Do you have to be two-faced to succeed?

 First published on Brand Republic - 14 June 2011

Hypocrisy – ‘the practice of claiming to have more noble standards than is the case’. 

This week, I have been thinking about people at each chronological end of their careers, the more worrying of which I will come to later.

First, our universities have started breaking up (sic) and parents have asked me to meet four students so as to advise them on whether marketing or marketing services might be an appropriate career move for their little darlings.

Either that or, faced with a summer of having them back at home (the ‘boomerang generation’), the parents just want their kids to get the house and do something – even if it is just come and see me.

I’ve done quite a bit of this over the years and have enjoyed the subsequent career success of some of my ex-protégées (blimey, my PC is more acute than I thought).

In fact, I have some basic rules of engagement which I am now going to make public (and thereby negate their efficacy. Hey-ho). 

We usually meet in a bar. This ‘equalises’ the meeting and helps the youngster feel that this is a chat with a mate rather than any sort of formal interview (although two such meetings have turned into job offers for vacancies I didn’t even know I had).

It also tests how serious they are. 

If they just want a beer and a chat, then fine – that’s what they get. I like meeting young people. It helps me feel young too.

If they turn up with pen and paper or, these days, an electronic gadget, to take notes then I assume they are serious and I try and give serious advice.

If they have Googled me, looked up my website, discovered my own background and are interested in some of the things I have done, then I think they are polite as well as serious. Further, because they have shown an interest in me, I am interested in them and maybe I can provide personal as well as professional advice (more later).

If they ask me to look at their CVs but haven’t done either of the above, then I don’t bother. They aren’t going to take note of what I say anyway.

If they have explored the business, found out how it works, pinpointed the role they want to fill and worked out why they think they are perfect for it then sometimes I can help.

(By the way, at one time, when we were actually recruiting grads, I asked this guy if he know the difference between creative and account management and he replied: ‘I was hoping you would tell me that’. He didn’t get the gig.)

I always ask students to think not just of what they want to do (or their parents want them to do) but the sort of people they enjoy being with, the environment in which they feel most comfortable in (do they enjoy working alone or with other people?) – emotional as well as rational or, if you like, qualitative and quantitative.

It seems to me or, until now, has seemed to me that you are most likely to be successful if you are happy in what you do. 

Then, last week, I found myself watching the cricket at Lord’s with someone from the marketing services sector who I have known for the whole of my career.

We were talking about the world facing kids leaving universities these days and something I had read about our generation being the first in history to leave our kids facing a harsher world than that of the generation before them.

And our conversation moved on to the other end of the spectrum.  

What has happened to people who, having started with all the ambition, hope and enthusiasm every one of us had at the beginning of our careers, who have made it big-time, who have plateaued (yes, that is a word) and who – I am afraid – have lost out altogether and hit upon hard times?

My companion and I now know who these people are. We can identify them. 

He then said something that truly shocked me (I paraphrase): 

“In my experience most of the people who have made it big-time (i.e. millions) – not all of them but most of them – live completely double lives.

When they go to work, they behave ruthlessly and viciously to achieve their goals. They give not one jot for the people they work with or who work for them. They are completely single-minded on their own success.

And then, when they go home, they are pussies. They play happy families. They have romantic dinners with their other halves. They take the kids out at week-ends. They are all chummy with their neighbours and the parents from their kids’ schools. They volunteer for this and that. All is rosy. Domestic bliss.

But I know that, underneath all that, they are complete and utter shits”. 

So here we are.

I am about to meet all these bright young things and try to help them find a career which will bring them eternal wealth and happiness and all the excitement that life has to offer.

But what approach should I take?

Is my ‘qualitative and quantitative’ counsel wise?

Or should I advise them that, if they want to succeed, they should be completely and utterly ruthless (devious if necessary). They should choose a profession where they are least likely to make personal friends with people in the office, keep their working lives completely separate from their home lives, do whatever it takes to stuff people over – and be prepared for this to happen to them?

Is this how it is?

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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