On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I am a 5'9" male and often feel that my height affects how I am treated at work. The advertising industry is very competitive, and I feel that taller people have a large advantage. Do you agree and what are your thoughts on this?

I’ve never been any taller than 5’8 ½" – and, given the common occurrence of age-related shrinkage, am certainly a good deal shorter than that now. Yet I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever felt that taller people had any great advantage over me. But, in saying that, I may be implying that such professional competence as I may or may not have displayed more than compensated for any physical deficiency on my part – which would, of course, not only be conceited of me but would also suggest that your own feelings of inadequacy may be attributable not to any lack of inches but rather to a lack of competence. And I certainly wouldn’t dream of suggesting that. (I do hope you’ve been following and that you’re beginning to see what a tangle you’ve got me into here.)

What I think is this. I think that because, as you say, the advertising business is very competitive (and it’s certainly not a business to venture into if you’re not competitive), not everybody can come first every time. We competitive people find this fact offensive and detrimental to self-esteem, confidence levels and performance. And since it’s clear that the fault lies not with ourselves, because that would constitute grounds for immediate resignation, it must be the playing field that’s at fault.

Some people are simple-minded enough to believe that, if only all playing fields were level, justice and equality would be seen to rule and everyone would be happy. But of course we wouldn’t. Level playing fields provide no respectable explanations for people coming second. In truth, the very last thing we need is a level playing field. We need a playing field with so many different bumps, foot-holes, ridges and molehills that, when ten of us fail to come first, we can each entirely justifiably claim an unfair disadvantage of our very own; and one, moreover, that, by its very existence, clearly prevented us from winning.

So you may find comfort in the fact that, in your own company, Angus feels uncomfortably handicapped by his exceptional height, Maureen knows that her accent has hampered her progress to the board, Gustavo remains convinced that he is still being punished for the invasion of the Falkland Islands, Pam knows she would be earning another five thousand a year if only she were a man, and Rupert is fighting a losing battle against the baseless accusation of being posh. Had it not been for these bumps in the playing field, all five would have come first. As, indeed, would you.

I have recently been applying for jobs. I was offered and accepted one. A week before I was due to start, one of the other employers offered me a far better job. Should I honour my initial commitment or take the job with more money and better career prospects?

You’re right to use the word honour. It’s a reminder that the unthinking application of selfishness isn’t always the best way to motor through life.

But, in this instance, and not without a qualm or two, I think you should take the better job. Just be as certain as it’s possible to be that it really is a better job and not just a bit more loot.

If you need to satisfy your conscience, try this. When a company offers a job to a person, and the person accepts it, it’s the company that is taking by far the smaller risk. If it turns out to have been a bad decision, it will affect only a fraction of the company’s momentum from which it will quickly recover. For the person, the same error may have long-term, career-distorting consequences.

By the same token, to withdraw now from the job you have accepted may cause the company inconvenience; but it will all have been forgotten within a couple of months. But should you decide to honour your initial commitment, you may still be regretting that honourable decision by the time you reach retirement age.

If you explain your reasons in full and apologise in person – not, please, by e-mail – the disappointed company may forgive you. But don’t be surprised if they take it badly; to be rejected in favour of a competitor can be extremely wounding.

‘Ask Jeremy’, a collection of Jeremy Bullmore’s Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.Telephone (020) 8267 4919
Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE