29 May 2019

It’s time to rethink the idea that comms is a young person’s game

Comms is a young person’s game.

We hear a lot of that.

A change in mindset from both candidates and employers is needed to keep older workers in the industry

And while there are truly some amazing young practitioners across our industry, I’m calling BS on that stereotype, and not just because I am edging ever closer to 50, along with many of my peers. We all know we have plenty of productive years yet, with the added benefit of many years’ experience and learning.

And as someone who’s recently become a recruiter specialising in our industry after 25 years in comms, it makes my heart ache when I meet with candidates who have 20 or 30 years’ experience. They are humble and focused on finding challenging roles where they can contribute, but I’ve noticed something else creeping in: fear. They’re worried they may not be considered because they’re seen as too senior or not agile enough. Hiring managers worry these candidates might be bored, consider the work beneath them, or just be marking time until another role comes along.

That’s why both employers and candidates need a gentle reset when it comes to hiring practices for ‘ageing’ workers.

Hiring managers

Hiring managers: you need to have an honest conversation with your search team about what success in the role will look like, and the culture of the team and organisation. And you need to be open to a mix of candidates, for example, by de-identifying resumes and excluding current remuneration to show a commitment to diversity in hiring.

It can be easy to assume that very experienced candidates want a ‘bigger’ job than their previous one. But it could be a myth – they might be happier working in a smaller team, or having fewer direct reports. Not everyone wants to be head of function.

Remember, flexible work practices can be your friend. What if you could secure a ‘gun’ on a pro-rata salary who will boost your team’s capability? I saw this happen just this week in a leading independent agency, which shaped a part-time content director role around a sector specialist with 20 years’ experience.

And don’t be afraid to grill your search team about a more senior candidate’s motivations, or meet with them to check for yourself. For a newly-created financial services role recently, the hiring manager opted to meet candidates for an informal coffee for a ‘rapport check’ before the interviews began. It resulted in one candidate saying “not for me” and two becoming very excited about the role and culture.


Showing currency is key – ensure your skills and your industry and sector knowledge is up to date.

Shrugging your shoulders and saying you ‘don’t do social media’ will quickly exclude you from a shortlist.

Do more than a quick Google search of the website before you front up.

Be able to demonstrate that you’ve continued your learning throughout your career – capture those short courses, conferences and training days. And consider investing in your own professional development if your current or most recent employer hasn’t, just as several of my recent candidates have done between jobs, taking on IAP2, marketing and business courses.

Be open to different types of roles – whether contract, agency, government, or in challenging industries or organisations going through change. Understand that you might need to pedal hard at first to adjust to new ways of working.

Work on your storytelling. One of my favourite things to do is to meet with new candidates and hear their ‘war stories’. But lordy, can it be a challenge to get them talking about the great work they’ve done. I remember asking one recalcitrant candidate about their work history. After some serious prodding, it turned out they’d worked on the transition in NSW ports from human workers to robots. If you can give great illustrative examples of projects you’ve led, it’ll make you more memorable with interviewers.

Whether you’re an employer frustrated by the war for talent, or an experienced practitioner looking for your next position, take heart.

There are options.

It just takes a little adjustment.

Susan Redden Makatoa
Director, Search
Temple Executive Search