27 Oct 2016

Managing Expectations...

I'm pretty sure I've written about managing expectations before.  And without sounding a bit Eeyore-ish, specifically about lowering expectations.  I don't think I'm a pessimist, I'm a realist and to be honest that's what 10+ years working in this industry has done for me.

So the context of my theme 'Managing Expectations' is largely aimed at individuals who are relocating to the North.  Or at least, advertising and marketing professionals who are leaving London.  I've had a few conversations this week that I'm sure are just as frustrating for the candidates as they are for me.  I'd like to start with some basic observations:

I'm human.  I get that we all want to earn as much money as possible.
I'm a recruiter.  I want to make as much money as possible from each placement.
I'm a professional.  I'm not a Cowboy recruiter.  I have sound ethics.
I'm here for the long term.  I build long standing relationships with clients and candidates alike.
I have as much responsibility for my clients (the employers) as I do for my candidates (who are also clients).
I know what I'm talking about (when it comes to recruitment...).
I'm a realist.

The problem is that it takes time to build trust. Both from a client and a candidate perspective and that's why 'call ins' can be challenging.  This week, my first example was with a candidate who is originally from the North but post graduation, went off to the Big Smoke and now has 18 months agency experience in client services.  I asked for a CV and we then had a chat.  Great candidate, bright, engaging, has gained some excellent skills with a global agency, strong academic track record, commercially sound etc. I could go on.  So far so good, I was feeling very positive.  Until we got to the killer question.  'So', I said, 'What are we looking for money wise?'.   The candidate was very confident, 'I'm on £25k now but I'll be looking for a minimum of £26k in my next role'.   At this point, I'm always faced with a few challenges as to how to diplomatically tell a candidate that it's unlikely (but not impossible) that they will secure this.  And pretty much always, I'm then faced with resistance and the previously friendly conversation can go sideways.   So, I tried to rescue the conversation.  I asked whether other recruiters had advised similar - they had, and yet the candidate was convinced the world was against them and that there was no movement on money.  I switched tactic and asked about Job Title and role.  Things didn't improve. If the job title wasn't Account Manager or Senior Account Manager, they weren't interested.

Now, there is usually flexibility with clients.  They will consider individuals and their specific experience and as the majority of agencies are independent (in the North), they are less constrained by job title and salary bandings - it's up to you to prove you are 'worth it'.   Whilst many clients do continue to look at 'how many years experience', they appreciate there are anomalies and that whilst most employees will take 3-4 years to get to solid Account Manager level, others may get there a bit quicker (or a little later).

There are two real points to this ramble.  The first is that there are differences between salaries in London and everywhere else, particularly the North.  Remember that the cost of living is much cheaper up here, and that's usually the key driver for relocation - that and being close to families and friends.  So, chances are, if you are relocating North, you are going to need to take a drop in salary.  It's likely that even with a drop in salary, you'll still come out on top.  It's important to remember what your primary reason for moving is and that as always, some compromise is going to need to be made.

When I ask about salary expectations, 95% of candidates tell me that 'I'm just due a pay rise to X so I'm actually looking for Y'.  We all know that we are much more likely to get a pay rise when we move jobs (probably 85% of people who are looking for a new job are doing so purely for financial reasons).  I also think that 95% of us believe we're underpaid.  So I understand why people are looking for the best possible salary.  However, to use the R word again, we've all got to be realistic.

My second point is that you need to be absolutely confident in your abilities if you are demanding an above average salary.  Often when employees negotiate hard, this can pre-empt a downfall when the expectation of the employer is then much greater and if the employee doesn't come up to scratch, it leads to a pretty swift exit.  Typically an Account Executive will have up to 18 months agency experience, a Senior Account Executive is the middle ground before Account Manager.  It's all subjective depending on employers but it's not so much about the 'years'.  At Account Manager level, the expectation is that you'll have the commercial skills to grow and develop your clients, you'll be proactively managing those relationships, you'll be financially responsible for revenue and budgets. You'll be confident working with senior clients who can often be very challenging.  Where previously you've been supported by an Account Director or Senior Account Manager, the expectation is that you'll then be required to do much more autonomously.  It's not as much about internal campaign management and being great at 'doing' but starting to be more strategically focused and actually 'consulting' with your clients about their activity.  I asked the candidate to have a think about this.  In the North, a salary of £25k plus is an Account Manager salary and a lot of the skills listed above, come with time.  Only after a couple of years will you have experienced the variety of campaigns and challenges that come with agency life.  Some agencies will expose you to a lot, some won't and for that reason, clients do move their goalposts when recruiting BUT you need to be able to prove your worth.  Employers will also want to ensure that individuals doing the same role are being rewarded similarly so you will have to go above and beyond to demonstrate why you deserve more.

I don't know how things will pan out for this particular candidate.  I'm seeing an increasing number of 'potential relocators' staying put in London.  Often, they can't reconcile the 'lower salary' even though it's unlikely to be lower in real terms.  I often recommend that candidates take a pragmatic approach and we can negotiate with clients to review salaries and titles at 6 months.  Clients can take advantage of a lower hiring fee and employees have time to settle, adjust and show what they are capable of.

It takes time to build a relationship and trust.  Hopefully individuals can see that I'm not out to sell them off as cheaply as I can.  I know there are some rubbish recruiters out there who don't have any standards so I always advise candidates to talk to several, and then work with a select few who you feel you do want to work with and who will find you the best opportunities and look after your best interests.  It's your choice!