8 May 2017

Does Age Matter?

I'm up and at it early this morning and have been listening to the Today programme (yes, really) with the News that Emmanuel Macron has won the French Elections.  Interestingly, much of the reporting is focusing on his age - 39.  Has he got the experience to do such a big job at such a young age?

I see ageism on a daily basis.  Not always, as you might think the typical 'on the scrapheap after 45' but more commonly what I call 'reverse ageism' - I've just looked it up and it is actually a thing. Monsieur Macron, whilst having a sound career background commercially has not had much political experience and we'll probably now see the media focusing on that.

Often in this industry, we see very young individuals doing jobs with a senior job title.  The initial reaction is often a certain degree of cynicism, however, over the years, I've learned to address each candidate individually as for some early achievers, it is entirely possible that they have the right skills and abilities to do the job.  I'm also experienced in recognising the agencies in the North who do tend to promote rapidly and which agencies do that the right way and with the right people.

I was recently chatting to an Account Director who was 25.  Just over 3 years experience post graduation with a global agency.  They were earning £40k.  Instantly I saw the agency that this person had worked for.  It's an agency where they spend a huge amount of time and money on their Graduate recruitment process and similar to perhaps management consultancies, a lot of responsibility is given to relatively junior people who are fast tracked into senior positions.  They are one of a handful of agencies in the region who do this BUT I do recognise that this agency trains well and given the quality of their graduates, the type of work that they do and the training they gain, they can generally justify their salary.    It is, however, often challenging persuading other agencies of their worth, particularly since most agencies do have structured salary brackets which often depend on 'number of years in the job'.

To be fair to (agency) clients, it's not always the case that they'll question the specific skills of the individual who has 3 years experience and is an Account Director. They'll question the overall commercial experience, the ability to work with challenging clients, specifically they will question the 'strategic' knowledge of that candidate as this skill does extend over time.  They will wonder how credible the candidate will be whilst working with very senior client decision makers - how much gravitas will they command and will they be respected both internally and externally.

The agency world is reasonably structured. For someone in Client Services, the entry level is Account Executive and the progression is to Account Manager, Senior Account Manager and Account Director. We're also increasingly seeing the title of Business Director where at a senior level, it is all about profit and loss, client development and leadership.  There are not many agencies who deviate from this structure and hierarchy. With a starting salary of £17/18k in most agencies for an Account Executive (Graduate with 6 months experience), it's easy to see why agencies might question an Account Director title and commensurate salary after 3 years.

Every year I write a salary survey to give clients guidance on the broad benchmarks for salaries for each job role in our sector.  Ultimately, we do not work in one of the 'high' salary sectors - individuals will make far more in Law, Accountancy and Management Consultancy.  So the Early Achievers really need to focus on a career plan to ensure that they can continue their trajectory.  With several of the 'fast track progression' agencies, the staff retention rates are extremely high. This is because they offer the swift promotion, tend to offer different opportunities - perhaps to work on different sectors or clients or to work in a different global office. If one leaves a 'fast track agency' it can be a struggle to join one of the more mainstream agencies where salaries and levels are much more traditional.   I will try to introduce such candidates to as many agencies as possible and to facilitate a meeting for them to prove their worth.  It's my knowledge of the agency world that enables me to know instinctively who will, and who won't be open-minded and who will see these high flyers as an asset to their business.

So good luck to Monsieur Macron. I hope that he will be able to convince the naysayers.  Fresh experience can often be a very good thing and as in any business, it's the skill-set and the abilities of a cross-functional team that contributes to overall success. Let's hope he has the leadership skills and the credibility side covered too!

1. Not written with any kind of political messaging - just about age!
2. I listen to Today to try and gain some kind of 'intellect'. Not entirely sure it works.