20 February, 2014

Too old or too qualified?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday February 13, 2014

Can you be overqualified for a job? And if so, what can you do about it?

This is a popular discussion point when you get a number of old friends together. Once they start to loosen up, the stories come out, particularly in the marketing and advertising arenas.

My older friends see it as a simple fact they have to accept: they are too qualified, too old, and therefore unemployable. No matter how far and wide they search, they cannot find suitable work.

What makes this particularly odd is that they are some of the most brilliant minds I know, who have in the past built successful companies or run multi-million dollar accounts. Why wouldn't a company jump at the chance of scooping in all of that knowledge and experience?

Alas too many organisations suffer from the Dwarf Company Syndrome. Think back and you will recall seeing it in most of the places you have worked.
The name comes from a paragraph written by the patron saint of modern marketers, David Ogilvy. Back in the early 60s, the time of the Mad Men, Ogilvy wrote a book called Confessions of an Advertising Man, in which he candidly set out the rules for creating good advertising, and the campaign tactics we still observe today.

His first commandments talked about building an agency: "If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs," warned the pipe-smoking philosopher, "But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants!"

And he did, seeking out people he admired, who could create or manage better than him. And the company became a huge world success.

But that's not the way so many companies think. Too many managers seem to worry that if they hire too well, they could end up losing their job to the newcomer. So if you are looking for work, sometimes you need to play down your superiority.

Pam Kaplan is a freelance copywriter. The fact that she was Creative Director of Badjar Ogilvy for many years, and could run circles round any ad person in town, is not part of her self-promotion. "I don't go in the door and pretend I'm the grand old lady of advertising," she laughs. "What they want to know is, can you come up with the idea?" And she can.

The challenge comes with the digital revolution. Our "digital natives" really do believe anyone born before 1980 is digitally barren.

What they don't take into account is that many of the oldies started with the "hobby" in the mid-eighties, when personal computers became available, so they have had up to 30 years to practice.
And ultimately, the idea really is what matters. All the rest is window dressing. Whether it be a newspaper ad, a TV commercial, a phone app, a Twitter campaign or a streamed YouTube commentary - it has to have that creative spark to make it take off.

It's still the big idea: that will get it posted on a million FaceBook pages or emailed to your sports club or Tweeted far and wide. It's the idea that counts, the rest is technical design to broadcast it.

Fortunately computers haven't developed originality and wit, these are traits we can still keep to us humans. And the more you have been able to invent and practice them, the better your ideas. With time you get to think, and act, like a giant.

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