youth never had it so good

You're young. You're ambitious. You're in the right decade. By Hester Lacey
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
f the office of the Nineties is a jungle, then as in the jungle, it's the youngest, fittest and sleekest who do best. Seniority no longer means respect; it means you're likely to end up as someone else's lunch. So while most of the news from the Nineties workplace tends to be depressing tidings of downsizing and redundancy, the resilient young can still fly high.

"We've just placed a chap who's 28 on an pounds 80K salary," says Jeff Grout, managing director of recruitment consultant Robert Half. "There are an increasing number of high fliers. In our parents' day, there was a 'you're just not old enough to do that' feeling and there's much less of that now."

Younger people, he explains, are seen as adaptable, energetic, trainable, and comfortable with modern information technology - and often willing to work hard for a smaller salary than an older, experienced worker. "Also, employers are talking more and more about teamwork. Young people are seen as better at working in teams. It's all part of the cult of youth."

Ian Campbell, the marketing director of human resources consultancy Cepec, has noted similar trends. "A recent survey found that if you're between 45 and 49 it'll take you an average of 13 months to find a new job. For under-35s this dropped to four to six months. From an employer's point of view, younger people are more energetic, more dynamic, closer to the leading edge and more computer literate."

For these young bloods, the job squeeze just isn't happening. "Today's graduates are hungry to take on responsibility, they're very focused and competitive. Those who mean business really go for it and often have two or three job offers to choose from," reports Moira Maguire, manager of graduate recruitment and development for Lloyds Bank.

So if you want to capitalise on your youth, how should you go about it? The first thing is to keep your age down; fibbing may be unsavoury, but it's a good idea to move heaven and earth to stay (on paper at least) in the charmed age bracket that runs from 25 to 35. "A high percentage of job ads have a top age ceiling of 35," says Mr Grout. In some professions, even more drastic CV-adjusting may be needed. "In sectors like customer services or retail, which are stressful and where meeting people is important, even 30 is a bit of a cut-off," observes Mr Campbell.

Secondly, do some research. "There are still some bastions where youth has not taken hold," says Mr Grout. "Investigate your potential employers. Ask how old the MD is. If the average age of the board is 62, the message is that you need experience to get on."

Thirdly, set a few ludicrously optimistic career benchmarks. "High fliers tend to set targets - finance director by 30, that kind of thing," says Mr Grout.

Even in traditional fields such as banking, today you are as likely to find Private Pike in the manager's chair as Captain Mainwaring. Andy Grisdale, now 29 and manager of the Midland Bank's Bicester branch, took up his first managerial position at the age of 23. He does not see his tender years as a disadvantage. "At first the customers used to comment on my age, but once the initial shock factor is over, and they realise you're capable, it's fine," he says. "Promoting younger people has become acceptable across many industries. It's a performance issue - it depends how far you're prepared to push. Another thing about the young is that we're cheap, in the nicest possible way."

At the same time as promoting younger staff, the Midland is keen to restore the gravitas of the bank manager's place in society. "We are trying to restore the bank's position in the community. It works very well - you are able to do things within your community, you have the authority to do what you need to," says Mr Grisdale.

In some professions, however, the rising tide of fresh-faced youngsters is viewed more with alarm than delight. "A lot of people in their fifties are running for the door, and the age profile of the profession is getting younger," says a spokesman for National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers. "The teachers in their late forties, early fifties who used to give stability and experience are going, so the mentors and role models in the classroom just are not there any more."

Mr Grout would like to make age discrimination a legal offence. "In the States it's illegal to put an age limit on job ads, and people don't put their age on their CVs. In my opinion it is genuine discrimination. When someone says, 'You're 36, I can't take you', it's the equivalent of saying, 'You're a woman, I can't take you', or 'You're black, I can't take you'."

Mr Campbell wonders if "older" people will become more employable in niches such as human resources, counselling, training and management consultancy, where experience and stability are important. But the doddering 36-year- olds and quavering fortysomethings will have the last laugh, because sooner or later we will all be joining them. However assiduously you doctor your CV, wrinkles cannot be denied forever. So, whizz kids, better make sure you have a watertight pension plan.

'i want to retire at 40'

TOP PUBLICIST AT 18

Name: Anita Strymowicz

Age: 26

Job: Clients include Emap Publishing, Harvey Goldsmith, Northern & Shell

Qualifications: A-levels in English Literature, French, Politics

Salary: pounds 20-pounds 30K

"I always wanted to do media studies and write about pop music, but the nuns at my school didn't approve; they wanted me to have a proper job such as being a teacher or radiographer. So when I left school I did a secretarial course for a year and instead of getting a Saturday job at Sainsbury's I'd write for magazines.

