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Hey agencies, stop trying to hire unicorns

Fri, 21/07/2017 - 09:02

It’s pretty simple really: unicorns don’t exist. So, stop trying to hire them. And when I say “unicorns” I’m referring to the people described in modern day agency job ads. The content writer who can come up with a killer social media strategy, design a few things here and there, create CI documents, has experience with HTML, and has the ability to create award-winning campaign ideas at the drop of a hat.
 
I won’t go so far as to say that these people don’t exist. Us youngsters in the industry aren’t afraid to upskill ourselves where necessary. But we can’t specialise in absolutely everything. And if you want to hire people who can do all of that, you’re probably not going to find someone who does an excellent job. Why? Because you can be brilliant at one thing, great at a few things and adequate at many things. But I’m willing to bet there are very few people who are pushing boundaries on all fronts. I mean, there may be a unicorn or two out there. But I have yet to encounter one. 

The thing is, agencies aren’t looking for unicorns because they want someone who is a truly magical creature. They want to hire unicorns because they can do six jobs for the price of one. That’s the truth, plain and simple. Why pay six salaries for six people to do six jobs when you can underpay and overwork one individual? And that, dear reader, is everything that is wrong with the industry at present. 

So, if you’re looking to hire a unicorn, here are some reasons why you, well, shouldn’t. 

It takes time to specialise
Whether we went to school for writing, designing, coding, animating or hashtagging, we spent years learning our trade. And then we did internships where we were paid little to nothing. After that, we spent years honing our skills and becoming experts in our fields. Only to find out that agencies don’t want to hire us because we’re only experts in one field. How does that make sense?

As the late comedian Mitch Hedberg once (or quite a few times) joked, “When you're in Hollywood and you're a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things. All right, you're a stand-up comedian, can you write us a script? That's not fair. That's like if I worked hard to become a cook, and I'm a really good cook, they'd say, ‘OK, you're a cook. Can you farm?’.” 

It’s the same for us in the creative industry. “Well, you studied for three years to be a writer and then spent five years learning, practising and working damn hard at being a writer, but can you design?”

If you’re looking for someone who has specialised in six different disciplines to the point of being an expert, you should be looking for someone in their sixties.  

Specialising means we know what the hell we’re talking about
And because we’ve spent so much time honing our skills in one particular discipline, we know what the hell we’re talking about. We know and understand best practices. We know what to do and what not to do. You can trust us to do our job correctly because we’ve become the experts. Which means we won’t make mistakes. Mistakes which could cost you money or even clients. 

When one person is expected to cover several disciplines, they will likely make mistakes. Which is fine if you’re hiring someone with very few responsibilities. Someone who only needs to do the grunt work. But if you’re hiring for a mid to senior position, you can’t have them making errors because those errors can seriously affect the business. And someone who is expected to move from strategy to writing to design all in one day is likely to get a few things wrong. Why? Because they’re not an expert in every discipline. They may be adequate. But adequacy doesn’t win you awards or attract new clients.  

One person can’t do four tasks all at once
“Overworked and underpaid.” That’s something you don’t want your staff saying when someone asks them about their job. You want them to say they feel inspired, motivated and appreciated. That’s how you attract talent in this business. Nobody wants to work for a sweatshop. 

When one person has many very different responsibilities, they’re most likely going to end up being overworked. Most days they may be able to seamlessly move from one task to another. But there will probably come a time when they face deadlines on all fronts and struggle to juggle everything they need to do. They’ll end up working 18-hour days and living on Red Bull. You may think, “That’s just the industry sometimes.” But not when that person finishes one deadline only to have to move onto a completely different one. That’s when burnout happens. That’s when you have to start the hiring and training process all over again. That’s when you get a reputation for having a high staff turnover and become that agency nobody wants to work for. 

Hiring a supposed unicorn may be cheaper but it will cost you in the long run, whether that cost is money, clients or your reputation. So, just, you know, stop looking for unicorns. They don’t exist. Not in the way you think they do. 

*This article originally appeared on Media Update