Account management: move up or move on?
Heading into a new year is a great opportunity to take stock of your agency career. Are you where you want to/need to be? Are you happy in your job? Are you on the right path to achieve your career goals?
Long gone are the days when people remain one job for 20 years to life. These days if you last two years in an agency you have done remarkably well! Some change their jobs to seek out new opportunities (more money, challenge, responsibility); some change due to the "grass is greener syndrome"; and some change due to a lack of progression opportunity within an agency.
Figuring out how long to remain in a particular job can be a catch-22 decision. Staying with one agency for many years may seem commendable, but it can also be detrimental. Employers like to see evidence of loyalty and stickability, but they also like to see evidence of ambition, progression, client variety, knowledge and a breadth of skills. How, then, is it possible to plan your best career pathway?
Should I stay or should I go?
By staying within your agency you may (or may not) advance quickly; you'll continue to work with familiar clients and colleagues, and remain in comfortable territory.
Career progression within your own agency may be limited by many things, including whether or not your agency thinks you are ready to move up, or if they can accommodate a role change for you. Often the only way to move up is to move on.
By leaving you may get a higher salary and a possible step-up to the next level. Will you enjoy your next job/agency/colleagues/clients? Are you moving from the frying pan to the fire?
It's your choice
Sometimes it can feel like career decisions are out of our hands, but - for the most part - they really aren't.
You can choose to remain in an agency where you are happy; or stay even if you are unhappy. You can choose to leave and find a new role because you feel trapped; or you may be happy, but you need to leave to chase your goals.
You are not a captive slave (though you may sometimes feel like it!). Every employment contract allows you to give notice and move on. Therefore it becomes your challenge to make sure you are moving in the right direction at the right time.
It's important to know where you want your career to be in 5-10 years time, and then align your career steps to suit.
For example, if you want to eventually travel and work in an agency overseas, it would be to your advantage to find a job at a local agency that is well-known and well-respected internationally. Even better if the agency has offices around the globe, as an international transfer may one day be possible.
If you are highly ambitious and plan on a meteoric career boom and agency fame, then what you show on your CV is often more important than how much your enjoy the day-to-day job. Sometimes it's a case of take the job, stick it out for two years, then move on. Your reward? An impressive agency on your CV.
Perhaps you are not so ambitious and your aim is to earn a steady income in an enjoyable job where you produce good work. In that case your agency and role options may be wider and more plentiful, and you may remain in one agency for longer.
What's the right level?
In Australasia the Account Management structure usually looks like this (with an indication of a total number of years in agency*):
- Internship (3-6 months)
- Account Executive (6-18 months)
- Account Manager (1-4 years)
- Senior Account Manager (4-6 years)
- Account Director (6+ years)
- Senior Account Director (10+ years)
- Group Account Director
- Client Services Director
* role names and durations vary.
You should always make sure you are working at your most appropriate level. That level will depend on your personal goals; the amount of skills, experience and knowledge that you have gathered; and your ability to do your job.
Talk it out
It's true that no one is irreplaceable, however losing a staff member always comes at a high cost. Therefore, it's in your agency's best interest to keep you on their team as long as possible. To do that your management needs to know what your goals and aspirations are (remember, managers are not mind-readers!).
If it's financially and structurally viable, and if both parties agree, then a plan can be put in place for your promotion. Sometimes a promotion may not be possible, but you'll never know unless you ask. If the answer comes back as "no", then at least you know where you stand, and that you may need to start looking elsewhere to achieve your goals.
Move up or move on?
Both staying and leaving have their advantages and disadvantages. To move up or move on is a highly personal decision that must be based on your own unique set of criteria.
If you are in doubt, do seek a second opinion from someone who knows the industry well - such as a recruitment consultant. They will be able to talk with you about your career plans, experience, abilities and personality. A consultant can advise you about opportunities in the marketplace, or if they think you should stay where you are for the time being.
Whatever path you choose no experience is wasted. Even if you deviate off-course for one or two roles, milk all you can out of each experience - talk with people, be curious and soak up your learning like a sponge. If you do, your present and future working life (wherever that may be) will thank you for it!
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