a time for me to meet with her. She was going to help me with my resume, mostly, and tell me how she made the transition. She said she applied for 50 different jobs before getting her job at Merck. And I thought, OK, so it really is supposed to be this hard. Then, a friend of hers from her newspaper days reached out to her saying that they were looking for someone in corp comms at Prudential. They were already pretty far along in the process [by the time I applied], but a few months later I heard back.
TF: How did you convince Prudential to hire you in a role that you’ve never done before?
KC: One of the people I met with looked over my resume and asked, “How would you describe yourself?” I said I was a storyteller, and she said, “Good answer! That’s what we are looking for.” And they liked that I had covered such a broad variety of topics. The fact that I had no financial writing experience didn’t matter to them.
TF: Explain what your role is at Prudential. What kind of content are you creating?
KC: I work in the company’s communications department. Our group has roughly 160 people. I am on a smaller team of about eight. We are responsible for creating content for our intranet, which is called Vision. Our audience is 20,000 U.S. employees. We determine how and where to cover the projects and programs taking place. We are very strict about what we do and don’t cover. We are bringing perspectives and experiences of employees with powerful stories to share.
We work on an embed model: I am embedded in Diversity & Inclusion (now called Inclusive Solutions); that is my “beat.” There’s so much overlap with what I worked on throughout my career. The inclusion work has always been valued by Prudential. But now it’s even more valued. So much of what I’m doing is around the company’s commitments to advancing racial equity, closing the racial wealth gap, and as you can imagine, there is a huge spotlight on this work right now.
TF: Can you give me some examples of stories you’ve worked on?
KC: I loved working with two members of our LGBTQ community about what it’s been like in the workplace. One of them is gender fluid. They had been fired from a job in the past. And when they got to Prudential they finally felt valued for who they were. They can wear ties to work, and their manager has no issues with that. Another women I spoke to who is gay described what an outsider she felt like for so long and that has not been her experience at Prudential. The response the employees got from that story was great — so many likes and encouraging and appreciative comments.
There was also an amateur photographer who took a series of photos of Newark with a drone [at the start of the pandemic] It showed the empty city, with the Prudential offices in the background. It struck such a chord. Our employees are all over the country and for some it was the first time they realized how devastating it all was. For others who work there, it was like, This hurts, to see my city like this. That did remarkably well. It’s nostalgia. It’s company pride. It’s homesickness. We are tapping into all that.
TF: It must be nice to get such immediate and positive feedback. What is driving all these readers to these stories?
KC: Vision, our intranet, is our homescreen. It’s what everyone sees when they first log on to work. At top you see three stories for the entire company. Then below that there are stories specifically for your group. Then the third row is for HR related stories and announcements. You can subscribe to one of 25 feeds with more specific information about specific parts of the company.
TF: It’s like Prudential is a country and then it breaks down into states, cities, and neighborhoods with their own newsfeeds!
KC: Yes! You could think of it that way!
TF: When you were in media, did you even know these sorts of jobs existed? Even at the big media companies we worked at there wasn’t this kind of reporting and news within the company! What do you find is different about working at Prudential compared to the traditional media companies?
What’s so interesting to me is that while I have worked for big companies before, I have never worked at a place that has a culture framework. I’m actually staring at my culture framework right now on my screen! It’s like a mission statement at a magazine, but for the employees. It starts with our purpose. Then there are principles. Under that are aspirations. And then below that are priorities. It is very helpful to have those themes spelled out. I know that every story I work on should ladder up to our framework. It crystallizes what this company stands for. It’s great!
TF: I do feel like at [unnamed media company] they tried to instigate official corporate values. But for some reason, it didn’t really fly.
KC: Yeah, here it’s really highlighted at every opportunity and people take it to heart. I don’t recall any of the companies outlining what they stood for in this manner. They aren’t just words, it’s how we guide all our work. I appreciate that. I believe in it and what the company stands for and where it wants to go. Our executive leaders all speak to the framework. We have an internal site that is devoted to our culture. We are living this.
We also have BRG’s — business resource groups — where volunteers help to advance diversity and inclusion throughout the company. We have a veterans’ group, a women’s group, a Black leadership group, and several others. They are a big part of the culture. That is something else that I never experienced before. They very much go beyond networking to driving strategy.
TF: What new terms or jargon did you have to get used to when you started? Or still have trouble with?
KC: I have a few good ones for you! Instead of “I started a program,” you say ‘I stood up a program” as if you got it standing up from a wobbly giraffe and now it’s upright and ready to go. Also, “I’ll socialize this” instead of “I’ll show it to people.” There’s also a phrase we use if you are going to do an interview, say, with a business leader and follow up with a related story. That’s a “fast follow.”
TF: I like Fast Follow. Here’s my fast follow Q (although I don’t think i’m using that quite right!). What advice would you give other editors who are looking to pivot?
KC: Don’t give up! Keep making those connections. Opportunities pop up out of nowhere. The craziest thing I ever did was ask a friend if someone on his board of trustees would talk to me. I wanted to meet her because she worked at a company I was interested in working for. He said, I bet she’d have coffee with you. And I set it up and realized she lived outside of Philly! I had to take a half day off work to drive all the way to Philly. I drove down there, had coffee, and drove back. But I’m glad I did! It led to another conversation and another conversation so it paid off.
TF: I LOVE that. And love that you are so happy after you worked so hard to get here. Thanks so much for chatting today!
KC: Thank you!
Chandra Turner is founder and CEO of Ed2010 and Talent Fairy. She is a talent recruiter specializing in the content and media space. She also offers personalized career coaching for media professionals at all stages of their career.
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