Tuesday, November 8, 2011

When a Job is Not As Described

This happens all the time.  And it happens at every level, from Presidents and CEO’s to junior account managers.  People start a job and discover that everything they were told while interviewing was wrong.

Just last week, I received this email from a candidate who was an account supervisor who took a job at an agency to become an account planner.

Here is her verbatim:

Hi Paul!

Describing my title, money and accounts is sadly a long weird story. The original deal was that I would be working on [two well known accounts] as an account/strategic planning "hybrid" for [salary] (def took a HUGE pay cut) and that after 6 months there would be a review to hike up my salary to [presumably more] (STILL below what I should be making, BUT I decided I would bite the bullet in exchange for the strategic planning experience) AND further transition into the strategic planning realm. That WAS the deal.

When I started things were 100% different. I was placed on [account name]  [direct] MAIL business as a Sr. Account Exec and on the [another account] as Sr. Account Exec AND Digital Producer. Mind you I've never handled [this kind of business] nor Direct Mail or digital producing experience. Total and utter disappointment. Totally bizarre.

Needless to say I'm unfortunately still looking on the side for that elusive strategic planning position. Sigh....

It is generally not this extreme, but it happens in one form or another all the time.   

Why does it happen? 

Companies are often so anxious to get a body in place that they gloss over the negative aspects of the job.  Maybe this is a human tendency - accentuate the positive.  But it is a bad strategy.   By not laying out the negatives up front, the problems only get perpetuated since, inevitably, the hired candidate will not last long.  When this happens at senior levels, it is really bad for business.  At junior levels, it just causes unnecessary turn over. When jobs are not spelled out carefully, otherwise good executives are often made to look foolish.

There are circumstances, particularly for senior jobs, where expectations on both sides are not fully articulated which leads to confusion and false expectations.

There is only one way to handle this and it is actually not a guaranty.  There are three parts to every job at every level.   If any of these parts are missing, the essential ingredient of the job is missing – power.  Power, even for an assistant account executive is derived from Influence, Responsibility and Authority.  These things must be discussed prior to being hired.  If you are senior, it is important to find out what the limits of your authority and responsibility will be – will you be in charge of staff, staffing budgets, client hires?  Will you be empowered to make decisions?  Will you be able to influence decisions which will affect your ability to function in your job.  I heard a great story recently about a CEO who resigned an unprofitable account; the holding company told him he was not empowered to do that.
There are excusable circumstances.  I often hear about people hired to work on one account who end up on another business.  Sometimes between the time someone accepts a job and the time they start, there are account losses, resignations, etc. which could affect the assignment. I guess this is a forgivable occurrence.  A simple courtesy phone call should be made explaining the situation, before a candidate starts work; unfortunately, that rarely happens. 

Sadly, there are some places that are just deceitful.  I remember once hearing a story from someone who was describing her first job.  As a college graduate, she accepted a job as an assistant account executive at a small, but reasonably well known agency. Unfortunately, they neglected to tell her that she would also be a receptionist.  She did not show up for day two.  This kind of subterfuge is not limited to small agencies.  The problem at the bigger agencies is that there is no one overseeing the entire hiring process.  If an account is lost and the new employee was supposed to work on it, who is responsible to inform the candidate?

I understand that some companies are so anxious to get a body in place that they will say or do anything to make a hire and then worry about it afterwards.  I suspect that this is the case of the assistant account executive who was really a receptionist. The stupidity of moves like that is that it only perpetuates the problem since the candidate will leave quickly and the company will have to start all over.

It is critical for companies to be honest when hiring new employees.  If there are job negatives, they should always be spelled out up front so there are no surprises.  I will never understand why when giving me job specs, companies don’t tell me that clients are tough, supervisors difficult, etc.  It would make their own interviewing process and my recruiting more efficient.  I understand that part of the candidate evaluation will be a determination if a candidate can handle the situation.  However, If I were told in advance of a negative or questionable situation, I could recruit against those specs which would lower turnover and recruiting time.

The more information you have, the less chance of their being bait and switch. 

I would like to hear your stories to send to me or to share with my readers.


  1. Great post Paul. Sounds especially true for new business positions, which often come with such concrete performance objectives and goals. Can you (or others) offer advice on how to best negotiate new business objectives and goals before an offer is accepted, given a potential re-positioning of an Agency, and other changes, may occur after they've come aboard ... ?

  2. Anonymous - This is a tough question to answer. It sounds like you are a new business person (rather than someone hired to pitch and, hopefully, to run an account if it is won).

    Most agencies don't give contracts, but a deal should be spelled out in an offer letter. Prior to accepting the job it behooves you to have had conversations which go way beyond interviewing. I would suggest several informal meetings including dinners or luncheons where you discuss the job in detail.

    Many agencies pay lip-service to the length of time it takes to bring in business. This needs to be understood in advance. Remember, that agencies will start to get antsy after nine months or a year. Also, many do not have the materials necessary to pitch accounts - presentations, portfolios, methodology, etc. These often take many months to create and are necessary to have prior to beginning the pitch process. These things need to be determined in advance so that you can manage the perceptions of your job and performance long before you start.

    Performance goals should be laid out in an offer letter as well as commissions/bonus and other factors related to compensation.

    You also need to determine what your real role is. In some agencies, the new business person is a true CMO, in others he or she is merely a door-opener. But be careful. Agencies love to pitch. But the new business person often will not get credit for winning and will receive the blame for losing.

  3. This has just happened to me and I'm now miserable, confused and don't know what to do
    I was a regional account manager and wanted to move up into nationals, at the interview I was told I would have some big national accounts as well as smaller regional ones so I decided to go for it.
    My previous company offered me a national role to convince me to stay but I thought I would have more of a challenge at the new company.
    When I started 6 weeks ago they told me they had recruited another person and they have given her all the nationals leaving me with nothing but regionals, I'm already bored and the job is less of a challenge than my previous role. I don't know what to do

  4. @Anonymous: If you would like to email or call me, I would be happy to try to deal with more specifics, especially if I know the agency. However, take a look at your offer letter. If they spelled out the account responsibilities, at least you have that for protection. I suspect the didn't however. All you can really do is approach your management and tell them that you are very disappointed. Then crank up your search again. It may take a while to find something new, but when you announce your departure they will not be surprised. Otherwise there isn't much you can do.

  5. I just found this blog and have high hopes for it to continue. Keep up the great work, its hard to find good ones. I have added to my favorites. Thank You.
    Headhunters in Mexico


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

Creative Commons License