"My real break came at an after-show party when I was 18. I was being chatted up by Joan Baez's drummer, but I could see Harvey Goldsmith and I knew I had to talk to him. I went over and tapped him on the shoulder, made a pitch and got the job, or the gig, as we say in the trade. After that he wanted to set me up as a freelance in his office. Then in 1990 I approached Emap, the magazine publishers, and they are still my main client. My youth has attracted attention. When Lynne Franks resigned, the London Evening Standard featured me in an article on the next Lynne Franks. I was only 23.

"My enthusiasm has carried me through, but I've mellowed since those early days. When I started out I didn't have any knowledge, so I had nothing to lose. Now I have a reputation to consider. Young people bulldoze through and get things done. In my early twenties I tried to act older than I was and a lot of the people I work with don't realise how young I am.

"Initially, perhaps, people were jealous, but now I have less front and I'm more laid back. Anyway, the people I hang out with have brilliant jobs, too. This is a very good time to be young as there's a kind of magnetic field around London you get drawn into. You have to be young to live and work in London. You need the energy of youth, and as you get older you get jaded. In the future I see myself earning more and working less. I'd like to retire at 40."

'i've more new ideas'

FINANCIAL ADVISOR AT 26

Name: David Brazendale

Age: 28

Job: Business banking manager, Lloyds Bank, Southampton Row branch, London

Qualifications: Degree in Accounting and Financial Management

Salary: pounds 25K

"When I'd got my degree I spent 18 months travelling round the world. When I came back to the UK, in May 1991, things were quite difficult. I went to various graduate fairs and got interviews and a couple of job offers. I took one at a communications company, working as a financial analyst, but after six months I came to the conclusion I didn't want to do strict accounting - I wanted more customer contact, something more service orientated. I thought of banking, and got interviews and offers from several banks, but I wanted to work at Lloyds.

"I joined its graduate scheme in 1992. The scheme takes between 18 months and four years, depending on how well you do; I did it in 20 months. My current job as business banking manager involves lending money and giving advice to small businesses with up to pounds 1m turnover. I have between 250 and 300 customers. A lot of clients are older than me, but it's not difficult to handle once you've built up a rapport and got a relationship going. Relationships are what banking is all about now. People get to know you and trust you.

"Being young is a double-edged sword - I don't have as much experience, but a lot of customers are happy that I'm young, because I've got more new ideas, particularly in fields like IT. I get on well with my colleagues. If I came across as being arrogant that would make an impact, but in fact I know that everyone here probably knows more about banking than I do, and I learn from them. I don't know what I'll move on to - it depends on how good I am. You have to be prepared to be flexible. I don't know what's going to happen next. I haven't got a target for as far ahead as 40."

8 Since he was interviewed, David has again been promoted

'within six weeks I had been promoted'

MAGAZINE EDITOR AT 23

Name: Kate Thornton

Age: 23

Job: Editor, Smash Hits

Qualifications: A-levels in English Literature and Communications Studies, Certificate in periodical journalism from London College of Printing

Salary: Not disclosed

"I always knew exactly what I wanted to do and I didn't allow myself to falter. While I did my A-levels I was already working on my local paper. I dropped an A-level to make time to do it, because I knew I only needed two A-levels for the course I wanted to do and thought the experience would be more valuable. To get on to the paper, I took a job in payroll, because it was next to the reporters' office, and I thought I'd get friendly with them and they'd let me in, and that's how it worked out.

"Later, when I was doing my course, I applied to do work experience at the Sunday Mirror magazine. I did everything I was supposed to do during the day, then stayed late writing. I set up an interview with Right Said Fred, who were No 1 at the time, and it went into the magazine. They said to me: 'Once you finish college, there's a job here.'

"When I went back to college I'd got my confidence up so I started freelancing, and trebled my grant. I sold my first story, to the Sun, for pounds 500 when I was 18. I finished my finals in the morning and went straight to the Sunday Mirror magazine in the afternoon. Within six weeks I'd been promoted to the main Sunday paper. They wanted a pop and youth-orientated column and no-one else on the paper was under 30 so I got the job. I was writing features too. Then the daily paper started a pop column, which I edited.

"It meant I wasn't nervous when I was offered my current job. I'd already been a section editor, I was involved in advertising and marketing, I knew how to run a budget. Smash Hits is a challenge, and it's very exciting.

"There's only one person younger than me in the office here, but everyone is very nice and responsive. It was harder at the Mirror, where you were talking 20-year age differences. After that I don't think anything can faze me. I do worry about peaking too soon. Three years ago, if you'd asked me what I'd be doing now, I'd have said I'd like to be doing quite well on a provincial newspaper - I've been incredibly lucky to go straight to Fleet Street. In a way, it's quite scary. People in journalism are getting younger, though. Look at Piers Morgan [former editor of the News of the World, current editor of the Daily Mirror]. He was an editor at 28. Young people can do these jobs and make them work, which has proved the stuffed shirts wrong."

Comments