Great expectations: The unrealistic standards for entry level jobs in advertising

We need to talk about recruitment. If our industry is going to hire, nurture and retain talent, things need to change. And there’s one place we really need to start. 

It’s not the awful ‘hybrid’ role manifestation, where an agency needs to hire two people but decides to treat the job market like a supermarket 2-for-1 and snag a bargain.

And it’s even not the ‘salary bait-and-switch’. “Yes, we are technically paying you an exec role salary and expecting a director, but you will be allowed so much responsibility that it will be great for your career.” You know what would really be great for your career? Getting paid for the job you’re doing and having the right level of responsibility so you don’t get burnt out in a year.

They’re both terrible industry slights, and agencies absolutely need to shun these approaches in favour of respecting talent and developing long-term opportunities.

But the one very specific issue I want to grumble about today is perhaps the most damaging of them all. Because it sets a nasty tone for any young talent considering starting a career in advertising. It’s the outrageous and damaging expectations put on junior level roles in the industry.

I’m well aware that a large majority of people reading that sentence will know exactly what I am talking about. Which in and of itself proves my point.

Let’s start by reminding ourselves what junior means. It’s the lowest ranking position in an organisation. They are usually the ones in an agency who take on the work that their seasoned and jaded colleagues don’t want to touch. They are there to learn, get their hands dirty, and provide a new and fresh perspective.

(Ok, you might say that a ‘grad position’ is technically the lowest agency role, but let’s all be honest with ourselves here, it’s the same position. We invented the grad role in the industry to save a little money and to pretend like a junior role no longer entails any training. Passing the buck, as we so often do.)

I’ve seen so many junior job postings in the last few weeks alone that I have found downright depressing. Imagine being a junior who has just finished a 3-4 year uni course in Advertising. It’s already a notoriously elitist and difficult industry to get into, but then you scour through junior positions and discover that, somehow, you’ll already need to have worked 1-3 years in the industry to get an entry-level job. I came across one job role recently that wouldn’t even count placements or internships in that ‘experience’ period (placements and internships are our industry’s way of getting the first couple of years of someone’s talent even cheaper).  

There are plenty of reasons why agencies do it. It means less training. It means less risk (less chance of getting criticised if the team you hire has already been given a few weeks by Saatchis). And, of course, you can start milking them for their work much sooner. Happy clients, happy bank balance.

But I want to encourage hiring managers and agencies to think about those starting in the industry as people to encourage and champion, not as a bottom line on a balance sheet. It’s not just a hell of a lot more respectful, you’ll find yourself naturally attracting more diverse, interesting and enthused talent as well.

Give emerging talent the means to thrive – something I was so heartened to see Lucky Generals and Atomic London both do recently, with free flats for those who wouldn’t usually be able afford to move to London and all-expenses-paid placements for university students. 

But most importantly, I urge agency recruiters to do one simple thing: remove the experience needed for junior roles. It should never be seen as a mandatory on a job listing. It literally cuts fresh talent off at the source. By all means, say ‘some experience preferred but not essential’. But let’s try and open the gate for the newcomers, instead of excluding them from an ever shrinking circle.

This article first appeared on Little Black Book here