Published October 3rd, 2016
by Steven Clark

A year into my career, I had the word “junior” dropped from my job title. In my mind, this change by my employer acknowledged that I had graduated to mediocrity and – while still one of the newest members of the team – I was at least no longer completely inexperienced. This was nothing monumental but it still held some significance for me. My year-long junior status made me self conscious and held me back from networking. Dropping it felt like the first thing in my career I had actually earned.

As a newly ranked mid-level employee, the next obvious step was senior. But how much experience does it take to be considered a senior in an agency? I didn’t know then and I still don’t know now. Making an educated guess, I’d say it’s somewhere between 6 months and 8 years.

This guy took a photo for every year he wasn’t made senior

There are a number of contributory factors in determining your own personal seniority time requirement (STR). In ascending order of importance, these include:

  • Ability
  • Age and/or financial state of the company
  • Circumstance
  • Job role

Ability is probably the least important thing you require to bag yourself a senior or management position as quickly as possible. That said, working hard and displaying competency in your work can ensure a slow and steady climb up the agency ladder, provided the people above you bother to take notice. There are some very talented professionals working in agencies whose ability and experience more than justify their promotions to senior roles and most of them have a reasonably sized backlog of work to illustrate their proficiency.   

Should the business you work for run into some financial or staffing problems, you may find that you or certain colleagues make sudden meteoric rises to seniority. Similarly, a smaller or younger agency with less evidence of their collective skills have an added incentive to push their staff to senior level in order to appear on par with their larger competitors.

When it comes to job roles, It’s fair to say that those requiring any knowledge or craft usually want a senior to have significant and impressive evidence of their work to date. It’s probably less fair to say that, for client facing roles, agencies are happy to consider anyone a senior – regardless of their individual experience level – if they think it will temporarily improve sales or impress gullible clients. While the type of job you do can vary your STR significantly, this particular fast track appears to be an avenue available only to sales and accounts professionals, especially those with contacts.

Account Managers
Pictured: Accounts Director

While I’m being facetious, the bottom line here is that agencies shouldn’t pretend to have skills and seniority that they don’t have.

Imagine a small group of consultant surgeons meeting at a hospital to discuss a very advanced and invasive medical procedure for one of their patients. Now imagine a world in which they invite a massage therapist to that meeting and give their advice equal weight. Websites aren’t exactly surgery but you get what I’m saying – a decent education or a degree of competency shouldn’t be enough to make you a senior, you need to have put the time in as well.

I never made it to senior in any of my jobs but don’t think this post is some bitter criticism of all my prior superiors for not seeing me as the special snowflake my mum always says I am, and promoting me to their level. I don’t personally consider myself to be at senior level and I doubt there are many businesses in Scotland that would – without some convincing lying on my part.

In an industry that has a problem with staff retention (often for good reason), an agency bestowing a senior title on you while you’re still relatively inexperienced can make moving on difficult and eventually hurt your career. Businesses with more stringent notions of seniority are now off the table unless you’re happy to settle for another meagre mid-level position and give interviewers the opportunity for awkward questions about your downgrade in future job interviews.

Everyone has different ideas of how career progression should work. There isn’t a universal number on the length of time required to reach seniority for any career – and I’m not suggesting there should be. Some of it is understandable; there’s not a huge amount of senior talent out there – least of all in Scotland – so some businesses may have taken to bumping up their more talented and competent staff a little earlier than expected.

Boss Laughing
How my bosses used to react when I asked for more money

But there are potential ulterior motives at play when you’re offered a senior position, whether it’s from a new company or your existing employer. While it may be presented as a career changing opportunity, it can also mean that a business is trying to improve its image, has run into trouble financially or is happy to put you in a position that you aren’t yet prepared for and pressure you for results you probably aren’t capable of producing.

Don’t believe your own bullshit, seriously consider whether you’re ready to manage staff, deliver bad news to clients, handle criticism and work in what should be your downtime. A careful decision may save you money on future therapy bills; the pay bump and fancy title aren’t worth it.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Habanero Digital blog meaning certain parts are probably weirdly self referential or talk about ongoing feuds that probably exist almost exclusively in the mind of the author.

Digital Agencies Jobs

by Steven Clark

Steven is a designer/developer and wannabe intellectual with an obsessive personality and too much spare time. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

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