Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Adventures In Recruiting: Candidates Who Think Too Much Of Themselves

Over the years I have had a number of candidates who have turned down jobs because they have a high opinion of themselves.  They take advice from their friends, parents or significant others who tell them that they are far better than they are. The candidates don’t trust recruiters to be honest with them.  As a result, many of these executives end up getting their comeuppance when it comes to job offers.

Last year, I had a really good candidate who worked at Ogilvy.  She was a planner for about a year and before that had been an account supervisor.  She was making $80k, but, when they made her a planner she did not get a raise, so she had been about 18 months at the same salary.  Her friends and family backed her up when she told them how much money she was worth.

I got her an offer for $110, which was a good salary increase, and commensurate with other people at her level in the new agency where she got her offer.  Her title would have been, again, planner (the agency had no other titles for planners).  It was at a well-known, but hot smaller agency with a great list of major accounts – accounts that were better than those she worked on at Ogilvy.  She insisted that they give her the title of senior planner and she wanted $125k.  She told me that she was worth at least that much and that she would only move for the title and salary she wanted. Her arrogance showed in how she told me she was turning the job down,  “Otherwise, I will get a promotion and raise [at Ogilvy] within the next few months.  I might as well stay where I am.” I asked her who had been advising her.  The answer was not surprising:  her father and her roommate, neither of whom were in or had any idea about advertising.

I could not dissuade her and she turned the job down.  Her attitude towards me was that I was not interested in her career and simply wanted to make a placement. 

The only problem was that she thought too highly of herself.  Six months later, she had not been promoted; but she did get a raise to $90k (The $10k was about right for raises at Ogilvy – in fact, I thought it was about right for Ogilvy).  Of course at first she wouldn’t tell me, but it came out when I had another opportunity for her and called her.  Only this time she told me she would only go to a top ten shop and now she wanted $135k as a senior planner. 

This is a scenario that is familiar to all recruiters.  It happens with a degree of frequency.

I told her that I could not represent her (and found out later that other recruiters had the same experience with her).

Of course, a few months ago, she took a job as a senior planner, but at a small agency where she is one of three in the department.  There are no major accounts.  

Careers have paths and she had just screwed hers up.  She may or may not recover.

I will watch her career, but my guess is that in a few years, despite her great personality, she will have trouble getting back to a name agency.  Taking advice from family and friends can be a career killer.


  1. I have to admit that I am surprised that a woman had so much chutzpah. Good for her. I do wonder however if you would have even shared the story had it involved a man. Research clearly shows that men suffer from Dunning Kruger far more than women do.

    1. Actually, PJ, I happened to think of the most recent occurence. It coincidently happened with a woman. There have been many, many men who have done the same.

  2. Many many years ago (long before we met, Paul) I was unhappy in my job at at major agency. I didn't like the account, was being told by friends/family I was worth more, etc. I went and met with a very senior recruiter who has since passed away, and she told me straight that I needed to stay, I needed to do x, y and z, and my friends were wrong about my worth.

    Smartest thing I ever did was listen to her, recognize that she knew the industry and they didn't, she knew the agency and they didn't, and she knew my real worth and they didn't. She gave me the dose of reality I needed.

    Candidates who don't listen to seasoned recruiters are shooting themselves in the foot, not to mention potentially losing the support of someone who can be a real advocate for you over time.

  3. I guess it's easy from a vantage point of 38 years later to remember to "not flatter myself too much" and comment that money/title aren't the key drivers to making move as when on my second account at Ted Bates, I didn't think they recognized the 'brilliance' i had brought from my first account, so i jumped to B&B to work on the competitor product and was miserable within two weeks--just a fish out of water. Amazingly Bates took me back, B&B was amazingly more gracious and I stayed at Ted Bates for another 13 years.

    1. Nice, humble message. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. On the other hand … I am now reminded of my favorite Israeli Prime Minister, Golds Meir, who once famously said to her top military General (Moshe Dayan) in 1969, “Don’t be humble. You’re not that great”. Badda bing, badda boom.

  5. GOLDA, that is.


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