Author Ben Leonard

The former Chancellor’s appointment as editor of the ‘Evening Standard’ raises an important question: do qualifications matter anymore?

Last Friday the Evening Standard announced that its new editor would be George Osborne. Yes, that George Osborne – former Chancellor, still MP for Tatton, advisor to fund managers Black Rock, very expensive after-dinner speaker and member of the Privy Council.

…But a man short on journalistic experience. Osborne was famously turned down for jobs with the Times and the Economist. He did some freelance work for the Telegraph before a friend told him there was a vacancy at Conservative Central Office. The rest, as they say, is history…

Reaction to Osborne’s appointment was swift, astonished and often sarcastic. As columnist and commentator James Delingpole tweeted, 

In further news, George Osborne to head the IMF 6 pm to 7 pm after he’s done Black Rock, constituency work and his Papal duties…

More seriously, Osborne himself conceded, “I may have run the country but I’ve never run a paper.” What is more, it is not just George Osborne who seems to be getting jobs for which he is not qualified: George Galloway – former MP and former inhabitant of the Celebrity Big Brother house – is now writing children’s books. Actor, comedian and musician Noel Fielding has been judged the best person to host the new series of Bake-Off and there is even a series on TV (who said so many channels was a good idea?) about celebrities walking their dogs.

It is easy to make fun of appointments like these but – behind the jokes – Osborne’s appointment as editor of the Standard and other ‘celebrity’ appointments like it raise a serious question.

Do qualifications matter?

Do qualifications matter anymore? If you truly want to ‘make it’ would it not be better to concentrate on networking? Maybe the best career advice we can give young people is simply to hang around the powerful, the rich or those commissioning a new TV series and say “Sure, I can do that.”

Quite rightly you answer, ‘Of course qualifications matter. If I am being operated on, of course, I want the surgeon to have qualifications. Lots of them…’

The problem is that young people no longer seem quite so interested in qualifications. As long ago as 2010 the Guardian was reporting,

‘once upon a time children aspired to be teachers, bankers, doctors. Now they just want to be celebrities.’

The article quoted a survey, saying that the top three career aspirations among children were pop star, actor and sports star – compared to teacher, banker and doctor 25 years previously.

Childhood dreams are living longer

Childhood dreams

You might say that boys have always wanted to be footballers. Very true: when I was seven I took it for granted that I would play football for England in the winter and cricket for England in the summer. By the age of 11, I had realised it was not going to happen and I had better pay attention in Maths. But today, children’s dreams – encouraged by the explosion of reality TV shows – live longer. The number of child performance licences – issued by councils to pupils who miss three or more days of school per half-term to perform – is steadily increasing, as are students numbers at Stagecoach, the performing arts school franchise.

With many students coming out of university with £50,000 of debt and a lifetime of ‘generation rent’ looming in front of them, is it any wonder that celebrity appears an irresistible career path?

Celebrities are now paid tens of thousands of dollars to tweet an endorsement – and with Selena Gomez rumoured to have earned half a million dollars for sharing one post across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, why wouldn’t you want to be a star? No private life, can’t go to the shops? A small price to pay.

Can’t be famous? What about an alternative?

…And if our children cannot be rich or famous, it appears that they want to work with animals – or arrest people. Another survey – this time reported in the Daily Telegraph – confirmed the top career choices as ‘famous’ and ‘just be rich,’ but these were closely followed by police officer and zoo keeper. It is not hard to see the influence of TV there. Maybe the health of the British economy depends on someone making a reality TV show about engineering…

The simple truth is that the vast majority of us will need to accept that we are not going to be Lionel Messi, DCI John Luther or called back by Simon Cowell and invited to join a girl band.

We also need to remember that plenty of today’s superstars did not set out with the idea of being famous: Tom Cruise wanted to be a Catholic priest, Harrison Ford was a carpenter and supposedly Angelina Jolie wanted to be a funeral director. And some chap called George Clooney thought he was finished when he failed in his baseball trials with the Cincinnati Reds…

What to do if your new boss is a ‘George Osborne’

We are going to need some qualifications, we will need to find a job and then we will need to gradually work our way up the ladder.  Finally, after years of dedication and long hours we will finally be ready for the top spot … and along comes George Osborne, or his equivalent. Looking at the pictures of the Evening Standard staff listening to their new editor, several facial expressions suggested thwarted ambition and the imminent need to spend more time with their CV.

So if a ‘George Osborne’ is parachuted into your company – and make no mistake, it happens to the majority of people at some point in their working life – what should you do?  

‘Sit tight’ is the most important thing: don’t over-react and throw your toys out of the pram. The majority of outside appointments do not last; there is a reason why successful companies work so hard to promote from within. So sit tight, keep doing what you have always done and one day the gossip round the water-cooler will confirm that it has not worked out for ‘George…’