Age in recruitment - it’s a topic that is rarely spoken about and it is a rather subjective one. How do you define what is young or old? You would never see an advert seeking a woman or a white person to fill a role, yet stating: ‘I’d like an agile young account handler/planner to join my department’ is considered acceptable. Clearly, the subject of ageism is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Advertising has predominantly been a young people’s game, with the C-Suite and senior management reaching the top of their game in their late 20s and early 30s. I spoke to one of London’s largest agency’s talent team as well as a hiring manager and candidates within the industry, to get their take on how age affects their business and job search.
What’s your general perspective about age when hiring, be it freelance or perm?
The Advertising Agency told me that when hiring across the board and at any level, age genuinely doesn’t enter the equation. If you’re capable of doing the role and the candidate matches up to their CV during the various interview stages, then they are satisfied.
One senior hiring manager based their decisions on two prerequisites: firstly skill-set and then budget: "Having the right experience in the team and great minds is more important than socially acceptable age brackets", they told me.
How has the topic of age affected your job search?
Talking to an experienced candidate, it was evident that they see younger professionals as competition. According to them: "As you get older and more experienced, there are fewer suitable opportunities open to you generally. Younger candidates are always coming on to the market, many of them with lower salary expectations, which of course makes it difficult to get the right kind of role".
However, my expertise in freelance recruitment has shown me that age equates to experience, and clients do often need experienced players, especially for tricky briefs and quick turnaround pitches.
What is the secret behind achieving a truly age-diverse workplace?
One hiring manager I spoke to sees diversity very much as a top priority in the recruitment process and as a result has seen real positive change over the years in terms of both gender and age diversity in the industry.
The talent team I spoke with explained that there’s no real hard and fast method of achieving an age-diverse workplace, but that ultimately it’s about hiring the right people for the role so being conscious of age can’t come into play: "Our hiring managers have a selection of unconscious bias questions that are based on our core values of curiosity, courageousness and generosity – if after a detailed series of interviews, they believe the candidate has demonstrated these qualities in their answers, then there’s really not much more we can ask for".
How does age diversity benefit your organisation?
From the perspective of the talent team I interviewed, they see age diversity benefit their agency in many ways: "From drawing upon life experience for pitches and new opportunities through to drilling into human insights for the latest technology to amplify a campaign, there’s a benefit to all ages in a workforce like ours".
This agency recognises the more diverse their staff are as a whole, the higher the chance they have of possessing a working culture that people enjoy and a place to work that people can feel proud of: "We’re lucky to have both elements in a wonderful building that exudes opportunity and ambition. A powerful combo!"
One hiring manager reflected on their experience as a younger planner: "I grew up in a very age diverse planning unit at JWT and saw the same at BBH. As a young inexperienced planner it shortened my swift and sharp learning curve as I watched skilled pros handle all manner of issues and solve diverse sets of problems. Without that mentorship, life for my first five years in the industry would have been much more difficult."
As an older worker, how do you feel about your job prospects in this industry?
The more experienced candidates I spoke to were aware that as the industry changes with technology and culture there could be fewer job opportunities in terms of cultural relevance and salary. To them, it’s about changing what they do and how they do it.
An experienced planner told me: "There are still a few planners around in their 60s, but they are retiring or consulting in some way. Lots of ‘digital strategists’ are coming into adland, they might know about Facebook and Instagram, but quite often not much about traditional account planning."
From a recruitment perspective, agencies and hiring managers look for candidates from a traditional planning background and training, and for those with plenty of planning years behind them, this turns age into an advantage.
One planning director said: "At least for now there is still a place for someone like me, someone who can apply the more traditional account planning methodologies to the constantly changing digital and multichannel campaigns targeting today’s consumers."
As a younger worker looking to the future, how do you feel about your job prospects?
I also spoke to a candidate about their perspective on joining the industry as a younger worker and the challenges they equally face. They told me: "It’s a well-known fact that getting into the industry has never been easy, although there seem to be more grad schemes and internships available or some people are lucky enough to have a friend in the industry."
Some candidates I have worked with at the younger end of the market take on unpaid experience as well as accepting under the minimum wage to get their first step on the ladder. Having said that, there are loads more agencies around, so in theory more opportunities.
Ultimately, it’s about being good at what you do, having a clear point of differentiation, and most of all having a solid point of view about ads and advertising in general. The best young advertising professionals I have met are those who question everything, keep things simple and can apply a bit of common sense.
The topic of equality and age is relevant in all industries and it’s about companies being aware of any bias in recruitment within their organisation and to the best of their ability help set agendas to irradiate it, giving those most suited to positions the opportunity to enjoy their careers regardless of their age or gender.