Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Adventures In Recruiting: The Wrong Reason To Turn A Job Down

Over the years most offers received by candidates I represent have been accepted.  Here and there I have had a decline, occasionally because the candidate decided to stay or accept a counter offer, occasionally because there was an issue with the culture, once or twice over salary, but never before over title.  

Here is the whole story.

I rarely market a candidate.  By that, I mean when I meet a candidate I like, I wait until I have an assignment that matches their background and their needs.  But about three months ago, I met a super-sensational young woman.  I will call her Lina. I thought she was at the right level and had the talent to work at any number of good ad agencies.

Lina is 25, works at one of the big five ad agencies and is an account planner.  She started her career in 2012 and spent two years as an account person and then moved into planning. Her title has been planner/strategist; she has had that title for a year. For sure she is a star; she is making $85k, but by no means, with only five months as a full strategist, is she a senior strategist.  Her agency moved her from the general agency into their healthcare agency and she is unhappy with her current work on pharma. 

I knew several ad agencies where I thought she would fit in well and where I thought they might be hiring.  I chose three agencies to send her to. She did well at all three and got an offer from one of the hottest creative agencies in the business. This agency has nothing but the bluest of blue chip accounts, including some of the biggest names in package goods and other major categories.  They loved her and offered her $100k and the title strategist.

Unfortunately, Lina got hung up on the title.  She wanted to be a senior strategist, a title that this agency does not have.  I tried to get her the title, but did not push hard, because I agreed with them that with only two years as a strategist and four years in the business, she was not a “senior” anything.  Both the agency and I told her that If she proved herself to be more advanced than her time in grade suggested, they would promote her accordingly.  This agency is great at promoting people, but she was so insistent on the title going in, that I did not even try to get her a six month review.

She told me her friends and mentors were telling her that she should only accept the job if the title reflected her seniority. Her friends were playing to her ego. Advice from friends is often wrong because they mean well but tell what they think they know, which is often incorrect. Sadly, what she didn’t understand is that in her current job, the move from the general agency to the pharma shop could be interpreted either as a promotion or demotion.  For her sake, I hope it is not the later.

Titles can be misleading and have different meanings at different companies.  Mostly, titles are not as important as functions, but that is a difficult concept for some people, particularly juniors, to understand.

Nothing I could do would change Lina’s mind.  She never really considered the opportunity, the agency and its current growth streak or the accounts she would be working on. She got hung up on title, which I suspect, may have been a very millennial thing because she wanted it now without proving that she was, in fact, a senior strategist. Too bad, she missed an amazing opportunity.

And I missed a placement.


  1. Titles! Sheesh.

    The best title I ever had was my first: Planning Coordinator. People would look at my business card and ask "so...do you plan the coordinating or coordinate the planning?"

    I would, of course, say "yes."

  2. I will say to anyone, at any level, "Money talks, bullshit walks." Titles are corporately political and personally egotistical; not financial. If the money is right, you know you have a very important function. Otherwise, "Just another brick in the wall".

  3. Anon: Yes and no. Opportunity is always more important than either salary or title, especially for juniors.

  4. The legendary writer Martin Puris, co-founder of the famed agency that bears his name, Ammirati & PUris, once told me the best title he ever had was "copywriter," because it clearly and simply explained what he did. I agree with you Paul, but want to acknowledge that generosity often develops in concert with success. When I was younger, becoming a vice president was important to me. I later earned promotions to senior vice president, executive vice president, president, and, finally but briefly, CEO. Today, I could give a damn, and will tell people I prefer a buisness card with no title on it, exxplaining what's important are the cleints I collaborate with, the people who are my colleagues, and the work I do. But back then, at the beginning of my career, a title was a yarstick of achievement, and I pursued them with determnation and vigor.

  5. Robert, I absolutely agree. But a title for a person in the business only four years is meaningless. I, too, couldn't wait until I was a VP and a Senior VP and it turned out to be fairly meaningless.

  6. Given what Robert Solomon just said in mentioning Martin Puris about titles, I can tell you this ... When Puris became Chairman of AmmiratiPuris:LINTAS, he single-handedly and summarily purged everyone from the former SSC&B:LINTAS and wrecked the whole place. Hence, the power of a "TITLE", and what a guy.

  7. Best move I ever made in my career. Leaving a VP, CD job for three days a week as freelance copywriter, then taking full-time at the same agency as ACD and working my ass off -- happily, deliriously happily - before being promoted to Creative Director, and up from there. Choose based on opportunity to grow. Titles mean next to nothing. Right again, Paul.

    1. Mark, I always knew that you were smart and had foresight. Sometimes, taking a step back puts one ten steps ahead!


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